MPHC Climbing Gym: One of Manhattan’s Best-Kept Secrets

Karen Peress

Manhattan is not known as a place for sporting activities, least so the midtown, Times Square vicinity. Skyscrapers sprout from every corner, and driving or even walking through the area can be a nightmare. Yet for those keen on some feasible form of exercise and reprieve from the city’s bustle, there is a well-kept secret within the walls of a nondescript building along 43rd Street: one of the city’s oldest climbing gyms.

Part of the Manhattan Plaza Health Club, the 1600-square-foot climbing gym (the size of two racquetball courts) offers climbing walls for both top-roping (where a harness and a partner to belay or pull you up are necessary) and bouldering (where you climb shorter walls with no equipment, with soft mats to catch you if you fall).

Walking into the 17-year-old gym, you’re greeted by climbers from teenagers to working professionals eagerly discussing and sharing their strategies for the various routes, which have a range of difficulty levels as indicated by the labels at the starting points.

Of course, being located right next to Times Square – something no other climbing gym can boast of, as other midtown gyms have either caved to competition from larger rivals downtown and in Brooklyn or simply ceased operations – means space constraints are a problem given the high rentals. To ensure climbers are continually challenged, sections of the MPHC walls are re-routed each week, and the gym is completely re-designed every 6-8 weeks.

The Climbing Gym

“When we first opened, indoor climbing was still a relatively new sport, but we’ve since had more and more people joining us over the years, prompting an expansion a decade ago,” says MPHC climbing director, William Baer. “It’s an exciting sport, something you can do in a small space because you’re going upwards. We have a great, open community of climbers and one of the lowest rates around.”

A day pass begins at $20 for adults and $15 for youth 14 and under, and monthly memberships are available either for all facilities in MPHC – which also has tennis courts, aerobics exercise rooms, and a pool – or the climbing gym alone, starting at a student rate of $165 for three months.

Not an experienced climber? Don’t fret. The climbing gym offers beginner lessons where harness and shoe rentals are thrown in and all the basics are taught by experts, such as climbing safely, belaying, and belay certification.

If you don’t have a belay partner, climbers and staff at the gym will gladly help you out, even without being asked. Start at lower levels: for bouldering, that would be “V0,” and for top-rope, that would be “5.5” – the bigger the number, the higher the difficulty.

Climbing is a tough full-body workout that allows you to control your own progress and build strength and agility, but if you think this is a sport for men, think again. One of the most impressive climbers in the gym is regular Karen Peress, 24, who attacks the walls with both aggressiveness and ease.

Says the Queens native from Jamaica Estates who has been climbing for a year: “It’s very convenient to get here because of the gym’s location, and the people here are fun.”

Article Written by: Pei Shan Ho

About : Pei Shan is a former national gymnast from Singapore currently completing a dual degree masters in journalism and international affairs at Columbia University. She delights in trying new sports, beating the boys, and living to eat.