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Lifelong climber brings sport to new generation

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | March 17, 2023 7:00 AM

As climbing in northwest Montana becomes more popular a new gym has opened in Libby to welcome those entering the sport and provide a place where more experienced climbers may improve their skills.

Originally from Everett, Washington, Ken Miller opened Ascend Climbing and Fitness in February. Miller, a lifelong climber, is also the owner of K & R Builders, also based in Libby.

“We just want a nice friendly place for people to come hang out, get fit and have fun,” Miller said.

Miller has been climbing for nearly 30 years after taking up the sport at age 18. Originally inspired by climbers on the TV show, Wide World of Sports, a long-standing love of Washington's mountains also contributed to his desire to climb.

“I was hooked,” he said. “I was 12 years old. I was hooked and I wasn’t allowed to climb until I was 18 years old on my own.”

Now Miller has climbed all over the West Coast as well as overseas. He's been busy with friends putting up new climbing routes in the area. There are three new outdoor areas they’ve developed in the last few years, Miller said. There are others like Miller who are expanding the sport into new areas of the northwest.

“We're just super excited to bring this thing to Libby,” Miller said. “There's more and more routes here and there's more climbers in Libby.”

The fitness center is open 24 hours for members to work out. Currently, the gym is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Miller said he hopes the climbing portion of the gym will be open later this spring.

The fitness center is also offering a membership special. For those who join before the climbing area is open, their name will be put into a drawing and the winner will get three months membership free. Miller said the winner will be drawn at the center's grand opening, sometime in April or May.

“We've got all brand new state-of-the-art equipment,” he said.

The gym will host classes from beginning bouldering to advanced climbing and Miller even has plans to guide and conduct outdoor classes.

"We’re gonna have a lot of tall bouldering and it’s gonna go from easy to difficult. The gym will also feature a 24-foot tall rope climbing wall," Miller said.

There will be auto belay stations available for climbers who want to climb alone while still on protection and areas where it’s standard to climb with a partner. Climbers will also be able to boulder alone, but Miller said he hopes to inspire a sense of community where people climb together or make new friends to climb with in the gym.

“The auto belays will be really nice if you wanna come in alone and climb a taller route,” Miller said.

The gym will also provide climbers with a moon board. This is an electric climbing wall where climbers can plug in the grade of route they want and it will light up specific holds to use. The holds that don't light up should be avoided to use the moon board correctly.

“That way you can focus on getting better, or even just get a good workout,” Miller said.

Miller said the gym will also be kid friendly with children having their own bouldering section with attached sliding boards. Miller is thinking of installing a fireman's pole as well.

By providing an area for kids at one end of the gym and a party room downstairs Miller hopes the gym will make a great birthday or field trip opportunity.

“Whatever we can fit we’ll try to incorporate,” Miller said.

For now, the gym is doing a soft opening because the locker rooms are not fully constructed. This means that the gym is currently offering a discounted signup rate and more information is on the Ascend Climbing and Fitness website.

“It’s kinda fun to get this thing going, climbing has been a big part of my life,” Miller said. “It’s fun to get something going for the community.”

The center is located at 412 Mineral Avenue. For more information, call 406-300-0450 or their website at https://www.ascendlibby.com/.