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IM Building Additions Include 36-42-Foot Climbing Wall

Those who tried to sneak a peek behind the blue fencing at the IM Building may have noticed an oddly-angled wall just behind the eastern windows — Penn State’s third and final round of renovations to the IM Building includes the addition of a 36-42-foot-high,16-lane climbing wall.

The wall and accompanying facility, which cost a roughly half a million dollars in total to build and equip, will open later this year and are designed to cater to climbers of all skill levels. The addition will also feature a separate, 50-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall bouldering wall, according to Penn State’s Climbing Program Coordinator Sam Wright.

Wright, a 32-year-old Indiana native with six years of certified outdoor guiding experience and an extensive background in the field, said the wall arrives in Happy Valley as part of a growing climbing movement across the country’s college campuses.

“This (climbing) has become a huge trend in the university recreational setting,” he said, adding that the commercial climbing industry is also on the rise.

Wright collaborated with designers from Eldorado Climbing Walls of Boulder, Colorado, the company hired to build the wall, to produce a novice-friendly, versatile facility. Construction lasted approximately two months, beginning in late January and officially ending on March 21.

“We try to be a multi-faceted facility, where we offer recreation, educational opportunities, and staff training,” he said.

The wall is designed to match the type of climbing provided by local rock formations, and its features will cater to several different techniques, including traditional, crack, and lead climbing. The wall also includes a ledge where novice climbers will be able to learn to repel correctly.

Before using the wall, students will need to complete short orientation programs focusing on different climbing skills in order to demonstrate to Wright and his 28-person, specialized staff that they are ready for each type of wall action. The primary orientation program will focus on teaching students the proper way to belay, a skill involving the correct attachment of safety ropes and harnesses in order to prevent dangerous falls. Another will teach the basics of bouldering — an unrestrictive climbing style without ropes or harnesses.

Wright and his team plan to offer in-house climbing clinics and even personal training to accompany orientation programs and open-rec hours.

“We want to try and be as educational as we can,” Wright said of his team.

The climbing facility will have its own hours of operation separate from those of the IM Building, but its schedule is yet to be determined. Students may also be required to purchase an extra membership to access the main climbing wall. The bouldering wall, however, is an open facility and will be available through normal IM Building hours. Gear, including harnesses and climbing shoes, can be borrowed on site, and those with materials that fit facility standards will be allowed to bring their own.

Although he is currently focused on making the final logistical adjustments to the new climbing facility, Wright emphasized the importance of creating a space “that is inviting and welcoming” for all students. He described climbing as a holistic form of exercise with a supportive community, effective in promoting mental as well as physical health.

“Outdoor climbing can be intimidating and it’s hard to get into,” he said. “Indoor is more likely to get people on board and try it out, and hopefully inspire them. There’s a lot more to it than what you think. I’m excited to open this world that I know is really special and can do a lot for you.”

About the Author

Jim Davidson

Jim is your classic confused and undecided sophomore in Penn State's Division of Undergraduate studies and a staff writer for Onward State. He, like most of the Penn State undergraduate population, is from 'just outside Philadelphia,' and grew up in Spring City, Pennsylvania. He covers a variety of Penn State topics, but spends nine months of every year waiting for the start of soccer season. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @messijim.

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