Student climbers reach new heights

Increased interest in the sport is helping the new Minnesota Climbing Team expand.
Vice president of the Minnesota Climbing Team Joe Zelman climbs on Tuesday at the rock wall in the University Recreation and Wellness Center.
October 24, 2013

Dakota Spence-Zurek gripped the climbing harness around his waist and considered a route. Ska-punk music blasted as he looked at the wall, trying to solve the vertical puzzle. 

“I get so focused when I climb, it’s like the world goes away,” said Spence-Zurek, a sociology of law and criminal deviance and political science junior.

He decided on a tough route, and his fellow University of Minnesota Climbing Team members shouted advice from below.

“I want to try it so badly,” aerospace engineering sophomore Lauren Olsen said as Spence-Zurek hugged his body against a crevice. He flipped his leg over a handhold and pulled his body up to arrive at the top of the wall. His teammates cheered ecstatically, and he effortlessly came back down to earth.

The Minnesota Climbing Team, a University student group that started this fall, has benefited from a new campus climbing wall and increasing student interest in the sport.

The University Recreation and Wellness Center, which opened at the beginning of September, boasts a rock wall spanning more than 3,200 square feet. The old wall in the University Recreation Center was just just 390 square feet.

“This new climbing wall provided a place to do training and introduce a whole new group of people to climbing,” said wildlife biology senior Joe Zelman, the team’s vice president.

With the new facility, campus rock climbing has jumped drastically.

“We’ve been averaging between 100 and 125 climbers a day. At the old wall, we’d average about 20 to 30,” said  Bryan Karban, climbing and trips coordinator at the University’s Center for Outdoor Adventure.

Karban provided the initial spark for the team by proposing the idea to student climbers and other Outdoor Adventure employees over the summer.

“I was sitting in a tent in upstate New York in the rain when I got the email,” Zelman said. “I started sending messages to every climber I knew.”

Sharing a passion

The Climbing Team, though brand new, fits into a larger community.

Weijing Tilleskjor, an actuarial science junior and manager at Vertical Endeavors rock climbing gym, said he’s found community through the sport and isn’t surprised that the new University wall has brought climbers out of the woodwork.

“Tons of people do it and they’re all really supportive,” he said.

The University team has two parts: a small, advanced “gold” team, which Spence-Zurek is part of, and a larger “maroon” team for beginners. To join the group, students need only show up for a meeting, introduce themselves and pay for a semester pass at the wall.

Usually, between 20 and 30 climbers attend each group meeting. Zelman said he hopes the group will gain more consistency as it finds its footing and prepares to compete this spring. 

Karban and his cohorts at the Rec Center’s rock wall will host two competitions this academic year, including a regional competition with the Collegiate Climbing Series and another, University-only event.

Zelman said competitions will help get the team on the map and pave the way for Minnesota college climbers. He said competitions are the best way to glean new tricks and build relationships with other climbers.

That’s what the Minnesota Climbing Team is all about: learning, sharing a passion and doing so about 30 feet off the ground.

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