Chapel Hill: Sports

Business is looking up at Progression Climbing

Progressive Climbing will feature negative inclines, like the one shown in this 2013 file photo, but unlike many other climbing facilities will feature extra-thick padding on the floor in lieu of harnesses.
Progressive Climbing will feature negative inclines, like the one shown in this 2013 file photo, but unlike many other climbing facilities will feature extra-thick padding on the floor in lieu of harnesses. 2013 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

In more than one household around Chapel Hill, people are cursing groundhogs like “Punxutawney Phil,” the Triangle’s “Sir Walter Wally,” or any of the number of regional weather-forecasting rodents right about now.

Somewhere along the line, winter more than wore out its welcome. The thrill of another snow day evolved into the nightmarish notion of school in July, and the recent pristine, freshly-fallen snow has retreated into crusty mounds of dirty ice.

If the recent winter elements and this week’s warmer weather have conspired to have you climbing the walls, there might be a way to answer the clarion call without trampling the artwork and living room décor.

Progression Climbing in Chapel Hill is preparing to open its doors at 1713 Legion Road to the public, and it will focus exclusively on bouldering.

Unlike top-climbing facilities akin to those at the Chapel Hill Community Center or on the UNC campus, bouldering at Progression Climbing has no ropes or harnesses. The 3,500-square foot facility, located behind Ram’s Plaza, will offer challenging climbing terrain appropriate for beginners and experts alike.

“We’ll cater to everyone from beginners to elite climbers,” Progression Climbing marketing director Jeff Dunbar said.

After a soft-opening this week, the facility is gearing up for an official grand opening March 1, complete with a regional climbing competition featuring bouldering enthusiasts from dozens of climbing gyms.

“We are expecting to have about 200 people in attendance for our grand opening, including some of the strongest climbers around,” owner and founder Rodney Biddle II said. “We’ve invited beginners and experts from 37 climbing gyms around the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast region, and everyone is excited to climb in our new state-of-the-art facility.”

The opening will reflect the fruition of a dream for Biddle.

“Rodney is the reason this place is here,” Dunbar said. “It’s his passion, his baby, his sweat, and his gumption. Plus, he’s a total rock star in the local climbing community.”

During a recent visit to check in on construction progress, Biddle’s mother Kay agreed with Dunbar.

“This is Rodney’s vision, and he built it,” she said. “There were obstacles in the beginning, but it’s been great to see it take shape from beams and wood to a finished product.”

Biddle said a lot of what has transpired has had to do with Dunbar’s presence, however.

“Jeff came in and said, ‘I heard there’s going to be a climbing center. I’ve got to be a part of that,’” Biddle said.

As climbers themselves, Biddle and Dunbar made sure safety figured prominently into plans for the facility.

“We really wanted to build a state-of-the-art bouldering gym that puts a premium on every climber’s safety,” Dunbar said, “so we spent a ton of extra time and money to develop our 1,600 square foot, custom-made, continuous padded flooring system. It is twice as thick as any other climbing gym floor in the Triangle or the Triad.”

At the bottom of the gym’s 16-foot artificial climbing walls are huge, 13-inch-thick crash pads to cushion the landings for all falling climbers.

“It’s because we’re climbers first, and we’re looking out for other climbers,” Dunbar said, “and teaching safety is right at the top of our list of things to really hammer home.”

Biddle said bouldering is an activity whose time has finally come.

“In my lifetime bouldering has literally exploded in popularity, especially among younger climbers who are now discovering the sport in their early teens and twenties,” Biddle said. “It is awesome to see what these young kids can do.”

Dunbar said climbers tend to be very specific in their tastes.

“It’s unbelievable how different the climbing communities are, people who like bouldering versus the people to like top-rope climbing,” he pointed out. “Bouldering is typically climbing on shorter routes unencumbered by ropes, harnesses, or safety equipment. It’s ‘improv,’ and it’s all about movement, creativity, and power.”

Public climbing day passes will be $13 for adults and $10 for college students and children, with climbing shoe rentals for just $3 and chalk bags for $2. Monthly rates will be $49 for adults and $39 for college students and children.

Dunbar said he wants the gym’s innovative programs and climbing terrain to attract everyone from parents with eager young kids to experienced college students and veteran climbers want a safe place to train for their outdoor climbing adventures. As such, they will offer a range of classes and clinics for beginners and experts alike.

Additional programs are also on the menu, including weekly after-school programs, summer camps, birthday parties, and overnight lock-ins, coordinated by UNC graduate Kristi Buckley. UNC student Alison Spatz will serve as the gym’s Membership Director.

But one of the biggest goals for Biddle will be the building of teams to represent Progression Climbing at competitions.

“We want folks to purchase day-passes,” Biddle said, “but we’re really pushing these significantly-sized teams to be competitive in this circuit.”

Youth and adult climbing teams will provide climbers of all ages and skill levels access to elite coaches who can help take climbing to the next level, a press release stated. Progression Climbing’s competitive youth and adult teams will receive four hours of coaching and supervised training each week, and recreational teams will receive two hours of coaching each week.

Biddle hopes the facility will become a community center for “social climbers” as well.

“Our new bouldering gym will be very social and have a great local community vibe,” he said, “and anyone who climbs here is going to become a stronger climber regardless of where they start from — I guarantee it.”

Another goal is to lead bouldering excursions outside of the gym itself.

“The real sport is outside,” Biddle explained.

“This is a training ground for real climbing outdoors,” Dunbar said, “and there are a whole lot of healthy things that go with that. We’re hoping to put together members-only excursions. You can sign up once a month where Rodney will take you out for real outdoor climbing.

Down the line, Biddle and Dunbar said the future for bouldering is climbing even higher.

“We’d love a second location,” Biddle said.

“ Or a third,” Dunbar interjected.

“Hopefully, the market will appreciate what we have,” Biddle added, “and if they do, we hope to expand to another location.”

For more information about the new facility, climbers can call (919) 904-7217, email, or visit their website: The gym also has a “Progression Climbing” Facebook page.

So if this long winter has us clawing at the walls, perhaps a visit to Progression Climbing and a footprint on rock walls beats a foot on the print of your Norman Rockwell. Art lovers: think of the Monet you’ll save.