Your Guide to Milwaukee’s Rock Climbing Scene

Even beginners can get a grip at one of Milwaukee’s climbing gyms.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO VENTURE to the Rockies – or even to Devil’s Lake – to rock climb. Indoor gyms make it easy to try the sport out for a fun afternoon with a couple friends. And you might find that scaling a giant wall isn’t as difficult (or scary) as you think. 

Getting Started

Climbing may look intimidating, but it’s an ideal beginner sport. “You don’t have to have any gear or any experience to try it out at a gym,” says Craig Burzynski, co-owner of Adventure Rock, one of Milwaukee’s climbing gyms.   

According to Burzynski, first-timers can expect a similar experience at most reputable gyms. After you sign liability forms, a staff member teaches you to use the gear and helps pinpoint which type of climbing is best for you. A single climb can take just a few minutes, but Burzynski says people often spend hours; most gyms have multiple routes that vary in difficulty. 



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How to Choose a Climb

There are a few types of climbing to consider. In top roping, you’re attached to the wall with ropes controlled by a person on the ground called a belayer. In lead climbing, you bring the rope up with you, clipping into the wall along the way. Bouldering, or free climbing, involves climbing side to side on shorter walls without ropes. It’s more challenging than it sounds: “You do five moves and you’re tired,” says Burzynski.  

First-timers and kids may appreciate the auto-belay function at Adventure Rock, which uses machines to take tying knots and holding ropes out of the equation. Turner Hall, another local gym, doesn’t have an
auto-belay machine, but manager Kim Kosmitis recommends clip-and-go climbing for brand-new climbers.
“We teach them how to belay on our devices and then they climb pre-set routes,” he says. 

Lead climbing and top roping are better options for advanced climbers, but even beginner climbs are challenging – in a good way. Along with the full-body workout (expect to be sore after your first climb), figuring out the best way up the wall can be mentally strenuous – and rewarding.  

If fear’s standing between you and climbing, Kosmitis assures first-timers it’s safe, and that even the most unathletic folks can learn how to successfully scale a wall. “Don’t make a judgment about what you think you can do,” he says. “Think about what your goal is, and if that’s to get up 10 feet, so be it.” 

Gym Guide

Adventure Rock

↗ Riverwest, Brookfield, Walker’s Point (bouldering only) | $24 

↗ Top roping, bouldering, lead climbing and auto-belay climbing

Turner Hall

↗ 1034 Vel R. Phillips Ave. | Adults: $20, students: $15 

↗ Top roping, lead climbing and bouldering


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s March issue.

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