Rock climbing is known for being difficult because it’s both mentally and physically demanding, but that’s why University of Georgia junior Denis Mena fell in love with it. He said he enjoys climbing because it’s like solving a puzzle while being physically challenged.
The nature of recreational climbing is not limited to individual performance. Despite being a solo activity, Mena, a member of UGA’s Climbing Club, believes climbing fosters community and friendship through cooperative problem solving and a shared love of the sport.
Mena transferred to UGA from Kennesaw State University for the fall 2019 semester, forcing him to leave behind many friends and fellow climbers. Soon after arriving in Athens, he visited Active Climbing and immediately felt welcomed by the other climbers. It was easy for him to find a group who “gave off really good energy.”
Active Climbing and UGA’s Ramsey Student Center are Athens’ only two indoor gyms. Many students take advantage of the free access to Ramsey’s walls, while Active Climbing serves as a hub for the Classic City’s climbing community.
Nathan Gostin is a UGA senior and the president of the university’s Climbing Club. The club offers the chance to climb outside and typically plans one or two trips each month from Georgia to Tennessee.
A common sight to see at any climbing gym is a group of climbers huddled at the base of a wall cheering someone on as they navigate a route, or in climbing lingo, a “problem.” They work out the problem collectively, evaluating the best way to approach it and taking time to rest and rethink between attempts.
“We all are together and like, sitting around looking at routes and trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Gostin said. “It’s another way to bond, so we’re all very close.”
Outdoor climbing is more difficult than indoor climbing because routes aren’t always easy to follow, Gostin said. Frequently-climbed routes can be discerned by chalk residue, but these markings can be easily wiped away by rain or lack of use. Climbers also need to bring their own gear and must clip themselves in as they scale the wall.
The Climbing Club practices once a week at the Ramsey Student Center, which features an indoor top-roping wall and an outdoor bouldering wall.
Club members are required to receive a belay certification through Ramsey, in which they learn how to safely anchor a climber on the 43-foot top-roping wall. Rope-climbing requires two people — one to climb and one to belay.
Members of UGA’s Climbing Club meet other climbers through intercollegiate climbing competitions, such as UGA’s annual Boulder Bash, which will be held on Oct. 26. UGA’s club competes against clubs from KSU, Auburn University, Clemson University and the University of Alabama, Gostin said. The competition is also open to the public, so local climbers can participate as well.
Climbers compete in different divisions based on skill level, Gostin said. Routes are given point values based on their difficulty, and climbers receive bonus points if they “send,” or complete, the problem on their first try.
Grading can vary between competitions, but climbers are typically only graded on their top three-five routes worth the most points, Gostin said. This means climbers don’t necessarily need to climb the most routes to win, since more difficult problems are worth more points.
Climbing competitions at the collegiate level barely scratch the surface of the sport. Competitions are frequently held across the U.S. and the rest of the world for climbers of all skill levels to compete on an international stage. This includes the Climbing World Championships and the Climbing World Cup, both hosted by the International Federation of Sport Climbing.
The world of competitive climbing is about to expand even further. Sport climbing is set to make its Olympic debut at the 2020 games in Tokyo and will be divided into divisions of speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing.
Adrian Prelipceanu, owner of Active Climbing on Barber Street, anticipates the sport will grow in popularity because of the coverage at the Olympics.
Prelipceanu began climbing as an 18-year-old in Romania while to win the sport was considered a dangerous activity. But this negative image surrounding the sport has changed over the years, and Prelipceanu has observed a steady increase in interest since he opened his gym in 2008, especially from college students, he said.
Compared to every other sport and activity Prelipceanu has tried before, he said climbing is set apart by the type of challenge it presents.
“The moment your feet leave the ground, you are going into safe mode,” Prelipceanu said. “You’re trying not to let go and not get hurt … It’s a challenge not just physically, but mentally too.”