Climbing Wall Calls Students to Ascend
Close up of the wall.
The Student Recreation Center, or rec center, is a popular place for students of UNCW. The center has pools, a training and fitness room, a gym with a court for various sports, and an intimidating climbing wall. Located behind a tall glass wall, the climbing wall is secluded and quieter than the rest of the rec center. The twenty-eight feet tall fake mountainsides with handholds loom over a help desk attached to the climbing wall room. To advanced climbers, the formidable wall is a sight of pleasure, for beginners, it’s a daunting challenge. For students looking to climb, the wall is available for free, Monday through Thursday from five p.m. to ten p.m., Saturday from two p.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from five p.m. to ten p.m.
To partake in climbing, there are a few necessary pieces of paperwork that need to be done. Right at the small office of the climbing wall, first-time climbers fill out a safety waver, a consent form, and a helmet waiver if one is feeling dangerous. The wall has no routinely busy times, and it is almost always slow in the evenings around eight. Sometimes groups of people come together, and then when they leave the place is dead. The tides of people are unpredictable. The climbing routes are also unpredictable, as they get changed up routinely.
Photo of me along the easy yellow-lined route.
At the semester’s beginning, all of the routes were altered, and climbing wall staff are still in the process of adding new routes to the wall. A route is marked by specific numbers or colors of tape near the rocks. The left side of the wall has the easier paths, and the right side has paths with more difficulty. Easier routes have rocks closer together or bigger handholds, while more difficult paths have unthinkable space between rocks and rocks so small, climbers can barely hold on. A popular newbie route is one on the left along the back wall, marked with yellow tape and clear handholds all the way to the top.
On average there isn’t much of a wait to climb, just the time it takes to gear up. Unless there’s a shortage of belayers and an abundance of climbers, then the wait could take some time. In case of a longer-than-expected wait, it may be wise to bring a book or something to study if you are a student. The only way to cut down on wait time while helping others in the process is to become a belayer. Belayers not only keep people safe while they are climbing, they also help climbers correctly put on the necessary gear. Gearing up includes putting on climbing shoes, which fit really snug and are almost like water shoes, getting the harness on and tight, and donning a helmet, if desired. The hemlets are comfortable, and able to be fitted against the head by yellow wheels on either side of the helmets inside edge. Figuring out the harness is the hardest part; the part with the loop that looks like a handle needs to be in the front, the leg holes need to be tightened, and the strap that holds one’s middle must be pulled correctly and tucked back in to the buckle. Then a belayer steps in to tie the harness to the climbing rope and the climber is set.
Houston Gilbreath and Michelle Streve
Belaying clinics are available to teach people interested in learning a new skill how to belay others. UNCW sophomore Rachel Lineback has been a belayer for a year and a half. She really enjoyed the belaying clinic, and described it as “Very informative and helpful, they showed us all the knots, explained everything well, and made sure we knew them before we left.” One main thing belayers learn how to do is tie climbers into a harness correctly. The knot, a figure eight follow-through, is about as big as a fist. The UNCW belayers that were interviewed agreed that the knots were really easy to learn, something that may be considered something to worry about. UNCW sophomore and belayer Houston Gilbreath said, “The small class-size and people teaching were helpful.” The cost of the clinic is $10 for students, or $12 for faculty and staff or guests. The clinics run for two hours and the next three sessions are in mid-March. The last three belaying clinics of spring semester are in mid-April.
UNCW’s climbing wall is an excellent facility. Michelle Shreve, UNCW graduate student, has climbed East Carolina University’s wall, which is attached to a wall behind a volleyball court. Shreve said “There is no glass wall at ECU, the glass is helpful. UNCW’s wall is better, bigger with more options.” Will Weinel, a senior at UNCW, has climbed the wall in the rec center, as well as a wall in Raleigh, and has worked at Putt-Putt Fun Center in Raleigh. He stated that “UNCW has the most climbing wall variety and the belayers are really helpful, compared to automatic belaying at Putt-Putt Fun Center.” The automatic belaying was a machine that held the rope, and if a climber fell, the rope would be stopped with a yank. If the person wasn’t being careful with their feet placement, they could smash into the wall more easily than when a person belaying holds the rope steady if a climber falls. A good belayer is always paying complete attention to the climber, and is ready and waiting if a slip or fall was to happen.
Students have their own favorite parts about climbing. UNCW senior Connor Duval stated, “The best part is the thrill of climbing and getting so into it that you forget you have a rope attached to you.” He also said, “It’s super exciting and death defying.” Those important ropes and clips, the only things saving one from certain death by fall. Shreve said, “The dissent back down is like flying.” When dissenting, climbers must repel down slowly, while kicking off the wall with their toes. About being a belayer, Gilbreath said, “I really like seeing other people get psyched over the same things as me.” Other people enjoy the strenuous workout aspect behind climbing. Weinel said, “Climbing is really nice for a good arm workout, and you feel accomplished.” He was able to make it to the top of an easier route in roughly five minutes, and spent around ten minutes braving a more difficult path to the top. Nearly all of the climbers seemed to make it to the top of the wall, perhaps because more people who know how to climb come than people who have never climbed before.
Some of the climbers emphasized the climbing wall’s ability to bring friendships together. Most of them got started climbing because of their friends. Weinel said, “My friend first invited me in high school to go climbing with him, and I met other people that went climbing at UNCW that got me started.” Climbing is a good way to interact with friends in a challenging and unpredictable environment.
The climbers offered great advice for beginners. According to Gilbreath, “Just doing it is helpful, there’s a safe system.” He also said, “Don’t be discouraged, you will see immediate improvement.” Practice makes perfect is a good sentiment to keep in mind, the more you climb, the easier it becomes. Shreve said, “Just keep trying.” In the belaying clinic, attendees are taught ways to try to calm climbers down and to make them less afraid in situations of panic. Lineback said, “We talk to people a lot to make them comfortable or to calm them down.” Sometimes thinking about the obvious is helpful. “Don’t look at the ground,” Duval said. If one is afraid of heights, looking down may produce an extreme fear and the need to dissent. Despite unknown outcomes, trying new things is an important aspect of being at college, and climbing is a good way for people to face their fears and become more daring in a safe environment.
Figure 8 follow-through knot
It is quite an experience to climb at UNCW’s climbing wall. The people that participate are dedicated, there is even a UNCW Rock Climbing Club. The members post about meeting to climb, and off campus events and outings associated with climbing. As of right now, there are no actual Physical Education classes that incorporates the climbing wall, but a class is in the works. A similar class is coming out in the fall, which uses an adventure course, according to Dr. Lynn Long, Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor for PED 101 classes. Climbing is not only exciting from a fear-aspect, but is also fun and a good way to get a nontraditional workout. Anyone who is looking for something new and stimulating should consider climbing. When done properly, there is virtually no danger; UNCW’s climbing wall hasn’t had any mishaps since opening. There should be nothing to stop adventurous people who haven’t climbed yet from trying the climbing wall. The belayers are safe and nice, the equipment is good quality, and exercising is better than playing video games all day long, as many college students do. Not to mention, nothing makes a cooler social media photo than action shots climbing and enjoying life.