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February 28, 2005

New Rock Climbing Center
Offers On-Campus Adventure

Katie Ringel, a senior, climbs the wall.
Katie Ringel, right, a senior, climbs the wall as Jay Frain, assistant director of outdoor adventure, is belayed by Andrew Graziano, left, a senior, and Silvia Chan, associate director of recreation services, at the new climbing center in the Student Recreation Facility.

Photo by Peter Morenus

When the President’s Substance Abuse Task Force released a report last year that encouraged campus organizations to offer more programs to keep students busy and alcohol free, Patti Bostic knew she had to add something to the recreation programs she supervises. The only problem was that most of their programs were full.

So it was out with the old, in with the new: Bostic and her staff decided to turn two barely used squash courts in the Student Recreational Facility into what is expected to be a very busy indoor rock climbing facility.

The cavernous, gray-walled center, which can be reconfigured to offer more than 50 climbing routes, opens March 2 at noon with a ribbon cutting that will go a little beyond the ordinary: the ribbon will be stretched across two walls, 18 feet from the floor, and will be snipped by two students who scale the indoor mountain.

“Rock climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in America,” Bostic says, flipping through a range of recreation and intramural magazines with rock climbing featured on the cover. “I really expect this to be a big hit with the students and a dynamic part of campus life.”

The Recreational Services Climbing Center is a natural extension of HuskyXcursions, an outdoor adventure program sponsored by the department that offers weekly off-campus trips for backpackers, mountain climbers, white water canoeists, and hikers. There are also regularly scheduled on-campus training sessions.

The climbing center spans 2,000 square feet, and has walls ranging from 12 feet to 18 feet, over a variety of terrains. The three-sided wall has more than 1,000 handholds, which can be rearranged to offer climbers fresh trails daily.

“We hope to attract students who wouldn’t normally come to the recreation center,” says Jay Frain, assistant director for outdoor adventure. “It will be a great addition to our programming. Climbing is more social than lifting weights or using treadmills. People tend to gather at the base and talk, help each other. It’s a lot of fun.”

Students, faculty, and staff who have recreation services memberships are welcome to climb, but must first earn a climbing card by completing a two-hour orientation. Those interested may register for an orientation class beginning March 14. The classes will begin March 21.

Funded through the General University Fee, the $207,000 climbing range consists of a frame of welded steel fastened to a substructure of plywood. The wood is covered with a coating that allows permanent features – outcroppings, finger cracks, indentations – to be sculpted to create depth. The floor is a five-inch thick layer of foam and carpeting, with an impact-absorbing bottom layer.

Bostic says there are plans to expand the climbing program next fall, with late night special events, an indoor climbing competition, basic and advanced climbing instruction, and presentations.