Meet the Kingpin of bouldering in NYC

New York City–known for its diversity and dizzyingly grand scale–represents the melting pot that has become a staple for the American dream. Among the different ethnicities, ideological stances, and socio-economic levels, there is an underrepresentation of outdoor activities given the lack of natural spaces and accessibility to the outdoors. However, hidden among the large buildings, unique smells, and hectic streets, is a small community of passionate rock climbers looking to push their skills while taking full advantage of any climbing the city has to offer.

Enter Gareth Leah, a slender Englishman who is most recently known for his route-setting and big wall climbing endeavors across the globe. Before Gareth (also known as “Gaz”) moved to NYC, his idea of the city was largely based around what he saw through popular media–large skyscrapers, swarms of yellow cabs, and a cold, unwelcoming attitude instilled in its citizens among countless other stereotypically “New York” ideals.

People had talked about a guidebook for 20 or 30 years but no one had ever created it.

While pursuing a college degree in computer science at De Montfort University, Gaz honed his rock climbing skills while searching for boulders in one of the flattest areas in England. This is where he developed an affinity for exploration, a trait that would shape the person that he is today. With no money in the bank, Gareth moved to New York City in pursuit of a more prosperous life. He quickly realized that finding a job in NYC would prove more difficult than he originally anticipated. Given that he didn’t know anybody and had yet to find a job, he looked for something to do that would make good use of his time and keep his high-octane personality busy. 

Upon his arrival, Gaz learned about various bouldering areas sprinkled around the city. With little knowledge pertaining to the locations and difficulties of the climbs, he headed to Rat Rock–Central Park’s most classic bouldering spot. As he met more and more climbers, he began to learn of more and more climbs throughout various parks in New York City aside from those in Central Park. Albeit much mellower than most destination climbing locations, NYC has a rich climbing history that began somewhere around the 1960’s. But Gareth quickly learned that there was no consolidated database for the best climbing spots. People had talked about a guidebook for 20 or 30 years but no one had ever created it. What if, he thought, he could develop a guidebook for the bouldering in New York City? What began as a faint idea immediately turned into a vocation. Gaz trekked up and down every street in Manhattan for a year-and-a-half, leaving no rock unturned. During his journey, he studied topographical maps on his mobile phone to determine where there would likely be climbing. He found climbing in Highbridge Park, Fort Tryon Park and other random areas that contained glaciated rock that preceded the urban landscape characteristic of New York City today.

The guidebook that Gaz created is complete with over 300 routes spread all across New York City. Created in the image of New York City subway maps, the book has colored pictures, detailed descriptions and clearly illustrated routes leaving no doubt in your mind where the climbing is at. He also noted that it is one of the most popular bouldering guidebooks in the United States. It is not uncommon to roll up to one of the more popular bouldering areas in Central Park and see his guidebook in the possession of multiple climbers looking to challenge themselves mentally and physically.

For this community of rock climbers, the sense of nature that can be found in the city's parks is their remedy.

The City that Never Sleeps”, is in constant motion. Cars and people flow every which way, intersecting for a moment then proceeding their own ways. Its fast-paced lifestyle can be difficult to keep up with and may even become tiring for some. Tasks typically viewed as simple and mundane for those dwelling in the suburbs or more rural areas involve much more of a time commitment while living in the city. So, the precious time that they may have to find some sort of escape from the NYC lifestyle becomes exponentially valuable to those living there. For a community of rock climbers, the sense of nature that can be found in the parks are their remedy. The task of bouldering can pull you into the moment and out of the sensory bombardment of the city. Gareth and his “New York City Bouldering” guidebook has forever bettered the lives of climbers from inside and out of town, allowing them too to find escape and challenge themselves physically and intellectually. After a couple years in New York City, Gaz began a new adventure setting up routes and climbing big wall first ascents around the world. Despite the differences in ability level that is demanded bouldering in NYC compared to the big walls that he climbs today, Gaz’s time in New York City will forever be an influential part of his story.

Thanks For Reading!

This story was produced exclusively for as part of the Basin and Range Unscripted Series. In collaboration with our client, we’ve captured a collection of four distinct human stories aimed to inspire creativity and celebrate diverse backgrounds, encouraging you to venture outside. To learn more about Gareth Leah and the NYC climbing, check out the full length film below.

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