Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Grand River Rocks – The premier indoor climbing gym in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Grand River Rocks is one of a number of new climbing gyms that have opened in Ontario over the last few years. We recently caught up with Josh Tuffin from Grand River Rocks and explored a variety of issues including climbing being in the Olympics, water sprinklers and LRT.
How did you get into the climbing gym business?
Grand River Rocks: Honestly, it was one of those right-place-at-the-right-time with the right people moments. I was 26, had no real job and was tired of harassing Mike for rides to the Guelph Grotto during the week. The other three owners had great jobs but weren’t happy with where they were working. It seemed pretty boneheaded if we didn't at least try to open a gym here in Kitchener-Waterloo.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

How long has GRR been open?
Grand River Rocks: We just had our fifth birthday this summer.
Can you describe the gym in terms of floor space, wall height and any other unique features?
Grand River Rocks: The gym has 16, 000 square-feet of floor space and our roped walls range from 28 to 36 feet in height. We have two separate boulders that are between 12 to 15 feet in height and are protected by Flashed seamless crash pads. There are eight auto-belays available, a race wall and two 20-foot tall kids' adventure climbs. On average, we have 160 routes and 120 boulder problems available for members.

The gym also offers yoga, a fully stocked weight room, two party areas for rent and a pro shop that carries a variety of shoes, harnesses and gym swag.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

Who built the facility and what were some of the surprises you encountered during the process?
Grand River Rocks: Rockwerx Canada built both the original facility and our expansion. They are super-awesome to work with and produce a great product. As for surprises, we were very lucky to not have many of those. Skotty (one of the other owners) was previously a building inspector, so he brought a ton of experience to the table during that process. In the end, the only thing that got us was the sprinklers. Lots and lots of sprinklers. Pretty much anywhere you can imagine. The inspectors wanted fire suppression.
What are some of the challenges of operating a climbing gym in Kitchener-Waterloo?
Grand River Rocks: For the last two years, the biggest challenge of running any business in this area has been to survive the construction of the city’s light rail transit system. I would describe it as being under the most poorly planned siege in history. One day, we would lose water due to the replacement of the water main. The next week we would lose water again because someone drove over the new water main with an excavator. But wait, this battle isn’t over yet, the following week we lost water for a third time because new crew mistakenly ripped it out thinking it was the old main. So yah, the worst siege ever.

That said, we're incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing member base that's willing to navigate a city where one in three roads are shut down just to come climbing. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is!

In the end, however, all this disruption will be worth it as we will have an LRT stop right outside the gym.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

Does the gym offer any unique courses or training programs?
Grand River Rocks: We run all the basics. We teach people how to belay, and then later to lead belay and climb. Once a week we run an Intro to Technique course. We have a weekly kids drop-in program on Saturday evenings. We also have two sign-up-only kids programs; one at a competitive level and the other, recreational.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

We recently chatted about climbing now being in the Olympics and some of the wins and challenges that may arise from this new recognition. Care to share your thoughts?
Grand River Rocks: I’m pretty excited about the prospect of climbing being taken a little more seriously as a sport, but I think this decision to add climbing to the Olympics is a double-edged sword.

On the upside, we've seen climbing explode over the last decade – just imagine the quantum leap it will take once people start seeing it on their TV alongside basketball and all the other big-league sports. We are already seeing gyms pop up faster than anyone could have imaged (which I think is awesome) and I think the added Olympic exposure will only help fuel this growth. These new gyms offer more places to climb and a greater variety of route-setting. They'll also create a broader pool of athletes to push the limits of our sport.

The possible downside is that this larger group of climbers will start moving out of the gyms and to the local crags. The new volume of climbers could push certain access issues too far. That paired with the sad fact that in any cross-section of people, there will be a few “bad seeds." If you increase the number of climbers, you increase the likelihood of the “bad seeds” bringing their less-than-ideal behavior and ethics to these crags, which create new access problems.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

Have you noticed any climbing trends since you've opened the gym?
Grand River Rocks: One that really stands out in our gym is that there's been a bit of a resurgence in trad climbing. Kids who I thought would gravitate to bouldering or sport climbing are coming in and talking about their adventures in the Dacks.
Grand River Rocks

Grand River Rocks

What has been the response from the local community?
Grand River Rocks: It's been years since Higher Ground closed its doors, so folks were pretty excited to have somewhere to climb that didn’t involve 30 to 40 minutes of driving. On our first day we had a line-up waiting for us to open.
Any facility expansion plans or updates?
Grand River Rocks: This summer we replaced the flooring on the original side of the gym and at the moment we are replacing the bouldering flooring due to a sprinkler accident. Aside from that, there's nothing too big in the pipeline for us.

Grand River Rocks Location

You can find out more about Grand River Rocks at http://grandriverrocks.com/
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 35 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid-80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.