Climb to the Top: Smith’s Annual Rock Climbing Competition

Photo by Carolyn Brown '16 | Beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers navigated their way up the rock wall on March 6.

Photo by Carolyn Brown ’16 | Beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers navigated their way up the rock wall on March 6.

Emily Carroll ’16
Contributing Writer

The annual Smith College climbing competition on occurred March 6 in the Ainsworth Gym. The wall, usually abuzz with climbers, gained a new level of focus and determination as around 30 climbers competed over the course of four hours.

“The climbing competition is a collaboration between the outdoor adventure program and the Outing Club,” said Heather Upin ’16, president of the Outing Club.

The competition has evolved over the years. “We used to do a Five-college competition. For about eight years, we did it as part of the Outdoors Festival, but a couple of years ago we stopped the festival and felt like we still wanted to do a [competition],” said Scott Johnson, director of the Outdoor Adventure program.  “I really like the way that it is set up so beginners and intermediate climbers can have access.”

The regulations of the competition changed this year for the intermediate and expert groups. Instead of a total score based on the number of climbs people successfully complete, the top five climbs contributed to the score. This changed the tenor of the competition from a test of endurance to a test of technical skill.

Beginners competed as well as seasoned experts. “I have been climbing for 12 years,” said Zoe Kendall ’17.  “I like doing the problem-solving on the wall, and I think it’s really fun to see how you climb, and where you can get compared to other people, which is one of the reasons I love competing.”

Kendall won the expert group, and Anna Rogers ’17 came in second. In the intermediate category Laurel Shern ’16 won with Maya Hayden ’19 in second, and in the beginner category Heather Kurtz ’16 won with Abby Lown ’19 in second.

All of the winners and many of the other competitors won prizes like a climbing harness, a chalk bag and a water bottle.

In addition to providing prizes, the Outdoor Adventure program and Outing Club provide other opportunities to climb.

“I am going on the Kentucky Red River Gorge trip during spring break,” said Francie Hiza ’16. “We are going to go climbing for five days, and it will be the first time I try lead climbing outside. The transition from indoors to outdoors is always totally different, so I’m a little nervous about that, but you just start easier and work your way up. Scott has been really great at working me through how to lead climb and lead belay, so I feel pretty confident in those skills.”

Upin also mentioned that for those interested in climbing, “The outing club holds trips to CRG, which is the nearby climbing gym, Central Rock, in Hadley, every other Thursday, Monday and Saturday. You just take the bus over and climb for however long you want.”

“There are some very common misconceptions about climbing,” said Johnson. “One is that you have to be fearless, two – that you have to be incredibly strong and fit. Obviously, being a little bit fearless and a little bit fit helps, but a big part of it is understanding the system – how strong the rope is [and] the harness system. Then you start to trust it, and when you can hang on the rope you start to be able to manage those fears better and that actually helps you with a lot of other things in life because fear is very natural.”

“My big goal is really that students that are interested in climbing, by the time they graduate, they feel like they can do it on their own, and they don’t need a guide,” said Johnson.

“Just do it,” urged Upin, “don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.”

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