SIU climbing club ascends to new altitudes

By Tyler Davis

SIU is renowned for its successful club sports; one club students may not consider was named Sport Club of the Year in 2013.

The climbing club has 45 members this semester and were behind the construction of the new climbing wall in the Student Recreation Center.

Johnathan Flowers, a doctorate student in philosophy from Oak Park and president of the Sport Clubs Executive Board said the club is highly active.


“In terms of membership and activities, they’re generally one of our more successful clubs,” Flowers said. “The climbing club has generally been very good about making sure we’re in the loop with all the things that they need.”

David Hug, a graduate student in outdoor recreation administration from Waterloo and president of the climbing club, has been a member since 2010.

“I used to go to the University of Wyoming. I went there for two years and climbing was very big there,” Hug said. “I fell in love with it then I came here and realized they have good climbing in southern Illinois.”

The popularity and success are nothing new when it comes to the climbing club, Hug said. He said they have been a part of SIU for at least 25 years, and some professional climbers have been involved with the club.

“Alan Carrier came through here, Jim Thurman came through here,” he said. “Alan established what was considered the hardest route in the entire country and Jim Thurman was a pro climber for over a decade.”

This year’s edition of the club has talent too, he said, and is planning a spring break trip to Red Rock Canyon, Nev. Located about half an hour away from Las Vegas, the area has some of the best climbing spots and scenery in the country.

“There are probably more climbs there than anywhere else that we’ve ever gone,” he said. “I keep telling everyone this place is going to blow your mind and it is going to change your entire view of climbing. If you aren’t addicted now, you will be.”


The climbing club travels annually to places around the nation. Ashley Bolin, the club’s vice president said during her three years involved with the club, she has seen a lot of the country.

Besides Red Rock, Bolin said the club has been to Tucson, Ariz., Chattanooga, Tenn. and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Bolin said the club tries to plan at least one trip per year and compete in at least one competition per year.

“Last year, we had two or three competitions and they can be anywhere around here,” Bolin said. “We go to one in St. Louis at the Upper Limits Gym a lot, sometimes we’ll go to SIUE and they’ll hold a competition.”

Hug and Bolin said the team usually fairs well in these competitions. Hug said out of the last 10 meetings with SIU-Edwardsville, Carbondale has lost just one time.

But for the climbers, it’s not only about winning in competitions and seeing great natural scenery. It’s about the family the club has created and the confidence climbing builds.

Anna Niebrugge, a graduate student in art from Effingham, said she used to climb when she was little but her family moved to a town with no available climbing. Since coming to SIU, she has joined the climbing club and says her experience has been positive from more than physical and health standpoints.

“Climbing for me is kind of a break from school,” she said. “It’s a good release, gets away from the indoors, takes a lot of trips outside which is really great.”

She said the mental test to choose a correct climbing path is also invigorating.

“A lot of this stuff is more than just physical, it makes you really think about how you’re going to do it,” Niebrugge said. “It keeps you really active mentally.”

The mental and physical aspects of the activity are what make people love the sport, Hug said, along with the thrill of reaching new heights. Those heights can be quite too, as Hug said the highest he has climbed was the Grand Teton Mountain in Wyoming, which stands 13,776 feet above sea level. He said climbing makes students realize they can achieve great things in all fields.

“It seems all too common that we as humans are scared of heights,” Hug said. “This is something new; we put people up in the air and get them doing things that they’re uncomfortable with which builds confidence.”

While some students may not be sure of their abilities to climb these heights or the safety involved, Hug and Bolin said the sport is safe if students participate the right way.

“Just like anything else, if you do it incorrectly, it’s not going to be safe,” Bolin said. “But that’s what the club’s about. We teach people how to do it safely so they don’t get hurt.”

Hug said injuries more serious than a little scrape or cut are rare, and he has never seen a club member get seriously injured.

“We check, double check and even triple check to make sure the equipment is safe to use and set up properly,” Hug said. “Then on top of making sure all the equipment is okay to use, we teach members how to use it properly. We have a really clean track record as far as broken bones and stuff like that.”

Hug also said the club, on top of safety, teaches environmental responsibility, provides a friendship circle for students and even looks good on a student’s resume because of the “Leave No Trace” training certificate students get for joining.

“It’s all about the outdoor ethics and how you should act and how to be responsible in the outdoors,” Hug said. “We need to be responsible out there now to [prevent from furthering] our impact on the climbing site. Keep a minimal impact or just leave no trace essentially.”

The club meets Wednesdays, climbing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. with a meeting from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Student Recreation Center.