Standing at 25 feet tall, the Cedaredge Middle School climbing wall is impressive. The plywood-covered steel structure embodies the hard work and dedication not only of those who fundraised to make it possible, but also those who now utilize the wall.
Thanks to rock climbing enthusiast and seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher Michael Long, students across the district have access to a competitive climbing team and recreational climbing club. Additionally, the community can use the wall each Friday evening that school is in session.
The competitive climbing team meets twice a week during the school year, usually for an hour or more. Anywhere from 10 to 20 attend trainings. Due to climbing's individualistic nature, the commitment is low pressure and meant to be an enjoyable outlet for students.
The majority on the competitive team are from CHS and CMS. A shuttle brings students from Delta, with none currently from the North Fork.
During the spring a recreational club meets once a week for 15 weeks before going on two climbing outings. Long said the club sees more diversity from the district. Some students, like CHS senior Marian Blanks, are now on the competitive team because they tried the recreational club first.
Though she's only in her third year of climbing, Blanks is one of the top two students in the team, consistently finishing in the top 20 at competitions. Last year Blanks competed at state and is hoping for a return this year.
"I love competitions because everyone cheers each other on," she said. "When we climb we compete with the wall, not each other."
According to Long, rock climbing leagues are in an explosion. He's seen teams growing to where they now bring upwards of 40 climbers. Competitions usually include both middle and high school categories, with some featuring elementary age climbers.
This month, January, the climbing team will have five weekends of competitions in a row. Not every student will attend, but a mix of 20 usually go each weekend depending on their schedules. Schools from Carbondale to Ridgway and even Eagle host competitions throughout the year.
"My first competition I was terrified," said first year climber and senior CHS student Max Moore. "But now it's my favorite in the world to see teammates helping each other and see everyone being supportive."
To prepare for competitions, Long uses a mix of strategies each practice to encourage performance growth. "Climbing is as much about resting as moving. You have to learn how to use your power effectively to go longer distances," he said.
First students warm up with a bouldering game, moving horizontally across the wall without equipment. Then they get situated on ropes and practice different "problems."
"Having changeable holds allows us to make routes that can challenge a range of climbers in one wall," he said. For example, a green path might indicate beginner level while a red route is more challenging to complete, or as they call it, send a problem.
The wall usually has 21 different routes, categorized by color. Once a year Long removes all holds from the wall and cleans everything. Different routes can be created throughout the year using tape as markers on different holds.
Within the next couple years CMS hopes to put in a bouldering wall, too. This wall will only be about 12 feet high to allow minimal equipment with maximum safety. "Bouldering will offer a little more unique and diverse training for our climbing teams, too," said Long.
Learning Lessons and Investing in Students
Though the team and club is a big commitment, Long loves seeing the students' growth each season. For example, CMS student Kacey Walk worked to overcome her fear of heights in the beginning. Now she's a third year climbing enthusiast.
"There's no better feeling than getting to the top of a route you didn't think you could complete," she said. CMS student Andrew Purvis agreed, commenting that what matters in rock climbing is having fun and trying your best while not giving up.
Two other students, CHS sophomores Samuel Campell and Wyatt Smith, said climbing taught them the invaluable lesson of not being dismayed when something is harder than it looks.
The sport also encourages health through an enjoyable activity. Hunter Campell, a senior at CHS and second year climber, plans to continue the sport after graduation. "Climbing is something you can do for the rest of your life," she said. "And, the people you climb with become like family."
Thankfully Long isn't alone in his coaching endeavors. Kurt Roithmayr is "a crux to the program" as the assistant coach. Two of his children, Carson and Emma, are on the team. He sees rock climbing as valuable to the students because it provides an outlet and sport that is "less about athletic ability and more about problem solving."
The two hope to see the sport grow with the district but also invite the community to see what rock climbing is all about.
Each Friday evening from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., while school is in session, the wall is available for anyone to use. Equipment and training is covered with the $3 maintenance cost. First time climbers, climbing experts, and young children are invited to test out the wall.
During winter this is a great option for those who want a warmer recreational activity.