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Gym Spotlight

World’s Tallest Indoor Wall

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Since our publication of this article in Gym Climber, an opening date of November 29, 2019, was announced.

Forty-three meters. It would take about a 90-meter rope to get down on lead. The world’s tallest indoor wall will reside in …

The United Arab Emirates. Sure! People climb and boulder outside here from October to May, but June through August, when the average daytime highs are 108 and may hit a sledgehammer 116, you can’t even go evening cragging.

As Sara Faisal A. Schaidle, a Dubai climber who has helped develop several areas, says, “Even bouldering isn’t possible then, as the rocks get too hot to climb.”

While Dubai has two climbing centers, until the appearance of Clymb, scheduled to open in early 2020, Abu Dhabi has had none, though a demonstrated interest: Abu Dhabi backers helped produce the Oscar-winning “Free Solo,” starring Alex Honnold.

The UAE loves records and firsts. It has the tallest building in the world, the 2,716-foot Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, climbed in 2011 by Alain Robert of France in 6:14:55, with a rope. Honnold scoped it the following year for a free solo on live TV.

Honnold says: “[M]y fingers didn’t fit in the little crack he was using. So I had to pinch the beams between the windows, which was a wild and insecure way to climb it. The first time I rappelled in on the building I was basically too scared to actually do any moves. Ultimately I decided that it was about 13a feeling—it was 112 V4(ish) boulder problems in a row before the tower narrowed at the top and you could chimney between the columns.”

He deferred to the 1,667-foot Taipei 101 in Taiwan in 2014, though that was postponed indefinitely.

“I went back and climbed on the Burj one more time, though,” Honnold says, “and the second time I actually linked 15 or so floors. It was wild. It’s a crazy position. Dubai has something like 20 of the 100 tallest buildings in the world, and they’re all scattered below you like little toys.” Honnold called the Burj “the El Cap of buildings.”

The UAE also loves malls, which are packed, especially during summer and holidays. Ski Dubai, in the Mall of the Emirates, was upon its opening in 2005 the world’s largest indoor ski resort. The Dubai Mall has a 2.6 million-gallon aquarium containing 300 sharks and rays. Clymb, a $100 million facility in the Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi, will not only have the tallest indoor wall in existence but the largest indoor skydiving chamber.

Clymb was intended to open last year, but a 2018 fire delayed construction.

Vasil Sharlanov of Walltopia, the manufacturer, tells us: “We had to replace almost all of the panels and a little from the steel structure, over a few months.” Walltopia personnel have finished route setting as well, “so the wall is ready to climb.”

“It’s a beautiful building,” Sharlanov says.

Among Middle Eastern countries, the UAE is known as particularly modern and open in outlook. It seeks, as Schaidal says, “to balance Arab culture [with] welcoming Westerners.”

Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the country’s seven emirates, is upscale and glamorous, not as architecturally wild as Dubai (87 miles away and known for its eye-popping buildings), but with beaches, mountains and a deep mix of old and new architecture and ways. Smoking rooms and sections of restaurants are single gender by choice, and even having boys and girls on the same dance floor is progressive, but a gym would not impose segregation. Climbing is still male-dominated; Schaidle estimates that in a climbing facility, four to six of any 20 climbers would be women. Some climb in hijabs. (In 2017 Nike introduced a high-performance hijab for sports.) It is inappropriate for women to wear tanks or sport tops in the street, but some would in a gym. The climbing community at present is largely ex-pat.

Schaidle says, “The gym will probably become a new center for climbing in the GCC”—Gulf Cooperation Council of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar—“and bring a lot of new climbers in.”

At 142 feet, the Clymb wall is to be much taller than even truly tall-feeling indoor walls, such as the 55-foot-tall ones at Earth Treks in Englewood, Colorado, or the 60-footer at First Ascent Avondale, Chicago. Of course, new contenders will always pop up.

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