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The New River’s New Rock Climbing

Man-made climbing walls can be as challenging as natural rock.
The Climbing merit badge was created in 1997 and requires Scouts to learn a variety of skills related to both climbing and rappelling. (Photo by Eldorado Walls)

Climbers travel from all over the world for the New River Gorge’s pristine sandstone. However, despite its many cliffs, the NRG may not be able to support the massive demand of over 50,000 Boy Scouts and Venturers expected to visit the NRG for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. In response to this, the Summit Bechtel Reserve is working with Eldorado Walls to build towers and cliffs that meet the needs of the Scouts while mimicking the thought-provoking climbing in the area.

Eldorado Walls has been designing and building climbing walls around the country for over 15 years and is finalizing their designs for the the Summit’s climbing facility. The finished walls should be able to accommodate up to 1,400 participants at a time and will allow for bouldering and roped climbing.

“The first thing the climbing walls at the Summit are designed for is the jamboree,” explained Steve Holmes, vice president of Eldorado Walls. “After the jamboree it can be used for teaching a variety of things, from lead climbing to anchor building.”


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Climbing, which became a merit badge in 1997, provides Scouts with an experience that teaches technical skills and technique as well as mental control and discipline. The Summit’s impressive climbing structures will help to prepare Scouts for more than just rock climbing.

“There are a lot of skills in rock climbing that build character as well as physical skills and rope skills,” Holmes said.

Mimicking Perfection: Re-creating The NRG’s Climbing

Even though the Summit is located in the New River Gorge, the sandstone climbing mecca of the East, it simply won’t be able to fulfill the needs of the Scouts that will be attending the jamboree. Considering the transportation challenges, potential environmental impact and the eight points of Climb On Safely, which requires qualified supervision and instruction, it would be impossible to accommodate such a large number of Scouts in the gorge itself.

[pullquote]“The New River Gorge is a great and beautiful place, but it doesn’t necessarily have the types of routes for our numbers and to teach what we want to teach.” — Steve Holmes, Eldorado Walls Vice President [/pullquote]

The park’s Climbing Management Plan, developed in cooperation with the rock climbing community, limits climbing group sizes to 12 at its largest group site, which will also become a problem for huge numbers of Scouts. Even without the logistical problems and local restrictions, the relative difficulty and distance between appropriate climbs make it inadequate for the jamboree.

Climbing holds are marked to indicate the route
The substructure of the Summit climbing walls will be made of 3/16-inch steel. (Photo by Eldorado Walls)

“The New River Gorge is a great and beautiful place, but it doesn’t necessarily have the types of routes for our numbers and to teach what we want to teach,” said Holmes. “We are building enough climbing walls at the Summit to make it self-contained without getting out into the gorge.”

However, Scouts will soon be able to experience the NRG without ever leaving the Summit. The artificial walls are designed to look and even climb like the local rock. All of the walls and freestanding towers have natural looking features, as well as the ability to add and remove climbing holds. Some of the walls are even built into reinforced cliff sides.

In other words, the BSA and Eldorado Walls will be bringing the New River Gorge to the Scouts for the 2013 Jamboree at the Summit.

So what do you think? Will these walls fit the needs of the Summit as well as the New River Gorge?

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