News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 11, 2012

Climb on Up: Members of rock climbing club share passion for reaching new heights

Jane Santucci
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana is known for many things — the Crossroads of America, basketball star Larry Bird and Hoosier hospitality — but one thing this part of Indiana lacks is a lot hills. The glaciers did us little justice in westcentral Indiana when it came to creating a rolling countryside.

“It is really flat; there are a few hills. It is not quite like home,” 20-year-old Rose-Hulman student Chris Olinger said.

Olinger moved to Terre Haute from San Francisco to attend college at Rose-Hulman. When it came time to selecting a superb school, certain extracurricular activities were a must on his check list. In high school he gained a passion for rock climbing and he was not about to give that up.

“I was so obsessed with it in high school that when I came to Rose, it was a must-have for a college activity,” Olinger said.

He’s is not alone. When 24-year old Stefan Heubusch of Germany was looking into getting his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Rose-Hulman, the option to continue climbing weighed heavily on his decision. He started climbing the Alps when he was 9 years old.

Reaching new heights in Terre Haute

But where can one achieve such a sport “in the flat land”? The Element Outdoor Outfitters store in Terre Haute has a solution.

About six years ago a former manager found himself spending countless hours driving to and from Bloomington to climb on the rock wall at Hoosier Heights. To save time and energy, they built a wall in the back of the store.

Word started to spread, along with the size of the wall, and now climbers have a place to call their own.

“We make routes for people who have never been on a climbing wall in their life, to people who have been climbing since they learned how to walk. We try to do a mix so you can get a challenge no matter what your level is,” The Element Store Manager Zack Bailey said.

“I am glad to have this so I can exercise during the week. I am training for the next climbing trip I am going to make,” Heubusch said.

The Rose-Hulman administration recognizes that its students need a place to exercise their minds and their bodies at the same time. They have purchased 20 memberships to the rock climbing club that can be interchanged among students.

The club meets from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Members can come and go as they please; no special equipment or clothes are required. The fee to join is $24 per year, and the first few classes are free. The club wants to make sure those who join get what they’re looking for before committing to paying for a full year.

“We run this club for people to get experience climbing and hopefully enjoy it enough to get outside and climb. We also use it as a venue to sell equipment. With the climbing club membership, you get 10 percent off all of your climbing purchases in the store,” Bailey said.

A different kind of workout

Rock climbing is not just for the stereotypical man in his late 40s, Bailey said. It is becoming a trend for the younger generation across gender lines. Along those lines, 19-year old Brazil resident Kendra McCrea joined the club in September. She says she was nervous at first but people were very supportive in helping her learn the ropes. Now, the club meetings are what she looks forward to in her week.

“My workout before was cardio and maybe some machines. It was tiring but it wasn’t as full of a body workout as I would want. This honestly works every muscle in your body. It takes a lot of arm and leg strength to be able to stand up on your holds. It works your core because you have to keep your body pretty close to the wall and you have to keep it tight in order to control it. It is a really good workout,” McCrea said.

Skiers know they don’t start off on the black diamond (the advanced trail). They start on the green circle (the easiest trail) and work their way up. The same system applies on a rock climbing wall. Routes are color-coded based on level of difficulty. The color coordination helps a climber to know what holds they can use to finish their route. The wall contains about 35 different routes and can accommodate two to three people at a time.

“Climbing has been compared to yoga on a wall. You need the flexibility to flow with how the routes work,” Bailey said.

While climbing can be a challenge, fellow climbers sit back and help those on the wall from a distance figure out the best way for them to complete the route before they lose strength and fall off.

“We talk to one another and try to solve problematic routes together. By doing so, I think we learn from each other,” Heubusch said.

“The main reason I climb is because I am an engineer. I am super into problem solving. I feel like rock climbing is a mental engineering problem for me. I do it because I have always been physical in my life. This is the first time I have been able to combine the physical and mental aspect of a sport,” Olinger said.

Olinger takes it one step higher and goes out of his way to do his homework in advance to make time for the rock climbing club. While he is a part of a fraternity on campus, this is another social circle he feels connected to on a different level. The link club members share is their passion for reaching new heights and their openness for meeting new people who share the same interests.