Club Corner: Wall Climbing

Andrea Wunderlich '13, Staff Writer

People have been rock climbing for thousands of years. It is a practice that most likely began as a means of seeking protected shelter. By climbing to hard-to-reach territory, our forefathers found safe haven from predators.

In fact, people have been rock climbing since before they were even people: When our great-ape ancestors descended from their tree perches, they retained several of the adaptive mechanisms that had allowed them to haul themselves up branches. Once those daring hominids ventured out into the African savannah, they encountered cliffs, caves, and canyons—terrain they were better able to navigate due to their climbing skills. 

So it makes sense that humans have retained some proclivity for climbing in the four million years since then. Though our need for climbing has waned—we are less likely to unexpectedly encounter a carnivorous beast from which we need to clamber away—we have refashioned climbing into an exciting, challenging, and rewarding sport.

Rock climbing as a sport began as an offshoot of mountaineering. Eager outdoor enthusiasts, intent on conquering mountains, sought to hone their climbing techniques in more accessible places. Over the years, the popularity of rock climbing steadily increased. Its practice became widespread towards the end of the twentieth century when indoor climbing gyms sprung up all over the world. 

The sport reached the highest level of acceptance when the International Olympic Committee confirmed it as a new Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo games. Rock climbing made its Olympic debut in 2021 as a single combined event subdivided into speed climbing (how fast an athlete can climb a set route), lead climbing (how far an athlete can climb in a set period), and bouldering (similar to lead climbing, but at lower heights and without a safety harness). 

In March 2017, Graded completed construction of the Wellness Gymnasium, which houses a fully-equipped gym and a spectacular climbing wall with nine anchors and seventeen possible climbing routes. Soon after the inauguration of the new wall, PE teachers incorporated the sport into their curriculum, and climbing enthusiasts on the Graded faculty started the Wall Climbing Club. 

The club is divided into two sections, one for Eaglets in grades 3-5 and the other for middle school students. Each group meets once a week. During climbing sessions, students wear harnesses and are attached to ropes anchored to the wall. Members first practice top-rope climbing before progressing to lead climbing, which involves clipping themselves into fixed carabiners as they ascend the wall. Students also learn how to belay and protect the safety of one another. Climbing safety is taken very seriously at Graded, and both teachers and students are careful and diligent. When approached with this level of conscientiousness, climbing is extremely safe. Sixth-grader Elliot C. goes so far as to say that there “isn’t very much to be scared of at all, even when you’re at the top of the wall. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and everyone who is belaying you has had practice and passed a belay test.” 

Many students, like eighth-grader Leticia N., join the club after being introduced to the sport in PE. Leticia explains that after her PE class moved on to a new sporting unit, she realized she “really missed being on the wall.” Joao B., also in grade 8, was so enthused about climbing in PE that he started visiting specialized climbing gyms in São Paulo. Following that, he, too, decided to join Graded's Wall Climbing Club.

Teacher Stefan Barsanti leads the climbing activity and is often assisted by other enthusiastic teachers. Mr. Barsanti, who is excited about the club's expanding membership, believes that much of the sport’s success stems from the incredible feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving something so challenging. “When people first see the wall, they’re impressed and a little intimidated,” he says, “because it’s so tall. But then they work at it for a while, at their own pace, and they start to love it.” This definitely seems to be the case for seventh-grader Julia M., who claims that “the first time [she] went climbing, it was hard and very scary. But now [she thinks] it is actually quite fun.” 

Other students agree that the sport is extremely enjoyable despite its physical demands. Eighth-grader Rafa R. says climbing is “so exciting,” though it is also “challenging and requires both strength and technique.” Another grade 8 student, Helena I., believes that climbing is the perfect sport despite its tiring effect. “It really works your entire body,” she says. “But for me, that’s actually great. I’m a very tactile person, so climbing feels amazing. I don’t like other kinds of exercise, but climbing is a newfound passion of mine.” 

Wall climbing is just one of many athletics activities at Graded. The school’s incredible facilities and eager staff make it possible for athletes to participate in clubs such as swimming, badminton, beach tennis, and cheerleading clubs, among several others! This rich repertoire of sports allows all Graded students—even uncoordinated, soccer-averse, team-sport resistant students who have never felt comfortable on a field, track, or court—to try new activities and, like Helena I., find a place in athletics where they can finally fit in.