Rock climbing has experienced massive growth in visibility in recent years, growing from an inconspicuous sport to one that will make its Olympic debut later this year. Offering both physical and mental challenges, the sport attracts all kinds of people. Patty Law, who owns Climb Time locations in Blue Ash and Oakley, says the gym is “like a sanctuary, a place to leave it at the door. Everybody needs an outlet, especially nowadays.”
Law’s climbing journey began at Climb Time’s Blue Ash location when a group of friends nudged her into the sport. “I was resistant to it initially,” she says, “but after the first day I was absolutely addicted to climbing. I got a membership right away.” After spending a few years training at the gym, which is one of the oldest climbing gyms in the country, Law took over as its president in 2000. She has been building up the community there for the past 20 years, through hosting events with national and regional climbing organizations, training climbers on proper technique, and opening a second location to make room for people new to the sport.
“Climbing used to be a very niche sport,” Law says, “but now it’s mainstream. It’s becoming very popular, and it’s nice to see the changes.” The sport has undergone an immense growth spurt within the last decade, and the indoor climbing industry is estimated to exceed the billion-dollar mark in revenue this year. To account for the rise in numbers, Patty opened a second Climb Time location in Oakley in 2019. The newer gym focuses more on top rope and sport climbing, which differs from Climb Time Blue Ash’s emphasis on bouldering (i.e., short, difficult climbs without a rope). Cincinnati’s burgeoning climbing scene has many route options in these two locations, and despite enduring a pandemic-sized hiccup six months after opening, the business has been able to grow organically.
Patty chalks up some of the rise in climbing’s popularity to the show American Ninja Warrior. Many of the show’s most successful competitors tend to be rock climbers, and one of its top finishers, Brian Arnold, trained at Climb Time for over a decade. “He used to be able to do one finger pull-ups with just his pinky,” Law says. “I think he could do two in a row.”
Rock climbing in the Midwest also has deep roots in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, and many local climbers have moved there to live closer to its world-class outdoor climbing. When the Red River flooded at the beginning of March and devastated the surrounding rural communities, local climbers were quick to rally in support. Law put out a call for donations in partnership with the Red River Gorge Climbing Coalition, and the community she helped build responded.
“When I posted [on social media] it spread like wildfire,” Law says. “People are still dropping stuff off, and we’ll make sure it gets to the right hands.” This jump to support is a testament to the tight-knit nature of the community and its stewardship of natural areas. “We know how we impact the small rural areas, so whatever we can do, we’ll come together and do it. I love that about the climbing community.”