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Climbing Gyms Announce They Will Transition to Dry Tooling-Only Facilities

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Maple Damien tools around. Photo by Marcus Garcia

Amid widespread panic and the shutterings of businesses nationwide due to coronavirus, several climbing gym owners have stepped up with an unconventional solution—effective immediately upon reopening, their facilities will be dry tooling-only.

“Health experts are telling us coronavirus will continue to spread via holds for years,” stated Scott Zuckerberg, owner of Inspired Summit, located in Homestead, Florida. “Because regular hold sanitation is not feasible, we will be transitioning to a dry-tooling-only facility.” As of press time, Zuckerberg is one of five gym owners to make the announcement. 

“Because dry tooling involves climbers using tools rather than hands to touch holds, we believe it will be the only safe form of climbing in the foreseeable future,” said Zuckerberg. “Being a climber myself, I understand how disappointing this decision is. But I care deeply about the health of our members and staff and this is the only way we can kinda keep doing what we all love, while still staying safe.” Most gyms making the switch will still permit climbers to wear normal rock shoes. 

Members have chimed in with varied responses of support and disgust.

“Dry tooling is for weenies,” said Allen Touchie, a regular at Inspired Summit. “I will be cancelling my membership.”

“If I wanted to not climb, I would go to LA Fitness,” chimed in Janelle Tracy, a Seattle Scummers member.

“I’d rather speed climb,” said Adam Ondra when his own gym announced a tentative plan to switch.

Mixed climbing champion Max Magoo quipped back his support on Instagram: “It’s an inspired step forward. Dry tooling is just as fun as normal climbing!” Others replied to Magoo’s statement with the poop emoji.

Health experts are siding with gym owners. “By using your own tools and not touching holds, climbers will greatly reduce their chances of contracting the disease,” said epidemiologist Danielle Thomas. “Frankly, I’d be surprised if more gyms don’t follow suit,” she added. 

Some climbers, however, are concerned that sharp ice axes will threaten public health in other ways. Falling ice axes could potentially puncture eyeballs, nerves, arteries or skulls. But Magoo offered up his own history with the tools as a testament to their safety: “I’ve only stabbed myself a couple of times. You can check my feed for pics of my scars. But so far, nothing worse than a concussion when my pick slipped off a hold and ricocheted into my head.” 

While lacerations and head trauma may result, ice tools will prevent climbers from tearing pulleys or tendons in their forearms, so overall it’s just as safe as normal climbing.

Molly Preston, owner of Crux ‘N Crank, located in Dallas, Texas, stated in an email to her members that they hope to switch back to being a normal, non-dry tooling gym when things get better. “I’m disappointed that we’ve come to this,” she said. “But I know climbers will continue to do absolutely anything, even dry tooling, to feel like they’re climbing. This is the best option we have.”

If the prospects of dry tooling make you sad, Gym Climber suggests you continue to make V-Beginner ascents in your house, or possibly take up crossfit, until you are ready. Dry tooling will require some adjusting from everyone, but we will get through this pandemic, and we will come out a stronger community. 

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