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Rock Climbing Gym History

Updated: 4 days ago

Klamath Falls has no shortage of rock climbing enthusiasts but (at the moment) lacks a dedicated gym. It’s actually remarkable that our rural small town ever had such a gym. In 2021, after a seventeen year run, The Yeti’s Lair closed its doors, leaving the climbing community hanging. As Watershed Row envisions the gym’s next chapter, we’d like to pay homage to its origins.

In 2003, Mike Angeli and a couple partners ventured to start a climbing gym. Two of them were climbers, Mike had experience in the business, and all saw the potential and need in Klamath Falls. The first step was to locate a suitable space. The warehouse complex on S 6th St was the first property they checked out… and the thirteenth. Ultimately, it proved the best suited space at a great location.

At the time, there were two climbing gym outfitters in the US; they offered design-build packages based on prefab components for a hefty price tag. Mike and his partners decided to take a more hands-on approach. They commissioned plans from a Vancouver, BC engineering firm, which allowed for a much more custom wall design. Construction was a do-it-yourself effort, with plenty of expertise on board (one of Mike’s partners was an aircraft builder). As much lumber as possible was salvaged from interior framework that had supported the building’s prior occupant, a commercial laundry—lumber that dated to the 1930s.

(It feels rather serendipitous that currently, all the material that Watershed Row has salvaged from additional interior deconstruction is housed in the gym, awaiting reincorporation into the renovated space. It’s noteworthy how this building has leaned on itself throughout its transformations, resulting in very little waste. Talk about a circular economy!)

Topped off with a rooftop PV system, The Yeti’s Lair was the first climbing gym west of the Mississippi to be solar powered onsite.

Through these cost-cutting efforts and a grassroots Adopt-A-Hold program, the gym launched in 2005 and was paid off in three years—a rarity in the industry. This in part helped sustain the business through the 2008 recession, when income from other tenants in the building waned. Despite the financial strains, Mike and his partners were committed to rock bottom pricing for memberships and passes. The biggest returns were in strengthening the climbing community.

The business was fine-tuned over time to better align with the community’s interests and needs. Bouldering rose well above top-roping in popularity (perhaps in part due to the wall height limits). The gym had a climbing team that competed nationally, starring Mike’s daughter, who ranked 14th best in the nation. It hosted many lively events in partnership with local vendors. World famous climbers, such as Hans Florine and Beth Rodden were known to drop in. At its peak, the Yeti’s Lair employed thirteen people, many of them accomplished climbers, route setters and outdoor enthusiasts themselves. Last but not least, the gym hosted countless birthday parties over the years…

Mike is excited to see the gym revitalized. He characterizes rock climbing as a life sport, one in which people of all ages can find joy and satisfaction. He saw first hand the tremendous role a climbing gym can play in a small town as a space for connection, wellness and community pride. He hopes local schools will participate to give kids exposure to the delights and rewards of climbing.

We, in turn, are excited to open the doors on the next era of Klamath Falls’ very own rock gym—to spruce up and re-equip the awesome retro walls, to highlight historical treasures like the collage of signatures on top of the boulder, and to restore title as the most energy independent and affordable rock gym west of the Mississippi. At the end of the day, rock climbing is about rocks and people: it should engage us with the amazing outdoors of Southern Oregon and the region. Watershed Row will build on the The Yeti’s Lair legacy, bringing people together for the love of climbing and the outdoors.

1 Comment

Kip Beckwith
Kip Beckwith
Jun 20

Awesome!!! Stoked!!

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