Climbing Back Home

By Grace Hermanns

When renovating a house, a rock wall is not typically included in the blue prints. However, for the three climbers living at a house on Mound Street, that is exactly what they were looking for last year when they started house hunting.

“Big enough” is how most would describe the room that the rock wall occupies. The room smells of plywood and chalk and has maybe three feet of walking space. There is only enough room to do one thing; grab some rock and start climbing.

Ohio University is an unexpected place for rock climbing. However, with Hocking Hills only a 30-minute drive away and Red River Gorge, one of the most glorified climbing places in the world, only a 4-hour drive away, Ohio University has become a rock climbing hot spot.

There is a certain camaraderie that accompanies rock climbing; everyone is laid-back and more than willing to aid others in improving their skills.

“The climbing community itself is – interesting – very friendly people, very outgoing. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Daniel Hermanns, one of the climbing wall builders.

It is not uncommon in the climbing community for people to build home gyms to use in the winter. In past years, there has always been a “climbing hangout” of sorts located within the Athens community, where people of all ages can participate in their normal routine of eating, sleeping, and climbing in the offseason.

But these home-away-from-home amateur geologists went missing for a few years. Older climbers graduated and moved on, taking their bouldering walls with them. That is, until a new haven arose in a campus house.

A bouldering wall, constructed with sturdy wooden backing and climbing holds, was built in the empty room of a tiny house on Mound Street. Bouldering is a branch of rock climbing that is more technically challenging. While climbers may not go as high, they have to be more physically fit to excel at it. Bouldering is done without any protective equipment besides a thick climbing pad underneath the structure to cushion a possible fall. Daniel Chappell, a fellow Mound Street climber, says that the previous big time climber here, Tim Rice, had a bouldering wall in his basement. Rice moved to Colorado after graduating, forcing climbers to practice in solitude or at the rock wall in Ohio University’s Ping Center.

“I built a rock climbing wall in my house because the climbing scene in Athens used to have a really tight-knit community where we would all go out on Thursday nights and go to a home gym at any number of houses and climb and get a really good work out,” Hermanns explains, “And then all those older guys moved on.”

For the past year and a half, climbers haven’t really had a place to do that. The sense of camaraderie that comes with training for climbing was gone, and Hermanns says he really missed that. So he built a bouldering wall to bring that community back together.

The rock climbing that more people are familiar with, but is not as physically demanding, is called “top roping.” For example, the rock climbing at Ping Center is top roping, with the wall being double-sided and 36 feet high. But for these guys, who go weekend after weekend to Red River Gorge, staying in top physical condition is important. The climbers try to stay in shape at the wall in Ping, but decided a more private wall would better suit them.

“You can climb strong at Ping, but there’s a lot of people climbing recently,” said Chappell. “So you’re just waiting around and belaying for hours and you don’t get much climbing in. Me and [my friend] Grady, another climbing buddy, bouldered at the house yesterday, and in like two hours we got thrashed.”

To get “thrashed” from a climbing workout, one would expect the wall to be a lot more complicated than it really is. The wall is in an 8-by-9-foot room with the wall being freestanding, meaning it’s not drilled into the house in any way, so it sits completely on its own weight. The wall itself is 8-by-8-foot, so there is 64 square feet of climbing space. It’s tilted at a 45-degree angle, apparently optimal for this branch of climbing. In a matter of only a couple of days, this wall was constructed with lumber from Lowes and donated rock holds from other climbers.

Chappell was one of many who purchased rock holds online that were just sitting around at home, begging to be used, and was kind enough to lend them to Hermanns for this project.

Rock climbing is more of a singular sport. One is not playing for a team or competing against other people. The consistent climbers get to know each other and build off of one another’s strengths. It is evident that the social aspect was a large part of their love for the sport.

“Basically, we just get really strong so we can climb harder. I mean, that’s the whole basis of it,” said Chappell. “I think if younger climbers experience what it’s like to have a bouldering wall in someone’s house, they’ll kind of take the initiative to do the same thing later on.”

DISCLAIMER: Grace Hermanns, the producer of this article, interviewed her brother Daniel Hermanns, a resident of the Mound Street house.