The following is a love letter as much as it is a story, by Pete Woods, and it highlights a recurring, relatable theme that we’ve seen in the letters of this series: it’s not as much about the features of the facility as it is about climbing as a sport and a community.

Setting underway in one of Aztec’s caves. Photo by Simon Villeneuve

For Aztec Ascent by Pete Woods

Aztec Ascent. Where’s that you say? More like when…

If you climbed in and around Ottawa in the late 1990s then you’ll remember Aztec. If you came into the sport after 1999 then, sadly, you may not ever have known it existed.

You might be thinking that it’s odd for me to be writing about a little known gym that opened and closed in less than three years, but Aztec Ascent was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. In hindsight, it was exactly what the Ottawa climbing community needed too, but that’s another story for another time.

Aztec Ascent was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

I came upon Aztec after only climbing for a couple of years. I had been climbing at, and worked at, both of the gyms in the city at the time, when I heard whispers (grumblings, actually) of a new gym that was opening up. I decided to go by to see what the fuss was about and, on that day, the arc of my climbing timeline took the shift that put me on the 20 year path to where I am today.

It was a brand new gym, so it had new angles, new flooring, new holds, and was clean and open; it felt like a place you could spend a lot of time in. The first time I walked in the door, I saw my friend Simon. He was setting routes and seemed psyched on the gym. He introduced me to the owner, Jason, who after just a few minutes of chatting about climbing and the gym life looked at me and said “I just fired my manager, want the job?”

I took it.

So now I was managing a climbing gym. It immersed me into the lifestyle, the sport, and the inner workings of a gym. That in itself didn’t have so much of an effect on my climbing growth as did the people, and competitions. I had been there only a few weeks, when Jason and Simon told me they were driving to Quebec for a competition. I had never been to a climbing comp, so of course I joined them.

I came in last.

I developed a near instant love of the competition atmosphere – what it brought to my climbing, the way it made me want to train, to get better, smarter, stronger. I met some of the most influential climbers I have ever met, whom I would not have met otherwise, who taught me things I would have needed years to learn on my own.

Aztec connected me, through competitions, with the Montreal climbing community, which was thriving in the late 90s, and those people are still near to my heart. It led me to the people who lived in a loft on St. Laurent with the best 45 degree wall in existence at the time. The sessions we had on that wall undoubtedly made me a better climber.

Aztec provided an environment that I could train in at any time, climbing long past closing with the music on loud, with just a few like-minded climbers who were driven to improve as much as I was. Those sessions made me a better climber too.

Aztec gave me a love for training, for climbing, for the people I met and, perhaps above all, a love for competitions. I only came last that one time, and never looked back except to see how far I’d come.

Aztec gave me a love for training, for climbing, for the people I met and, perhaps above all, a love for competitions.

The gym closed suddenly under disappointing circumstances early in the summer of 1999, which is also a story for another time. I lost touch with Jason over that summer and moved to Calgary in the fall but Jason, if you somehow come across this letter, you built a wonderful gym, fostered a great community of climbers and changed my life. Thank you for that.

Rest in Peace, Aztec Ascent.

– Pete Woods is one of Canada’s top MC’s for climbing competitions and is based in Calgary.

Pete, still deep in the comp scene, and rockin’ it
Pete on the mic as Emcee

Tell us what you love about your climbing gym! Send your letter to See original post, and love letters to Project Cloverdale, to Planet Rock and Joe Rockhead’s.