Rock solid experience

Molly climbingChoosing a path up a wall of limestone can be tricky. What appear to be deep pockets, a good place for a solid grip can be deceiving. Instead, the hand will slip on polished stone, too slick for a hold. Meanwhile, reaching out of sight will land a firm, stable handhold that allows a climber to leverage her body to solid footing. While some paths look obvious, most routes are found by trying different holds, learning from errors and adjusting body position and strategy along the way.

In mid-October, a group from the University of Northern Iowa found their way to the top by testing their mental and physical mettle against the limestone formations of Pictured Rocks County Park near Monticello, Iowa.

The trip, sponsored by UNI Outdoors, was UNI's first all-female climbing trip. Trip leaders and organizers Valerie Brey, a junior outdoor recreation and nonprofit youth administration major from Rockford, Ill.; Hannah Craig, a junior communicative high climbingdisorders major from Urbandale, Iowa; and Emily Owen, a senior TESOL major from Cedar Falls, had noticed that most of UNI Outdoors climbing trips were dominated by male participants. The three certified lead climbers organized this one-day trip to provide a comfortable environment for UNI's female students, faculty and staff to challenge themselves and learn more about this growing sport.

Their hunch that some UNI students sought the comfort of an all-female group was spot-on: the trip quickly filled its 15-participant capacity.

"We hope this will open the door for more women to take part in other UNI Outdoor trips," Owen said. "So many of us get into climbing because of a guy, whether a friend or a boyfriend, but we shouldn't have to rely on them to lead these activities."

While all the participants had spent time on UNI's indoor climbing wall, this was the first outdoor climb for many. Instead of the well-marked routes of the indoor wall, the climbers had to pick and choose holds to find their own path to the top.

Sophomore elementary education major Ali McDonald of Waukee, Iowa, didn't expect to get to the top of Tarzan, a popular climbing route at Picture Rocks. But support from the other participants gave her confidence to go beyond her comfort zone and reach the top. She surpassed her own expectations time and again.

UNI Outdoors' trips are just another way that UNI provides a safe environment in which students can challenge themselves and try something new. If it doesn't feel right on the first try, or even if you fall, climbers like McDonald already know that another path to the top awaits their discovery.

[photos courtesy of Rebecca Schultze]

Molly climbing2 footshot of climbing in between rocks
Molly Tomsha, a senior communications major, works her way up a route on Shiprock at Pictured Rocks County Park.  The rubber soles of rock climbing shoes serve as a high-friction interface between the climber and the rock. UNI Outdoors provides climbing gear for those who wish to use it on trips. UNI junior biology and biochemistry major Nina Savage searches for her next move in the limestone formation.