At Vertical Rock, the Only Way is Up

By Robin Earl | Photos by Matthew Rakola

On a recent visit to Vertical Rock Climbing and Fitness in Manassas, the atmosphere could best be described as “controlled energy.” A view from the front desk reveals dozens of climbers slowly spidering their way up the walls — huge floor-to-ceiling climbing structures that dominate the warehouse-sized building.

Coaches offer light instruction to teams of junior climbers as they take turns reaching for the next climbing hold. Several folks equipped with harnesses tentatively pick their way upward, secured by cable to a belaying partner on the floor. Elite athletes move vertically — and then horizontally — along a route of impossible-looking climbing holds. Every now and then, one misses a hand- or a foot-hold. Suddenly, they are swinging 30 feet up by their harness.

There is an intensity here. Each climber is engaged in an individual struggle with gravity. But the sounds of excited conversation and shouts of encouragement show that no one is really battling alone.

Ian Colton, who owns Vertical Rock with his wife Lindsey, has worked hard to build a feeling of community. He calls the gym a “living room,” where people meet, share their passion and get healthy. “We have had people meet here and end up getting married. Others we lose because they come in here, overweight, maybe depressed, and rock climbing opens up what they think they can do. They change their thinking, change their lifestyle and move to Colorado!”

Colton is certain that there is a rock climbing adventure waiting for anyone willing to try.

How does someone start rock climbing? “Just walk through the door. We can handle whatever you want to do, climbing or fitness related. We have everything you need,” Colton said. He said that the “Learn the Ropes” class is a good place to start, or “Try an open climb. You get three climbs for $25, and an instructor is with you the whole time. There is always someone here to help you get started.”

Colton points to the bouldering area, home to “The Cave” and “The Arch.” A dozen or so climbers are practicing bouldering — a rope-free, lower-altitude option. The floor around the foot of these structures is heavily padded; falls are inevitable, but lower impact. “Bouldering is where a lot of folks choose to begin” he said. “You don’t need anything but a pair of shoes and a chalk bag. You don’t need a partner, but after a few minutes in the bouldering area, you are bound to start making friends.”

Colton said, “Most people need encouragement to try the first time. We offer a ton of kids’ classes, teams and summer camps. We offer merit badge programs, birthday parties and overnight lock-ins. Parents bring their kids in and watch them climb. Before long, they want to try too. It’s very individual. It’s all about how you want to challenge yourself.”

Director of Operations Rachel Nystrom said, “A woman in her 50s came in looking to fulfill a bucket list challenge. She tried an open climb and made it to the top all three times. She was really happy and took information on climbing and fitness classes.” Nystorm smiled as someone who has seen this scenario hundreds of times, “We expect to see her again.”

Vertical Rock has been open for eight years and employs about 30. Colton said, “Most of our staff started climbing here. Their biggest driver is passion. They will talk for hours about carabiners and what kind of climbing shoes they like and why. They come here on their days off to climb. They get to know our customers and they give back with their passion.”

For those who prefer an outdoor adventure, Vertical Rock hosts rock climbing trips. Local excursions include visits to Great Falls National Park in McLean or Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Colton arranges multi-day trips out west or up north, and also leads groups that are interested in ice climbing.

Colton believes everyone should try rock climbing. “No matter how high you go or how hard, you can find your own challenge. And the byproduct is fitness.”

Vertical Rock Climbing and Fitness Center
Where: 100225 Nokesville Road, Manassas
When: Monday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Get in touch: 1-855-VA-CLIMB;
Learn more:

Fitness and Self-Defense
In addition to rock climbing classes, teams and camps, Vertical Rock offers programs in:

  • Four different types of yoga, including Acro Yoga (Acro Yoga integrates yoga with partnered acrobatics.)
  • Krav Maga — self defense and military style fitness training
  • Tactical Blade Concepts — lethal knife tactics with an emphasis on blade deployment and every day carry
  • Jui Jitsu
  • Slacklining
  • Rock Ready intense fitness classes
About Staff/Contributed 454 Articles
Piedmont Lifestyles Publications welcome contributions from any and all members of the community. Email news and photos to or call us at (540) 349-2951.

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