For some Portlanders, going to the climbing gym is sort of like going to church: a social gathering place in the name of the almighty crag. There’s shouting. Crying. Hands are laid. Some people are bored out of their minds. But Brimstone Boulders, the first climbing gym in Hood River, is being built inside of an actual, honest-to-god church.
Owners Jen Altschul, formerly a producer for The Dirtbag Diaries (a widely listened to, pioneering outdoors podcast) and her partner Conor Byrne, hope to have the bouldering gym (a climbing gym without ropes, for the uninitiated) open sometime in the next two months at 616 State Street, smack dab in the center of downtown Hood River.
The couple is counting on the gym being as much of an off-season attraction for locals as a busy-season spectacle for transient kiteboarders, kayakers, and mountain-bikers. “There’s not a whole lot to do here when the weather goes to hell or after it gets dark,” says Altschul.
Brimstone’s ace in the hole? Molly Beard, one of the most decorated female route-setters (one who designs climbing routes) in the world. Casual climbers might overlook the nuance and attention required for laying out challenging, novel routes, but for real dirtbags, it’s an art and a major draw.
Altschul and Byrne found the old Asbury Church on … Craigslist. Brimstone’s website has a wealth of historical information. The original Asbury dates back to 1896, frequented by the sleepy Methodist population of nascent Hood River. By 1912, as the county’s produce industry ramped up, a new Asbury Church was built by architect R.R. Bartlett (he also designed Hood River’s Hotel Oregon and Heilbronner Block), with intricate stained-glass illustrations from Portland’s 19th century-famous Povey Bros.
The blend of biblical symbolism and curvaceous, modern bouldering wall (built by Vertical Solutions and Orange Design Industries) is striking. The stained-glass windows depicting a woman hanging off of a rocky cross, which Altschul can’t quite pinpoint from biblical allegory, is the perfect imagery for a pagan repurposing of a century plus-old church. There are a few other climbing gyms built in the shells of old churches around North America, but none this old or ornate.
With Hood River and the surrounding area growing rapidly, the swanky new Society Hotel, Ferment Brewing, and a host of other developments, Brimstone Boulders is just one more reason for a rainy weekend away from Portland.