Never mind the Q train screaming bloody murder a hundred and thirty feet above your head. According to Stephanie St.Hilaire, there’s peace to be found — clarity, even — under the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO.
On the first hot day of the year, and on her very first visit to the place, St.Hilaire has found a little bit of Zen at DUMBO Boulders, a spanking-new outdoor climbing facility in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“I like it because I hate meditating,” explains St.Hilaire, an Astoria resident and fan of non sequiturs. “I know that sounds really stupid. But I need something to take my mind off work. And all I can do is focus on climbing when I’m doing this.”
She’s not alone. On this weekday afternoon a dozen or so other climbers are picking their way up two bright blue fiberglass structures — large, sinuous surfaces that might resemble rock but for the color. DUMBO Boulders just had its grand opening May 14, and as the first public outdoor climbing center in New York City, it’s primed to be a very, very popular destination this summer.
“Hey, the price point, you can’t shake a stick at it,” explains Lex Rodriguez, 36, from Fort Greene. She’s not wrong; at $9, admission here is less than a third of the going rate for a day pass at some local gyms. Even more unusual is that the fee includes shoe rental and all-day access, including re-entry. “I could easily spend a full day in the park,” Rodriguez says, “just climbing, taking a break, relaxing, and then coming back and working out a little bit more.”
Experienced climbers will find the routes at DUMBO relatively short, and the lack of a top out — the structures are hollow and open at the lip — shaves a move or two from each. There are also far fewer routes than one might find in a full-size gym. But climbs range from VB to V12, and there’s a good variety of type, from crimpy face routes to knuckle-busting overhangs and delicate arêtes. A spotter is never a bad idea, but the shredded rubber at the landing is plenty deep to absorb a tumble.
The place is convenient to the A/C and F lines, only a short walk from the closest station on either one. The setting is also nothing short of spectacular. Train clatter aside, with a breeze coming off the river and the Manhattan skyline as your backdrop, it’s a damn sight better than breathing chalk dust in some gym that smells like feet.
DUMBO Boulders is a collaboration between the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation — the nonprofit that manages the area — and the Cliffs, a Long Island City–based climbing gym. Bill Baer, the facility’s assistant director, says the price point was something that was important to everyone involved.
The low cost and easy accessibility here may help democratize what’s often a somewhat insular sport. Most urban climbing gyms are relegated to repurposed warehouse space, tucked into industrial neighborhoods, so it’s not the kind of thing one just stumbles upon; you have to go looking.
But the location of DUMBO Boulders is so conspicuously eye-catching that it’s likely to beckon to passersby who never considered climbing before. Indeed, staff report that people tend to drop in on a whim. The Boulders will do some more active evangelizing, too: The company is working with three nonprofit partners to get kids from a variety of backgrounds out climbing, great for a sport that also has a not-undeserved reputation as being largely monochrome.
“We’re really excited about being a presence there, and it’s been a lot of fun already,” Baer says. “We’re excited to see what the rest of the season’s going to bring us.”
For more information, visit dumbo.thecliffsclimbing.com/first-visit