Students embrace rock climbing as hobby, sport

“There are only 3 real sports: bullfighting, car racing and mountain climbing. All the others are mere games.” —Ernest Hemingway

While most students at Wenatchee High School find the mountains surrounding this quaint town to resemble a cage closing in on all sides, there are a few teenagers within these halls who take advantage of these mountains as a gateway to bigger and better adventures. Journey into the surrounding towns and explore the great peaks, points, and plunges our natural landscape takes around us and one will never again complain of boredom.

Rock climbing is an attractive lure for many residents in the Wenatchee Valley, and teenagers here within WHS are catching on to the trendy sport, whether it be a recreational habit, a brief adventure, or a serious pursuit.

But how does one go from watching Tom Cruise scale a ridiculously jagged mountain (with neither rope nor harness) in Mission: Impossible II to actually giving rock climbing a try (hopefully with a harness for safety measures)?

Junior Austin Boese has been rock climbing for three years, and he found his motivation to rock climb after spontaneously trying an indoor rock climbing at Tall Timber.

“I just thought it was about the coolest thing I’d ever done,” Boese said.

Boese did not deny the difficulty of getting into the sport from that point on.

“You should find a mentor,” Boese said. “I never had a mentor. I largely got into it [rock climbing] on my own after I went to a camp to learn the ropes. After that, I read up on it a lot, but I never had one person to go to, which I would’ve found extremely helpful.”

Junior Ethan Toth, who has been rock climbing for six years, found a mentor in his father, who took him out to rock climb for the first time when he was 10 years old.

“I guess I tried it because I was scared of heights, so I climbed to overcome that fear… I had to learn to trust the rope, because if you fall, you’re caught. But once I got over that initial climb, it got better,” Toth said.

But not everyone that mountain climbs is in it for the long haul. Freshman Maks Ballard took up the opportunity to try rock climbing once at Jasper National Park, the biggest national park in the Canadian Rockies, with his father on a guided ropes course.

”We did the most difficult course, but it was more nerve-wracking than difficult. We were just looking over this 600-foot cliff… it felt sort of like flying,” Ballard said. The course took about six hours in its entirety to scale the mountain, walk across and descend.

But once you get a taste for rock climbing, some find it hard to quit.

“I just love the combination of athletics and nature, that’s not something you get very often,” Toth said.

From custom shoes to carabiners, a harness to a helmet, mountain climbing is not a cheap sport compared to most.

“It’s a lot like football or hockey where you have a one-time purchase that’s expensive, but you buy all just once,” Toth said.

The lingo can be confusing, too. The general term for rock climbing typically refers to aid climbing, or climbing using pulling gear supported by another person on the ground. This pulling system, called belaying, helps protects climbers against a fall. On the other hand, bouldering refers to a type of unharnessed climbing with mats underneath the climber, often allowing the climber to venture out alone and climb only heights they feel comfortable to safely climb.

Boese, who prefers bouldering, notes the risk involved but chooses to look on the bright side.

“A bad day in the mountains is actually a good day in town. It’s so hard to have a bad day when it’s so much fun outside,” Boese said.

Different methods of climbing are used based on what you’re climbing. Scaling slab rocks requires raw strength to pull yourself up largely on your own, while sandstone requires using the edge of your fingers and toes to maneuver up the mountainside.

Tom Cruise makes it look easy, but the reward climbers feel is compared to no other as they make that final pull to reach the top.

“I was climbing up at Leavenworth alone a few weeks back, and I just thought to myself, ‘This is the place I want to be. This is what I want to do.’ I was peaceful. I was just content,” Boese said.

A Short Guide to Rock Climbing in Wenatchee, WA

Places to Visit:

  • Tumwater Canyon-Castle Rock
  • Icicle Creek Canyon
  • Peshastin Pinnacles State Park