by Weston Whitener
Clinging to the wall of the Whitworth University Recreation Center climbing area, a rock climber uses his hand to find a grip that will let him continue moving upward. He finds a handhold and stretches for it, hanging by his fingertips 30 feet above the ground with one leg dangling in the open air beneath him.
Senior Eric Rice is one student who has been in that kind of position.
“It’s a very technical sport,” Rice said. “You can muscle through it, but concentration and skill will help loads.”
The bright colors of various shapes and sizes of handholds stand out against the climbing area’s tan walls; color-coded tape lays out the routes that climbers can take, ranging from basic to difficult.
Climbers stretch to reach a handholds in their routes. If the they can hang on to the holds, they will move onto the next grips high above.
“It’s both a physical and mental puzzle,” junior Wes Walton said.
Climbers make their way up the walls foothold by foothold, handhold by handhold, searching for a small rock that will support their ascent. High above the mat, they look for solutions to the hand grip puzzle.
“It’s methodical, you have to attack each climb one step at a time,” sophomore Dana Stull said.
If they attempt to hang on to a handhold with too little grip, the slip sends them into mid-air, suspended only by a thin maroon rope.
The climbers sway from their high ropes, gently holding their safety harness’ life-line with one hand. Then, they swing back to the wall, ready to try their route again.
“I really like the exhilaration of climbing higher and higher,” sophomore Christian McKinney said. McKinney, like many other students who frequent the climbing wall, began climbing at the beginning of the school year.
With the new accessibility of the U-Rec’s recently-opened climbing wall, a climbing community is quickly emerging on Whitworth’s campus. Juniors Kurtis McFadden and Michael Dolezal decided to start the Climbing Club to support the growing climbing community that has been utilizing the new facility.
McFadden and Dolezal took a Jan-Term rock climbing course as sophomores through Wild Walls climbing gym in downtown Spokane, and they continue to pursue climbing as a recreational sport.
For the these two, the U-Rec wall is a stepping stone to future outdoor climbs.
“The ultimate goal [of club members] is to get outside,” Dolezal said.
The outdoor recreation department was granted about $2,000 to purchase outdoor climbing gear, which the climbing club will be able to better utilize when spring comes, McFadden said.
Until warmer weather arrives, members use the indoor rock wall to prepare and improve their climbing skills for outdoor climbing.
“No matter where you’re at [in difficulty of climb], that’s the challenge for you. There’s no judgment of, ‘Oh, you can’t climb.’” Dolezal said.
The U-Rec offers three options for climbing from which students and other climbers may choose.
Those new to the activity start with a top rope climb. In this setup, a rope is looped at the top of the wall, with a person on the ground belaying, taking up the slack that the climber leaves in the rope as he or she ascends.
The second option, for the more advanced climbers, is lead climbing.
“It’s more dangerous; it takes more experience.” Dolezal said.
In this set-up, the climber must clip his or her rope into carabiners along the climbing route as he or she goes.
With no rope above the climber, a slip will send him or her hurtling down to the last carabiner into which the rope has been clamped. This can mean a 10-foot free-fall.
Both experienced and novice climbers alike can boulder, climbing low-height routes without harnesses or ropes.
Contact Weston Whitener at email@example.com