A Rocky Start

March 04, 2021

The Rock Climbing ECS started our seminar with some hands-on learning right away. The first class was held at City Rock, located in downtown Colorado Springs on Monday. We immediately learned how to belay, tie clove-hitch and figure-8 knots, and discovered the basics of bouldering/sport climbing. We met the first of our many guest guides, Katie and Anna, who will be helping us throughout the course. Personally, I haven’t rock climbed since I was 12 years old, but for oddly enough, the motions and techniques I learned six years ago came back to me quickly. There is a lot of trust required in rock climbing. Besides the mechanics and instructions that comes with climbing, a big part of the first day was learning how to trust one another. When climbing, another student is quite literally preventing you from falling five, ten, sometimes even 60 feet. It was critical for our group to understand that rock climbing requires high levels of precaution and diligence, and I can confidently say that I would trust any of my peers to belay me at extreme heights. The rest of the day was spent learning introductory physics about tension, gravity, and other forces that play into climbing.

The second class was very different from the first. Our instructor, Mr. Calhoun, received his second dose of the covid vaccine and was unable to hold an in-person class due to safety precautions. Instead of having a day mixed with learning in the classroom and climbing outside, we stayed home and looked over several different resources to prepare us for the days ahead. We dove into the physics of rock climbing, different climbing techniques, and the history of rock formations in Colorado Springs. A variety of topics were covered throughout the day, and it was interesting learning about each one in more depth and at our own pace. Several diagrams and videos aided us as we navigated through equations to find the value of different forces at work during a real fall. Although this day was digital, the assortment of materials provided allowed us to truly understand all of the connections between rock formations, physics, and climbing.

On the third day, our ECS visited Shelf Road — near Canyon City — to try our hands at outdoor climbing, practice our physics skills, and learn about geology. We found that outdoor climbing is very different from the gym because the routes are not clearly visible and there are more environmental factors at play. We met up with Front Range Climbing Company to help us practice the climbing skills we learned at City Rock on the first day. These guides ensured we were safe while climbing and belaying our peers by reminding, teaching, and assisting when needed. Also, they taught us about traditional climbing gear because we had only been introduced to sport climbing gear. We learned about and got to practice using active and passive gear like cams and nuts. When we were not actively climbing, Mr. Calhoun gave us some real life physics problems to practice the skills we learned on Monday and Tuesday. These problems included the forces that were at work while climbing or being lowered. Climbing and physics were not the only things we did at Shelf Road, however, as we also learned about geology. Dan, one of our guest guides, taught us about the rock formations that we were climbing on. Shelf Road’s limestone rock formed while the area was underwater millions of years ago which is different from other types of rock that we will be learning about later in the ECS.

As the week came to a close, we really focused on the physics of rock climbing. Thursday was spent learning about the equations used during various climbing scenarios. We read a paper focused on a specific climbing instance and were able to understand why certain equations are used to find the different variables involved. Using our experiences from the past couple of days, we thought of multiple scenarios where a climber would fall. We then determined the impact force of both the climber and belayer. We were also able to find the tension on the rope, elongation of the rope, and many other factors. This day allowed us to really put together everything we had learned over the course of the first couple of days.