Pitt students climb in competition

By Katie McLaughlin

The gymnasium at Trees Hall murmured with soft sounds of indie, alt-rock and ambient music on… The gymnasium at Trees Hall murmured with soft sounds of indie, alt-rock and ambient music on Saturday as 60 climbers gathered together, encouraging each other.

The climbers, unfamiliar with their competitors, spotted their teammates, ready to catch each participant in case she fell off the overhangs onto the crash pads below.

This scene played out as climbers from the tri-state area converged at Pitt to participate in the annual University Bouldering Series competition. The four-hour competition started at noon and gave climbers a chance to compete, socialize and work out problems on “one of the best walls around,” according to John Schneider, the University’s Outdoor Recreation Coordinator.

The series provides an extended community for climbers and allows competitors to observe others’ climbing styles.

“UBS comps are great for climbers because they bring together climbers from different schools,” Pitt senior and rock-wall staffer Megan Bennett said in an e-mail. “Climbers form a sort of community, and it’s really great to get climbers from all over together for an afternoon of friendly competition. People who haven’t seen each other for a while catch up and make new friends and climbing buddies.”

“Ninety percent of my good friends are from climbing,” West Virginia alumna and climber Maggie Hamill said. “Your life is in their hands,” she said, describing the trust one puts in her fellow climbers

Participants in Saturday’s competition included 60 climbers from Pitt, WVU, Carnegie Mellon, Bloomsburg University, Kent State, the University of Akron, Youngstown State, Arizona State and the Pittsburgh region.

The rock-wall staff, led by Schneider, stripped the wall during the previous week and set 59 new routes for the competition. Staffers created the routes with all skill levels in mind — they ranged in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Each route was worth a different amount of points based on its difficulty.

The climbers earned between 45 and 500 points upon successful completion of a route. Scores also depended on how many times the climber attempted the route before reaching the top.

“I like that it’s both mentally and physically challenging at the same time,” Hamill said.

Bouldering allows climbers to practice difficult moves without the danger of being up on a taller outdoor course. It also involves the mental process of problem solving, or selecting the best path to the top. Many consider bouldering more difficult than other forms of rock climbing because there are not as many obvious holds for climbers to use in their ascents.

Climbing up to 12 feet off the ground without using safety harnesses, competitors selected their routes to receive maximum scores.

Climbers attempted as many routes as they wanted and totaled their five best route scores at the end of the day.

“The competition gives serious climbers something to train for in the offseason. Many serious climbers train for the time when they can climb outdoors, but it’s motivating to have an offseason goal,” Bennett said in an e-mail.

Ned Fox, a CMU alumnus, and local Jessica Lehman, both advanced climbers, took the top scores for the day. Beginners Mike Ridolfo of Akron and Adelaide Morel of Pitt placed first in their divisions.

Lehman said she proved that climbers do not need years of experience to do well in competition, as she has only been climbing since June.

“My boyfriend and I climb every other day,” Lehman said.

Two climbing gear companies, Mountain Khakis and Camp USA, donated prizes for the winners in each division. Awards included gift cards and climbing equipment: quickdraws and chalk bags.

UBS also raises money for climbing-related causes. Pitt’s registration fee went to the Access Fund, an organization committed to keeping outdoor climbing locations open to the public. According to Bennett, Saturday’s competition raised about $985 for the nonprofit organization.