Reaching heights on real rocks and fake walls

It may sound a little suspicious that the workers here carry ropes, metal contraptions, rocks and gallons of acid.

The ropes and clips, however, are for protection, and the acid is used to clean off the chalk, necessary for good friction when climbing the rocks that can reach up to 32-feet high at an indoor gym called Rockville in Hamilton, New Jersey, which is frequented by College students.

“Climbing offers something that’s physically, intellectually and spiritually challenging-not a lot of sports do,” Rockville private owner Michael Fortunado said.

Fortunado, a former restaurant owner, discovered climbing when an electrician-friend was doing some work on the restaurant and suggested climbing as a good sport. He climbed once at a local gym that had just opened up, and then he bought equipment the next day.

Likewise, College graduate student Travis Trumbly was hooked to Rockville on his first visit. He found the gym in an online search, checked it out and bought a semester-long membership that day. Ever since, he has had consistent membership. He went with a residence life staff group and took his floor as a community advisor (CA).

“The staff there are all great, and have always been very friendly and supportive of TCNJ groups,” he said.

The staff, which was all Rockville climbers at one point, chat with Fortunado and the climbers. The atmosphere is friendly and lively, as children and adults try bouldering (climbing without rope) and attach themselves to ropes to climb rocks attached to walls.

Trumbly climbs two to three times a week with a couple of his pole vaulting friends and runs a club on, “TCNJ rock climbers.”

“I was looking around one day and saw there were like 15 people who listed climbing as an activity,” he said. “I figured this would be a great way to be able to invite them to go climbing sometime.”

One cannot talk about climbing up without telling the survival stories of falling down (Rockville does have a waiver participants must sign). Trumbly said he has read “Touching the Void” and “Into Thin Air,” two books about mountaineers in peril.

“I’ve taken 20-foot falls routinely,” Fortunado said. “As long as you don’t swing into the wall you’re OK. (If you do) you need to hit the wall with all four (limbs).”

Trumbly once climbed 10 feet above the clip that attached him to the wall and fell 22 feet on a 32 feet high wall.

“It was a big fall, but I didn’t get hurt at all, just rattled me,” he said.

Fortunado broke his ankle last year when he swung into the wall after taking a calculated risk in climbing above his clip.

“The sport is about taking a risk and assessing whether it’s worth it,” Fortunado said.

In outdoor climbing, climbers call “Rock out” when one knocks down a loose rock. In El Potrero, Mexico, a piece of rock shaken by a previous climber fell 10 feet away from the side of Fortunado.

“You just close your eyes and hope that it misses you,” Fortunado said. Or, he adds, climbers may find shelter in overhangs. The helmets climbers wear are only enough to protect them from pebbles. Bigger rocks threaten neck injuries.

The price of gear is enough to encourage a prospective outdoor climber to stay indoors a while. While Rockville costs $15 for five climbs, outdoor gear costs anywhere from $103, for the most basic gear, to $1,000, according to Fortunado.

Climbing is a sport open to all ages. Fortunado began climbing eight years ago at the age of 34, and he says he would like to try The Nose or El Capitan in Yosemite within the next 10-15 years.

“You can do the sport in your 60s, no problem,” he said.

Although his one-year-old daughter has not yet begun, his three-year old daughter climbs all the way to the top of the highest wall.

The walls contain routes color-coded with tape for the difficulty level of the rock sequence, which changes daily.

“It’s the course that you follow that determines how difficult it is,” Fortunado said.

Whether middle aged or college aged, the sport is good exercise. Fortunado is in shape soley from climbing.

“I climb because it is great exercise, stress relief and fun,” Trumbly said. “It gives me a lot of motivation to still work out on campus and try to stay in shape.”

Although climbing is an individual competition, both Trumbly and Fortunado note the camaraderie of the activity.

“The climbing community seems to be a very friendly community with everyone always being talkative and outgoing,” Trumbly said. “I guess because it’s such a select community of people, we all share a very common interest.”

For more information on Rockville, visit