Delaware Rock Gym Makes Climbing Fun for All in Bear

Delaware Rock Gym offers a place to make friends, tie in and let go.

As a student at University of Delaware (UD) in the mid-1990s, Matt McCorquodale got into sport climbing to escape. “Of course the physical challenge was fun, but what really drew me to it was the focus,” he says. “When you focus on one thing so intensely—as climbing requires you to do—all those other things in the back of your mind disappear. It’s like meditation.”

Towering rocks aren’t exactly commonplace in Delaware, so McCorquodale ventured to the Gunks (short for the Shawangunk Mountains) in upstate New York, a premier traditional—or trad—climbing site offering iconic routes that rival those in Western states. (Trad climbing requires a lead climber to place and clean their own equipment. In sport climbing, participants clip into predrilled bolts as they ascend.) McCorquodale also spent time in the Needles of South Dakota. Locally, he practiced indoors on UD’s rock wall.

After college, McCorquodale worked as an engineer, “not enjoying it much,” he laments, so he meditated on what to do next. Then he aimed high—about 44 feet.

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Securing a structure with adequate space for climbing was the crux of his success. “That’s what stopped me from doing this sooner,” says McCorquodale, who opened Delaware Rock Gym inside an office park in Bear in 2007. It was and still is the only gym of its kind in the state.

The diverse terrain appeals to all ages and levels of climbers. There’s an area for bouldering—a style of free climbing close to the ground—as well as myriad top rope and lead climbing routes (the highest is 44 feet).

“We try to cultivate a fun, positive environment for everyone,” says McCorquodale, who has welcomed enthusiasts as young as 3 and as old as 90. “A number of members are in their 70s,” he notes. Birthday parties are a fun way to spark interest in kids.

“We take pride in setting interesting climbs,” McCorquodale adds. His team strikes a balance between leaving routes up for returning climbers and creating new challenges. “You’ll find a fresh route about every week.”

Experienced rock jocks can run through rough skills to show proficiency and climb on. Nervous novices, on the other hand, can join a guided Trial Climbs session with tailored top rope routes. Ready to commit? With the Intro to Climbing course, you can learn the ropes and routes with staff—from fastening a harness and tying into the rope to safety communication and belaying your partner. Advanced indoor climbers can also sign up for the Intro to Sport Climbing or Indoor to Outdoor Sport Transition classes. (And if you have no clue what “belaying” even means, you can ask for a cram course on climbing lingo.)

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At Delaware Rock Gym in Bear, diverse terrain and routes appeal to boulderers and lead climbers of all levels. Complete novice? Sign up for an introductory course to help you learn the ropes and rules of this community-building sport.
At Delaware Rock Gym in Bear, diverse terrain and routes appeal to boulderers and lead climbers of all levels. Complete novice? Sign up for an introductory course to help you learn the ropes and rules of this community-building sport. Photo by Justin Heyes.

Solo passholders and members seeking a climbing pal (belayer) can approach staff for help. “We’re always trying to connect climbers and match you based on skills,” says Nikki Perkins, an employee who also discovered the sport as a student at UD and also found her husband within the rock gym’s walls. McCorquodale adds: “We have a running list of people who have met their significant other here.”

While climbing is generally a social sport, McCorquodale says he’s been surprised to see the impact on the community. “It’s something I hadn’t considered,” he says, “but it’s also been one of the most rewarding things.”

Delaware Rock Gym, 520 Carson Drive, Bear; 838-5850; derockgym.com. Climbing shoes, harnesses, chalk bags and other gear are also available for rent.

Related: Find Your Zen at Outdoor Yoga Classes in Delaware

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