From Rock of Ages to rocks for all ages, the former Asbury Church has been transformed into Hood River’s first full-scale indoor climbing gym.
Brimstone Boulders opened earlier this month on State Street near Sixth, the realization of a two-year project by new building owners Jen Altschul and Conor Byrne.
The high-ceiling space has become an indoor climbing gym, drawing locals and visitors aged kindergarten and up. Altschul and Byrne purchased the building from Andy and Claudia von Flotow; the downstairs tenant, Bright Beginnings Preschool, continues in its 26th year. After initial remodeling in 2018, the building briefly housed a martial arts school.
The stained glass windows remain, along with other vestiges of the former place of worship, built in 1896, but the pews have been replaced with palisades of climbing walls. The former Methodist church saw its last worship service in 2012 and was decommissioned in 2013. Brimstone’s new exterior sign incorporates the Psalms-inspired image of a woman climbing a rock, symbolizing the strength of Christ, the focal point of the primary stained glass panel. Routes, or “problems,” start in the sanctuary and continue on the north side with walls suitable for beginners.
“We want this to be a living room for outdoor sports in the Gorge,” Byrne said. They envision speaker series, trip reports and movie nights, in addition to the individual climbing and the youth program and other group climbs, and competitions they said will be “not super-competitive.”
Brimstone is about bouldering, as opposed to rope climbing.
Bynre explained, “Ultimately it comes down to ‘what is protecting you when do fall?’ Falling happens in climbing; in bouldering, you’re not climbing super high stuff so the thing that’s protecting your fall is a pad.
“The goal is to have enough variety in the route setting,” Byrne said, “both in difficulty and style.” Routes include straight verticas as well as a variety of overhangs called aretes — French for ridges.
Altschl and Byrne both have climbing and indoor gym experience, and started writing business a plan just under two years ago, after considering other locations in Hood River.
“Shortly thereafter, we started looking at spaces and Jen found this on Craig’s List,” Byrne said. “We did a long feasibility study to see if we can make it work in this town and in this building. So far so good,” he said. Vertical Solutions of Salt Lake City designed the multi-colored climbing walls, and the general contractor was Orange Construction of Hood River. Notably, new burnished brown wood mixed in with the climbing surfaces mimics the church’s original distinctive “bead board” woodwork.
Brandon Bertram of Hood River said of Brimstone, “It’s like a puzzle piece on the wall; It’s very involved.” Bertram, who has used several facilities in Portland, said, “When I heard this was coming around, I came to the open house and they had a very cool presentation, I was hoping they would do it the right way, and the answer is yes — world class routes, I could come here every day for six months and find something new.”
Routes are changed every five weeks, giving repeat users time to get to know and perfect “projects” while keeping things fresh, according to Byrne. Molly Beard is head route setter. Nathan Frankel runs the youth programs, and staff members also include Eric Holmes, Hansen Urdahl, Mark Pearce and Jenny Harris.
The gym is open noon to 9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, though the schedule is subject to change once the owners have a better handle on user needs, and climbing options vary including day passes, punch cards, and annual and family passes. Climbers sign a waiver at a counter fashioned from the original organ keyboard, and climbing shoe rentals are required. Chalk, and chalk bag worn on the hip are also available.
Altshul said, “Coming up the with name one was one of the hardest parts for us. We wanted something that did not ignore the fact that we are in an old church, that gave a nod to that, but people wouldn’t mistake for religiously affiliated. We wanted to have some nod to climbing.” Hence the word “stone.”
“We wanted it to be a little irreverent without offending people,” Altschul said.