Editor's note: The Journal Star sent weekend editor Alex Lantz, a rock-climbing enthusiast, to try out the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's newest Venture Parks attraction at Mahoney State Park. It opens next week.
ASHLAND — Situated next to an indoor playground, it's to be expected that Venture Climb is largely geared toward young people and beginners.
But don't let that fool you, because there's still some serious climbing to be done here, and the 44-foot top-rope wall will test your endurance (and, yes, your nerve), whether you're just starting out or have been climbing for years.
There were more than 20 routes, ranging from 5.0-5.12 in difficulty on the top-rope wall (in the climbing world, 5.0-5.7 is generally considered easy, 5.8-5.10 intermediate, 5.11-5.13 hard and 5.14 and up, well, you can pretty much forget it).
I also was excited to see that the bouldering area was fairly large and offered about 20 routes, again ranging from easy to hard.
Bouldering involves climbing about 15 feet without ropes and harnesses, with a thick pad to break your fall. The bouldering scale is a bit different, ranging from V0-V16 (I have yet to personally witness anybody climb a V11 or higher). The hardest route on the bouldering wall Friday was a V7, but most were in the V1-V3 range, which is spot-on for the majority of people who will be visiting the facility.
[Watch: Mahoney State Park's new climbing wall]
Having that fairly wide range of difficulty has been assistant superintendent Cody Jeffers' focus throughout the project. Jeffers, a very strong climber who I run into often at Approach in Omaha, has clearly put a lot of effort into making sure there are routes for more-experienced climbers.
"Cody has been a godsend with the knowledge that he brings, and (Zach Kelley) is another assistant superintendent who has a lot of climbing experience," Game and Parks administrator Jim Swenson said at Friday's unveiling. "They both brought in some good input and expertise for us to consider."
Aside from the climbing wall itself, it was clear that a lot of thought went into building the add-on to the existing activities center.
The floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the facility let in plenty of natural light, and faux skylights also help to make the space feel roomy despite its relatively small footprint.
All in all, Venture Climb, which opens Thursday, will be a great place for beginners to get a taste of rock climbing while also offering a challenge for people such as Jeffers.
"I think people will just be excited to have more places to climb," Jeffers said. "I don't necessarily expect people to make this their home gym over another, but it will definitely be another good option for climbers."