Life on the Rocks

Story and Photos by Lynnette Oostmeyer and Nathan Hoefert
Page Layout by Lauren Leone




The harsh sound of a loose rope sliding against the sandstone rock wall meant a climber’s nightmare was playing out before our eyes. A hand injury caused by a fall while on a route can end the day’s climb as well as mess with a climber’s head.

But Drew Heller wiped the blood on his pants and shirt, packed his bleeding finger with chalk, grabbed onto the same holds and continued on his first 5.11a lead climb. But Under the Board Walk in the Calico Basin — the hardest level climb Heller had tried to date — won in the end. After falling for a second time and injuring another finger on the same rock, Heller could not complete the route.

“It was going to be my first 11a that I was going to on-sight and crush. Neither happened,” said Heller. “The body was able to do it, but the mind was not ready for that crux at all.”

Climbing routes are rated on a scale of 5.5 to 5.15 with the level of difficulty rising with the number. The letters a through d are used with the numbers once a rating reaches 5.10, denoting further levels of difficulty.

A spring break climbing trip, full of triumphs and failures, began for eight SIUC students March 9, when the group met to load up the three-car caravan that would take them on their 26-hour journey to Red Rock Canyon, Nevada.

Thaddeus Portz, a graduate student from Effingham studying engineering and SIUC climbing club president, said the trip cost around $1400. Each member paid the $30 dues for the semester and a $70 fee for the trip, which covered traveling expenses and the campsite the members called home for a week.

The club chose Red Rock, which sees more than a million visitors a year on its 195,819 acre conservation area, for the variety of climbing. Because of the varying skill levels of the members on the trip, the park could accommodate everyone.

Skill levels among the Carbondale climbers ranged from novice to advanced. These differences were hardly apparent, and the more experienced climbers aided the newer climbers to speed up their learning curve.

Portz said the group put forth a lot of effort during the week.

James Prillaman, a freshman from Champaign studying computer science, said as a new climber, he was glad he experienced the trip.

“I think it was really cool to be thrown out into Nevada to see some real rocks and intense climbing,” he said.

Portz said Ashley Bolin, Molly Gabel and James Prillaman all led their first 5.10a routes. The difficulty of a 5.10a route can be described as the final step from being a beginner to becoming a climber, Portz explained. He said he was proud he led the route.

“It just shows me as a climber I am capable of anything,” Bolin said.

The group spent a week exploring and climbing routes in many different areas of the park and meeting a variety of goals along the way. Every climber had something they wanted to accomplish on the trip, and whether or not his or her goal was met, the members of the club left with smiling faces, said David Hug, a senior from Waterloo studying recreation.

“You don’t want to be climbing just to climb a rating, you want to be climbing because you love what you do. You want to enjoy the true art of climbing,” Hug said.

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