Vertical World helps climbers reach new horizons

For the kids of Kitsap County, ascending Mount McKinley may not be an accessible venture.

But fourth- and fifth-grade students at PineCrest and Clear Creek elementary schools got a taste of what climbing one of the world’s largest peaks might take.

Vertical World, Kitsap County’s indoor climbing facility, has used programs like its adventure education program to help get people hooked on climbing.

“One of the really cool things we’ve done the last two years is an adventure education program with PineCrest and Clear Creek where we’ll send instructors into PE classes,” Vertical World manager Joe Holmes said. “The unit was called ‘Climbing Mt. McKinley. We covered history, first aid, orienting, math skills — how much food and water will you need to take with you for climbing mountains for two weeks. Then we had the kids come in. It’s one of the more instructive and innovative programs we’ve done.”

Vertical World, located on State Route 303, has given an outlet to many of Kitsap County’s residents and all over western Washington, with similar gyms open in Seattle and Redmond.

The first indoor climbing gym to open in the United States in 1987, the Kitsap branch has been running for nearly four years. Already, its impact in the community has been felt.

“We’ve got a lot of kids in here,” Holmes said. “It’s kind of rewarding to have these kids find something. A lot of kids out there are not that ball and stick mentality.”

The gym has been able to serve a niche for those kids who don’t find what they’re looking for in conventional sports.

“It’s a good sport for kids that don’t connect with the soccer team or the basketball team,” Sarah Pugh, program coordinator and climbing team coach, said. “You can never tell whose going to be good at it. The kids that are the least experienced are the ones that blow your mind.”

With programs for everyone, ranging from young children to adults, Vertical World offers a unique way to help its participants, Holmes said.

“It’s something people shouldn’t be intimidated by,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot of innovative ways to utilizing climbing with teamwork, trust, confidence. Any number of things. We really are a unique resource here in Kitsap County.”

Pugh agreed, saying that her climbing experiences have helped her in many aspects of her personal life.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Pugh said. “And it forces you to look in black and white. Because there is some detrimental risk involved, it forces you to step up and be assertive. These are all things I wasn’t really good at before.”

They both said they’ve seen similar impacts in the lives of many different groups that use the climbing facility. For Holmes, it was most noticeable in a group of special education students.

“We have some special needs kids that have really kind of come out of their hole with climbing,” he said.

For Pugh, the same experience could be seen in some home school students.

“It’s been awesome seeing some of the growth in their confidence levels,” she said. “Just the trust. When someone is holding the end of that rope, you just have to lay it all out and go for it.”

Both said the sport is also an attractive option because of the effect it has on gender differences.

“Climbing is a sport that’s very equalizing not only across ability but gender,” Holmes said.

“What got me into the sport is it makes a lot of sense,” Pugh said. “Men and women compete equally. It’s creative. Everyone moves differently on the wall.”

Both Holmes and Pugh share a love for climbing that they said makes them lucky.

“That was a goal to me,” Holmes said. “My goal in life was to get paid to do what I’d do for free. So it’s pretty good.”

“That’s why I work here,” Pugh said. “That’s the essence of it. It’s not like going to work. I have a lot of friends that complain about their jobs. I’ve done that.”

As a 26-year-old, Pugh said the gym offers something to do for her age range.

“People are getting into it because it is more something to do on a Friday night,” Pugh said. “For people my age, there’s not always a lot to do out here. This is a nice option.”

The gym also offers programs for the military, parents and has a women’s group.

“For military, we do memberships where you can freeze it when gone,” Pugh said. “We understand what they’re doing and what we can do to support them.”

“Parents with younger children can take classes together,” Holmes said. “We’re teaching parents how to handle the ropes, tie the harness. Climbing is one of the few sports where family interaction takes place.”

Pugh said the women’s group has a special place in her heart since she helped start it.

“And most of (the climbing team member’s) moms are in my women’s group,” Pugh said. “I kind of started it by cause I wanted some girl climbing partners and it’s taken off.”

As for the climbing team, two members, Victoria Cartwright and Kale Perrone, are off competing at the national competition in Boston this weekend. But Pugh said she’s proud of all of her kids.

“I’m so proud of them,” Pugh said. “And not just those two kids. They’re all really new to the sport and doing it against kids that have been doing this their whole lives. Our kids have the most amazing mentality. They rally around each other. And they’re from ages 7 to 19. You can’t get that diverse group of age groups together like that (with anything else).

“I kind of feel like they’re my own kids. I’m attached to them. It’s special to be involved in something like that.”

Pugh said she’s just happy to work in a great environment.

“Here, I have all these amazing people that are into it,” she said. “You have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a lot of people and really get to know them. I’m really lucky. It’s like playing.”

To find out more about Vertical World and its programs, call (360)373-6676 or visit

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