Most students familiar with the Wade King Recreation Center are aware of the climbing wall within. What students may be less aware of is the avid team of university climbers that claim the wall as their home court.
This year, after only two years of existence, the Western Climbing Team won the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit series after the final competition at Whitman College on April 28, beating University of Washington’s accumulated season score by a mere three points. Throughout the season, Western climbers went up against more than 260 competitors from 18 universities.
Senior therapeutic recreation major, Justin Wyse, is the coach and a founding member of the Western Climbing Team. In his freshman year at Western, Wyse began working as a climbing wall attendant at the rec center, where he learned about the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit. The circuit is a series of climbing competitions between 18 universities in the Northwest. Wyse began attending the competitions and ended up going to every NC3 event that year.
“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Wyse said. “I thought it was so much fun and a really brilliant way to get the climbing community together all in one spot where you can make a bunch of connections and friends.”
Although Western had been represented in the NC3 by individual competitors since 2006, there was never an official school team. With help from fellow avid climbers, sophomores Brittany Goris and Quin Butler, Wyse made the Western Climbing Team an official sports club. This year, 15 students were on the team.
“It’s been a lot of work these past couple years, but definitely with the series win this year, it’s been more than worth it and so much fun,” Wyse said.
Scoring in the NC3 takes place on both an individual and team level. Individually, climbers earn points by navigating certain pre-planned routes on an indoor wall. The routes range in difficulty depending on the strength and skill necessary to accomplish certain moves. Each competitor climbs as many routes as they can in the two-and-a-half to three-hour heat, and the best five routes comprise the individual’s score for that competition.
“People don’t really understand the sport of rock climbing,” team member senior Craig Gorder said. “It’s very challenging and it never gets easy because as you get better, you can climb harder routes. It basically progresses with you, which is cool.”
Each team member belongs to one of four difficulty classes: beginner, intermediate, advanced or open – the most difficult level.
This tiered system ensures that any given individual stands a chance at winning in their division and encourages involvement from less-advanced climbers, Wyse said.
“Climbing is a really unique sport in the sense that when you go to a competition, everybody’s cheering for each other,” Wyse said. “It’s not necessarily you against the other person you’re competing against; it’s you against the wall.”
At the end of the competition, first through 10th place is awarded to climbers from each difficulty level. These placements earn points for the team as a whole; 10 points for first place down to one point for 10th. At the end of the season, the cumulative team points determine the series champions.
Along with NC3 competitions, the Western Climbing Team hosts weekly practices every Tuesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. in the rec center where they work out and climb.
While all the competitions are indoors, the team members frequently make trips to popular local outdoor climbing spots. This past spring break, the majority of the team spent the week climbing at Smith Rock in central Oregon.
Goris, who will be the team captain next year, said she plans on increasing the overall organization of the team as well as becoming more compliant with the university expectations of official school sports clubs.
“I’d like to have us come up with a plan for the entire year on how progressively to evolve as individual climbers and as a team by having people set goals,” Goris said. “The main goal is to not let the other teams take our trophy from us.”
Wyse, who plans to graduate next year, said that he hopes the team will continue to develop and fund itself more efficiently in order to be able to take on more members.
“Ideally, what I would like is for someone to come to Western and be a part of the best climbing team in the Northwest,” Wyse said. “That, in a sense, is something that has been accomplished. We’re the series champions, but that’s the very beginning of what is to come.”