Short cheers and shouts erupt from members of Stanford’s climbing team as they maneuver around centimeter-wide holds at the climbing wall at the Outdoor Education and Recreation Center of Arrillaga (AOERC). Plumes of white permeate the air as climbers rub their hands with sweat-absorbing chalk powder.
Bouldering, sport climbing and trad (traditional) climbing are the forms most practiced by Stanford’s club sports team, which has about 50 members. Expertise levels range from newcomers to cult-favorite reality TV contestants American ninja warrior, such as a seventh-grade doctorate. student Hunter Swan.
Founded about ten years ago, the Stanford club team is relatively new. The team enjoyed success in collegiate competition, winning the national championship in the two years before the pandemic.
For some team members, the climbing community has been home since childhood.
Leila DeSchepper ’24 said she “started rocking at a friend’s birthday party when [she] was eight, I loved it and stuck with it. Iso Nairn ’23 started at age nine, after her uncle took her to a climbing gym where she was spotted by a member of staff.
Each practice is “pretty open,” DeSchepper said, with team members developing individualized training plans to follow in fortnightly practice sessions.
To vary the routes of ascent, the plastic holds move around the fearsome towers, generating new routes and complexities for teammates to overcome. On the weekends, climbers like Nairn like to venture to outdoor locations like Yosemite and Mickey’s Beach.
Other Stanford climbers, such as Wren Cooperrider ’23 MS ’24 and Emmett Hough ’22, have started climbing harder during the pandemic. “It’s a good way for me to spend time outdoors. It’s also a physical challenge, which I enjoy,” said Cooperrider.
Similarly, Hough took up the sport because it satisfied his “athletic and adrenaline” needs. When gyms closed during the height of the pandemic, preventing Hough from practicing his main sport, gymnastics, Hough turned to outdoor rock climbing, where he could “translate skills such as flexibility, strength and body control.
But for some team members, climbing isn’t just about sweating — it’s also about inspiration and purpose.
Take for example 24-year-old crimping and dyno enthusiast Krystal Gomez, who started rock climbing in high school and later “co-founded the very first high school rock climbing club in New York.” Discerning a barrier to entry for marginalized groups to enter the “empowering” sport, she made it “a duty to bring other female climbers into the community”.
“Stanford, in particular, is a very welcoming environment, but outdoor climbing has a bro-y culture,” Nairn said, adding that while men and women may seem to have equal eminence at levels of escalating higher, “there are always inequalities.”
The sport has maintained a strong hold on Stanford culture since the 1940s and 1950s. activity now prohibited on campus.
Following Stanford’s decision in 2019 to remove the climbing wall from the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation, the team is now advocating for a new exterior wall at a location yet to be determined.
As the climbers wrap up their late night workout, they head to the grass outside for some basic training. Although traces of chalk powder may fade, the memories forged by climbing together are indelible.