Behind the Scenes at Charlotte's Bold New Climbing Gym

The newest Inner Peaks in Charlotte's South End neighborhood.
The newest Inner Peaks in Charlotte's South End neighborhood. Rob Glover
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“Have you looked out there?”

Doug Cosby, co-owner of Inner Peaks, waves his hand toward Tryon Street and South Boulevard just beyond. He’s explaining why they’ve decided to open their second Charlotte climbing gym in this area. “That white building? 320 apartments units. You see those? More apartments. And when you go up high, you can see the Silos and a few others.”

The Silos that Cosby references are a huge construct of high-end apartment buildings that have recently taken shape along this once industrial corridor south of uptown Charlotte. They are a sign of the changes coming to this neighborhood and, as it turns out, of why this is the ideal location for the massive new climbing gym.

“For our prime customer base, it’s all moving this way,” he says. “It’s pretty obvious for what we do.”

The climbing walls at the new Inner Peak location are complete.
The climbing walls at the new Inner Peak location are complete. Rob Glover

His voice fights to be heard over a circular saw that gnaws through a large board. A couple workers stitch together what is possibly the world’s most bulky jigsaw puzzle—pieces of thick, padded flooring that will surround much of the bouldering area. Each sound seems to bounce off every angled pitch in the cavernous 17,000-square-foot gym where multi-colored walls reach up to 42 feet high.

They’ve been working on this space for a year, says Cosby, and they’re down to the final stretch. All the offices and bathrooms are complete. The mezzanine, which offers a commanding view of the booming South End area through the front wall of windows, is almost complete. And the climbing walls, each painstakingly designed in tiny detail, were completed a couple weeks ago.

So intricate was the wall design that it took weeks to simply sort out the color scheme. “We started with the four bright logo colors,” says Page Lee, the other half of the co-owning tandem at Inner Peaks. “I wanted to use them all right from the start, but it was hard to get them to live together without being totally overwhelming.”

The clean, modern bouldering area is a mix of form and plenty of function
The clean, modern bouldering area is a mix of form and plenty of function Rob Glover

This combination of form and function permeates the entire space. Beginning with a “strong initial design” from the largest climbing wall builders in the world, Bulgarian based Walltopia , Lee injected her love of art into the project. “I am very interested in the mobiles of Alexander Calder,” says Lee. “They are all meditations on how subtle forces influence balance and gravity to allow really large and heavy sculptures to seem weightless. (That’s) exactly what we are trying to do when we climb.”

Lee references a natural connection to cubism and credits Matisse’s cutouts with aiding her in handling so many bright colors without it “looking like a clown show.” Cosby steps away from our tour for a moment to offer feedback to the crew laying the crash pads. It’s obvious that both owners have been intensely involved in this project, from grand design to minute detail.

Although the climbing walls and bouldering facilities are the focal point, the facility will hold other amenities. A workout area, sectioned off by wall and window, will include free weights, cardio and pulley machines, and some functional fitness equipment. Another area will be set up for climbing-specific training equipment. And a large alcove is currently thought of as a place for social and corporate groups to gather during their visits to the gym. Being just a few minutes from Charlotte’s Uptown business hub, Cosby figures this nook will see a lot of action.

Besides it’s proximity to work and residence populations, this part of the Queen City has some other interesting advantages.

“You walk a block that way,” Cosby indicates vaguely in the direction of Uptown, “and there are a couple breweries, Lenny Boy and Sycamore.” With a plan to bring a food truck on-site some nights, Cosby hopes to bring what he describes as a “much bigger experience” to the new gym.

And bigger it will be. Not only does the new location best the original site by 4,000 square feet, the design is much more efficient, Cosby says. They’ll be able to comfortably host 50 percent more gym members and more climbers all around. Large, centrally located seating areas will bring a “living room” feel to the space, adding to the already plentiful social aspects of climbing.

Cosby believes Charlotte is ready for another climbing facility. “You’ve got the White Water Center, which has been a great thing for us because it has created interest,” he says. “You’ve got two REI’s, which is a good indicator for outdoor enthusiasts. When we first moved here, there wasn’t much going on in Uptown. Now it’s teaming.”

Looking down on the nearly finished project from the mezzanine.
Looking down on the nearly finished project from the mezzanine. Rob Glover

Charlotte climbers seem to agree. Around 500 soon-to-be Inner Peaks members have already taken advantage of pre-opening specials. So when can we climb?

Andujar Construction, Inner Peaks’ construction partner for the project, has completed most of the work. It’s now down mostly to city inspections and a few final projects, says Cosby. He’s still hopeful for an end-of-November opening, beginning with a week that’s just for gym members. They hope to host the USA Climbing Regional Championships at the new site on December 12. If there are any delays, the event will be at the original Monroe Road location. Then, finally, a grand-opening party in January.

From the bird’s-eye view on top of the mezzanine, it’s easy to see how the plan has taken shape. Awash with natural light, odd angles and pitches of blue and red stand out against a muted gray backdrop. Each wall drips with a thousand holds of every imaginable shape and size. Outside the two-story window, more traditional shapes hold apartments, shops, and breweries. Picasso would love it here.

Originally written for OrthoCarolina.

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