I Dunno About You, But We're Feeling 22: a Brief History of Summit Carrollton, One of the Country's Oldest Climbing Gyms

As we tore down the panelling to begin our reconstruction project at Summit Carrollton, the dust, chalk and God-knows-what-else from the past 22 years came pouring out of the gym's walls, like smoke from the microwave after you accidentally nuke a fork. (Similes are not my strong suit.) Besides giving us the anticipation of potential future lung problems, the dust brought with it some very strong feelings of nostalgia from a lot of us who have been climbing at this old climbing gym for the past few years. This gym — now Summit, but formerly Exposure — is one of the oldest climbing gyms in the state, as well as the country. A lot of people have graced its walls, (Climber Jack Mileski, who coined the term "beta," actually got his start at Exposure back in the day), and it's seen many, many changes throughout its 22-year history in the Dallas area. Our current reconstruction is just the latest in a series of renovations this gym has seen — and while it is definitely one of the biggest modifications to occur — we're sure it won't be the last. While this gym may not be the biggest, the baddest, or even the best, its climbing community is, in our opinion, one of the greatest, most involved communities in the country — and as long as y'all keep coming up, we'll keep this old gym on its toes and constantly evolving to fit the most important needs of its member base. So this week's post is a look back in time, with the story of how this gym started, and got to where it is today. Keep in mind this history is as told by Kyle Clinkscales, the current owner of Summit, so any minor inaccuracies are because he is a space cadet. (<3 u Kyle!) The story goes, Summit Carrollton opened as Exposure Climbing Gym in 1993 and was first owned by a man named Dale. Kyle began climbing at Exposure in 1993, right after his first-ever climbing experience with his buddy Kirk, which may have been the sketchiest first-time-climbing story ever.

"I was 18 years old and me and Kirk were in Colorado and we had this brilliant idea of going climbing. So we went to the hardware store and bought 7 mm hemp rope. Which has a working load rate of like, 300 pounds — so it will hold a take, but probably not a fall. Then we tied it into like, little Swiss seats and then we we were like, 'Well, how do you finish off the knot?' So we just tied an overhand knot, and then we were like, 'Well how do you make that safer?' Tie another overhand knot. So that’s what we did, we had  two overhand knots holding it. Then we just pulled over to the side of the road, saw a cliff, and was like, 'Let’s climb that!' So we hiked to the top of this cliff, and Kirk was like, 'Cool, you go down to the bottom.' So I went down to the bottom and I started climbing. We were in hiking boots, and he is belaying me from the top of the cliff, and he’s on a hip belay on the top of the cliff. Well, he was bigger than me and apparently — I am putting this in air quotes — he had a 'good stance'. Because I definitely weighted the rope."

What the hell, Kyle. After he and Kirk returned home, they checked out Exposure in  December of '93 and the rest is history. Back in '93, Exposure was just the back side of the gym. The space that now holds the front side, with the vertical walls and yoga room, still belonged to the warehouse next door. The front desk sat where the cubbies are now, and the members' area was a gear shop. There were only two routes set per wall, and the flooring was made of landscaping pebbles, which collected dust and infiltrated everyone's shoes, causing agony and dismay to anyone unlucky enough to land one in their climbing shoe. The gym's seating choices were relegated to a couple of the rankest couches in existence. As Kyle tells it, Kirk was much better at climbing than him, and the height of the walls (currently probably the shortest gym walls in the state, but in '93 there were no other walls to compare it to) terrified him. So one trip up the wall on a rope and he decided that toprope was dumb, and that he was, in fact, a boulderer. So he made up his very first boulder problem.  "I worked on it until my skin was so raw, and it was the DUMBEST problem EVER but I was like, 'I am the COOLEST person ever because I made up a boulder problem.'" Sure, Kyle. We'll go with the "COOLEST."

I'm sure a lot of you have been on some of Kyle's setting, and it's probably safe to say he's a much better setter now than he was back then, by like, a little bit. That one crappy boulder problem was enough to hook Kyle, and he began working the front desk of the gym in 1995. In 1996, Kyle started recruiting kids for a youth climbing team. His future as a coach was inevitable — Kyle grew up coaching the kids of his block in football drills, and annoyed his parents by ruining their lawn with the footprints of all of his "recruits." So he's always known he wanted to coach, but the question of coach of what, and when was answered when an ex-girlfriend suggested he start coaching climbing. Youth competitive climbing was not yet a thing in the U.S., and when Kyle started Team Texas, it was the first ever youth climbing team in the country. His first two kids were Sarah Broun (now an occupational therapist) and Chris LoCrasto (now one of the owners of Summit), and he recruited them by literally just walking up to them and asking them if they wanted him to train them. And because Kyle is the most persuasive person ever, he won their parents over and the team only grew from there.

The gym's next owner, Greg, bought the gym in 1998, and allowed Kyle to phase out of working desk, to coaching full time out of Exposure. The flooring was replaced with shredded tire bits, which was in no way more convenient than the pebbles — so good call there — but much less dusty.

Fast-forward to 2001, and Kyle was actually living at the gym. Not figuratively, like "Oh man, I am like, living at my work." He was literally living at the gym, in the upstairs area that is now the office. He lived there for two years, coaching and routesetting full-time. When asked if, at that time, he ever imagined that he'd own the gym, Kyle's response was sincere, and as always, cocky.

"You want my honest answer? I was like 'F#*@ yeah!' I was like, 'I’m owning this [email protected]!' I always believed, the reality was I was just too scared before.  I have never been a huge money person, in the sense that that doesn’t drive me. Like, I absolutely want to make more money, absolutely. So does everyone. But I don’t do anything that I do because of the money. So the gym was a product of that — I wanted to own a gym, I think, for the right reasons. I wanted to protect my livelihood. I wanted to be able to be a rock climbing coach when I’m 60 years old. So the only way to do that was to assure that I owned the gym. Because no one could kick me out, no one could fire me."

So #cantstopwontstop  (Kyle did not actually say this, he does not speak in hashtags.)

(Revision: I lied, he totally does.)

The same year, Greg bought the space next door, and Kyle and Kirk built the front side of the gym. Kyle is not particularly handy, so if that makes you wary of ever climbing on those walls again, rest assured. Kirk is an incredibly handy dude, literally teaching himself how to weld to get that new side done. Another added bonus, is that the tire bits were finally replaced that year by an actually humane form of flooring — some blue tarp-covered padding that collected dust like it was its job.

In 2006, Team Texas dad Jeff Lack saved the gym from its inevitable closure by buying the gym from Greg, and renovating it. He converted the gear shop into a members' area, painted the whole place the green color it still rocks today, put in the upstairs circuit wall (which was formerly a workout area), and installed the carpeted flooring the gym has used until now. In 2013, Kyle and co. purchased the gym and turned it into Summit, and the gym remained basically the same, at least, UNTIL NOW. *epic music blaring*

A couple of us, myself included (I basically grew up in Exposure, as a member of Team Texas), are very nostalgic for the gym as it used to be. One of Kyle's very first team kids, Sarah Broun, legitimately offered to name her first child Kyle David Clinkscales if Kyle did not change the gym. It was a solid attempt, but sorry Sarah, progress won out! Of course I'll miss speed climbing to the top of Greg's Wall, or clackerballing into onlookers below as I fell off a route on the Prow and made that wild rope swing, but we all believe the changes the gym is undertaking are necessary for the continued survival of the gym.

In Kyle's words —

"This gym's always changed and that’s the great thing about it. We’re trying to keep that gym relevant and keep it a place that’s fun to go to, where you still have your community and you can be a part of something. So I am not nostalgic about it at all. I am excited about the change, I am excited about what it’s going to bring to our community."

Stay posted to social media for updates on when we're unveiling the new walls at Summit Carrollton! Things are down to the wire and we are crankin' it out as fast as we can. We appreciate you bearing with us throughout the renovation process, and are so, so excited for the future of this awesome, totally under-rated little gym we are lucky to call home.