Three Hours in a Rock Climbing Gym

Do you know what happens to people who sign up for a Group Rock Climbing workshop at Hub Climbing in Markham?  I do, and it’s pretty intense.  The program teaches wall-climbing and bouldering, and it’s a fantastic all-around fitness workout that combines core exercises into a series of pass or fail challenges.   The afternoon was a highly memorable three hour general ascent toward improved physical fitness.

Friendschecking in at Hub Climbing in Markham

On Wednesday the 15th of July 2018, I spent three hours inside Hub Climbing in Markham with some friends from Toronto.  We ordered the Group Supervised Climbing package and that begins with some simple paperwork; for five minutes or more we read pamphlets and signed waivers signaling we understand the gym’s Autobelay safety systems.

friends fill out forms before climbing walls at Hub Climbing

Our Climbing Instructor, a one-time junior hockey prospect named Brandon Rowland, started our training with some basic exercises which included squats, jumping and knee stretches.

practising falling at Hub Climbing

Next we scaled a short wall and practiced falling onto foam mats until we had action that down perfect.

Hub Climbing is an enormous 20,000 square ft facility in which there are over 200 distinctly different climbs.  These attractions are always being changed.  Two employees work full time changing at least one climb at the gym every day. This means that members and guests who frequent the facility are constantly surprised by the transformations that occur between visits.

Once we mastered the Autobelays, and tried safely falling from ten feet or higher on the VB3 climbing wall, we progressed to some good medium level climbs.

Hub Climbing Markham - rock climbing
The Dragon

Hub Climbing, like most other modern climbing gyms in North America, now have Autobelays which are rope-pulling mechanisms that sit at the top of the wall automatically retracting the safety rope as the climber ascends. These mechanical belay systems have replaced the human belayer which was the name for the husky chap who used to stand below the climber and catch the individual if they fell by holding taught the rope to which they were affixed.  Those days are over, and now if the climber slips the autobelayer will gently lower them to the ground which is also covered in soft mats.

We Did Speed Climb Tests at Hub Climbing

At some point someone discovered a dual track Speed Climb raceway on the south wall of the gym, and then the race was on!


Speed Climbing courses appear similar to other climbs except there’s a tiny foot peddle at the base of the wall and a digital clock with a glowing yellow button at the top. When the climber releases their foot from the peddle and begins their ascent, the clock above begins counting-up their time and will only stop when the climber punches the button and locks in their score. Ten seconds is a win.

Raymi the Minx on the Speed Wall challenge

We all tried for the best time from ground peddle to punch clock, and Brandon let us know that ten seconds is the standard challenge; earning a time under ten seconds is very difficult. Only one of our group could do it, and it took him two tries.

Rock Climbing Combines Five Core Exercises

  • Pull – Ups
  • Push – Ups
  • Sit – Ups and stomach crunches
  • Planking
  • Stepping and step-up exercises

Add-up all these basic exercises together, and climbers get a comprehensive three hour workout that strengthens just about every muscle their bodies, and their minds.  A climber’s mental acuity is heightened by the prospect of falling.  Perhaps the best part of climbing is the frightening decisions climbers must make en route to the summit. Where the athlete puts their feet, and how they grab the boulders with their hands has real world consequences in the pass or fail test that is good rock climbing.

Bouldering is Rock Climbing without Safety Ropes

At the two hour mark we tried Bouldering, and Brandon let us know how proud of us he was that we had progressed in our climbing education so fast. Working our way clockwise around the gym we came to long bouldering traverse and that means there were no safety ropes to clip into, and no autobelayer to catch climbers if and when they fall.

rock climbing - Joel levy bouldering across a lateral traverse at Hub Climbing in Markham

Bouldering is for climbers who don’t need pesky safety ropes, and also don’t need to scale to great heights.  No special equipment is required.  Bouldering is very often a near ground-level challenge where climbers must work their way along a horizontal traverse.  The ground is covered in extra foamy mats to ensure that failure doesn’t cause physical injury.

The Dragon Sculpture Towers above Hub Climbing

Finally at the end of our adventure we tempted The Dragon. The 23ft high Dragon sculpture is a solo challenge, and yet it’s a very public climb.  The boulder encrusted beast has glowing red eyes and dominates the center of the gym, guarding a giant foam pit-of-gold.

Mart dasko from Studenomics scales The Dragon

The Dragon plywood sculpture is painted green and grey and covered in small stepping-stones.  Climbers who face The Dragon are immediately presented with the hardest part of the climb; scaling the beast’s chest requires climbing at an acute angle and this forces climbers to use their arms, legs and stomach muscles all at once.

The Dragon is two challenges in one – once you fall from the neck of the beast you find yourself in the pit. The drop zone is filled with red, yellow and orange foam cubes representing the Dragon’s gold but in reality making a soft morass that traps climbers in its magnificent splendor.




About Rob Campbell 48 Articles
Rob Campbell went to film school and worked in the movie business for a decade, laboring behind the scenes in hundreds of productions as the reliable but annoying grip-with-a-script.