Jul 132010
Authors: Hannah Tran, Special to the Collegian

Rodney Ley remembers a time about 40 years back, when climbers were outcasts and scrambling up vertical rock faces –– testing human resistance against that of Mother Nature’s –– was not yet acceptable.

In the ‘70s, when Ley moved to Choice City, the popularity of climbing was virtually non-existent.

“I was seen as a punk, even in the outdoor sports scene. Back then, we were seen as crazy,” said Ley, the assistant director of Campus Recreation at CSU.

It wasn’t until the 1980s rolled around when the climbing scene in Fort Collins began to hit mainstream. It was then, the sub-cultures, or different types of climbing, were born.

Boulderers (those who climb standing walls without ropes), trad climbers (who use protective devices while climbing and remove them when the passage is complete) and sports climbers (who use permanent anchor points throughout their climb) alike had their own preferences as to where they climbed.

The Poudre Canyon, just north of Fort Collins, has a history of climbing dating back to the 1970s. Within the canyon, there are more than 100 routes.

The various sub-cultures of rock climbing became more divided and refined during the 1990s, when indoor rock climbing gyms were introduced and a whole new population of climbers jumped into the scene.

“Every climber has their own entry point into a specific type of climbing,” Ley said. “The entry point is like a drug gate to climbing, it dictates where you will develop as a climber.”

Nowadays, bouldering and traditional climbing are the most prominent climbing styles in town.

Traditional climbing is a style in which climbers follow crack systems and use an assortment of removable equipment –– ropes and harnesses –– for protection against falls. This style is most popular in the Poudre Canyon at Greyrock.

Bouldering is a type of climbing that lacks any ropes or fixed protection. These climbers ascend short sections of rock supported by a crash pad at the bottom if they were to fall.

Bouldering is popular in Fort Collins at Horsetooth Reservoir, Lory State Park and Poudre Canyon. It is a style that has become more of a trend within the past few decades, and currently has the largest cultural presence in Fort Collins among college-age climbers.

Currently, the small sub-groups of climbers continue to divide and grow. The 21st Century brought on a small movement of competitive climbers who climbed for money, prizes and sponsorship.
The division between the groups of climbers exists because of different skill and technique requirements, as well as site preferences.

Despite differences, however, there are several prevalent themes that all climbers seem to agree on.

“It is a sport in which you can challenge yourself emotionally, spiritually and physically,” Ley said. “It is a close knit community. When you click with someone, they become a life partner.”

And for some, climbing is far more than a sport.

“Climbing is a lifestyle. There are different degrees of climbing. But no matter what degree you live, it seems to be a lifestyle that helps one appreciate life on multiple levels,” said Stephanie Whall, who finished a master’s degree at CSU this spring.

Whall currently takes part in the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition, a non-profit corporation dedicated to preserving climbing areas and promoting education and awareness in Northern Colorado.

She has helped organize the Horsetooth Hang Climbing Festival in Fort Collins, and exposed to a number of devoted climbers within the area through that process.

“The climbers that I have met through these activities are dedicated to preserving climbing areas and maintaining positive relationships with local landowners,” Whall said. “They are motivated to give back to society. I have been exposed to a high level of dedication from climbers here.”

This dedication goes beyond the sport itself.

Climbers like Whall are dedicated to preserving the delicate, natural environments that they climb in. For many climbers, there is a special awareness, bond and respect for nature.

“Experiencing nature’s beauty is one of my favorite things about climbing,” said Brad Thoms, a sophomore natural resource recreation and tourism major. “Being out there, experiencing nature first-hand, brings a deep connection.”

Thoms appreciates nature more and more, because if it were gone, there would be no more climbing, he said.

The exhilaration, the risk-taking and the bonds developed between fellow climbers and nature are things not often found in other sports, the three climbers agreed.

With the addition of the new rock wall at CSU’s Student Recreation Center, students may find that experiencing these aspects of climbing can begin in their own backyard.

And if that’s not satisfying enough, many climbing walls and routes for indoor and outdoor climbing can be found throughout the area.

Indoor climbers can climb at Inner Strength Rock Gym, 3713 S. Mason Street, and Miramont Lifestyle Fitness North, 1800 Heath Parkway.

Outdoor climbers can find routes at Horsetooth Reservoir and Poudre Canyon, as well as Greyrock, a 7,613-foot granite peak near the Front Range Mountains, northwest of Fort Collins.

“If you find that it is for you, you can’t get enough of it,” Ley said.

Collegian contributor Hannah Tran can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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