The first three weeks at Conserve School students enhanced their skills in classic skiing, winter camping, and shelter building in their Outdoor Skills class. More recently, students have been practicing their vertical ascent on the rock wall. Students have the resources on campus to learn climbing and belaying techniques at the Lowenwood Recreation Center. In class students learned the specific techniques of securing harnesses, tying eight knots and speaking climber dialect to practice safe rock wall climbing. During this class students become comfortable in their abilities as climbers and belayers, learning that this sport requires attention to detail, clear communication and a generous amount of trust. Scaling wall, students are strapped in their harnesses and ropes as they test their ability to exercise the necessary skills for a safe climb.
There is no better way to describe the climbing experience than having a student describe it in his own writing. According to student Alex Varga’s E-portfolio entry, he learned how to accept the mental and physical challenges of the climb when he was partnered with his belayer Julia, an Outdoor Skills Teaching Fellow.
My legs started to shake and my sweaty hands and forearms locked up tighter than the knot that ensured my safety. I climbed slowly up the wall, using everything I could to my advantage. The sense that I wasn’t secured in my harness added an extra 50 pounds to the climb. I took another 3 holds and was just under the top of the wall. I looked down. My whole body churned and I went into panic as I couldn’t remember my instruction as to how to begin my descent.
“Hey, uh, so what should I do now?” I said, my voice trembling. Julia said “Say, Begin to lower”. Although the words that came out of my mouth were “Begin to lower”, I was thinking about falling down the wall and snapping my neck on the floor mat. The tension on the rope was tight but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. “Let go of the holds” she said.
For a moment, I dangled there. All I could do is hope that her confidence outweighed mine. I let go of the holds and felt weightless, the harness holding my body against the wall. I quickly propelled down and touched the ground moments later. I said “Thank you”, not realizing that this was the final step of the mechanical list of verbal commands that we were to learn and use while climbing. “Thank you” she said.”
As Alex expressed in his writing, climbing is more than just physical exertion for our Conserve students. They learn how to be supportive, embrace challenges and practice responsible climbing and belaying with a partner. Some students are hesitant to climb and belay knowing that they must rely on their own physical strength and endurance in order to be safe, stay optimistic and have fun. Despite some students’ fear of heights and others’ fear that they are lacking physical strength, many students attempted and succeeded in building their confidence on the wall. It is during classroom and community activities such as rock climbing that Conserve School continues to motivate students to feel comfortable and confident in their abilities as individuals and in groups. It’s a pleasure watching students embrace their challenges and succeed each day at Conserve School.
(Thanks to Teaching Fellow Emily Hayne for providing this description and these photos.)