Traffic in Nairobi is horrible. Truly.
45 minutes into my (ridiculously expensive) cab ride I was regretting my decision to check out East Africa’s new (and only) climbing gym.
Needless to say I was NOT in a good mood when I arrived at Diamond Plaza last month.
Looking up at the shopping mall (yes shopping mall!) in front of me I felt even less inspired.
What a weird place to have a climbing gym. I slowly grumbled my way up the SIX flights of stairs.
The moment I walked into Climb BlueSky all that anxiety melted away as I stared incredulously at what was, indeed, a ‘normal’ climbing gym. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this blew me away. The fact that a climbing gym even exists in Nairobi is nothing short of a miracle quite frankly. I mean, who is going to invest in a facility for a sport that is virtually unknown to all but a few adrenaline junky expats housed in East Africa’s most vibrant economy?
Two guys from Texas. That’s who.
Andrew Conway and Stephen Powell have been best friends since their parents had them in diapers.
Upon graduating college both moved to Nairobi to work with BlueSky Adventures, an experiential learning organization that does ropes courses and summer camps. It was there they pitched a climbing gym to their new bosses. Two years, more than $250,000 dollars and multiple hand drawn sketches later they opened Climb BlueSky in November 2012.
These guys designed every single part of this gym. From the textured paint they put on the 3/4 inch plywood walls to the amphitheater room that hosts kids parties. There are currently about 25 roped routes on a 25 foot wall and 15 bouldering routes in a cave they built with a framework of metal square tubing and angle iron. Stephen ad Andrew are also the setters. None of the routes are graded per say, which makes roping up kind of fun to be honest. You never know what you are getting on.
The energy in the place is amazing. About 50% of all climbers there on a given night are new to the sport. That means the PSYCH is sky high. Seriously. You hear guys egging each other on in Swahili.
Small Indian kids wide-eyed as they fall off the wall.
Huge Masaii men grunting their way up routes. Loudly.
It is hilarious and loads of fun. And everyone is super psyched. Did I mention that?
Andrew explains the diversity.
“The climbing culture in East Africa is a unique one to say the least. The culture here is a mix of old school style and techniques from Europe. Everyone is keen on taking new people out and we enjoy getting new addicts to the sport!”
Climbers in East Africa are also extremely resourceful and creative. It’s virtually impossible to find gear. Stephen and Andrew have to wait months for shipments of things like chalk, shoes and holds to come in. Even seemingly simple things like disinfectant to clean shoes is impossible to find. And with so many new climbers the demand for gear is high. That’s part of the reason for my visit. Planet Granite San Francisco graciously offered to donate some of their used climbing shoes to the Climb Blue Sky Team!
I’m headed back in May – hoping to take the guys more shoes, climbing holds and anything else they may need to further their mission of spreading the climbing psych. Andrew and Stephen have big dreams for the gym but first and foremost they have to prove there is a market. Most gear companies and retailers have thus far refused to offer them pro-deals or support. Until then, it’s up to us, the wider global climbing community, to make sure they have what they need. So if you have anything you want to donate that is in good condition, let us know.
Kenya, by the way, has some great outdoor climbing. There is of course Mt. Kenya for the alpine climbing enthusiasts. For crack fiends such as myself there is a beautiful region called Hells Gate. And for some weekend cragging there is Lukenya. A 45-minute drive from Nairobi along Mombasa Road, this crag affords sweeping views of the landscape replete with giraffes on the horizon. I roped up for some sport climbing with the guys there one Saturday. Lets just say this rock does some damage to your pads.
PG SF member, Cris Valerio was in Nairobi on a mobile banking project as an Innovator in Residence at IDEO.org. She is a crack addict and aspires to be as strong as PGSF Assistant Manager Mick, grow sausage fingers like PG Sunnyvale Manager Eliot, monkey climb like PG Belmont Manager Jeremy, yard on gear as well as PG Retail Manager Carolyn and be half as cool as PGSF Manager Jeff’s wife.