Romancing the stone

After-school climbing program introduces students to sport

Posted: Friday, December 06, 2002

Rock climbing isn't just for the fearless few with simian strength and nerves of steel. As the popularity of rock climbing increases, so does the diversity of people climbing.

Don't believe it? Just ask any of the numerous students that come after school to climb the newly constructed vertical wall at Skyview High School -- that is if you can break their concentration as they stare upward, fixed on their fellow students climbing for the top.

"It's tough, but really fun," Skyview student Rachel Beatty said as she tied in to the end of the rope. "It challenges my body and my mind."

Many people new to the sport are surprised to find out that climbing requires technique, flexibility, and balance rather than sheer upper body strength. It's like climbing a ladder -- you climb with your legs and use your hands for balance.

Because of this, women often make better climbers than men. Lower strength-to-weight ratios in women mean they can't muscle their way up the wall and so must learn good techniques early on to compensate. Lack of technique is a downfall that eventually catches up to many male climbers who start out using little to no form to make it to the top.

"I think it's just awesome," Rachel's mother Katherine Beatty said. "I'd like to see this interest materialize into climbing field trips on real rock."

Climbing on real rock, while a great way for students to utilize the skills they've learned and the culmination of hours spent practicing in the gym, is inherently dangerous. Making the transition often requires additional tutelage by experienced instructors before real rock can even be attempted.

However, the rock wall at Skyview gives kids their first taste of rock climbing. There they can hone their technical skills in preparation for their first real rock adventure, or just find an alternative form of exercise that doesn't involve iron dumbbells and fruit smoothies.

"It's not that I choose this over any other sport," said student Jesse Grant, who likes to climb indoors to stay in shape during the offseason of the more mainstream sports, "but you can work out every part of the body, and the challenge of climbing is addictive. It may beat you one time, but you've got to try again until you can beat it."

Grant said he likes climbing because it allows him to meet new people. Unlike some of the more regimented team sports, climbing allows a diversity of students to interact together. It doesn't matter if they're short or tall, heavy or thin, male of female. They can all perform equally, and more importantly together, on the 40-foot wall.

"It's one of the things I like about doing this," said Bill Holt, the Community Schools Coordinator. "It teaches the kids a lot about relationships. The kids climbing have to learn to trust their belayers, and the belayers have to learn responsibility. "

Not just any student can belay, they have to be certified through an instructor at the Alaska Rock Gym in Anchorage. Holt tries to take his students there for field trips regularly.

"This is something new and different," added Holt, "so it keeps the kids interested. That and it's exciting and fun."

Holt said Skyview's climbing wall began six years ago as a student's senior project. A lot of work, planning, and funding went into the rock wall, but Holt was very modest about it all.

"We couldn't of done this without support," said Holt, "and Principal John Pothast was very supportive."

The Skyview High School rock wall is open to students interested in climbing on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons from 3:30 to 5. The wall offers several route options, so whether you're a curious first-timer or a seasoned pro, there's something for everyone. Students under 18 need to have a waiver signed by their parents allowing them permission to climb. Waivers can be picked up at the school.

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