Oct. 15 2013 06:50 PM

Mesa Rim and Vertical Hold battle for best climbing gym

Gym-goers practice on the top ropes at Mesa Rim.
Photo by Joshua Emerson Smith

Two moves away from cleanly finishing a 5.11 at Mission Gorge for the first time, your legs start to shake and your forearms are getting pumped. You know you have to make a move or it's over, but you're starting to peel off that slick, polished granite. If only you'd spent a bit more time in the gym tackling those overhangs and practicing your ninja feet.

For those looking to perfect that bombproof dyno, there are two climbing gyms in San Diego that stand out as the best places to train in between those weekend trips to Joshua Tree.

Both Vertical Hold (9580 Distribution Ave. in Miramar) and Mesa Rim (10110 Mesa Rim Road in Mira Mesa) offer hundreds of indoor top-rope routes and bouldering problems for experts and beginners, but there are some key differences that set one of these contenders apart.

When it comes to route quality, Mesa comes out ahead of Vertical. Both offer a ton of great climbs, which are changed up on a steady basis. But Mesa offers about 350 routes, as opposed to Vertical's 325. At the same time, Vertical's most simple bouldering problems can be a bit difficult for beginners, whereas Mesa's bouldering facility won't scare away those just trying to get started. Also, Vertical's routes sometimes feel a bit too cozy. At Mesa, there's more room to do your thing without having to wait for a nearby climber to finish a route or problem.

It's hard to pick a winner on ambiance. Mesa has a brighter, airier feel. Vertical, which plays more interesting music, feels edgy and hip but also sort of dark. While Mesa offers the standard padded floors, belayers at Vertical have to stand on stones, an artistic but also needlessly uncomfortable choice. Mesa feels welcoming from Day 1, even for small children. Vertical has a tight community vibe that can seem either familial or alienating depending on who you are. 

For penny pinchers, Vertical is the thrifty choice. A monthly membership, automatically debiting out of a banking account, costs $55 for an individual, as opposed to Mesa's $70. But where Vertical really pulls ahead is with its "couples" and four-person "family rates" of $90 and $110, respectively. Nice for some, Mesa offers a discount to military, EMT, fire and police officers of $63 a month. Youths 11 to 17 can be added to a parent's account for $45 a month.

Mesa shines when it comes to its yoginis. Both gyms offer free yoga classes with memberships, something that's become standard at climbing gyms. However, Vertical only offers one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mesa offers classes every day and four times a day during the week, and its yoga studio is exquisite—San Diegans pay more for yoga-only memberships that are not half as good as what is available as part of Mesa's membership. 

The winner: In the end, Mesa comes out on top. Not only is it a classy, warm, well-laid-out facility; its yoga classes are a huge bonus.

Write to joshuas@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on twitter at @jemersmith.


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