Richland High grad trades golf career for rock climbing gym

Pat Howard was looking for something that would push himself the way playing golf used to.

Howard, a Richland High School graduate, was a standout golfer who went on to compete for Oregon State University. He then worked as an assistant professional at Bellevue’s Overlake Golf and Country Club for the past 15 years.

“I loved golf, but playing as a pro, I was not going to make it on a national level,” Howard said.

So Howard left Overlake, came back to the Tri-Cities, and – along with co-founders Rich Julian, Ben Herrington and Davita Gurian – opened the Rock Shop, a climbing gym in Richland, on Jan. 13.

It’s a 10,000-square-foot facility with enormous walls that people climb on.

The bouldering-focused indoor climbing gym allows people of all ages to challenge themselves.

But just what is bouldering?

It’s a form of rock climbing that doesn’t use a rope and harness for protection.

It’s just the climber, their climbing shoes and a bit of chalk for their hands.

The climbing walls are 14 to 16 feet tall, and the boulders – as the routes are called – are designated by colored climbing holds.

There are eight different colors, with yellow being the easiest routes and black the hardest.

If the climber falls, they land on a soft, padded floor.

The key, Howard said, is changing the climbing routes on a regular basis.

“Here, we can switch out routes every three or four weeks,” he said.

There are currently 87 different routes to try in the Rock Shop.

“You have to have a good route setter,” Howard said. “I gave our head route setter (Herrington) a budget, and said have at it.”

Herrington, one of the top bouldering climbers in the state, is well known for his route setting, Howard said.

This type of gym is the first of its kind in the Tri-Cities, and the fifth in Eastern Washington.

There are two bouldering facilities in Spokane, one in Wenatchee and another in Yakima.

Howard has done both types of climbing – bouldering and ropes.

“For me, bouldering is easier. It depends on what your strength is,” he said. “It’s about power and technique. A lot of people gravitate to one or the other. In ropes, for me, I have had a hard time trusting the system. I’m always checking on my ropes.”

But that’s not the only reason Howard likes bouldering.

“Bouldering can be pretty quick. The routes are shorter, and can take 10 to 30 seconds to complete on most of them,” he said. “In bouldering, you have to use shorter moves that are much more powerful. Ropes are longer routes, with much more sustained moves.”

As your body gets used to the movement in bouldering, you can advance to tougher routes, he said.

“It can be a physical puzzle,” Howard said. “It may take someone a couple of days to complete a route, by shuffling a foot a little wider on a boulder to move up.”

Howard also said bouldering seems to be more social than rope climbing.

“You don’t need a partner to do bouldering,” he said. “It’s a very encouraging environment.”

But, Howard added, it’s a heck of a workout too.

“It kicks your butt,” he said. “You’ll get to sweating trying to climb a route. It’s why I keep this gym so cold.”

The new gym has been about five years in the making.

Howard and Julian – who lived in the Tri-Cities, with Howard in Bellevue – would meet in Leavenworth to climb rocks.

“I joined a climbing gym in Bellevue,” said Howard. “I just got into it. It was a way to feel competitive with myself, and to do something for myself. To me, it’s still fun to climb.”

During those meetings in Leavenworth, the two started talking about opening a climbing gym.

“(Rich) was frustrated because there was no place to train in the Tri-Cities,” Howard said. “We started thinking something like this might work over in the Tri-Cities.”

So they sought out investors from the Seattle area – and were shot down numerous times.

They finally found someone to back their plan. Howard called the investor, who wanted to remain anonymous, patient.

Last year, Howard and his partners were planning on opening the gym in the fall, but the pandemic put a stop to that.

“We’re about two to three months behind schedule,” he said. “The wall-building company in Montreal had to stop work with the pandemic.”

But they finally got things done and opened.

“Opening during Covid, I mean, there’s never a perfect time to open a business,” Howard said. “But I know that if we didn’t jump on this, the chance may never come around again. So far, we’ve been fortunate.”

That’s because people have been showing up at the gym.

“The response has been very encouraging, although we’ve been limited because of Covid,” Howard said. “We can have 25% of capacity, which is 24 people.”

Participants must wear masks and wash hands before and after climbing.

People also are asked to maintain social distancing, and to limit their visits to two hours.

Howard said he believes now is the right time for a gym like this in the Tri-Cities.

“I don’t think this would have worked in the Tri-Cities 20 years ago. But the industry has grown,” he said. “I think people are looking for different ways to stay fit. For me, going to a regular gym each week was hard.”

In addition to the climbing walls, the facility has a weight room and locker rooms.

The gym is taking reservations only at info@rockshopclimbing.com or online at rockshopclimbing.com.

Rock Shop is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Prices vary, from monthly packages ($62/month for an adult) to annual passes ($682/year for an adult), day passes ($16 for an adult), or 10-punch passes ($140 for an adult).

Youth with student ID and family rates are available.

Shoe rentals are available.

The Rock Shop: 1965 Fowler St., Richland; 509-619-0075; rockshopclimbing.com; Facebook.

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