Living on the edge

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Photo by Photo courtesy of Marquette First Ascenders

Marquette Rock Climbing Club practices in Milwaukee’s Turner Hall.

Marquette University First Ascenders are climbing the walls, but not the ones inside places like the Alumni Memorial Union or Johnston Hall. Instead, they climb the walls inside the historic Turner Hall Ballroom basement, where students can rock climb at a concert venue. 

Connor O’Malley, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration and club vice president, said he climbed intermittently before he came to Marquette.

“When I came to Marquette I officially joined the club and started routinely climbing to practice my technique and to get better at climbing. I felt like I joined a community that is so supportive of one another,”  O’Malley said. 

O’Malley said the club started in 2014 with a few members and it has now grown to 64 members who meet twice a week.

Shannyn Donahue, a first-year in the College of Communication, said she loves climbing due to the variety in courses. 

“I really enjoy indoor climbing and have been doing it for a while,” Donahue said. “I really love the routes that Turner has on their rock walls. It’s fun to see what they create and it helps you challenge yourself to get better at climbing,” Donahue said.

Jackson Ressner, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration and club treasurer, said rock climbing helps him relax.

“Anyone can join, it doesn’t matter if you’re super experienced or a beginner, everyone has a place,” Ressner said. It’s a really great way to unwind at the end of the day and you will always find someone that will be happy to climb with you,” Ressner said.

The club practices different types of climbing when at Turner Hall, said First Ascenders President Abby Tilton, a junior in the College of Business Administration.

“What we do in the gym is called top rope climbing. That’s where the rope is at the top of the route and the belayer is on the other end pulling in the slack as the climber goes up,” Tilton said. “Outdoor climbing is called lead climbing or sport climbing, where you have bolts that are set into the wall on your route.” 

When possible, the club climbs outside during the fall and spring which O’Malley said poses different obstacles and ways to go about than climbing indoors.

“On breaks throughout the year, we’ll go on outdoor trips and we have some regular spots we go to like Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It usually varies each year and outdoor climbing is a bit more complicated but at Devil’s Lake there are so many complex rock formations that you never run out of climbing opportunities. It’s always a different adventure every time,” O’Malley said.

Outside of team practices, Donahue said members have the ability to climb alone and work on their own skills and techniques. 

“Even though you’re really working by yourself, there is a lot of support from other team members.  It takes a lot of focus to climb on your own and it is personally challenging.  There may be 20 of us climbing individually, but it is still a team of people working together,” Donahue said.

Tilton said the team tries to make practices fun while trying different things. 

“We just had a practice where the theme was night climbing so all of the lights were off and we climbed with just headlamps,” Tilton said. “We also have had lock-in practices and do other fun things as a club.” 

Ressner said that training is important and the club holds belay classes, lead certification and other training to prepare climbers for the transition from indoor to outdoor rock climbing.

“As the climber climbs up the belayer takes in rope so if the climber were to fall unexpectedly then they only drop  as far as the rope is connected to them,” Ressner said.

Outdoor rock climbing is different from being on the rock climbing wall in the gym, Ressner said.

“You have to become lead certified to join the outdoor trips. There is a greater chance of falling outdoors, but the benefit outweighs that as you get to see awesome views, climb new routes and it’s just a much different experience than just at an indoor gym where you’re on a wall,” Ressner said.

Tilton said outdoor climbing trips occur during breaks and allows members to travel to other states.

“During fall break the club took a trip to Kentucky where we went to the Red River Gorge area, camped and climbed,” Tilton said. “It’s a great experience to be able to take your skills and challenge yourself in an area you haven’t climbed before.”

Over spring break, Tilton said the club went to the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas.

“It was an opportunity for new climbs and allowed for everyone to get to know each other better,” Tilton said. 

O’Malley explained how rock climbing can be life changing.

 “We don’t hold any competitions, but climbing becomes a part of life,” O’Malley said. “It’s mainly just about the adventure of climbing and being with a fun group of people who help each other.”  

Tilton said there are no official competitions as a club.

“We are considered a club sport and student organization which is different from other club sports where we don’t compete as a club officially,” Tilton said. “Our members have competed in multiple competitions such as at Adventure Rock, another gym in Milwaukee, or some members go to Chicago or Minneapolis for tournaments.” 

Tilton said the mission of the club is to give individuals an opportunity to push themselves personally and allow members to compete as individuals.

“It is a unique sport to experience where it’s not competing against other people, you’re competing against yourself and that’s something I really enjoy,” Tilton said.

This story was written by Catherine Fink. She can be reached at catherine.fink@marquette.edu.