By Ryan Cangarlu
The rock climbing wall at St. Mary’s is not only a very cool part of our gym, but an important part of a community here that has been going strong since 2007, the year the wall was built. In 2007, plans for the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics & Recreation Center (the ARC) were being debated. The facility managers at the time were asked about their preferences between a rock climbing wall and three racquetball courts. Chris Kalman, who was a facility manager at the time really pushed for the rock wall, believing in its future importance to the St. Mary’s community. He was right.
The rock wall has engrossed all sorts of people who have become hooked on climbing. Patrick Montague, the Rock Wall Facility Manager, Head Route-setter, and the Climbing Club President said, “Beyond the students here, there is a large amount of climbing alumni who are now spread out all over the U.S. who still get together to climb together outside, on real rock. The main gathering of St. Mary’s alums with current students would be at the New River Gorge in Fayetteville, WV, where the climbing club goes over fall reading days. Usually we have alums that join us from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and we’ll all camp, climb and have a great time.”
The rock wall provides an outstanding mixture of working out and socializing; it is unique among activities available in the ARC. Climbers must strategize before going for the climb that they are working on. Ryland Newman, an active member in the rock climbing community here on campus, said, “The wall here is student run. All the climbs are set by students working here, and that’s something to be proud of, seeing as it is quite difficult to set fun and challenging routes for all skill levels. There’s a lot of good positive energy put towards climbing, and it’s a really cool place to hang out because of it. It’s a welcoming community, so being nervous to give it a try shouldn’t be anyone’s excuse!”
The wall can be a place to relax for some while also being a place for others to overcome their fears. Newman had a serious fear of heights before first climbing at St. Mary’s, so in more ways than one the wall has changed his life. Rock climbing has never been as relevant as it is today. The true strength and tenacity of the human race is demonstrated every day by some of the most impressive men and women of the world; on Jan. 19 of this year, one of the most historic moments in rock climbing history took place. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, two experienced rock climbers, free climbed to the summit of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, which many have considered to be the hardest completed rock climb in the world.