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Rock On: A look at the University's rock climbing opportunities

Emma Cary

Emma Cary

The Outdoor Recreation Center has established two rock climbing walls, one in the Student Recreation Center and the other in Robert E. Witt Student Activity Center.

Emma Cary

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One of The University of Alabama’s interesting amenities is found at both recreation centers on campus. The Outdoor Recreation Center has established two rock climbing walls, one in the Student Recreation Center and the other in Robert E. Witt Student Activity Center.

The SRC and the Witt Student Activity Center are home to a community of rock climbers that has formed on campus. Both rock climbing walls are used by faculty, staff, members of the community and students.

Katie Arrington ventured to the rock wall for the first time last week, describing her experience as both challenging and inclusive. Arrington, a freshman majoring in communicative disorders, plays a small part in the community of rock climbers at The University of Alabama.

Arrington said that the atmosphere was enjoyable because the staff and students surrounding her made feel confident enough to keep climbing new routes.

“Right when I walked in, everyone was really welcoming,” Arrington said. “As I climbed up, people I didn’t even know would shout out encouragements. It was a really cool environment that made me want to come back.”

Jayla Blanke, a staff member at the ORC and UA student, emphasized the inviting experience the climbing community provides. Blanke, a sophomore majoring in biology and marine science, started climbing around two years ago.

Blanke said she enjoys the sport because it is not only a challenge, but also a different kind of workout.

“I didn’t start out with a lot of upper body strength,” Blanke said. “I like being challenged on pushing my body seeing the progression of my muscles, especially in arm and finger strength.”

The SRC rock wall offers bouldering and a few training aspects that can help gain specific muscles, such as a hangboard. The Witt Student Activity Center offers bouldering, lead climbing and top roping.

Top roping is a style of climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb, according to climbingtechniques.org. Lead climbing is where leader wears a harness tied to one end of a rope. The leader’s partner provides the belay, paying out rope as needed, but ready to hold the rope tightly, usually with the aid of a belay device. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is performed without the use of a harness or rope. It is typically practiced with climbing on to get a better grip on the wall. This type of climbing can be found at both rec centers.

The different types of routes are graded based on difficulty. Every facility has unique methods of grading routes. The ORC displays the difficulty using tape.

“At our wall the taping starts at blue, which is the easiest, and goes to black, which is the hardest,” said Ryan Denver, a senior majoring in marketing. “The tape on the bottom signifies difficulty, and the tape on the top differentiates the route so you aren’t confused about which color you’re working on.”

Denver is the secretary of the of the Climbing Club. The club’s primary goal is to get a community of climbers together, Denver said.

As secretary his job is to send out weekly emails updating the members on new events, register club members for competitions and organizing meet-up location to climb with students from surrounding schools.

“The climbing club is a club for everyone,” Denver said. “Any skill range from beginner to advanced can join.”

Connor Aycock, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering, is on staff at the ORC and also a member of the climbing club. While he enjoys the challenge that comes with both indoor and outdoor climbing, he prefers outdoor lead climbing above the rest, Aycock said.

Although the University only offers indoor climbing on campus, the ORC leads multiple trips a semester to outdoor facilities that have bouldering, top roping and lead climbing. Aycock led the most recent one to Sand Rock, Alabama.

“Outdoor climbing is very much based on what nature gives you. For indoor climbing we can set routes on the wall to have you do a specific movement to give you a certain type of climbing,” Aycock said. “The danger factor is way higher outside.”

The employees at the wall encourage new climbers to come out. The employees at the ORC agree that the community that the rock walls provide is one of the most enjoyable parts.

“We are really welcoming, and we want everyone to come try it out,” Blanke said. “Your first visit to the wall is absolutely free.”

A membership at the rock wall is $20 per semester. In order to purchase the membership, participants are required to take a free belay class that’s offered every Monday-Thursday from 6-8 p.m. and pass a test ensuring that you understand the safety rules. The membership includes shoe rentals.

“After going this one time I want to get a membership because it was really fun and also a good workout,” Arrington said.

Hours of operation are Monday-Thursday 2-10 p.m.; Fridays 2-6 p.m.; Saturdays noon-4 p.m.; and Sundays 2-6 p.m. Both rock walls are closed on home football games. 

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Rock On: A look at the University's rock climbing opportunities