Climbing to new heights

When senior Rigel Menard feels like getting away from the rigors of school, responsibilities and life in general, the only direction he has to look is up.

For more than a year, Menard has been spending several hours a week trekking up the climbing wall in the McPhee upper gymnasium.

“I climb three days a week, about 12 hours a week,” Menard said. “I go Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and I would go more but it’s not open Fridays and Saturdays.”

The climbing wall is open from 6:30 to 10:45 p.m. every Sunday through Thursday, according to the University Recreation Web site.

The approximately 2,500 square-foot climbing wall opened during the 2000-2001 school year, said senior Kali Pace-Graczyk, a climbing wall employee, who added UW-Eau Claire is one of several UW schools to feature a climbing wall on campus. It was built by Adventure Based Experimental Educators, Inc., and was designed to provide the “ultimate ‘real look’ in wall structures,” according to their Web site.

The climbing wall is free of charge to all Eau Claire students, including all training, skill checks and climbing classes, according to the Web site. Orientation classes are offered on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum of 10 people per session, and begin at 6:45 p.m.

A brief tutorial is required for anyone who has never climbed before, and climbing wall staffers will instruct beginners on proper knot-tying, belaying (spotting and supporting a climber with rope) and equipment care.

“It’s a really good way to vent your frustrations.”
Rigel Menard

“We’ll teach you everything from basic climbing techniques and then how to belay,” Pace-Graczyk said. “Anyone can come up there, and they don’t need to know anything. We’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

For more experienced indoor climbers, a skills proficiency check is required. During this check, the covered skills include communicating proper climbing commands, correctly tie-in using a figure eight knot and precise belaying technique procedures, according to the Web site.

“There’s a lot of different difficulties of rock climbing,” Menard said. “Just climbing up a ladder is a really easy climb, but it gets a lot more difficult from there. There’s a little climbing for everyone.”

Several dozen students use the climbing wall every week, many of which are repeat users, Pace-Graczyk said.

“We definitely have the usuals that come up there, I’d say about 50 people every week,” she said. “Definitely, sometimes we have that many in a night.”

Freshman AJ Hove is one of those students, and said he climbs to escape his everyday tasks while improving his body tone.

“It’s a good workout, and you can just release some stress, just stuff like that,” he said.

While the climbing wall offers many people the chance to get away from their everyday chores, rules are in place to ensure the safety of every climber, according to the Web site.

There are more than 20 rules that climbers need to follow, all of which are in place to ensure safety. One such rule is that climbers must use the belay devices provided by the university. In addition, the proper knots, such as a figure eight, need to be tied at all times during a climb.

A trip to Kentucky, Tennessee and northern Georgia will also be offered over spring break for those that want to climb outside, said Pace-Graczyk.

Hobnailers, an outdoor-enthusiast adventure club, is organizing a climbing-exclusive trip. Despite a person’s rock climbing passion, Menard knows only the feeling of exhilaration whenever he takes that first step upward.

“It’s a really good way to vent your frustrations in a healthy way,” Menard said. “It’s just plastic. You’re not going to hurt anything or anybody and it feels great. It’s an incredible feeling … I can’t think of anything better, really.”