Bryan Pletta remembers… I was working as an engineer at Sandia National Labs in the mid-1990s and was an avid climber and weekend warrior. After being at the labs for 14 years, I had become disenchanted with working for the government and wanted to make a change in my career. There were a couple of small climbing gyms in Albuquerque but I felt there was a need and demand for something bigger and up to the standards of the day. I knew almost nothing about running a business but did know climbing and thought I could be successful in building a modern climbing gym in Albuquerque.
A two year search for property ended when I drove by the warehouse at 4201 Yale as it was being built. The tilt up concrete slab that had been placed at an odd angle added just the right touch of design to the basic warehouse shell I was looking for. Attempts at bank financing struck out and I ended up taking out a loan against my 401k and a second mortgage on my house to finance the initial buildout of the facility. We started small with 3800 SF of leased space in a 25’ tall warehouse and everything was done on a shoestring budget. The wall design was sketched out on paper and then brought to life in a 3D model made from foam core, wood dowels and hot glue, a far cry from today’s sophisticated computer models and automated manufacturing techniques. Our first climbing wall was a welded steel, plywood, and concrete structure built by Comp Wall. The Comp Wall welders were scaling the steel dimensions directly from the model during construction and burned half of it in the process. Luckily, as this was the only existing copy of the design, they burned the half that had already been built. We were able to save some money by installing our own T-Nuts and quite a few friends from the small Albuquerque climbing community of the day volunteered to pitch in for the T-Nut party.
Our first employee was Lance Hadfield, who is still with us 20 years later. I had known Lance from the early days of climbing in Albuquerque. He was working construction in CO at the time and took a chance to come back to Albuquerque to help me open and manage the gym. I could not afford to pay him until there was something real to manage but gave him a place to stay in my spare bedroom (which was also the original Stone Age Climbing Gym woody) as plans were moving forward with design and buildout of the first gym.
We opened the doors in September of 1997 to a small but excited group of Albuquerque climbers. The new gym was not the biggest in the country, but was substantial for the time and twice the size of our competitor, the Albuquerque Rock Gym. When we first opened, Lance would arrive in the morning to set routes and then open up to the public at noon. My future wife and business partner Cristina and I would come in after our day jobs to work the evening shift and close the gym. The three of us were doing everything from cleaning the facility, greeting customers, doing belay tests, and developing procedures to get the business off the ground.
We hosted our first climbing competition the Yank-N-Yard on Yale, named for our location on Yale Ave., in January of 1998 just a few months after opening the doors. This friendly community gathering has continued to be an annual tradition and grown over the years to evolve into the current incarnation of the event with youth, community, and professional rounds of competition.
Over the years Albuquerque’s climbing community has grown and Stone Age has grown with it. After the first few successful years we tried to expand into the adjoining space but the neighboring business did not want to move. We had no place to go but up, so our first significant improvement was the addition of the mezzanine bouldering area built on top of our original bouldering cave in 2002. We also replaced the original crumb rubber floor at this time with carpet bonded foam flooring which could be vacuumed of the pervasive chalk dust. The neighboring business finally moved out in 2004 and we expanded into the adjacent 5000 SF warehouse bay. The “Expansion” added amenities such as locker rooms, party/group exercise room, fitness area with strength training and cardio equipment as well as doubled our climbing terrain. Additions included a top out boulder and huge lead climbing arch.
By 2010, we had outgrown our space yet again and we began a 3-year search for the right property for our next move. After a failed attempt at building a ground-up facility in our old neighborhood, our real estate agent took me back to look at the Spa and Billiard store on Cutler. It was hard to imagine turning the two existing metal buildings into the climbing gym of the future and on top of that, there was not sufficient parking. So I challenged our agent to find a solution to the parking situation, which would be required for a building permit. He worked hard to acquire the vacant lot across the street (which BTW, was not for sale!). Creative design by our architect to join the two existing buildings with a 45 foot tall space gave us exactly what we were looking for. We moved into this newly renovated/purpose built climbing facility in March 2014. What we coined as “Stone Age 2.0” is now one of the premier climbing gyms in the country and the largest gym in the southwest.
The one thing that has stayed constant over the years is a philosophy of change and continual improvement. As the climbing industry has evolved, Stone Age has grown with it from humble beginnings to one of the largest, and I believe the best climbing gym in the country. Our promise to you is that we will continue to strive for excellence and stay current with best practices to provide quality instruction, innovative route setting, and the finest indoor climbing facility in the nation.
Bryan Pletta, President
Stone Age Climbing Gym