By Jim Holland
SPEARFISH | Building on the reputation of the Black Hills area as a rock climber’s paradise, Spearfish will host the inaugural Black Hills Climbing Festival in July, and will soon be home to an indoor climbing gym.
The Climbing Festival is set for July 13-14 and the new climbing gym is scheduled to open May 1 at 1930 North Ave. Both the festival and the gym are being brought to Spearfish by High Mountain Outfitters, which caters to rock climbers, as well as hikers, campers, paddlers and all outdoor enthusiasts.
Spearfish is a natural base camp for rock climbing enthusiasts with four major climbing destinations in and around the Black Hills, including Spearfish Canyon, The Needles in Custer State Park, spires behind Mount Rushmore National Memorial, known as the Needles of Rushmore, and Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower.
High Mountain Outfitters is opening a new store in Custer later this month, joining existing locations in Spearfish and Hot Springs.
Owner Justin Stephens said the new climbing gym will be the first full-service indoor climbing facility in western South Dakota.
“Winters are here are long, and having year-round climbing available will be a major boost to the sport in this area," said Stephens, in an email.
The gym will offer three climbing walls, one allowing the teaching of a “crack-climbing” technique used on Devils Tower, two bouldering walls, a kid-friendly area and a training area. Anyone age six and up will be able to climb, he said.
The climbing walls are being built by Massachusetts-based RockWerx, with the gear provided by Black Diamond.
Instruction will be provided at the gym, to be staffed by BHSU students, all expert climbers, one of whom used to manage a climbing gym in California, Stephens said.
One of the challenges for the gym was locating a building with high enough ceilings.
Bjorn and Hans Nelson approached Stephens with the offer of a vacant space with 25-foot ceilings in a building also the home of Nelson Chiropractic, The Hot Room Yoga Studio, and Champion's Choice Boxing.
"The space is absolutely perfect,” Stephens said, “That whole building is filled with people interested in better health and wellness, and the climbing gym will only add to that mix.”
The Spearfish Economic Development Corporation helped out with a loan to High Mountain Outfitters for the new gym.
Kory Menken, SEDC executive director, said the gym is a great fit for loan, tying in nicely with other recreational and outdoor businesses in Spearfish.
“The climbing gym and the upcoming Black Hills Climber’s Festival will build upon Spearfish’s existing outdoor recreation and active lifestyle appeal,” Menken said, in an email. “This project is a great example of how SEDC’s loan dollars have a ripple effect on the Spearfish economy.”
"SEDC is working very hard to encourage positive growth and vibrancy in Spearfish, and we are thrilled to partner with them." Stephens said.
High Mountain Outfitters will also host the inaugural Black Hills Climbing Festival in Spearfish on Friday and Saturday, July 13-14.
Friday activities will include a community-building party, featuring local food, beer, and music.
The following day, Saturday, July 14, will see a climbing competition in the new gym, along with outings to Devils Tower and Spearfish Canyon.
“Climbing festivals are held in communities that value the outdoors, have local resources to support outdoor activities, and have a passion to share their community with others. Spearfish is all of that and more,” Stephens said.