Social climbers


Dear Ace: Spring has put me in a Nietzschean mood. Where can I find a giant rock face to climb?—Der-Überbergsteiger-in-Charlottesville

Ace groks ya, Friedrich. Having put himself through the kinds of dramatic highs and lows that most people never see outside of Wagnerian opera, he knows a thing or two about living on the edge, and nothing takes him there faster than scaling a naked cliff face through sheer force of will.

If you’re skilled enough to be climbing outdoors, there are a variety of local and regional groups that will lead you to the right spots. The Outdoor Adventure Social Club, headquartered on the Downtown Mall, is not a bad place to start. You’ll also want to investigate the online Charlottesville Rock Climbing and the Blue Ridge Climbing groups, members of which meet regularly for climbing expeditions at sites like Shenandoah Valley’s Old Rag and the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Other popular spots include Manchester Wall, a series of old bridge abutments by the James River in Richmond, and places throughout George Washington National Forest and Great Falls National Park.

As for public indoor rock gyms, Charlottesville’s only got one: The Rocky Top Rec Center at 1729 Allied St., behind C’Ville Coffee. A “no-frills” neighborhood gym with a friendly, collegial atmosphere and abundant charm (not to mention some of the most affordable day use and monthly membership rates in town), Rocky Top features a vertical wall room with overhangs, plus an upstairs bouldering cave for lateral climbing. Bill Thompson, the longtime owner and operator of the gym, offers training instruction and conducts group exercise sessions.

And when, like Zarathustra, you’re ready to come down from the mountain for some cross-training, Rocky Top also includes a racquetball court, free weights, treadmills and a rowing machine.  

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 21 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to