Last night I went to the Prime Climb rock climbing gym in Wallingford CT and was disappointed to find the manager Mike Couette absent.
Normally this would not disturb me much, but last night things were different. The owner and one of the somewhat regular employees Mark were there and there seemed to be quite a bit of commotion. It just felt different. It didn’t feel right.
After climbing, I called Mike. It turns out, he was laid off.
What?!? First off, get some Guts Prime Climb owner. If you lay someone off, do it in person. Second, I don’t know if you recognize what you’ve done. The great thing about having Mike run the gym is that he wasn’t just a gym-rat, he was a climber. A real climber. He took time to show Jesse and me climbing routes in CT. He taught us how to set up anchors on his own time because he was passionate about the outdoors and the sport of climbing.
As for the routes he set in the gym, I can only speak for myself, but I think they were far better planned and technique oriented than many of the others in the gym. His routes were consistently my favorite at the gym.
Mike was also a stickler for safety. He regularly petitioned to have equipment like the gym’s quickdraws replaced.
In speaking to one of the employees, I learned that there are indeed a lot of changes that will be taking place at the gym outside of Mike. To their credit, they are putting up a campus board, extending the lead wall, and closing some of the gaps in the front room.
But it’s hard to replace the guy who knew everyone’s name at the gym. The guy who could give solid gear advice and help walk you through the moves of 5.12s. The guy who, when Sander finally climbed his first 5.10, was willing to change the rating to 5.9+ because “Sander couldn’t possibly climb a 5.10.*” The guy who was really willing to sit down and share his climbing experiences with you. Mike was as much a part of the climber community as he was an employee of the gym.
*this was hilarious
There was one big thing that really stuck out at me while I was there last night: A heavy sense of self promotion. There’s a point to which self promotion is a good thing, but there’s a point where it becomes too much. That point was reached and passed when I heard one employee say:
“gym climbing is where it’s at. Going outside, you can get maybe two climbs in… but indoors… that’s what it’s all about.”
Now, I would consider myself a gym rat. And even I think this is too much. Gym climbing was created to try and mimic, to a certain degree, outdoor climbing. Mike used to say that in order to set a good route, you need to be familiar with good outdoors routes. In describing his route setting technique, he’d often relate specific technical moves to those that he’s experience outdoors.
‘gym climbing is where it’s at’ is not only improper grammar and shameless self promotion, it’s an alarming departure from the fundamentals that make Gym climbing worthwhile. I find it disheartening.
Once my current Prime Climb membership expires, I think I might check out the new Gym that’s opening up in New Haven. When it opens, I’ll be sure to let you know.