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Flash: 8 Incredible Climbing Structures

We went in search of the world's craziest, coolest, and most unusual climbing structures, whether they were designed specifically for climbing or simply had some holds thrown on them. From a retrofitted bridge in Oregon to the wild, 121-foot tall Excalibur spire in the Netherlands, here are eight structures that will make your palms sweat.

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Update: On June 15 we learned that the climber in the Manchester Climbing Center photo, Rachel Slater, passed away in an avalanche in February of this year. You can read a tribute to Rachel at Women Climb.

This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of our print edition. 

Rock Climbing Gym  Manchester Center England Church
Photo: Courtesy

Name: Manchester Climbing Center
Place: Manchester, England
Height: 70 feet

While some might view climbing as their religion, the Manchester Climbing Centre takes it to a whole new level by putting a climbing wall in an actual church. From the outside it looks like a classic Victorian-era church (it was formerly known as St. Benedict’s), but on the inside it looks like a new, modern climbing gym with 21-meter-tall walls, more than 70 routes, and two bouldering areas. Once inside, the only thing that might tip an unsuspecting climber off to the fact that he’s sweating and cursing in a church are the massive stained-glass windows throughout the building.


Rock Climbing Gym Excalibur Bjoeks Netherlands
Photo: Courtesy

Name: Excalibur at Bjoeks Climbing Center
Place: Groningen, Netherlands
Height: 121 feet

Founder Gert van der Veen says, “I translated my Fontainebleau and Verdon dreams into the concrete and steel structures that became the rocks surrounding Bjoeks and Excalibur.” With 25 routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.13d, this freestanding pillar has a steep overhang on one side and a complementary slab on the other, with the option to top out and even bivy on top. The structure weighs 50 tons, with 36 steel beams that reach almost 30 feet down into the ground and a three-foot-thick slab of concrete—this makes up the 500-ton foundation. Several realistic concrete boulders at the base round out great outdoor climbing options at Bjoeks.

Rock Climbing Gym Ice Champagny Tower France
Photo: Monica Dalmasso

Name: Champagny Ice Tower
Place: Champagny le Haut, France
Height: 80 feet

This three-pronged metallic structure is nestled deep in a mountainous valley famous for its world-class alpinism and skiing. Although it was originally designed to host ice climbing World Cup events, Europe’s only freestanding outdoor ice structure is open to the public during the winter months. It’s sprayed nightly with a fine water mist so the ice is fresh for climbers every morning, and the ice covers all sides of each pillar so there is a great mix of overhanging, vertical, and slab routes of varying difficulty, including a top section with no ice that provides a competition-style mixed route complete with a burly, overhanging finish.

Rock Climbing Gym Dam Switzerland Diga di Luzzone
Photo: Mark Mccartan

Name: Diga di Luzzone
Place: Blenio, Switzerland
Height: 540 feet

Located on the Luzzone Dam in the Swiss Alps, the world’s tallest artificial climbing route was bolted with plastic holds by a group of local climbers in 1990. Paying 20 francs to the local hotel owner unlocks a ladder that reaches the first hold 20 feet off the ground. From there, enjoy climbing five long pitches ranging from 5.7 to the final 5.10 crux up the side of the 540-foot dam. Top out to confused but cheering tourists and walk off the top or rappel the route. 

Rock Climbing Gym University Twente Netherlands
Photo: Courtesy

Name: University of Twente Campus Climbing Wall – Campagneplein
Place: Enschede, Netherlands
Height: 100 feet

This high-rise dormitory at the Campagneplein is smack dab in the middle of the residential and social center on the university campus, and with sports fields bordering one side, architects Floor Arons and Arnoud Gelauff wanted to integrate sports right into the building itself. Combine that with the university’s very active mountaineering club and the result is a 30-meter climbing wall on the nine-story building, as well as a bouldering wall on the western wall of the one-story building. 

Rock Climbing Gym Kletterzentrum Flakturm Austria
Photo: | Rainer Eder

Name: Kletterzentrum Flakturm
Place: Vienna, Austria
Height: 115 feet

Similar to an above-ground bunker, a flakturm, or flak tower, was used to defend against air raids from the Allied forces in World War II. They were built in several key cities in Europe, including six in Vienna, and the Kletterzentrum Flakturm was converted to a climbing center by the Austrian Alpine Club in 1996 during renovations of the surrounding city park. Austrian Alpine Club leader Christoph Jung says, “Hitler wanted to dress the facade of Vienna’s six towers in marble to commemorate his victory, but we all know what happened instead. Since [1996], we have been getting between 13,000 and 16,000 visitors per season.” The tower features a variety of routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.12c. 

Rock Climbing Gym Ice Silo Iowa
Photo: Andy Rowland

Name: Silo Ice Climbing
Place: Cedar Falls, Iowa
Height: 80 feet

Iowa, much like the entire Midwest, has very few mountains to climb. Owner and developer Don Briggs says the idea for climbing the silos popped into his head as he was driving across the plains one day and realized they are the highest points in the area. As an avid rock and ice climber, he was itching for anything vertical to scale, and the silos fit the bill perfectly. Briggs hooked up some fire hoses to a water pump, then ran them up the side of the silo during winter. After a few tries, he perfected the system and now gets several thousand visitors a season. The silo is free to climb, but there is a small charge for the use of the warming hut, which includes all the necessary gear.

Rock Climbing Gym Maple Bridge Oregon
Photo: Courtesy

Name: Maple Avenue Bridge
Place: Redmond, Oregon
Height: 75 feet

The one-of-a-kind Pipe Dream Cave at Maple Canyon in Utah inspired this artificial crag that’s still in development. The man behind the project, local crusher Ian Caldwell, says, “From the first time I saw the bridge, I was inspired by the climbing potential. The Pipe Dream Cave [on a 2013 climbing trip] was amazing, and the shape of it reminded me of the Maple Bridge. It really got me thinking about pursuing the concept. I approached the city [of Redmond], and they were interested in the concept.” After a year and a half of working out the details, there’s one route established “on a trial basis,” with plans to put up eight total routes ranging from 5.12 to 5.14. Each climb will be 120 to 130 feet long, starting at 45° and gradually transitioning to completely horizontal.