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(865) 888-9123

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5335 Western Avenue
Knoxville, TN, 37921

865-888-9123

Onsight Rock Gym is a brand new, world-class indoor rock climbing gym in Knoxville. Featuring over 12,000 sq feet of climbing surface and walls that soar over 50 feet tall, we are Knoxville's largest and tallest rock climbing gym. Onsight offers top rope/lead climbing and bouldering for all ages and abilities as well as a wide array of programming for adults and youth. Onsight even has a separate climbing room for private parties and events. We are proud to be a part of Knoxville's community! 

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Rock Climbing In The Cold

Yolanda Chen

Kevin Flint standing in the South Clear section of the Obed Wild & Scenic River area on a 17-degree day in January. Photo courtesy of Kevin Flint and taken by Katie Meyer.

Picture it, it’s 17-degrees in The Obed Wild & Scenic River Area in January. The rock is cold and ice has formed on many of the area’s popular routes. To most people, this sounds like a nightmare. But, it doesn’t have to be! After all, you don’t sweat as much, your hands stay dryer and stick to the rock better, and there are only a few people (if any) at the crag! Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson chose to climb "The Dawn Wall" on Yosemite’s El Capitan in January for some of these same reasons! Here are a few tips to climb in the cold.

BRING A LIGHTER JACKET TO CLIMB IN AND YOUR TWO WARMEST COATS, BUT ONLY WEAR ONE OF THE WARM COATS

Wait what? Why bring two of your warmest coats but only wear one? When you are on the ground, you need a heavy coat to stay warm and keep your muscles loose. But, when you climb, you don’t need a heavy coat. You take it off, climb, come back down, look for your coat, and notice it's not where you left it. Your jacket is now on someone else trying not to freeze! Getting it off them is no easy task. Trust me, temporary jacket theft is real at any crag in the cold! For me, I bring a super warm hooded 800-fill goose down Eddie Bauer BC Downlight Stormdown jacket that is waterproof and breathable. I also bring a hooded 800-fill Mountain Hardwear Super/DS StretchDown jacket that is wind and water resistant. With the kind of warmth these jackets offer, I temporarily lose at least one of these every time I climb! It’s inevitable!

BRING LOTS OF HOT HANDS

Hot Hands are essential to keep hands warm! Picture by  Kevin Flint .

Hot Hands are essential to keep hands warm! Picture by Kevin Flint.

Hot Hands can be your best friend on a cold climbing day! Put two in your chalk bag. When you are climbing and find a place to rest, put both of your hands in the chalk bag to keep your hards warm. You get the benefit of having warm chalk to help sustain warmth in your exposed hands during your climb! Also keep hand warmers in all your jackets and gloves, including the jacket you climb with. With heavier fill coats, the pockets will stay very warm and keep your hands very warm between climbs. One more thing to remember is bring extra Hot Hands. Just like the tip above, Hot Hand theft is to be expected!

REST MORE ON ROUTES TO WARM YOUR HANDS

Put Hot Hands in your chalk bag to keep your hands warm. When you rest, put both hands in the bag. Photo by Katie Meyer.

Put Hot Hands in your chalk bag to keep your hands warm. When you rest, put both hands in the bag. Photo by Katie Meyer.

Every time I come to a crux on a super cold day, I stop, put both hands in the warm chalk bag and get more circulation and feeling back in my hands. Even if I don’t need a break and I’m not pumped, there is nothing worst than going through a crux and realizing you no longer have adequate feeling in your hands! You don’t know if you have a solid grip or not and that plays with your mind. If you have climbed more than a few times, you already realize climbing is more of a mental game than anything else!

BRING WARM GLOVES AND THINNER GLOVES

As I mentioned above, climbing with cold hands becomes a danger. To prevent that, have warm gloves with Hot Hands in them! I typically use my Dakine ski gloves that are windproof, waterproof, and very warm. Thicker gloves are hard to belay with, so, I bring a pair of belay gloves. I also put Hot Hands inside the gloves and on the back of my hands.

TAKE TURNS BELAYING

Take turns belaying in the cold. Belaying will force you to be stationary. Photo by Katie Meyer.

Take turns belaying in the cold. Belaying will force you to be stationary. Photo by Katie Meyer.

It’s easy to keep your body warm when climbing. On the ground, it’s easy to walk around and stay warm enough. When belaying, you are stationary and can’t use thick gloves. Climbers stop more during the winter to warm their hands and that prolongs a belayer being in a stationary position for longer periods of time. Belaying more than once is unfair to that person.

STAY IN THE SUN

If you are in the Obed, the warm sunshine in South Clear feels drastically different than Lilly Bluff or the Lilly Bouldering Field. They might as well feel worlds apart! The sun will warm you and the rock to a manageable level once the sun has been out long enough. The more southern facing and exposed rock you find, the happier you will be! Trust me, the bottom of the route Spawn in the Obed and shadow side of aretes in Joshua Tree National Park are very different than the exposed top of Spawn and the sunny side of an arete in J-Tree!

BRING WARM, BREATHABLE, AND WINDPROOF CLOTHES TO CLIMB IN

Proper clothing that is a must when climbing in the cold. Photo by  Kevin Flint.

Proper clothing that is a must when climbing in the cold. Photo by Kevin Flint.

It can be hard to find sun exposed rock and avoid cold wind at the same time. You need warm, breathable, and windproof clothing. But, don’t over do it! Heavy coats and heavy fill puffy jackets can be too much. For me, I found the Salewa Ortles Hybrid 2 hooded jacket to be perfect! It has medium fill on the front, back, shoulders, and hood, but not on the sides or arms. Where there isn’t fill, it offers a wind and water resistant material that will keep you comfortable and dry. It is also perfect for ice climbing and has with a banded end to the sleeve to prevent ice from falling inside your jacket. It also has a form-fitting insulated hoody to keep cold wind off my head. I also use one of my signature Arc'teryx beanies under the hood. There are other variations of clothing I see used. Most notable is a puffy vest surrounded with a windproof rain jacket. Mountain Hardwear and Patagonia sell nice climbing jackets. One other thing to consider is how long you will be on a climb. If you are on a multi-pitch big wall climb in the sun, you will need less fill to keep you warm and would overheat easier if you have too much fill in a jacket.

WEAR A JACKET INSIDE YOUR HARNESS LIKE YOU WOULD A SHIRT IN THE SUMMER

Wear your jacket inside your harness. Photo by Katie Meyer.

Wear your jacket inside your harness. Photo by Katie Meyer.

It’s tempting to wear a jacket on the outside of a harness. That will only get in your way and make it hard to belay. Plus, having your jacket tucked in will keep a lot of cold air out when you make more dynamic moves.

ALWAYS REGULATE BODY TEMPERATURE

Wear layers of clothing so you can regulate your temperature while climbing, as well as the hike in. Pace yourself on the hike in to avoid sweating and moisture. Climb at a steady pace to avid sweating from over exertion!

KEEP YOUR CLIMBING SHOES ON

It’s tempting to take your shoes off, get back into warm wool socks and hiking boots. But, if your climbing shoes have any moisture at all, the next time you climb you will stick your feet into a hard and frozen climbing shoe with ice on the inside! Then, you will climb with feet that feel like popsicles! This tip comes from personal experience! If you have very aggressive shoes like La Sportiva Solutions or Evolv Oracles and are forced to take them off, I would recommend putting something warm over your shoes to keep the moisture on the inside from freezing.

KEEP MOVING WHEN NOT CLIMBING OR BELAYING. DON’T SIT ON COLD ROCK!

Don’t sit on a rock and rest once you complete a climb. You need to keep moving and stay warm. You will get enough stationary rest when it’s time for you to belay!

PLAN YOUR MOVES ON THE GROUND (IN TRUE ADAM ONDRA STYLE) TO AVOID SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON THE CLIMB

As I mentioned before, the hardest job on a cold day of rock climbing is on the belayer. You will rest more to keep your hands warm. So, don’t waste time trying to figure out a sequence of moves when you are on the wall, find the sequence on the ground so your belayer can be walking around to keep warm!

DRINK LOTS OF LIQUIDS

One danger of being active in the cold is the inability to recognize dehydration as easily. Plus, with the heat-holding technology in many of today’s thermoses, it’s ease to carry hot drinks! You can also bring an MSR PocketRocket or JetBoil stove to heat water for tea, coffee, or hot chocolate to help warm you! I often bring small Keurig K-cups of dark hot chocolate for everyone. You will also become the best friend of every person there and you might actually get your warm jacket back!

EAT MORE

Our bodies burn more calories to generate warmth on cold days. You need more carbs to use as energy to sustain a long day of climbing. I’ve seen plenty of strong climbers loose energy on cold days by not eating enough.

WATCH FOR ICE

“Pale Face” becomes extremely icy when temperatures drop below freezing. Photo by  Kevin Flint .

“Pale Face” becomes extremely icy when temperatures drop below freezing. Photo by Kevin Flint.

One some routes, ice is easy to see. For example, Pale Face, Backlash, and Comic Relief Direct in the Obed are often completely covered in ice when temperatures drop below freezing. The danger comes from ice you don’t easily see. Have you ever climbed a route in the summer and found a secret pocket of water you didn’t expect? Have you stuck your hand in a crack to find it wet? That pocket and crack will now be ice and you will fail to get a grip. Routes in the Obed that stay wet with pockets of water, like Super Ego and Fat Lady Sings, also hold a lot of ice that is hard to see. The route Christine has a few pockets of water and typically has a small stream of ice on it. Before stepping into or grabbing a pocket, check to see if it is filled with ice!

DON’T CLIMB OR HIKE UNDER ICICLES!

Icicles form on “Comic Relief Direct” in the Obed Wild & Scenic River Area. Photo by  Kevin Flint .

Icicles form on “Comic Relief Direct” in the Obed Wild & Scenic River Area. Photo by Kevin Flint.

If you enter a crag in the early morning, you might fail to see the danger of some of the icicles. As the sun warms the rocks, the previously stable and frozen icicles become very unstable falling objects. You go from climber to a dart board!

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST

Forget the 17-degree suffer fest and climb at Onsight Rock Gym where it’s always warm!

ABOUT KEVIN

Kevin Flint is a content creator for the outdoor and travel destination industries, a gear tester for Backpacker magazine, an outdoor adventurer, and marketing director for Onsight Rock Gym. He shares his experiences and knowledge through his website and various outlets around the world. Visit him online at kevinflint.net and on social media channels like Instagram by using username @kevinflinttn

Conquering Fear

Yolanda Chen

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By: Ashley Durham

Conquering fear is hard to overcome. People handle fear in many different ways. When I first started climbing, I had a million things running through my head. I would get to the top and start to look down, and all I can think of is how high I was. I was afraid to come down. A climber once told me that to get over your fears you have to conquer them. Once I got to the top, I knew that I needed to overcome my fears. When climbing, you should make mini goals first, before making a huge goal. I coach little kids and I tell them to make mini goals and take it one step at a time. It always makes them feel more comfortable with heights knowing that they don’t need to go all the way to the top the first time around.

You might face many obstacles when climbing. You may not be able to get to the top of a route, or you didn’t train hard enough, or you are afraid to come down. When I first went outdoor climbing, I was terrified that I was going to break something. After doing a couple of routes outside, I felt more comfortable with climbing. It definitely wasn’t an easy thing to do. You have to trust your belayer. You also need to trust yourself that you will get to the next hold. Trust is a very important factor when you are climbing, Trusting someone and your gear will help you conquer certain fears if you have any. Trusting that you can get to your next hold without falling or without saying “take” is something that comes over time.Training really hard will help with that. Knowing that you trained hard enough to get to your next hold is very satisfying.

Being a new climber, there are many things I get nervous about, but once I overcome them, I am able to conquer those fears. The more you do something the better you get. Now I am comfortable with climbing, and I climb all the time. “If you're trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I've had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Michael Jordan

Climbing Through Life's Cruxes

Yolanda Chen

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"You're not good enough!" "You're not strong enough!" "You're not in shape like you used to be!" These are all things you have probably heard while trying out climbing. For me though, these words brought me into the climbing world...

It was my birthday. Instead of it being an amazing day, it was the day I starting packing because my husband had decided to leave me. I thought my life was over. Everything I had planned for the future was gone. I was headed to Knoxville to move into my parent's basement with my two dogs until I could figure out my next move. I was not only heartbroken, but my spirit was broken as well. I wasn't good enough, pretty enough, strong enough. I did the only thing I knew to do. I went outdoors. I am an avid hiker and backpacker so I hit the trail. Along the way, I reconnected with an old friend who had gotten me into whitewater sports like kayaking and rafting. His new thing was rock climbing and I was desperate for anything to distract me. I decided to give it a try.

I remember the first few times I climbed outside. I was in a super negative 'I can't' attitude. I couldn't pull myself up, I couldn't stay on the wall, I couldn't get to the top flawlessly. Everything my ex had said to me was bleeding over into my new life and I hated myself for letting him ruin my new life. I made the decision to really try and not let him control my thoughts anymore. I started climbing every Sunday. My friend helped me and I slowly got into a better mentality. Every time I fell, I didn't look at it as a failure. I looked at it as a way to grow. To look at the problem in a new way and see how I could change some things around to make it to the next hold. I wasn't always trying to get to the top anymore. I wanted to climb clean and hit my holds one higher at a time. I slowly felt my self-confidence coming back. I felt empowered every time I put on my harness. I watched other climbers, not with envy, but with awe, trying to learn their different techniques. Being outside put me in that healing environment but climbing gave me a sense of purpose, a way to grow stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Climbing was not easy though. Not only am I afraid of heights, but I have a fear of falling as well. Go figure, right?! Learning to trust my partner, my gear, and myself; especially after all my trust was shattered; was also very difficult. Overcoming these fears became my priority. During my weekly climbs, I would have my partner keep my slack super tight so I never got that feeling of falling off the wall. I also would have him lower me annoyingly slow till I started feeling more comfortable. I slowly started working harder routes and taking more falls because of it. The cool thing was, I noticed they weren't as scary as I thought! I was beginning to trust myself in setting my gear up properly and trusting my partner to make sure I was safe to climb as well. Next thing I knew, I was barely flinching if I missed a hold and fell. I was also noticing that my partner held me with a looser rope so I was climbing more on my own. I never felt so confident in my life! I even started to lead climb super easy routes as my next personal challenge.

This is what brought me to Onsight Rock Gym. I had only climbed outside with my friend throughout the summer and with my summer job ending, I knew I needed something different. I heard about Onsight from a friend and decided to apply. When I got the job I was so nervous because I was so new at climbing. I needn't of worried! The rock climbing community turned out to be like many of the other Knoxville outdoor communities like paddling or hiking. They accept you for who you are and only try to help make you better, not make you feel belittled because of your lack of knowledge. Anyone is welcome to try, no matter their skill level or physical capabilities. I learned in leaps and bounds and have found friends with similar interests in this new life of mine. I have bettered my climbing technique while being at the gym and met so many awesome people who have started including me in their climbs. I love getting to come to Onsight whether it's to work on problems through bouldering or work on my endurance through top-roping. I still struggle, but rock climbing has taught me to be strong, to strive to reach the top, but it also taught me to work the problems and enjoy the challenges along the way. Climbing makes me feel empowered and confident in my life and in myself. Never give up, no matter how deep a hole you're in. Something will come along to get you out. Lucky for me it was a rope and harness.

Kelly Sellers Onsight Rock Gym Staff