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Zack Kaelin’s Thrill for a Challenge With Rock Climbing

Not many students would describe their 9 a.m. class as energizing, exciting, and empowering. The exception is Zack Kaelin, a film major with a passion for accumulating hobbies, and his latest is rock climbing. He finds the heights and challenges of rock climbing to be the perfect way to start his day.

Zack meets in a circle with his other classmates after putting on his harness and shoes. Jordan Frank, the instructor (and outdoor programs leader), kicks off class with some conversation. He asks, “How was your weekend?” and the students chat about what they were up to. As the chatter continues, Jordan asks what they’d like to do for class today. “Should we do our warm up or just climb?” Zack speaks up, “Just climb.” He’s anxious to get up on the wall and start climbing.

Zack heads to the wall and ties the rope into his harness. Once he completes his figure-8 knot for safety, he double checks its strength by pulling on it. He then checks his partner Josh’s belay device to make sure it’s secure as well. He begins to pull himself up the wall. As he pulls on the holds, he adjusts his hips to move his feet up the wall along with him. He moves quickly. This is an easier route for him. He reaches the top in no time. He looks comfortable as his partner begins to lower him, but he wasn’t always so confident with heights.

Zack took rock climbing to conquer his fear of heights. His ultimate goal is to try highlining, but he knows he needs to start small and build up to a sport like that. Highlining is (quite literally) walking a tightrope, several hundred feet in the air, and although his friends participate, Zack was reluctant to try and wanted to gain experience with heights in a more controlled environment first.

At first, Zack admits he was scared to look down. The fear would flood into his head. The class began with students learning safety techniques, called belaying, which stops a climber from falling by catching their rope. Learning this technique early on gives students confidence so they can feel comfortable as they get higher on the wall. Like all the others in his class, Zack was able to test the safety equipment and it took some time, but he learned to depend on it. The biggest piece of safety advice Zack learned was to trust your belay partner.

From the start, Zack leaned on Jordan’s help, “He’s really encouraging for those who are scared of heights or haven’t made it to the top of the wall yet.” From Jordan’s perspective, a lot of students who come into the class are concerned about the height factor. To ease student’s fear, Jordan has built in a large amount of climbing safety training to the beginning of the course. The students are taught techniques to reduce risk and increase safety. “We must always approach concerns head on and address them. We educate students through the system of how their safety is managed,” says Jordan. It’s thanks to this instruction that Zack feels ready to take on new heights, “Once you’re past the anxiety of falling, you’re in the clear, it’s not as bad as it seems, it’s just the step to get there that helps.”

Communication is very important between the belay partner and the climber. Before Zack begins to climb the wall he looks at his partner and makes sure they have a secure connection to the rope, and his partner checks his knot into the rope. Zack then asks if he’s on belay and his partner responds, “belay on.” Zack approaches the wall and says “climbing” and his partner encourages them to continue—“climb on Zack!”. It’s this routine communication before each climb that connects possible strangers through clear commands. Interacting with new people is one of Zack’s favorite parts of climbing.

After weeks of practicing climbing technique, Zack is climbing harder routes than ever before. He’s fully immersed himself in the climbing community. Even on days where Zack has class at 9 a.m., he’ll return at night to climb on his own. The outdoor program makes the climbing wall accessible and free for all students Sunday—Thursday. He’s found many friends who share his love for adventure and passion for rock climbing. After completing his first safety certificate, he took a day-long course on lead climbing at the Rec Center, the next big step in climbing. Lead climbing involves more intensive climbing and control (without supervision if he so chooses). For lead climbing, the rope isn’t set before the climb. Zack must climb up with the rope and hook it into equipment on the wall at multiple points along the route. He’s proud of himself for consistently upping the level of difficulty in his climbs.

Once Zack leaves the class, he feels energized and ready to conquer the day. “The adrenaline of being off the ground wakes you up.” Along with the rush that comes from being suspended in the air, Zack believes Jordan’s positive and energizing attitude makes the class more entertaining. “He’s really high energy and he wakes everyone up. If he’s energized, I should be too.” Jordan plays music to get students in a good mood, playing “songs to sing in the shower” playlist with today’s top hits in all genres playing. The upbeat music encourages students to get moving on the wall and start their day.

Zack’s anxious to get back to campus next fall when he’ll take the intermediate climbing class, where students can push their current knowledge even further. He hopes to take what he has learned to the next level by going outdoor climbing. There are multiple opportunities to travel with the outdoor program on guided climbing trips throughout the semester that Zack may take part in next fall as well.

BroncoFit Introduction to Rock Climbing takes place in two sessions. One each Monday and Wednesday, and another on Tuesdays and Thursdays, both from 9 – 9:50 a.m. The class accepts all skill levels and encourages anyone to try! If you’re interested in signing up for a class or have questions about BroncoFit, please contact BroncoFit Activities Coordinator, Kevin Blume at

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  • Calvin


    Writing Correspondent