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Indoor Weekly: America’s First Climbing Gym Turns 30

Vertical World

Rich Johnston and Dan Cauthorn are co-founders of Vertical World, America’s First Climbing Gym. They opened their first rock climbing gym in 1987 in Seattle and are celebrating 30 years in business.

The first gym was opened with little more than rocks glued to painted plywood.

“Thirty years ago, in a rundown warehouse in Seattle, we were two ordinary climbers when we decided to glue some chunks of rock onto sheets of plywood,” said Johnston.

“With not much more than a vague concept and a shoestring budget when we opened Vertical World, we were laying the foundation for what is now the indoor climbing gym industry.”

Today they have over 80 employees, with another 15 coming on line with their new gym in Lynnwood, WA this summer.

“There are climbing gyms in every major city, handhold companies throughout the country, wall building companies flourishing, and gym facilities carving their significant financial mark on the outdoor industry,” said Johnston.

Two team members form the gym team took first and second at the Open Nationals. The team places in the top three at USAC Nationals and team members often take first in individual events.

“We have a philosophy that touches on the heritage and history of climbing. We are not a day care, or amusement park set up. We teach kids the risks and responsibilities of climbing. We educate youth on the importance of how they interface with the environment, out on trail work days and we teach the impact that climbing has on the outdoors.”