Rock climbers take on Palisades with AOP

The tallest cliffs in Palisades State Park reach up to 50 feet. The giant Sioux quartzite formations crack apart like splintering wood. The first time a new climber gets to the rock, they might only make it up a few feet at a time. Scaling a 30 to 40 foot wall, like the participants in the Augustana Outdoor Program (AOP) do, poses its own challenges even for an experienced climber. 

“You just look at this huge rock wall [and think] ‘it’s definitely possible to climb that but I don’t know how,’” junior Will Solberg said.

Solberg started climbing his freshman year with some friends. He said climbing with the AOP was a more laid back experience. He can test out new skills that he otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to with friends. 

Director Ryan Brown leads AOP climbing expeditions for both students and faculty. This semester, Brown took students and faculty, regardless of skill level, to the Palisades twice for an alternative type of athletic activity.  

Junior Rich Romig said he knows the AOP makes everything safe for them, but the feat is still scary for new climbers. 

“It doesn’t feel like [it is safe] when you’re on the wall,” junior Rich Romig said. “It actually feels like I’m going to fall.”

Romig has only climbed twice, both times with the AOP. For a new climber like Romig, Brown ensures that the climber understands the process and the safety measures in place. The whole group stands behind the climber while he or she is on the wall, cheering them on and shouting encouragement. 

“Everybody’s really engaged with that one single person that’s on the wall, but it’s a whole group working together to get them to the top,” Brown said. 

Typically, Brown and the AOP will set up the anchors in the rock before the students and faculty arrive so that each climber has as much time as possible to be on the wall.

 “It’s the feeling of you against the rock,” Solberg said. “It’s a good way to test your skills against an obstacle. There’s no real easy way out when you’re up there. It really can show you what you can do.” 

Solberg said half the struggle of climbing is dealing with the mental aspect. Romig, a new climber, also said he struggled with his fear of heights over the actual physical toll.

“There was this one part [where] I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Romig said. “I kept looking down, and I psyched myself out.”

Solberg said that climbing uses different muscles in the hands, wrists and legs than most other activities. This means the body generally doesn’t feel sore the day afterward, but simple tasks like opening doors causes winces of pain that show just how many muscles climbing actually takes. 

The belay partner assists the climber by controlling the tautness of the rope. The more control the belay partner has of the rope, the shorter distance a climber will fall if they let go of the wall. Brown said some students have taken an interest in learning to belay and receiving their certificates to do so.

“It’s really exciting to see new people as they learn new skills,” Brown said.

Junior Tiana Townsend climbed both times this semester with the AOP but, like Romig, has no prior experience. 

“The AOP people are always so patient and fun, and they want to teach you new things,” Townsend said. 

Townsend and some of her friends wanted to belay, so Brown invited the students out early to learn. Solberg and his friends also wanted to learn the extra skill. 

“I just really like rock climbing,” Solberg said. “It’s a lot of fun to do, and I’m glad to have the ability to do it.”

Brown will take students climbing at the Palisades again Oct. 3. He plans to use the indoor climbing wall at Central Church as the weather cools down more. 

“I think there’s a lot of overlap with regular life, between outdoor adventures and real life,” Brown said. “We’re going to have struggles. We’re going to have things we don’t think we can do, but to be able to keep pushing and get through it—I think you can learn a lot.”

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