Reach for the Top

May 1, 2014
Veronika Edwards
Nick Clarke ’13 of the Oberlin Rock Climbing Team practices his moves outside. Photo credit: Paris Achenbach

Known for its flat terrain, one might not expect to find many rock climbers in Northeast Ohio. But a group of undeterred Oberlin students chose to scale this obstacle of flatland and start a climbing team. Composed of about 10 members, the team competes in local competitions, practicing both at Jesse Philips Physical Education Center and in outdoor locations in the area, which houses both a climbing wall and a bouldering cave, both of which are supervised by experienced student climbers.

Because Ohio has few collegiate rock climbing and bouldering teams, Oberlin students climb in the open category, rather than against other collegiate teams. At local competitions, each climbing route is assigned a point rating, from about 100 to 2,000. As climbers move route to route, judges decide their scores, based on the difficulty of a given route. If climbers reach the top of the wall, they receive the points assigned to that route. After three hours, each climber’s top five scores are combined for the final score.

The rock-climbing season is divided into seasonal semesters. During the fall semester, climbers participate in bouldering competitions, a more horizontal type of climbing, and in the spring, they participate in rope-climbing, the more traditional, vertical type of climbing.

Oberlin student climbers have found that the recreation center’s wall and bouldering cave are outstanding resources for climbing in Ohio. The recreation center is also open to the public for memberships, so the climbing wall and bouldering cave provide climbing opportunities for the entire Oberlin community. The team has also discovered bouldering and rope-climbing locations within a couple hours of Oberlin, and when the weather is nice, they opt to climb outdoors.

Because of the limited space of the wall, the climbing team must remain relatively small. Nevertheless, the team accepts new members each semester, but talent is not always a necessity. During try-outs, while the team is looking for skilled climbers, they are also looking for spirit. Ellie Lezak ’17 says that, “we do expect people to be able to climb well and to be strong, but we are looking more for enthusiasm, and with enthusiasm comes the ability to improve.”

Oberlin student climbers are always looking for ways to evolve the experience of rock climbing. Evan Hertafeld ’15 recently began working on building dynamic additions to the rope climbing wall, or ‘volumes.’ Lezak explains that a volume is “a large geometric addition to the wall that you put holds on…It’s a way to add variation to the wall.” The wall’s new volumes have been a proactive way to change the nature of routes.

Students participating in the climbing team have taken great initiative to keep the team going. With ever-growing enthusiasm for climbing, the team foresees competition and practice becoming more intense. "The more comfortable we get with this as an institution at the wall, the better tryouts will go every year, and the more we can get people really psyched about climbing onto this team,” says Sam Pfander ’16.

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