Looking Back with Natasha Barnes

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Natasha Barnes at Touchstone ClimbingWe’re celebrating our 20th Anniversary on Friday, October 2nd. We caught up with long time member Natasha Barnes and she shared her favorite Touchstone Climbing memories. 

I started climbing in 1999 and competing seriously in 2001 in Southern California. I would travel all over California and Arizona just to find new gyms to climb and compete at. One year, probably 2002 or 2003, I decided to venture up to San Francisco to check out the local climbing series we’d heard about up there. The gyms were supposed to be pretty good…

Late one evening we drove up through some heinous Central Valley fog to San Francisco. We didn’t really know anyone and didn’t have anywhere to stay so we stayed in our car behind Mission Cliffs. Back then there were no apartments there. It was a vacant lot that transformed into a swap meet on weekends. We woke up to some guy peering into our car with his buddies waiting nearby on the sidewalk. I remember staring out the tinted window at the guy trying to look in and once he saw my face he looked startled and they took off. We weren’t sure if they were looking for valuables in the car or if they were just curious why two people were sleeping in the back of a Honda Civic next to a vacant lot.

The competition was going to be starting soon so we decided to go into Mission Cliffs. I remember the first time I walked in I was in awe of how high the walls were and how huge the gym was. After we registered and talked to a few people they told us it was dangerous for us to sleep in our car back there. Mission District circa 2003 was apparently not as safe as it is now. Oooops.

When the competition started I remember being struck by a few things;

1. The setting was AMAZING. Besides professional climbing competitions, I had never climbed on anything better indoors.

2. The turnout. The climbing scene was huge here. I had been to many other competitions where maybe 40 people showed up. This competition had well over 100 I think.

3. How supportive and friendly everyone was, the climbers, the gym staff, everyone.

4. StoneAge Climbing holds!!! These are some of my favorite grips to this day and it’s very rare to climb on them outside of the Touchstone Climbing gyms.

Natasha Barnes at Touchstone Climbing

I resolved to make it to as many of these competitions as I could from then on…and I did. I attended what are now known as TCS competitions at every single Touchstone gym from that year until probably 2012. In 2005 I competed at National Championships at Berkeley Ironworks and won 1st place amongst the best in the country. It’s definitely a memory I will never forget.

Having traveled to many gyms nationally and internationally, Touchstone is my favorite place to climb. It’s one of the first climbing gym companies to have multiple locations for members, a professional setting team, classes, gym/workout equipment, saunas, locker rooms, showers, and towel service.

Natasha Barnes at Touchstone Climbing

Coming here for the first time I was blown away by how pro these gyms were. It always felt like a special treat to be at ay of these gyms. ‘Back in my day’ climbing gyms were dirty, small, had routes that were rarely changed, holds that were rarely washed, had tiny dirty bathrooms, definitely no showers or towel service, flooring that was chunks of old Teva rubber or tire rubber… You get the idea.

A lot of people don’t know it but ‘modern gyms’ today model Touchstone gyms. These gyms are legendary. When you go to a nice gym today somewhere else in the country, know that Touchstone is what inspired it. To this day there aren’t many gyms that have full-time professional setting crews. Touchstone gyms are still the only gyms in the country where you will get to climb on fresh StoneAge holds. We are spoiled!

Natasha Barnes at Touchstone Climbing

Today I live and climb in San Francisco and a large part of that is thanks to Touchstone Climbing. I have made some of my best memories in these gyms and have met some of my best friends in the world here. I’m so lucky to still be a part of it all!