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Rock Garden App Offers 3D Topos of Crags, Will Pay Climbers for Mapping

rock garden appRock Garden CEO Berk Frei and wife Chandra Frei (above) used the app to climb Castleton Tower in March 2020; (photo/Rock Garden)
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A new climbing app brings 3D maps and climbing topos to cellphones. Early adopters get lifetime access and will be supporting the American Alpine Club.

Climbing newcomers learn this truth quickly: Finding routes at a new crag takes time.

You have to figure out the approach, locate the specific walls and routes, and devise a plan of attack. Even with the (sometimes) helpful directions from Mountain Project or other sources, new areas often require some Indiana Jones-style exploration before getting your hands on the rock.

That’s what Rock Garden aims to eliminate — or at least reduce.

This new navigation app aims to empower climbers to “spend more time climbing and less time finding,” the founder says in a video. With its immersive and interactive 3D maps, Rock Garden may live up to the hype.

“We’re at a point where we are able to capture, process, and distribute the world’s most iconic climbing destinations into your phone,” said Berk Frei, CEO of Rock Garden.

The app is free to download and use for the rest of this year, but paywalls go up in January. The vast majority of the app’s 3D climbing guides cater to Utah, but — if all goes according to plan — it will soon expand quickly.

rock garden
A GIF showing various 3D models of crags mapped by Rock Garden; (images/Rock Garden)

Rock Garden App Topos Actually Prepare Climbers

Frei vividly remembers getting lost on the Lower Exum route on Grand Teton in 2018.

He and his wife had planned the trip for months. Frei spent over $100 on guides and printed out everything from Mountain Project, including the comments.

But somehow, he still ended up off-route.

“I would have paid more just to know what was what,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back there.”

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Three images showing route topos on the Rock Garden app’s interface; (images/Rock Garden)

Fast-forward to March 2020, when Frei decided to climb Utah’s famous Castleton Tower — a longtime dream. He and his brother used their burgeoning tech to create a 3D map ahead of time. As he climbed the tower, Frei saw a climbing party ahead and could tell they were off-route — even though he’d never been on the wall before.

“That guy was like a badass 5.13 climber, and he was huffing and puffing cause he was off-route from what was supposed to be a 5.9,” Frei said.

That’s why Frei has spent the last 8 years developing Rock Garden. The app uses data from various sources — drones; helicopters; and laser-imaging, detection, and ranging (LIDAR) — to create 3D maps of climbing areas and routes. Climbers can download the maps ahead of time and check their progress to avoid going off-route.


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Una publicación compartida por ROCK GARDEN (@rockgarden.app)

Expansion Through Data Wrangling, Founders Pass

While the Rock Garden app is currently free to use, that won’t last long.

Frei and his team see their app as the next level of climbing guides. To ensure it succeeds, they have developed a long-term plan to expand its offerings rapidly.

In November, they plan to start the Data Wrangler Program, which will pay climbers to help Rock Garden map new areas — using their smartphones. Once that happens, the app’s guides will quickly spread to new crags across the country.

“This team has a really big vision and a plan for capturing everything,” Frei said. “There’s no stopping until we get all the rocks. That’s how big it is cause we’re thinking big. We’re coming to your crag soon.”

Another big part of expansion plans involves the Founders Pass. Essentially a buy-in for early adopters, this $150 deal grants lifetime access to all Rock Garden guides — present and future. It includes an immediate $30 donation to the American Alpine Club and entitles pass-holders to voting rights for what crags get the 3D treatment next.

Thus far, the company has seen a lot of interest. Though 90% of the app’s guides are in Utah, 90% of buyers for the Founders Pass live in other states.

“It’s been validating because it’s clearly what climbers want and need. The national audience is getting this,” Frei said. “This is our window of opportunity.”

Juggling Adventure With Real Life

For some climbing purists, Rock Garden might seem almost too easy. Isn’t getting lost part of the adventure? Isn’t poring over the conflicting details of different guidebooks part of the fun?

For Frei, that might have been true at some point, but now he has a family and a business. Like many climbers, time outside has become rare.

“What’s your time worth to you? If I get one trip to Red Rocks a year or every 2 years, I want to maximize that experience,” he said.

“And frankly, the available solutions have consistently let me down. For anyone that’s felt like there could be something more and wants to do bigger, badder things in climbing, this tool was built for you.”

Learn more on the Rock Garden website. Find the app in the App Store or on Google Play.

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