Climbing the Walls

IMAGE Lauren K. remembers the first time she tried to scale the 30-foot-high textured gray face that is Connecticut College's indoor climbing wall. Kaiser, a senior with a background in gymnastics, quickly found a route amid the yellow, orange, green, and gray hand and foot holds that range from a tiny nub to a substantial slab of natural rock. Her climb was going well until halfway up when her mouth "got all dry…I looked down and said 'what am I doing up here?'" Over the next six weeks, Lauren and her fellow classmates at the college in New London, Connecticut, would find success on the wall, thanks to instructor Anne Parmenter, who first learned to climb as a 10-year-old scrambling over rocks in England's West Country.

Starting Out

Parmenter, who is also the college's field hockey and women's lacrosse coach, has taken her love of climbing around the world, reaching such magnificent peaks as Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina, and Ala Dablam in Nepal. While Parmenter prefers confronting the challenges of natural rock and the capricious weather which often accompanies it, she sees a place for indoor walls in the sport of climbing."The wall is a good place to begin climbing," she says. "It feels safe and controlled. And there are no environmental hazards that come with the outdoors."Parmenter divides her class into pairs for the first session, which includes learning the following skills:
  • How to correctly buckle the harness
  • How to tie required knots
The techniques of belaying (the skill of attaching two climbers to each other and the wall) are also taught. One person climbs, and the belayer on the ground secures the rope so that the climber can be safely lowered to the ground if he begins to fall. The belayer also helps the climber descend after finishing a climb.

Building Trust

For Kaiser, success meant first learning to trust her equipment. "You realize that this stuff really works," Kaiser says. Her belayer adds, "After I fell a couple of times and learned that I was safe, it was a lot better."Parmenter, who also gives continuing education courses in climbing, sees dramatic progress over the six-week course. "They go from not knowing how to put on a harness, to route finding and setting routes for each other," she explains. "They develop an understanding as to how the system works enough to trust fully in it. Then they are just able to climb."

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