Class of climbers hits the new wall February 6, 2009
A group of students stands at the base of Calvin’s 40-foot climbing wall. Tethered to the wall with long ropes, they stand facing Ryan Walter Rooks.
Sophomore Kyle Shutz is likewise tethered and poised partway up the wall, straddling an angle in the simulated rock face. Walter Rooks, the campus recreation coordinator, is using Shutz—an experienced climber who has crawled all over the real rock faces in Joshua Tree National Park, Ibex, Utah, the Red River Gorge and the Wind River Mountains— as a teaching tool:
"What Kyle is going to do is, he’s going to keep his left foot on the left wall and his right foot on the right wall,” Walter Rooks explained.
Suddenly, Shutz loses his grip and drops lightly to the floor. “I just put on lotion,” he apologized as the group laughs.
The students are members of a section of PER 142, the half-semester rock climbing class that began this week in the new Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex. Although students, staff, faculty and alumni have climbed the wall at various events since the opening of the complex, this is the first week that the climbing wall, officially the Climbing Center, has been used as an academic facility.
"I couldn’t have been more giddy as we started our first classes,” said Walter Rooks.
First time up
Senior Jenna Beauchamp, a member of the class, said that her first trip up the wall tested her upper-body strength: “It was fun,” said the 22-year-old geography major, adding, “It got kind of stressful. I think it’s hard to grab on and pull yourself up and move to the next level.”
There are eight cracks and approximately 1,000 holds in the 3,400 rugged feet of climbing surface (4,000 if you count the adjacent boulder.) And there are 49 routes to the top, each requiring different levels of strength, technique and endurance.
Bring your own rigor
"It’s not hard to get up the wall … It’s only as hard as you make it,” said Ben Groenhout, the 21-year old international development studies major who runs the Climbing Center. “With this wall, we can really just make it versatile and do whatever kind of climbing we want to do.”
The complexity built into the wall serves an educational as well as a recreational purpose, Groenhout said: "We wanted this wall to be friendly to teaching. We wanted it to be a very interactive classroom.”
Teaching halfway up
To simulate an outdoor rock climbing environment, where one climber mentors another side-by-side, the belay stations are placed on the outside of the Calvin wall. “Instead of having the instructor on the ground during the climb, we can have the instructor or instructors on the wall with students,” said Groenhout. "Height is something that people are pretty wary of, if not scared of. If you’re going to instruct somebody, it’s nice for them to feel like they’re in the moment—but inside. They feel like they’re pretty safe.”
Groenhout gained his first rock climbing skills on a wilderness orientation trip led by Walter Rooks in 2005, and he’s honed them in climbing gyms and at various outdoor sites around the country. Two years ago, on a car ride back from Devil’s Creek, Utah with Walter Rooks, he and the other student climbers began to brainstorm ideas for the Calvin climbing wall.
Talking about the wall
"We just discussed what we thought the Calvin climbing wall should have, if it was going to get built … ,” Groenhout said. “That was a long conversation.”
The wall Walter Rooks and his students envisioned contains not only climbing complexity, but climbing memory. Built by Entre Prises, the climbing wall is modeled on natural areas where the Calvin climbing community has climbed together: “So if you are climbing the lead wall (middle overhanging wall), it’s much like you’re climbing the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. The cracks were inspired by what we climbed when we were at Indian Creek in Utah, which is probably one of the most famous crack-climbing walls in the country…,” Walter Rooks said.
Taking the lead
Gratified as he is to see the wall completed, he is equally inspired by the student involvement in the whole project: "For me to see this wall opened for the day I left for interim was a beautiful, beautiful thing. It was great to have Ben … and the other students take a lead role.”
"It’s been so much fun to climb and … to get people to climb and to enjoy a state-of-the-art facility,” said Groenhout, who will graduate in May. He claims that he won’t miss the Calvin climbing wall: “As long as I have real rock to climb, not likely. But I’m going to have a hard time going to any other gym. It will be hard to leave behind the Calvin community of climbers,” he said.
Midway through PER 142, Beauchamp took her second trip up the wall. She laughed as she climbed.
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing