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Lima, Peru’s PIRQA Rock Gym is Weathering the Pandemic… and Giving Back

The rock gym, home to Peru’s national climbing team, is building a free bouldering gym for underprivileged youth.

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Peru hasn’t had it easy lately. For starters, the Andean nation continues to hold the highest coronavirus mortality rate (per capita) of any country in the world. Though it’s only the 43rd largest country in the world in terms of population, Peru is 6th in the world in overall deaths. Nearly 200,000 Peruvians have died from the virus, as of October 3rd.

For reference, the country’s total population, as of 2020, was under 33 million. By comparison, Russia (5th on the list in terms of deaths) has a population of over 144 million, with a comparable number (205,000) of dead.

Despite all this hardship, three climbing gyms soldier on in the nation’s capital, Lima. The largest and most popular of the three is PIRQA, which has provided a haven for climbers in Lima for over nine years now. Although it has weathered several closures over the course of the pandemic, this tenacious, vibrant open-air rock gym in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood continues to thrive, attracting climbers from across the city and country to its walls.

PIRQA, Lima, Peru’s premier gym. (Photo: Anthony Lee)

When I visited PIRQA on a Saturday afternoon, I met climbers of all stripes, from veteran Peruvian crushers to young kids trying climbing for the first time to a Delta Airlines pilot on layover. The gym is largely open-air (roofless), with roped walls stretching up to 15 meters (49 ft), though there is one indoor boulder cave. It’s home to four auto belays and fifteen total roped lines, including a lone speed route. There are also several boulder caves, with approximately 70 problems in total, according to 49-year-old manager Pablo Ostolaza, a climber of 30 years who was born and raised in Lima. The gym is also home to a small cafe, yoga classes, a gear shop, and a small museum, featuring old pitons, stoppers, and other climbing gear from ages past.

One of the unique initiatives PIRQA is running, of late, is developing a pro-bono bouldering gym for children in the low-income fishing neighborhood of Chorillos, south of Lima. The gym itself is still in development, but “we brought about fifteen of these kids up here last week,” said Ostolaza. “It was awesome. They’d never seen anything like it. They were so excited, full of energy, trying all the routes. It was great to see.”

PIRQA has also served as a home for Venezuelan refugees. Of PIRQA’s 14 staff members, over a third are immigrants and refugees from Venezuela, said Ostolaza.

PIRQA has approximately 200 monthly members of all ages, around 130 of which participate in weekly climbing courses offered by the gym. Nearly one quarter of the gym’s members are children (5-17 years old), all of whom participate in PIRQA’s climbing classes. The gym has raised and lowered its prices a handful of times during the pandemic to better accommodate its members and stay afloat, but currently, one-month memberships sit at 220 Peruvian Soles (about $50 USD).

PIRQA’s indoor bouldering cave. (Photo: Anthony Lee)

PIRQA is also the official training ground for the Federación Deportiva Peruana de Escalada (FEDPE), Peru’s national climbing team. The gym will be home to the Lead portion of the 2021 Lima National Climbing Championships, which takes place the weekend of October 22nd. Bouldering will be held at Base Camp Perú, Lima’s oldest gym, and the Speed section at a government-run sports complex in Callao.

Next time you’re in Lima, go stop by PIRQA and tie in!

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