by Bethany Erb
Walking into PUC’s elevated gym, it’s easy to miss the stoic, looming presence of the shuttered climbing wall. Amidst the cacophony of squeaky treadmills, huffng joggers, and the eek eek eek of reluctant tennis-shoes, it retreats up and into the background—its dusty handholds and antiquated structure testifying of heart-pumping adrenaline, triumphant ascensions, and carpe diem victories of yore.
The forlorn climbing wall hasn’t always been closed to the public; until four years ago, it was a thriving, popular site for students interested in honing their craft and building friendships.
An avid rock-climber, Professor Floyd Hayes remembers those golden days. As he recollects, the climbing wall facilitated the growth of a small student community who, often accompanied by a mentoring professor, would advance from tackling the wall to grappling with local crags or bigger rocks in the Sierra Nevada. Professor Hayes enthusiastically supports reopening the wall. “It was a terrific way for students and professors to informally interact outside of the classroom and build trust in each other while testing their limits on the rocks,” he reminisces, adding that “there has been very little synergy between students and professors who share an interest in rock climbing” since the wall was shutdown.
For Andrew P., Alex N., Reuben D., Drew M., Nephtali M., Kyle H. and other rock-climbing enthusiasts at PUC, the time is ripe for the wall’s re-reinstallation. As an on-campus group of student athletes, they are reviving the annual debate for bringing back the popular fixture. Citing benefits to student health, campus enrollment, and professor-student relations, they urge its reintroduction with a contagious optimism.
I sat down with two of these advocates, Andrew Price (’20, Biology and History, European Literature) and Alex Nelson (’21, Emergency Management), to hear their thoughts on bringing back the wall—it quickly became clear that, to PUC’s rock-climbing crowd, the wall means much more than a wall. As Andrew and Alex point out, it’s a pause button—an eddy in the daily rat-race of doing, achieving, aspiring, and studying.
Excerpts from our interview make this sentiment clear. Here are a few of their thoughtful responses to questions and concerns surrounding PUC’s climbing-wall:
Why should PUC students get excited about opening up the rock-wall?
A.N.: It’s a super fun way to exercise. Rock-climbing is essentially team-oriented, an experience you don’t get running on a treadmill or sweating it out in a spin-class. For people looking for a close-knit community, it’s an open opportunity to socialize and meet people that are interested in common hobbies and care for their health. A.P.: PUC needs something for people who go to the gym and can’t, or don’t want to, lift 50-pound weights. It’s less intimidating of an exercise. Also, the sport’s nature means it puts demands on your mind, body, and spirit. You’re working symbiotically with your belayer, mentally constructing a route, and perfecting techniques. What better way to exercise your whole self?
PUC already has a bouldering cave. What can the rock wall provide that the bouldering cave cannot?
A.P.: The cave’s walls are at a slant, so it requires a degree of upper-body strength. You have to be fairly advanced to have the endurance to complete a bouldering route. It’s fine for dedicated rock-climbers to climb on, but for regular rock-climbers, it’s not very fun to go climb in a tiny room. You basically go around in circles.
A.N.: Not only that, but bouldering is a very individual experience. The beauty of a climbing wall is that it gives you a team, shared moments of tackling routes, working with your belayer, etc. That’s the core of the rock-climbing culture—teamwork. The wall is the first step in the climbing experience; you have to start with A before you get to B.
PUC is surrounded by natural rock formations. Why not just climb Mossy Rock?
A.N.: First of all, it is a lot easier to go climb on a supervised-wall. Most people don’t have, or can’t afford, equipment or technical knowledge for outdoor climbs. If we have a wall with certified instructors, it will open this sport up to more students. A.P.: Not only that, but it’s a controlled environment for training. If you’re training for something incredible, having an indoor-wall can artificially simulate that move or route in a safe place.
Andrew, you wrote that “the lip-service of previous administrations has been relegated to the past in favor of proactive service of the customers.” Can you elaborate?
A.P.: I think in the past, people who have requested for the wall to be reopened have been met with apathy when they approached administration. I think that sort of apathy, or lip service, is something we’ve moved beyond. Dr. Cushman has told students that his administration is open to securing benefits to students. We need to take advantage of that momentum. It is important not only for us and students but the entire college. This is a symbol for making PUC a place that values students above all else.
So you think PUC, not just its students, will benefit from a climbing wall?
A.N.: Of course. For example, Wall-Walla has the reputation of being the “Outdoorsy School” of Adventist education. All my friends from high school went to Walla Walla because it has a modern climbing wall, gymnasium, hiking excursions, etc. PUC is in a better location to have that reputation, but it falls short. We have Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the ocean, but we’re not capitalizing on that. Installing a climbing wall would be the first step in appealing to that demographic, boosting enrollment, and giving PUC a positive reputation.
From the perspective of students like Andrew P. and Alex N., it’s easy to grasp why a rock-climbing wall would be beneficial. “Should” and “could” are two different realms, though. It’s also important to understand why the wall was closed in the first place, and if it can be feasibly opened in the future. As
Mike Hellie, PUC’s Department Chair of Exercise Science, emphasizes, the climbing-wall was not arbitrarily closed. “The wall is thirty years old, meaning it is very old,” says Hellie, stating that “around four years ago, Human Resources decided the aging wall was too risky to be insured by risk management.”
The Director of Human Resources declared that PUC’s insurance required three safety improvements. First, the wall must be physically separated from the exercise machines. Secondly, the floor beneath the wall requires a soft surface for hard landings, such as ground-up rubber or pea gravel. Third, a certified top-rope instructor, who is not an instructor, needs to be present when the wall is open.
“The first two requirements are feasible and relatively inexpensive,” says Hayes, but “the third requirement is the most difficult to meet.” Certification is an expensive, time-consuming process, and no PUC employee possesses it. However, as Hayes muses, “if PUC’s administration is willing to make the commitment, there are available rock-climbing instructors in Napa Valley.” Not only that, but some financial losses could be recouped by charging the public a fee for usage. Offering a rock-climbing course, similar to a snowboarding or skiing course, would help the wall earn its keep.
On a positive note, the wall hasn’t been forgotten by PUC’s current administration.
A month ago, risk management re-assessed the wall and requested HR to consult a structural engineer. “So now we’re in the waiting stage,” says Hellie, agreeing that it would be great to open the wall, but that “we really don’t know what the engineer will recommend yet.” If the structural engineer approves the current wall, his department would probably seek funding to reopen it again.
If the structural engineer does not approve, Hellie says funding for a new, portable wall would be worth it. “Automatic belays, a dynamic wall, and varied wall surfaces would all be improvements on the current wall, if the funding can be secured,” he says.
Ultimately, the wall’s technical uncertainties have left it in limbo, as it awaits a structural engineer’s recommendation
One thing is certain, though. It’s going to require more than a 1500-word article and an engineer’s recommendation to bring the wall back to PUC. Personal e-mails to PUC’s administration, a student petition, and raising student awareness of rock-climbing’s joys are all great ways to keep the ball rolling. If you want to help create a student petition, send an e-mail with your full name to Alex Nelson at email@example.com, or text your name to (608) 206-2192, to add your signature to the petition.
In the meantime, the climbing wall still stands tall. Like PUC’s own Velveteen Rabbit, loved and treasured until misshapen and abandoned, it uncertainly awaits its rebirth.
Only time, and our collective initiative, will decide its fate.