Nevada Climbing takes student climbers upward
Michael Rubio reports on the Nevada Climbing Club, a group of UNR climbers who are devoted not just to the sport itself but to the climbing community as well.
WHAT NEVADA CLIMBING IS ALL ABOUT
It’s an overcast morning at the Washoe Boulders, only a 30-minute drive from Reno. Despite the gray skies and the occasional drops of rain, I’m determined to climb today. I’m alone, sitting in a cave, bracing myself against the wind that roars through the tunnel in the rock.
The wind rips my crash pad off the ground, tossing my only form of protection from a fall into a far corner of the labyrinthine boulder I’m huddling under. I sigh, grab the first holds of Cave In (the name of the boulder problem I’m on), and decide I’m not going to fall. For a moment, I think to myself that it would be much better to be climbing inside with a group of other climbers right now.
The Nevada Climbing club takes seasoned climbers and newbies alike, and as one of the biggest clubs on campus, with around 200 members on the roster, it has the task of fostering both great climbers and responsible outdoor recreators.
Through training, clinics, and practices indoors and outdoors, the club tries to promote safety, proficiency, and ethics in rock climbing.
“Climbing is hands down a very fast growing sport, recently introduced to the Olympics, and there are a select number of climbing places…they’re getting very crowded,” club president Wyatt Watson explains. That’s why the club feels it’s important to promote ethics such as Leave No Trace, and to teach etiquette at the crag.
Outside of club practices three days a week, the club offers a variety of activities for members. These include Friday socials, outdoor days, and access to collegiate climbing competitions through USA Climbing, the national organization for climbing.
For the more experienced climbers, these comps are a way to test their skills against climbers from other schools, which is why the club has two coaches, Garrett Pettipiece and Mario Sotelo, for their climbing “team.”
The goal for the competitors is to get through the collegiate divisionals and into the nationals. “Last year we didn’t have anyone qualify for nationals because we didn’t have that many people compete,” Watson said. “I went to divisionals…and I was like a few holds away from going to nationals, which is kind of sad, but I’m not going to dwell on it. We’re gonna try harder this year.”
A FOCUS ON COMMUNITY
“Nevada Climbing is a way to keep the stoke going, to keep the culture going,” Watson said. Growing the community is paramount to the club as it helps grow interest in the sport.
This can be vital to keeping climbing areas open. “I’ve been in communications with the Access Fund, which is the global climbing conservation organization,” Watson said. “They do a lot of the advocacy and litigation, and they do conservation easements with people who have private land that has climbing on it. The Access Fund will make it accessible to climbers, they’ll cut a deal.”
The more dedicated climbers there are, the more donations The Access Fund receives to conserve America’s climbing landscapes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CLIMBING
Sarah Tomlinson, a club member since 2019, began climbing in high school and quickly fell in love with it. “I just like it. I have a lot of fun, it’s challenging, it’s entertaining,” Tomlinson said. “Another part of it is the people. Climbing by yourself is fun, I like training by myself a lot. But when you get together with everybody here…you’re just hanging out, and everybody likes it. It doesn’t matter what level you are, you can still do it together.”
Climbing itself means a lot to the club members. “Basically I kind of do three things. I go to school, I go to work, and I go climbing,” Tomlinson said. “It’s fun, even though it’s hard, and it makes me feel really happy.” The friendships built through climbing, and the very act itself, are vital to creating the love that many feel for the sport. “Climbing has brought me out of a very dark place,” Watson said. “It’s brought me a bunch of new friends…an activity that I love to do, and it keeps me fit.”
As for myself, I am a brain-dead hick. That gives me the authority to declare the Washoe Boulders the greatest hick climbing area in the entire Great Basin. The boulders themselves are something of an anomaly for the area. They began eroding out of the ground some time ago, I couldn’t exactly tell you when, on a ridgetop at the southern terminus of the Virginia Range, where the range separates Carson City from the Washoe Valley. They lie below the remains of an ancient cinder cone volcano, methodically carved out by the Cinderlite Trucking Corporation, known to them as the Black and Red Cinder Pit.
That means they are volcanic, marked by dimples and sharp pockets, and bits of jutting rock that will rip out chunks of your fingers if you’re not careful, or if your hands are just too soft. There are several impromptu shooting ranges along the dirt road to the boulders, which can sometimes be blocked by members of the Virginia Range’s herd of wild horses. It almost feels like home.
I began climbing here in high school, after I finally got a car. I saw an opportunity here to become a great climber. To a 16-year-old with delusions of grandeur, it was a Mecca. It was nearly always empty, to the point where I almost felt like I owned the place, and there were tons of moderate boulder problems that I could learn to climb.
I spent days here, slowly mastering problems until I could do them in my sleep. I began walking the ridgeline from where the boulders began to Sugarloaf, a prominent hill overlooking Carson City, looking for more climbing. I climbed until my fingers bled, callusing them to the point that they were invulnerable to damage from the rock.
Eventually, I broke up with this place that I loved and knew so intimately. I didn’t have the time, I didn’t have the gas money, and I didn’t have the crash pads or the climbing partners necessary to test myself on the hardest and highest problems.
I failed to become a great climber there, but I realized that for me, climbing isn’t about comparing yourself to the greatness of others. Nevada Climbing has reinforced the idea that climbing with other people is simply better. The Washoe Boulders taught me I could enjoy a place alone too, with nothing but the rock, the wind, the sagebrush. That warm feeling of a problem solved after days of effort, the early morning silence, the sun beating down on my face. I learned to love climbing simply for the act of climbing.