Rock climbers from all over the world come to far east El Paso County to climb at Hueco Tanks, a state park, historic site and rock-climbing paradise with an international reputation.
But the sport hasn’t taken off locally as it has other places, and one El Paso rock-climbing enthusiast and his business partner, an Air Force doctor, are hoping to change that.
Albert Alvarez and Nicholas Villalobos are building an indoor climbing gym in Northwest El Paso, at 1775 Cimarron Rialto Place. Sessions Climbing Gym is slated for completion in early 2022. It will feature Olympic-grade climbing walls and a café, the owners said.
“We hope to get everyone from El Paso involved,” Villalobos said. “We think that a lot of other big cities are starting to really embrace the climbing community as a sport, and we want El Paso to be at the forefront of that evolution.”
The gym is the next step for Alvarez’s tour business, Sessions Climbing & Guiding, which he founded in 2012 after moving back to El Paso, he said. The tour business will be absorbed into the gym’s operations and continue to offer guided climbing tours.
For many rock climbers, their introduction to the sport was as a kid, or a natural next step from something like hiking. For Alvarez, it was a total glitch.
When Alvarez was a freshman at the University of Texas at El Paso, he found a hat in the library and kept it. He didn’t recognize the rock climbing-affiliated logo and wore it around until he was stopped by the hat’s original owner.
“At first I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to steal your hat.’ He asked if I wanted to go rock climbing, and invited me out that weekend. The rest is history, and I’ve been climbing ever since,” Alvarez said.
Rock climbing has been growing in popularity across the country. For the first time this summer, sport climbing will be an Olympic sport at the postponed Tokyo 2020 games.
Both Villalobos and Alvarez have military backgrounds. Alvarez retired from the U.S. Navy, and Villalobos is an active duty doctor in the Air Force.
Villalobos said their total investment, including land acquisition and construction, is at about $6 million, and the funding is coming from private sources.
The gym will have various membership options, including day passes.
Right now, There are limited options for indoor climbing gyms in El Paso.
Cave Climbing Gym, 113 Executive Center, is available for indoor climbing and bouldering and offers classes, events and tours for all ability levels. There are climbing walls at UTEP and Fort Bliss, but they are reserved for students and soldiers.
There is a climbing gym under construction in the Bay Area of California called Session. Alvarez said that gym and Sessions are completely different gyms with no affiliation.
Climbing is extremely popular at Hueco Tanks. The word hueco means hole, and the holey spaces in the boulders are the perfect size for hands and feet.
But as with any other sport, it’s not always wise to go out to the climbing mecca on your first time. That’s where guiding and indoor training come in.
“Our vision is to have a hub in El Paso that’s going to usher people from town and into the gym, and hopefully get people prepped where they can experience the outdoors,” Alvarez said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422.