Pandora Street

Climbing Harnesses and Age

A quick note on harness age and why we can’t let someone use an old harness in the gym.

Manufacturers set a lifespan for their products and no climbing company (to my knowledge) has a harness recommendation of longer than ten years. So: a harness older than ten years is a harness that the manufacturer has declared unfit for climbing. While people are of course free to do whatever they want outside the gym, inside Crag X things are a little different.

Our rule is pretty simple: Climbing equipment must be used according to manufacturers directions.

For harnesses this means only climbing rated harnesses of the correct age and condition can be used. While a harness might in fact be safe, there is no way for us to know, so we follow the recommendations of the people that made the harness.

There are a wide range of harnesses under $60 and most of them are way more comfortable than harnesses of ten years ago.

Are gear companies shortening their recommended life spans just to sell more harnesses? Maybe. Does buying a new harness every ten years contribute to waste? Yep. Can you continue to use your old harness outside for years and suffer no ill-efects? Totally possible.

As a business with a responsibility to both the climber with the old harness and the people below them who might be landed on if the harness breaks, we really have no choice. The old harness can’t be used.

So, get yourself one of those comfy new $55 harnesses and hangdog in the gym with the rest of us.


There is more than one way to skin a cat. In climbing there is more than one way to do everything. Here’s why we picked the methods we use at Crag X.

Figure 8 Follow Through

This is a standard knot. Easy for us to inspect at a distance. Easy to teach. If you know the bowline or the Yosemite Tuck, then you certainly know the Figure 8. Every climber knows it. (Don’t bother telling anybody this, but very often people tie the fancy knot wrong – giving us bowlines with their tail to the wrong side of the loop and Yosemite Tucks that were actually partial undoing of the knot. It’s just harder to mess up a figure-of-eight.)

Two-fists of Tail

The keeper knot doesn’t do anything safety-wise for the climber. Modern practice in the climbing world is to teach two-fists of tail. So that’s what we do. Tie a keeper if you like, we just don’t teach it anymore.

No Yosemite Tuck (or other variations or knots)

We get safety from standardization. It’s easier to notice to one incorrectly-tied knot against a sea of many correctly-tied knots. The difference stands out. Feel free to use any knot or tuck you like outside of Crag X, just in here it needs to be the standard figure eight follow through. (shhh about people tying them wrong)

The GriGri

It’s a perfectly good belay device with an assisted braking feature that allows climbing to be safe and social and fun. The Gri-Gri doesn’t have to lead to lazy belaying. We know that. The Gri-Gri also widens the weight differnce range. It adds a large measure of safety. It’s not perect, but nothing is.

No ATC/JUl/myFavouriteBelayDevice/smart ?

We don’t have a problem with any of these devices. We know the GriGri isn’t perfect. We chose to standardize on the GriGri. You can only back one horse. The GriGri patent expired this year, so expect a flood of new devices. We keep an open mind.


We choose to rent and instruct with harnesses that have the old-school double back buckles. Speed buckles take care of themselves, but we have an obligation to teach the double-back. Looking for leg buckles, and putting it on is good practice too. Think how easy a nice modern one-buckle harness will feel once you know the old way.

Low Percentage Errors: Is Nit-Picking Worth It?

Why do we care about updating climbers techniques for belaying or tieing in? Why change something safe that has served climbers well?

Why are we such nit-pickers?

Often, it’s not a question of replacing a dangerous technique with a safe one. Mostly, it’s replacing a 90 percent good technique with a 95 percent one.

Accidents in climbing are rare. That’s because in the redundant systems used by climbers, more than one mistake has to happen at once. Lowering off the end of a rope on rappel requires two errors - the climber has to forget to close the system, and the rope has to be too short for the rappel.

A climber can climb for their whole career, never knotting the end of the rope but each time making sure the rope is long enough. At age 75 they can look back at an accident free career. Does an accident free record make Sally a safe climber? Is Sally an unsafe climber because she never closed the system? Those are hard to answer questions.

Here’s an easier one to answer: Would Sally reduce the chance of accident by making sure the rope is the right length AND closing the system?

Low percentage accidents are a tough one - two climbers can have accident free careers even though one was untrained and careless and one was highly trained and careful. One (or two) climbing careers just isn’t enough data to make a judgement on technique.

We’ve been teaching climbing for 29 years and keeping up with the latest in methods for teaching and climbing safely the whole time.

We’ve also been around long enough to see one in a hundred accidents happen and even a few one in 10,000 accidents. Our experience isn’t enough on its own. We belong to professional organizations and follow the advice of industry and professionals world wide, and we also contribute to the development of standards for safety. Then we pass that information on to our staff and then to you.

When one of our young staff offers advice on how to do something, remember that it isn’t a case of safe vs unsafe or pitting their personal experience against yours. Instead our advice comes from the collective experience of a worldwide effort of climbing professionals and industry to make climbing safer.

Unlikely things happen to less than 1 percent of the community, but the climber involved gets 100 percent of the consequences.

Be a part of a community where good practice is the norm, where climbers look out for each other, and give (and take!) advice in a positive spirit.

Congratulations to British Columbia and National Climbing Team members.

In addition to sponsoring two great people to keep them doing what they’re doing, we also offer full Athletic Memberships to members of the British Columbia and National climbing team members (13+)

Memberships last as long as the climber is listed as a member of the Provincial or National Team. Thanks to previous years Athletic Membership recipients.

If you are a member of the BC or National team and did not get an invitation email, please contact to set up your Athletic Membership.

More announcements are expected after the Nationals in March.

The announcement from CEC for the Youth National Squad:

Feb.24, 2019: YOUTH NATIONAL SQUAD - The CEC is excited to announce the following athletes have been selected to the Youth National Squad. These athletes are invited to the Youth National Team Selection Camp (details coming soon) for the opportunity to be selected to the Youth World Championships Squad.

Andrew Wilson, High Performance Director
Climbing Escalade Canada

B Male
Dylan Le QC
Oscar Baudrand. BC
TJ Foley. AB
Connor Jones. BC
Ian Tan. ON
Joseph Gray. ON

B Female
Sydney Park. ON
Tula Sherkat. BC
Mateja Vukojevic. ON
Lea Latour. QC
Emi Takashiba. BC
Sloane Smith. ON

A Male
Ben Newman. BC
Brennan Doyle. BC
Guy McNamee. BC
Victor Baudrand. BC
Kindar McNamee. BC
Ethan Hoffman. BC

A Female
Indiana Chapman. ON
Paige Boklaschuk. AB
Riley Galloway. ON
Sonya Coliander BC
Aspen Hendry. QC
Anne Sophie Nguyen. QC

Junior Male
Sean Faulkner BC
Manh Ellis. ON
Zach Richardson. ON
Dylan Bokenfohr. ON
David Trudeau. QC
Finn Battersby. BC

Junior Female
Bea Evans. ON
Bronwen Karnis. ON
Yinki Ying. ON
Sophie Buitendyk. BC
Madison Fischer. ON
Lisa Van de Panne. AB

Canadian Open athletes:
Sean Mccoll
Alanna Yip
Alison Vest
Babette Roy
Rebecca Frangos
Jason Holowach
Lucas Uchida
Sebastian Lazure
— Andrew Wilson, High Performance Director Climbing Escalade Canada

Old news (1998)



Stories by Katherine Dedyna Times Colonist Life writer
Times Colonist (Victoria) 
Sat Jun 13  1998
Section: News

The great outdoors it isn't. But blatantly fake indoor rock climbing walls are getting a grip on increasing numbers of Victorians who hanker after year-round, all-weather workouts. These walls mimic some of the wilderness challenge but offer short stints close to cold pop and a soundtrack that ranges from rap to Dean Martin. 
And you don't have to be a die-hard outdoorsy type. Indoor climbing is on the ascendant with complete novices, kids who once relied on the tallest tree in the neighborhood as well as dedicated mountaineers. 

Group home worker Katherine Dacombe has never had a foot hold on an outdoor rock face in her life. But for the last eight months, she and her husband have been climbing the walls indoors at Crag X three times a week, getting a sense of climbing in a controlled, safe environment where people who know what they're doing hold the ropes. 

"It's very centering, I find, because it's almost like a puzzle,'' she says of the 6,000 square feet gold-colored textured plywood dotted with 2,000 hand and foot grips. "It's very rewarding to finally work out a route because it's not just brute strength.'' 

The walls reach about 10 metres to a ceiling in a one-time welding shop near the Bay Street Bridge where huge doors let blue sky pour in. 

She was scared when she first started, but now she knows she's safe in her harness. "As long as you trust your partner, it's not scary. You fall all the time. It's normal. That's how you push yourself to realize the next level a little beyond your skill level whereas outside you don't want to do something you're not comfortable with. 

"Climbing, I find, is not about making it to the top but about getting beyond where you were last time. It's a challenge to be able to look at the rope, stand back and assess the flow and decide how you'd get up.'' 

The workout might not do much for your cardio but after a day here you definitely feels a lot more of your muscles, some you didn't know you had, says Crag X owner Nikolai Galadza, a hip 25 year-old with a finger on time-off trends. 

One of his promos reads: "High on the walls of Crag X your mental clarity will make the difference between success and falling. Sound too challenging? No fear, there's always TV.'' 

It's probably more dangerous to ride a bike around town than it is to climb at Crag X, says Galadza. 

"The sport has grown so much in the last five to 10 years because the technological advances in the safety gear have gone through the roof.'' 

Prices run at $12 for an adult day to an annual student pass for $245 to five kid sessions for $50. 

Galadza got into climbing on the Niagara Escarpment, became an instructor and fell in love with Victoria a few years ago. Coincidentally, it was one of the last major centres in Canada that didn't have a climbing gym. 

Despite its proximity to natural wonders, there is little in the way of rock face to compare with Squamish, hence his centre. 

The facility is finishing its third year of operation and has expansion plans. "We're going to be twice the size. The whole thing is going to be renovated and redone.'' 

The centre sets up the anchoring and rope systems for the 27 routes up the walls which are changed every two months to keep the challenge intact. 

And it's good enough for teacher Martin Conder, 50, who has been climbing for a quarter-century all over Western North America: "It's a very big part of my life.'' 

He counts on Crag X for off-season training but before it was on the scene, he built his own small climbing wall in the basement for the off-season. 

"It keeps me in good shape for when I get back on the real rock. You can do this all winter.'' 

The facility is also a place to meet fellow climbers and take pleasure in taking control. 

Computer programmer Jim McAleer, 33, looks to climbing for stress relief. "It takes your mind off work.'' 

His colleague Andrew Zoltay, 31, comes two or three a week, for up to four hours at a time. "It's great. I used to play a lot of volleyball but it was too hard on my joints.'' 

Brothers Luke and Nathan Duffus, aged seven and 12, have been climbing the walls ever since Luke had his first visit on his birthday. 

"He's been hooked on it ever since,'' says his mother, Kim, unfazed as her boys clamber all over the place with intensity and commitment. 

"I think the physical activity is great as well as the discipline,'' she says. "We get here at least twice a week. I love watching them - they're quite safe in here.'' 

Wearing a Godzilla T-shirt, under his harness, Luke makes like Spiderman.  "It's fun,'' he says, his blue eyes blazing, even if it is "kind of hard.'' 

"The first time on the ledge, I shaked,'' Luke recalls. But no more. The Glanford Grade One student now finds it thrilling. 

As he struggles for a hand hold, belayer James Laurie urges: "Reach up, you're there. There's a big pocket on the inside of it. You almost had it. Push with your feet, really hard. Go for it.'' 

Rock climbing is not about dragging yourself up with big arms, says Galadza. 

"Some women who can't do one chin-up can climb circles around the guys here who work out regularly. It has to do with balance, technique, using your legs and body... Women tend to be stronger to their weight than guys. They're more flexible, so movement in their hips is easier and they have a better sense of balance. 

"Often when I teach technique, I try to get guys to emulate a female style.'' 

Crag X has a women's clubs and is starting one for teens at risk.

Learning to Lead at Crag X

So, you've signed up for our lead course and are looking forward to the sharp end!

To get the most out of your lesson, you and your partner must take the time to practice clipping a rope into a draw with both your left hand and your right hand, and for both left facing and right facing draws.

1. Head to the desk ahead of your class and let them know that you and your partner are taking the lead course and would like to be taught how to clip.  You don't have to book this mini-lesson, but we can give you the best attention when the gym is quieter. If we are really slammed, we might not be able to give you the mini lesson then and there. We can always help you pick a quiet time that works for you both! 

The mini-lesson covers:

  • The Clipping Sequence: Knot, Slide, Stabilize, Clip

  • Clipping: left and right handed from both the left and the right.

  • Back Clipping: how and why to avoid it.

2. Borrow a tag line from the desk and use it while top roping to practice your clipping. Clipping is not hard, but it is a physical skill that can be improved only through repetition - so practice! Your goal should be smooth clipping with either hand before your Lead Course.

3. Start thinking like a leader! When climbing and faux-leading, start thinking about good clipping positions and being stable. When you are on lead, stability of the body will help you control your nerves. Visualize being above your last bolt when faux-leading, it will help when you get to the real deal.

Not every video on youtube shows good methodology, here's one we think is good.


Thanks to Drew and Mario, the MoonBoard is up and running!  Not sure about how it works? Take a gander at this little film.


Filter through 12,000 problems by grade, benchmark or rating. Add problems and keep a tick list. Make problems for others to try. Track your progress and attempts. Make yet another profile on an app. Think to yourself 'Holy crap do I need my phone for everything now?' Or ignore the tech and just climb. The angle and hold design translate into training that really shows up outside on rock. It's pretty hard though, it starts at V4.

Our setup is Moonboard 2016 and have the Original School Holds, School Holds Set A, School Holds Set B and installed the LED kit, so get the MoonBoard app for maximum blinky goodness. Available for both APPLE and ANDROID pocket computers.

Need help with the app?  Get video tips.



Being a bit better for the environment

When we decided to close down at John Street and build ourselves a new gym in a new location there were as a lot to decide on when making the change. We knew what we wanted to do to make the gym good for climbers. We also knew what we wanted to change about how we operated to make the impact of the gym lighter on the planet.

We knew we wanted to be downtown and easily accessible by bike and transit. We chose downtown for the transit options and in our proposal to the city we asked for a sidewalk bump out for bike parking. The design and construction (and then installation of bike racks) was a $40K choice we knew we wanted to make. (Personally we feel the city should participate in the cost of bike infrastructure, especially since the bump out and bike racks became city property the moment we opened our doors. Tell your city councillor bikes are important!) We hope climbers will support us in our downtown location and leave the car at home some of the time.

We wanted to build as green as we could. Our walls are super-insulated concrete panels made locally and with a very long expected life span. They have good thermal mass, so heating and cooling needs are lower than they were at John Street! They are even movable and could be reused in a different location! We use no carbon based fuel in the building to operate - at John Street we used propane and hated it. Heat and cooling is from a heat-pump and electricity is the best option in BC for lowest-impact heating. Water heat is on demand and all toilets etc are low flow. We used as many recyclable materials in the construction as possible.

Lighting in the new gym is all LED. Thanks to our big window and natural light, they are all ‘light harvesting’ which means that the building knows how much natural light is available and turns down the electric lights when not needed. The close lights even turn down more than the ones far from the window.

We even made some small changes to operations to reduce waste. We’ve decided to stop selling drinks out of the fridge to save on energy and to keep plastic out of the landfills. We’ve tried over the years to switch to only glass bottles, but water was always a problem. The only glass water we could source was from Italy - not exactly an environmentally friendly product! So instead we have no drinks for sale at all and a free water fountain serving up Victoria’s tap water.

We installed air dryers in the bathrooms and put the paper towel dispenser just a tiny bit farther away than the air dryer to encourage less paper waste. We hope to be able to compost in the future, but commercial composting services are all designed for restaurants and high volume businesses. When we can get composting we will.

We are always looking for ways to keep it green at Crag X and welcome and ideas you have for us!

The Elderid Ohm

We offer the Elderid Ohm for sale to climbers that are mismatched in weight.  It is a cam-type device embedded in a quickdraw that is clipped to the first bolt. We sell them at retail

It works really well when used correctly and opens up climbing partnerships that are not possible without it.

A few things about the OHM:

1. It should only be used by climbers that are more than 1.4 times weight difference.  Using it with climbers who are close in weight will lead to very hard catches and an increased chance of injury. So a 90lb belayer can use it with a climber that is at least 126lbs.  A 125lb belayer could use it with a climber 175lbs or more. 

2. Look at the Elderid site (  and watch the video on use before you try it and ask our staff about its use. 

The next steps

We finally feel like we are open.

Although we let the first climbers in back on November 30, it only just now feels like we've moved beyond thrashing to get things up and running.

Lead Kits

Lead Kits

It was a big transition for us moving into a space with so much to offer climbers and so much for us to do. We had to hire more people to help us run Crag X. We had to really focus on figuring out together where we would draw the line on safety for lead climbing. When you're trying to figure out what 'the rules' are going to be you realize that there is a wide opinion about what is acceptable, what is best practice and even what is dangerous. We think we've got it now. Next steps is broadening what we teach to help climbers make the transition to the outdoors.

Studio space

Studio space

Al tells the tale.

Al tells the tale.

Hold storage

Hold storage

Lots has been added to what we can offer too.  Not only were we able to welcome back lead climbing to Crag X (last seen in the 90s!) we have added auto-belays (and removed them, and sent them back, and put them back up again) and stand-alone no-interfereing-with-climbing bouldering too. And a water fountain! (Seriously, you have no idea how much we hated putting plastic bottles into the world.) Perhaps the biggest change from John Street is the studio. Finally a place to do all the stretching and working out that we all had to do in the nooks and crannies of the old gym. There's more to come in that space, with early morning workouts and stretching/yoga classes in our plans. It's a great place for talks (Island Lines-yay Sean!) too. 

There is still more in the works - comps, courses, features, clinics and more.  We'll let you know as we get closer. We're still finishing construction here and there. Our new goal for ourselves is to have a fully operational battle station by November 30, 2016.

Open Monday November 30 at Noon

We are so happy to be able to bring you all back in. We can't wait to show you Crag X.

A couple of things to keep in mind:
Help us figure out the kinks and work out the good ways of doing things. It's entirely possible that we change our mind on policy stuff once we see how it works. Thanks for your understanding.
We can only do so many Lead Tests in a day. We'll get through you all as quickly as we are able. We want you leading as much as you want you leading.
Please have a look at my post on Leading at Crag X to get a sense of what we are looking for. Practicing might be a good idea.

The walls are amazing. We have lots of routes up and more to come. We're setting nearly non-stop.

See you soon.


We're cooked.

Many days of long days and now we need a day to ourselves.  We're closing down the site Saturday and taking a day off. We need it.

As much as you want us open, we want it more.

Thanks for waiting.

Well, that was nuts.

Walltopia is done. Plaque up. Tools down. Plamen and the boys on their way to the next climbing wall needing building.

Now it's our turn to really give it hard.  We are behind where we thought we would be, but the shipping delays and aggressive Walltopia timeline are behind us know.  We're starting a massive load in of our flooring tomorrow at 9am and then we are giving it until it's all over.


Our plan is to get the mezzanine open first so that all our friends with the climbing shakes can get their fix. Setters have been on the wall for a few days, putting up plastic as Walltopia works below. Once the city gives us occupancy (Tuesday?) we'll put out the call. Fingers crossed for Wednesday evening. 

The last push is on, thanks for waiting.


Closing in on Closing Down

Well, we're nearly there. 

At the end of the month we'll have a final party on John Street, burn a couch, and then close down the first twenty years of Crag X. 

The new gym is looking amazing. Nikolai and I can hardly believe ourselves when we see the walls materializing in front of our eyes. Shapes that started as discussions and sketches  and folded note cards on Molé breakfast tables are now towering over our heads. Crazy. 

Soon all the things we want to offer Victoria climbers will be ready on Pandora Street. Leadable everything, dedicated bouldering, easy to clean bathrooms. Lockers, training equipment (and space for training!), clean air, warm air, and natural light. Tons of holds, tons of T-nuts, tons of options for route setters to make their magic and give us that pleasure that comes from working our bodies at something that feels both natural and adventurous. A lift. A great big open space to share with friends, walls to teach us the satisfaction of perseverance against our own limits. A meeting place for a community that values participation and effort alongside athletic achievement. Auto-belays for when the challenge is personal or the goal is zenned-out training. Or when the goal is just an hour on your own. A nice place for Drew and Silva and Milah and Sean and Leslie and Jaimy and Kirsten and Harrison and Lee and Spencer to work. 

We can't wait.

PS This was supposed to be a post reminding everyone that once we close down on John Street, our 13 for 12 months deal disappears. So consider yourself reminded.


We're looking at a mid November opening date.

Schedule News

We found out this morning that the shipping containers holding our climbing wall won't be arriving to Vancouver until September 28 and then on to Victoria. The promised date for arrival in Victoria was September 9th.  This means that we won't be meeting our October 15th opening day target.  

We don't yet have a new target date for the opening, but we hope to have one soon.  

What at we do know: 

1. We will remain open at John Street until October 15th, and possibly later. 

2. For anyone who bought a three month or year membership, we will be extending your expiry date. Your membership won't start until we open  the doors on Pandora. It just means your free climbing on John Street lasts a little longer.

3. Anyone who bought a shorter membership to 'tide you over' till the new gym will be able to upgrade by just paying the difference. Ask at the desk for more details.  

We are disappointed in the delay. We'll update you all as soon as we have a better handle on this. Thanks for all the support and for your understanding. 

Nikolai and Kenneth


Look at our old T-Shirts

We've been digging through our bottom drawers looking for all the old t-shirts we've ever made. Check out the gallery below and let us know if you have one that's not pictured.  We'd love it if you could send us a picture. Take a good shot and send it to and we'll add it to the gallery crediting you.

Lead Climbing at Crag X

Crag X will have lead climbing again once we move into our new facility. It's something we were sad to have to discontinue when John Street got too busy. Lead Climbing is back and we're providing the GRIGRI and the rope free of charge when you climb with us. You provide the solid skills. We know you have questions about how it's going to work that we will be answering here on our blog as we get closer to opening.

The Lead Test

Our lead test is $10. We don't charge members or climbers who took a lead lesson with us. We are expecting climbers to be highly proficient in the skills of lead climbing and belaying. Our test will be taken on a 5.10a route. 

To lead climb at Crag X you must be able to:

  1. Give out and take in slack with a GRIGRI

  2. Confidently clip left and right handed.

  3. Recognize and avoid Z-Clips and Back Clips (Skipping a bolt is an automatic fail)

  4. Know how to fall, and maintain a good position to fall

  5. As a belayer, understand the importance of body position, fall forces and preparing for and catching a fall

Unlike our top-rope belay test, where we will help you adapt your hand-sequence to the Gri-Gri, for the lead test we expect you to be proficient with the Gri-Gri before challenging the test. So, start having your partner down climb routes to get used to letting out slack correctly. We can even lend you a Gri-Gri to practice (without a climber) yarding out rope quickly. Of course, you can also learn with us and take a lead course and learn the ins and outs of Gri-Gri use in the gym. It's not hard, it just takes some practice. See our post Belaying with a GRIGRI earlier this month for more info on the mechanics of belaying.

We will be pre-booking the lead tests, [turns out this didn’t work well, we know do them when available] and you'll have to find a partner to take the test with you. For all our long-time friends and members, we will be running some mega-test sessions to get as many of you up and running as possible during our opening months.