Calvin has hosted competitions like this every semester since the facility opened in the spring of 2009. Participants compete in one of four experience brackets (recreational, intermediate, advanced and open) and climb a variety of routes all afternoon. Each route is worth a certain amount of points depending on its difficulty level. At the end of the day, each contestant’s top four routes are added up, and the bottom three brackets declare a male and female winner.
In the open bracket, the top four males and top four females compete in sport climbing, which requires them to bring their own rope and clip themselves into the wall as they go up. This year’s men’s open champion was senior Nate Bia. The women’s open, which opted out of a final round this year, ended in a tie between seniors Melissa DeMaagd and Kellan Day.
Entrance into the competition is open to all Calvin students. The $10 fee includes an official T-shirt and entrance into several raffles and giveaways that happen throughout the day. This year’s competition was sponsored by The North Face, which gave out gift cards and other free items like water bottles, bags and stickers.
Kai Koopman, the climbing wall student manager, was the main organizer of the event. He said he was glad to see some new faces in the climbing crowd.
“We have a lot of underclassmen here which is sweet to see,” said Koopman. A large part of the current group of climbers is seniors, he said, so part of this year’s event was geared toward incorporating younger students to carry on the tradition.
Koopman works under Ryan Rooks, the campus recreation coordinator. According to Rooks, there is so much interest in the competition that they typically go over the allotted number of spots every year. With only 16 ropes on the wall though, he said top-rope competitions like this can get a little claustrophobic.
The first climbing competition at Calvin was bouldering (climbing about 15 feet without a rope), and drew in about 45 students. Their most recent bouldering competition had 66 students.
According to Koopman, the rock wall has created a distinctive climbing culture at Calvin.
“It’s unique in the sense that it’s an athletic activity and there’s a lot of people who regularly do it,” said Koopman, “but it’s not a varsity or club sport, so it’s kind of self-selective in that way.”
Erin Barents, a sophomore climber, says she greatly enjoys being a part of this community.
“Everyone is super chill — really welcoming and really friendly,” said Barents.
Rooks also added that a massive amount of time and energy are put into these competitions every semester.
“We have over 100 hours of route setting that’s involved in this process,” said Rooks, “and most of those hours are volunteer hours.” He described the process of taking all the rock wall holds off, washing them and re-setting routes as “a Herculean effort.”
According to Koopman, over 30 volunteer route setters and 15 staff members helped put up routes for the competition.
“It’s a whole climbing community effort,” said Koopman.
Koopman said that rock wall staff members had help with this year from various professional route setters, including one that was USA Climbing-certified. The route quality on the wall, he says, is very high right now.
Rooks said that the routes change about four times a year, and the recreation department tries to host an event or competition like this each time to celebrate the “refreshed wall.”