Ever since he started climbing some dozen years ago, Alex Bernstein has heard the same speculation:

“From day one there have always been rumors that another climbing gym is coming to Pittsburgh.”

Now, thanks to Bernstein and co-owners Paul Guarino and Aaron Gilmore, the rumors are true: Pittsburgh has a brand new climbing gym, Ascend, located on the second floor of the former Duquesne Brewery bottling facility in the heart of the South Side.

Ascend is only the second climbing gym within city limits, after The Climbing Wall in Point Breeze.

“We truly wanted to design a community hub that was rooted in climbing, but that’s also about fitness, and the Pittsburgh community and the South Side community,” says Bernstein. “We want everyone to feel welcome here and try it out, and realize that it isn’t just for hardcore climbers.”

The project took off in earnest more than five years ago. Bernstein, a Squirrel Hill native, was inspired by state-of-the-art climbing gyms elsewhere in the country and wondered why the same didn’t exist in Pittsburgh.

“When we started we thought hey, Pittsburgh’s a steel town, there are warehouses everywhere! This is going to be super easy. Let’s just find a box with a 50-foot ceiling and we’ll be good.”

Turns out it’s not super easy. After years of hunting and false starts in the Strip District and other spots in the South Side, the owners eventually discovered and fell in love with their current location, right underneath the Duquesne Brewery Clock.

View from Ascend. Photo by Brian Conway.
View from Ascend. Photo by Brian Conway.

“Our jaws dropped when we first walked in here,” says Bernstein. The 27,000-square-foot facility boasts 24-foot high ceilings and a wide window bank that allows for stunning panoramic views of South Side, Downtown and Oakland.

Ascend is a “bouldering-centric” facilitythe type of climbing where a person clambers up walls unrestrained using only the hand and footholds in the wallwith some top rope climbing available. There is also cardio equipment, some free weights, a yoga studio, locker rooms, small cafe and free wi-fi on site.

Indovina Associates serves as project architects. The climbing walls were custom built by Walltopia and shipped stateside in three shipping containers from their headquarters in Bulgaria. (As luck would have it, Walltopia’s American headquarters are located some six blocks away on nearby Sarah Street.)

A membership to Ascend costs $70 for 30 days of unlimited climbing and use of exercise equipment. A $110 premium membership includes all that and unlimited access to the 30+ yoga classes offered on a weekly basis.

“We hope to attract yogis and climbers alike,” says Bernstein. “We’d love to make yogis out of climbers and climbers out of yogis.”

Ascend is located at 2141 Mary St., in the South Side. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m.Saturday-Sunday.

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.