During freshman orientation week, chances are you went to the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center, or the rec center. And, if you went in, you probably saw the top half of the 42 ft. tall rock wall. If you’re like me, you didn’t try it until your senior year. And, again, if you’re like me, you’ll probably regret not going earlier.
Ah yes, the words all college students love to hear. Let’s be honest, all people love when things are free.
The rec center is open to all students with a University of Kansas ID number. "The Chalk Rock" is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 10, Wednesday 7 p.m. to 10 and Sunday 5 p.m. to 8. Once you get there, head downstairs and follow the sign to Outdoor Pursuits. Numerous employees are available to help you set up and hold on to the rope while you climb. Special shoes and harnesses are provided by the facility and employees will secure the rope to the harness (a process known as belaying).
Emily Farrow, a freshman from Madison, Kansas, has been working at the rock wall for almost two months. Within days of starting, she was able to complete the training process. “Really the main thing with the rock wall is just getting belay certified and understanding how to belay,” she says. “Once you get that concept down, you’re good to go.”
While you do have to sign a waiver and provide an emergency contact, the rock climbing process itself ensures safety measures. A harness is placed right at the hips and around the legs. After being comfortably tightened, a blue rope is secured onto a curved clasp near the belly button in a figure-8 knot. One person holds the end of the rope and it’s time to start climbing.
There may be some tugs here or there to help boost your climbing efforts, but they always make sure to go at your pace. If you feel like chilling for a minute, you can yell “take!” down to whoever is holding the rope. You’re then free to lean back and look around as they hold you up. When you’re ready to come down, let whoever is holding you know, kick off the wall and lean back as you’re lowered down.
Aside from the tall wall visible from the main floor of the building, there are shorter, side-to-side and horizontal routes. There are numerous routes differentiated by color. Brown is the beginner route and, yeah, it’s part of the 42 foot wall. As a beginner with a rather overwhelming fear of heights, it was also the one I climbed.
I made it halfway up the wall on my second try, thanks largely to the encouragement of the others there. Excluding myself and the staff members, approximately 17 other people were working together in groups of varying sizes or solo.
Farrow has completed the brown, gray and blue routes, which are the “three easier ones.” Her main goal is to complete the blue route without stopping by the end of the semester.
It’s a real workout
Eli Denzer, a senior from Overland Park, was excited to learn the University had a climbing wall. He had gone to rock climbing camps four years in a row before aging out of the program at 16.
“It uses all the muscles in your body and it’s really good exercise,” Denzer says after he comes down from climbing the full-length of the 42 ft. wall.
Climbing takes focus of the whole body and mind. Stamina and endurance are tested while you build your upper body and core muscles. You also have to pay attention to openings and get creative with your own physical capabilities. It’s a fun test to see how flexible your body really is and improve that baseline flexibility. By combining cardio and strength, numerous muscles are toned and boosted, including your abs, obliques, delts, traps, biceps, lats, quads, calves and forearms.
“[Rock climbing] is just a lot different than all the other exercises,” Farrow says. “It’s really fun, so it’s almost like you’re not getting a workout in when you’re getting a really tough upper body workout.”
Improves mental health
It’s no secret that exercise can help combat symptoms of mental illnesses, namely depression. A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine done on the concept of bouldering – climbing walls that don’t require safety ropes – showed there’s a significant effect on self-reported scores of depression.
Another study over the effect of rock climbing on anxiety suggested “when people engage in rock climbing, they can reduce their cognitive and somatic anxiety levels and increase their levels of self-confidence.”
Rock climbing is a fun and healthy way to get motivated and be active. The whole process can be scary to start, but the rush of accomplishment from any amount of climbing is worth it.
There’s no shame
The first time I tried to climb the wall, I only made it about a third of the way up. My arms were trembling and I made the mistake of looking down. I wanted to come down, and within seconds I was hovering in the air freestyle. I kicked off the wall when I came too close. Honestly, when I landed I was very disoriented and tired.
They asked if I wanted to try again. I looked up at that wall and said “yeah, I think I will.”
This time, they gave me directions on where to step and grab when I needed help. My arms and legs were burning, my hands were sweaty, but my mind was focused. I was still insanely nervous, but I made it halfway up the wall. When I came down the second time, it wasn’t because I was scared, it was because my entire body was tired. I didn’t even make it the whole way up, yet the workout resonated throughout my body.
I was laughing the whole way down. It was exhilarating and fun in a way you have to try to know. After a couple high-fives from the employees and others there, I went home with the promise of returning to get to the top.
It may take me awhile, but isn’t that the thrill of it all?