In 1980, there was no such thing as simply “picking up” or “trying out” the sport of rock climbing. The first indoor rock climbing facility wouldn’t be built until 1987 and climbing outside, as an endeavor that didn’t involve mountaineering techniques and ascending using gear rather than the rock itself, was still largely being developed. The first “sticky rubber” climbing shoe had just been released by Boreal, many climbers were excited but skeptical about Ray Jardine’s spring loaded camming device or cam as an instrument to place in cracks as protection to catch potential falls. Chris Sharma nor Alex Honnold had been born yet, and it was the emergence from a decade where climbers started their community’s transition from environmental villains to outdoor stewardship citizens. It was this year, on a sunny day when spring was trying to beat back winter, that Nate Postma finally gave in to Greg Sherar (just to shut him up) and his guru of a climbing buddy, Shawn Callahan, and went up to Taylor’s Falls to climb for the first time.
Changing from moon boots to sneakers, and with a rope tied in a bowline knot around his waist, the three of them attacked the east side crack of Devil’s Chair in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. The ice was waiting inside the cracks of the rock where the sun hadn’t crept in to warm and melt it away, and quickly fingers and toes began the ebb and flow of alternating between numb and freezing on the climb and thawing and throbbing afterward. Sore and weathered, Nate returned from his climbing adventure to his high school sweetheart, Pam to deliver the verdict: he was hooked!
That summer, with Pam now coming along on climbing trips, Nate and Greg scraped together the money to buy one harness to share between them, a 45-meter rope, and one pair of Yvonne Chouinard Canyon climbing shoes. Shawn didn’t think they were ready to be out on their own quite yet, but there was no stopping the passion that had been sparked. There was really only one problem: Minnesota winters. Having fallen in love with the sport in the frigid north, Nate and Pam would spend their summers hiking, camping, and climbing, but in the winter they were left with crude alternatives like climbing on dangerous EMS walls and over fireplace structures using hip belays and no gear. But Nate kept thinking there had to be something better.
When the University of Wisconsin – River Falls opened Knowles Center in 1987, which included a brick and stone-laid wall with welded steel rappel stations, Nate and Pam decided they had to check it out. At the grand opening event, Warren Kinsel, who was in charge of the center at the time, began talking with Nate and ended up asking him to run the wall for the 2 nights a week it would have it’s 5 lines open for climbing. Eventually they began offering adult extension classes to those who wanted to learn more. It was also around this time that the Brookdale YMCA opened a climbing wall made of plywood. There would be lines of people waiting to climb! But still, Nate and Pam dreamed of something better to serve their climbing community and provide a climbing outlet in the cold winter months. Having always dreamed of being a business owner, and having seen the need, Nate and Pam began saving. If they were going to make the leap and make something happen for the Minnesota climbing community, they didn’t want to leave room for failure.
It was around this time that climbing as a sport really began to take off. The US had it’s first international climbing competition in 1988 at a time when climbing competitions were strictly for adults. As Nate began competing, he was again impressed upon by the need to be able to train year round, like the climbers and competitors in more climate-friendly regions were able to do. He began to ask questions while sitting in isolation with the “big guns”, waiting his turn to compete. These conversations evolved into a 7-page list of questions and trips all around the US to pick the brains of climbers and new climbing facility owners who were themselves just getting their feet wet in this new industry. From cinder-block builds to facilities utilizing T-nuts and plywood with interchangeable holds and pea gravel landing surfaces, Nate spent all of his vacation time from his work at 3M traveling to see what he would need to do to make a climbing facility “go”.
By the time the 1980’s passed into history, Nate was busy putting up first ascents all along the North Shore and developing outdoor climbing areas in Minnesota while surveying and getting feedback from the local climbing community to get this dream off the ground. The first challenge would be finding a location with owners crazy enough to let an indoor climbing facility be built. When Nate and Pam became aware of the undeveloped warehouse space just south of Lake Phalen in St Paul, they knew that it could house their dream. The owner out of New York City laughed at the notion, but found himself convinced by Nate’s unwavering conviction that his idea
would work. In exchange for developing the dirt-floored building completely himself, terms for a lease were decided.
The cost and work effort needed could have meant an ending to this dream before it even began if not for the involvement and support of the local climbing community. Early investors handing Nate $10 bills here and there out at the crag and putting in their blood, sweat, tears, and labor into the construction itself made the first Vertical Endeavors build possible. Local climbers carried in the materials and built the facility as volunteers at a time when loans weren’t possible for an idea this new. A contractor, John Long, was secured in exchange for a 10% share of the facility and he oversaw the volunteer team of climbers as they built. Retirement savings were liquidated and every resource was stretched to its limit. As, truly, a community effort, Vertical Endeavors opened its doors in October 1992.
Nate and Pam themselves worked tirelessly as they developed, in tandem, the building of Vertical Endeavors and Nicros climbing holds as innovators in manufactured climbing holds and walls. Working at 3M and Midwest Great Dane Trailers by day, Vertical Endeavors by night, and pouring and shaping Nicros holds until the wee hours of the morning without pay just to do it all over again the next day; the entrepreneurial couple found themselves at a breaking point with one foot in the safety of the “real world” and one foot in the uncertainty of small business ownership. Things were hard as they climbed less, ate poorly, and saw stress take its toll.
It was during this taxing time that Nate approached his boss at 3M to discuss a possible reduction to part time, but instead was given an ultimatum and a 24-hour timeline to choose: it had to be one or the other. Nate chose his climbing dream and the next day, made the full leap to Vertical Endeavors. Six months later, Pam did the same thing as family and friends questioned what seemed like an imprudent and risky maneuver. But it was a risk that paid off as they started to see growth in a business that so few believed would be sustainable.
Knowing that there would be major differences between starting an indoor climbing facility in a community with a shorter outdoor climbing season and with a significantly smaller established community, Nate applied what he had learned in business administration classes from the beginning. He was determined to make climbing accessible to non-climbers, families, and newcomers to the sport with an emphasis on training, safety, and customer service. Vertical Endeavors would be about more than training during the cold winter months, but about opening up and sharing this world he and Pam loved so much to
demographics of people who otherwise would not have had access to learn. To this day, climbing facility owners to the south and west are surprised at the amount of outreach and the level of non-climber accessibility that Vertical Endeavors provides. Approachability of staff and a constant intentional lean away from potential elitist climbing attitudes makes walking into a Vertical Endeavors facility as a first time climber reassuring instead of anxiety-ridden.
It was with that focus that Vertical Endeavors has seen growth. By providing an excellent product and focusing on customer service, word of mouth has been the largest form of advertising that has contributed to its success. The dedication and sacrifice required to make Vertical Endeavors one of the industry leaders that it is today has paid off not only for the climbing community that worked so hard to turn dream into reality, but also for the Twin Cities and Chicago area as families and adventurers have opportunity to fall in love with climbing. Vertical Endeavors has been able to expand to six locations, five of those being in Minnesota and one in Illinois, by balancing a customer-centered approach and a safety-focused mentality. These things, along with a drive to continue taking calculated business growth risks, have allowed Vertical Endeavors to be a leading voice in the innovative conversations happening on the national indoor climbing community stage.