Pandora Street

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 should 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.



The Elderid Ohm

We offer the Elderid Ohm for use by climbers that are mismatched in weight.  It is a cam-type device embedded in a quickdraw that is clipped to the first bolt. We rent them for day use or 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

We won't be charging for a lead test, but we will be 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, 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.



We've done the math and read the tea leaves.  We've figured out a price list that will make this all work and get you all climbing for the best price we can offer.

First, all memberships are valid in the new gym at their regular expiry date. In fact, we'll be adding time to make up for the change over close down.  Same goes for punches left on your punch pass, they never expire. 

For a limited time, the year pass is $800 and starts the day we open on Pandora.  That means you're climbing for free on John Street. Buy it today and you're getting 13 months for the price of 12. Existing membership? You keep your expiry date and we credit you any time between closing on John and opening on Pandora.  Talk to us at the desk for details.

Year Membership
Adult $800
Student $680
Early Entrance $550 (In by 2pm - $6 top up if in late) [starting on Pandora]

Day Passes [starting on Pandora]
Adult $18 (10x punch card $158)
Student $16 (10x punch card $136)
Power Hour $11.43 (That's $12 with the tax)

3 Month Membership
Adult $300
Student $265

For now, the day pass, punch card and one month rates stay at the old rate as long as we are on John Street.

We will be announcing prices for our Beginner Lesson, Lead Lesson and other programs (including things like morning yoga) once we work them out. There will be member discounts on programs.

Once we open on Pandora, we will also be offering a monthly Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) membership for ongoing climbing at a monthly rate.  No contract. No cancellation fee.

EFT Rate (No extra $100 for existing members)
Adult $172 first month and $72 per month thereafter. 
Student $159 first month and $59 per month thereafter.

Use the EFT Membership to create your own membership of any length. For a 3 month membership by EFT an adult would pay 172+72+72=$316 instead of our $300 upfront rate. Want a four or five month membership but we don't offer them? You can make that happen with our EFT Membership. When it's time to cancel, let us know.

Taxes are extra and prices may change at any time.




Sneak Peek at the Climbing

We're happy to show you all some more detail on the climbing and bouldering we are preparing for you.   (Can't read it? Click the pics to embiggen)

Lead Belay with the Gri-Gri

Belaying a leader in a climbing gym with a Gri-Gri requires some skills you won't have learned if you've only belayed with ATC-type devices. Luckily it's not hard to make the adjustment.

For an overview, check the Petzl technical page: Belaying with the GRIGRI 

The big thing to learn is how to momentarily allow rope to be pulled through the GRIGRI without blocking the cam's action.

  1. Hold the rope with at least three fingers.
  2. Use the index finger to support the GRIGRI
  3. The thumb presses on the cam.

The action must be momentary, and as soon as the leader has clipped return to the primary belaying position.

More of a visual learner? Have a look at the official Petzl video.

Views Inside the Building

Construction is really moving along, with the interior construction getting going in a big way. Here are some shots to keep you motivated.  (You just might want to train endurance...)

 Looking up from back of the gym.  Upper mezzanine on right has climbing as tall as the tallest lines in Crag X on John Street.  

Looking up from back of the gym.  Upper mezzanine on right has climbing as tall as the tallest lines in Crag X on John Street.  

 Stairs up to the mezzanine.  Lower bouldering area starts right of the stairs.

Stairs up to the mezzanine.  Lower bouldering area starts right of the stairs.

 Looking up at the future site of the chains for the huge wall in the back right corner. Seriously big when you are standing there. 

Looking up at the future site of the chains for the huge wall in the back right corner. Seriously big when you are standing there. 

 View from the top of the stairs looking towards the upper bouldering area. We are loving the natural light.

View from the top of the stairs looking towards the upper bouldering area. We are loving the natural light.

All these shots by Silva. 

A tiny FAQ

Q: What percentage of the new gym will be leadable?

A: 100%