Mid-Missouri has a new destination for rock climbing. CoMo Rocks, which opened last summer, aims to be a strong source of community for area climbers and to make the sport safer and more accessible for all.
Located in Columbia, CoMo Rocks offers 9,400 square feet of state-of-the-art rock climbing. The gym’s main focus is bouldering, with a climbing structure from EP (Entre-Prises) Climbing, the same company that built the bouldering walls for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. CoMo Rocks offers about 200 bouldering problems; these are regularly refreshed, giving climbers a constant variety of new problems to solve.
The gym also features four rock climbing lines, three auto belays, weight and cardio equipment, and a kilter board, a systems board with handholds that light up via an app for nearly endless options of routes to tackle — especially popular with more advanced climbers.
“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, with terrain for everyone and anyone,” said co-owner and founder David McGee. “We’ve had everyone from toddlers to my 80-year-old mother-in-law climb to the top of the rope walls.”
A Labor of Love
McGee and fellow co-owner Wil Palmieri are both veterans of the climbing community.
McGee, originally from the East Coast, discovered climbing within his first week of college in Springfield, Missouri. He became heavily involved with the local climbing gym there, eventually helping the owner build and manage another location.
Although he planned to continue working in the climbing industry, that changed when he met his wife at the climbing gym and embarked on a honeymoon to El Salvador to do volunteer work with the nonprofit ENLACE. The couple ended up living in the country for nearly a decade, with McGee making his career with the nonprofit. That remains his primary gig today, while Palmieri handles the daily operations of CoMo Rocks.
Palmieri, who has a guidance certificate, likewise found climbing in college.
“I was drawn to the educational and industry standard side of climbing,” he said. “For me, that educational part gave me a command over climbing and more knowledge that helped me be more confident, whether I was climbing in a gym or out in the backwoods.”
It took more than five years for McGee and Palmieri to get CoMo Rocks off the ground. Finding the location was difficult, even after the pair enlisted investors. Finally, in April 2020, they were set to break ground on a 15,000-square-foot facility, but then COVID changed their plans, their developer pulling out.
“We dreamed of opening our own gym for many years, and it’s been a long journey — but a lot of fun,” McGee said.
It’s All About Community
For McGee and Palmieri, much of the allure of climbing lies in the community the sport fosters. “We were inspired by our love for community and the ways in which climbing can help bring community together,” McGee said. “We’ve both witnessed how climbing gyms can positively impact peoples’ lives.”
Palmieri, for instance, has made it a point to find a climbing gym community in the many places he’s called home, including Vermont, Colorado, Minnesota, and New York.
“When I moved to Columbia, there was quite a climbing community, but it was hard to find at first because there was no central place to find climbing partners,” he noted.
In the spirit of building a healthy community and introducing more people to the sport of climbing, CoMo Rocks offers yoga classes, climbing classes, outdoor climbing clinics, birthday parties, and a variety of youth programs.
“We’re excited to expand our youth programming,” McGee said. “We have summer camps and climbing clubs for elementary and high school students, and we’re partnering with Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition to offer classes for at-risk kids. That’s a huge thing for us, to help climbing be available to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.”
If You Build It…
The response to CoMo Rocks has been incredible, McGee says.
“There’s already such a surprisingly large climbing community in Columbia,” he said. “Wil and I felt like we knew most of the community, but we’ve been surprised at how many people have come out of the woodwork. It’s also been exciting to introduce new people to the sport and help them have a positive experience.”
No doubt part of CoMo Rocks’ success is the environment McGee and Palmieri have fostered.
“One of the beautiful things about climbing is it’s such an individualized challenge,” McGee said. “It’s you versus the wall, but everyone cheers everyone else on.
“Early on, before we even opened, we set the tone and precedent that CoMo Rocks would be a welcoming environment and everyone should be stoked to bring people in and encourage them,” he continued. “When you have that attitude throughout your gym, it becomes contagious.”
Author: Stephanie Zeilenga is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.