After completing a 19-day brutal climb up a 3,000 foot smooth granite cliff known as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, a climb long thought impossible, two rock climbers and the rock climbing world itself were launched into a short-lived media frenzy. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen reached the summit on Jan. 14, 2015 and were the first people to ascend the notoriously difficult section of El Capitan known as Dawn Wall. This feat has brought renown and respect to the sport and culture of rock climbing.
Here at the high school, there is no one scaling 3,000 foot cliffs, but there are many students who are enveloped in the love of rock climbing thanks to the success of the rock climbing classes. Elizabeth Gorman, one of the two rock climbing teachers, has been teaching the rock climbing course for over ten years and has been climbing since she was in college.
The rock climbing class is a prime example of the challenging, positive, and trusting environment that all classes strive for.
“It’s just a great sport. I’ve broken it down into a few elements, to what makes it different,” Gorman said. “It’s a very physical activity. It’s really different from a team sport in that it’s you setting goals for yourself and working towards them. I can have a really advanced climber next to a really beginning climber, and they’re both finding a way to challenge themselves.”
Mete Buyukozturk, a junior who currently takes rock climbing, credits the class with helping him build new skills such as goal setting.
“You learn that there never is really any end to where you’re limits are, or to your goal,” he said. “It’s fun because you get to constantly push past your own limitations and you get to constantly create new goals for yourself, and it’s just a good mental exercise, as well as physical.”
Buyukozturk believes that many students also take the class due to the environment and the relationships you build with your classmates, not just for the physical aspect to the course.
Oceanne Fry, sophomore, joined the class a few weeks into the beginning of the year after she heard from other students that the class was enjoyable.
According to Gorman, rock climbing creates a trusting environment that helps build all skill levels but also illustrates the lightheartedness of the sport.
“It’s a class where community is built; there’s connection,” Gorman said. “This class is much more about building trust and confidence, but I think this is the most fun and playful class. It has a really different dynamic.”
According to Gorman, the class environment differs between every class, but due to the immense sense of trust built during the course, classes have a very strong sense of community.
“Every group is different, so each semester each group has its own dynamic,” Gorman said. “Often, unlike other classes, I find kids come in and they don’t know each other. They all come in from all sort of walks of life. It’s like a little family. We laugh together, we play together, we take risks together, and it’s really fun.”
Buyukozturk also believes the class environment is what sets rock climbing apart from other health and fitness electives.
“It’s not just the class. There are a lot of awesome people,” he said. “The class is really tight knit, and it’s just a really good way to get out more.”
According to Gorman, rock climbing provides students with opportunities to learn important values.
“Lots of students that walk away from the class do have the confidence and the skills to continue climbing outside the class,” she said. “But even students that don’t continue climbing, I want them to have confidence, I think you gain a lot from it.”
Buyukozturk said he will take rock climbing next year.
“I took it last year initially, and I discovered it was a really fun class, so I took it again this year and I’m taking it again next year,” he said.
According to Buyukozturk, retaking rock climbing is very common. Sophomore Michael Grogan, who is currently in William Graham’s E-block rock climbing class, said he also wants to retake the class.
Fry, Grogan and Buyukozturk all believe rock climbing will be part of their future outside of high school.
“I think it’s a really fun sport and people are really chill about it,” Buyukozturk said. “It’s nothing too competitive; it’s just something we like to do. It’s a really nice community, so I think occasionally I wouldn’t mind going to a gym to climb.”
Gorman believes that main aspects of the course are what makes the class so unique and a great fit for any student at the high school.
“It’s play, challenge, and another thing for students is that it builds trust,” Gorman said. You’re literally trusting someone else with your safety and your life, and you have to trust yourself. If you’re belaying, someone else is trusting you. I think it’s powerful. The trust piece, the play piece and the challenge limits all make it pretty unique. And it’s just fun.”
Valentina Rojas can be contacted at [email protected]