Climbing Club President junior John Palmer reaches for a hold while bouldering at Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas on Feb. 26. Bouldering and sport climbing are two styles of climbing the club focuses on, Palmer said. Photo by Sammie Wuensche
When you hear the words “rock climber,” what comes to mind?
Chalk-stained hands, perhaps. Someone who lives in their van. An adrenaline junky. If you’ve seen the 2018 documentary “Free Solo,” maybe you picture Alex Honnold in his bright red shirt, dangling precariously from the rocks of El Capitan 2,000 feet in the air without ropes.
But for the members of Pepperdine Climbing Club, people’s preconceptions fall short of the reality of rock climbing.
“There’s definitely a rebellious, anti-authoritarian type spirit associated with climbers a lot of the time,” Climbing Club President junior John Palmer said. “I think a lot of the stereotypes don’t apply to all climbers, but there is some truth to them.”
Climbing Club Begins Amid COVID-19
Pepperdine Climbing Club officially became a club in spring 2020. Alumna Kyla Lucey (’21), set the club in motion with a group of friends who were dedicated rock climbers.
Among this group was now-vice president of Climbing Club and fifth-year Jeremiah Jones. Jones said the club had a few meetings in the spring and began the process of gaining Inter Club Council funding.
And then came COVID-19.
“The club was kind of postponed for an entire year,” Jones said. “You can’t have a club start in a semester that then goes into quarantine, and expect it to exist strongly.”
While most of the founding members graduated in 2020 or 2021, Jones said the remaining members were eager to pick up where they’d left off when they got back on campus this past fall. Palmer took up the reins as club president.
Making Climbing Accessible for All
The club meets bi-weekly on Fridays at 5 p.m., in CAC 125. Meetings range in content — from watching footage of climbers or rock climbing movies to discussing how to properly belay. Most times directly after meetings, members will drive to the Boulderdash Indoor Rock Climbing in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to get some training in.
Palmer said a majority of the climbing the club does is sport-climbing, a process of clipping oneself to a rock face at particular intervals while ascending, or bouldering, which is climbing a smaller rock without ropes, but with extensive padding laid out underneath.
In an Oct. 29 meeting, Climbing Club hosted former-professional climber Tiffany Campbell, who talked with the 30-plus members in attendance about her experiences climbing in the area. Jones met Campbell at Boulderdash, he said, because they both frequent the gym.
“These people who are way better than me are willing to help, and that’s super cool,” Jones said.
The sport of climbing has recently seen a stark rise in popularity, particularly on college campuses. The 2020 Summer Olympics were the first Olympics to include sport climbing. In 2017, 175 colleges in the United States had competitive climbing teams, according to The Wall Street Journal. In 2019, that number increased to 260.
“Rock climbing is one of those things that has been stigmatized to instill a lot of fear,” Climbing Club member senior Jacob Erbes said. “So, because of that, rock climbing is now becoming more popular with the advancement of technology, and the newfound knowledge of how to experience it.”
Palmer said Pepperdine Climbing Club is not a competitive team, nor are there tryouts to join. Instead, Climbing Club seeks to make climbing accessible to students.
Palmer said ICC provides limited funding for climbing equipment, which the club uses as resources for its members.
“The club is for anyone and everyone,” Erbes said. “The reason for rock Climbing Club is to give others who’ve never climbed before a chance at a new skill, or even just a new hobby that they can pick up in their free time.”
Jones said part of promoting accessibility is ensuring people appreciate the opportunity for climbing in Malibu.
“We all look at the ocean all the time, and some people surf,” Jones said. “But we have pretty good rock climbing just the other direction that is just as close and it’s super fun. You have accessibility here that most people aren’t blessed with.”
Another aim of Climbing Club, Palmer said, is to provide a community for those already dedicated to rock climbing.
Jones said for members such as himself and Palmer who go climbing three to four times a week, it’s vital to have connections with equally dedicated climbers.
“Climbing itself is a trust exercise and a team-building exercise,” Jones said. “If you’re climbing and you’re using ropes for protection, you’re not the one that’s controlling that, it’s the person that’s on the ground. So you have to trust that person with, to some extent, your life and you also have to trust the gear. You don’t go climbing with people you don’t trust.”
While the club sponsors many different types of rock climbing, its primary focus is outdoors. Time spent in indoor climbing gyms, Palmer, Jones and Erbes said, is focused on getting stronger for outdoor routes, called “projects.”
“There’s something that’s just way more real about grabbing the rock and finishing a project,” Erbes said.
Climbing Club Works with ICC
The Club’s focus on outdoor projects has put it at odds with ICC. Palmer said many people perceive the possibility for serious injury as being much higher in outdoor climbing than in the climbing gym.
In the Club’s first semester, they had plans for a large purchase order of gear, but ICC denied their request for funds on the grounds that it was too dangerous, Jones said.
“It’s kind of counterintuitive for a demographic such as climbers who kind of oppose bureaucracy to let themselves fit into bureaucracy,” Jones said. “Climbing itself is very counter culture, except now we’re having to fit into what they want us to do if we want certain things from them.”
ICC did not respond to the Graphic’s request for comment.
In the future, the club intends to keep petitioning for funding for more gear, Palmer said. Ideally, Palmer said he’d like to introduce a gear-assignment system where members could demonstrate proper usage of gear and then sign it out whenever they needed.
Above all else, the spirit of climbing remains paramount.
“Climbers just want to climb,” Jones said.
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