The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Features April 20, 2007

"Climb Co" Will Rock You
Vertical Reality: “Fundamentals of Rock Climbing” ExCo instructor Tim Kajstura climbs the wall in Philips.

Every Tuesday night in Philips Gym, a diverse, tight-knit group comes itching to climb. The ExCo “Fundamentals of Rock Climbing,” taught by College sophomore Kate Ewald and College senior Tim Kajstura, gives its students an intense workout, answers their most burning climbing questions and prepares them for a job at Oberlin’s climbing wall.

The class typically begins with “check-ins,” a chance for members to plop down on the chalky mat and discuss and how their weeks have gone. Students shared feeling “happy to be [in class]” and “ready to climb.”

The leaders then set them loose to climb the wall and belay while the two supervise, assisting struggling climbers and answering questions. The class later regroups for a teaching session, where Ewald and Kajstura explain everything from climbing safety to working with children to replacing faulty equipment.

Double entendres make the driest topic juicy; during this week’s tutorial, Ewald calmly described the processes of “stripping, blowing and screwing” while Kajstura explained the difference between a “martini” and a “gin and tonic” bolt, and made sure to note which to use for “the boob.”

After an entertaining lesson, the students are free to climb once more, until they come together at the end for an abs and arms workout.

Ewald, who has been climbing for the past 15 years and teaching for the past nine, professes a passion for climbing.

“It’s a very individual activity where you can constantly challenge yourself. You improve by learning your own strengths and weaknesses. It helps you push yourself and step outside your comfort zone. You constantly learn, whether it’s about yourself, other people or the sport. Plus, it rocks,” she said.

Kajstura appreciates climbing’s diversity.

“I love how many aspects of rock climbing there are. You can come and climb around for half an hour, or you could work on one maneuver for two hours, or you just hang out and dream about climbing shoes. There’s always something new to learn,” he said.

He also expresses confidence in the course’s flexibility: “We don’t stick to a strict lesson plan, but everyone gets all the information they need. We’re enthusiastic, so we tend to go off on group tangents a lot.”

Though Ewald describes the class as “pretty laid back,” she and Kajstura take safety seriously.

“When you’re belaying someone, you’re holding their life in your hands,” she explained.

The instructors feel that their course design facilitates universal skills, whether for on or off the wall.

“It’s really fun to just get in here, climb and answer questions,” said Kajstura. “And every single thing we teach here, you can use everywhere else. Even if your top priority isn’t being a supervisor here, this class is great for just learning what to do, what gear to use, so that you know what you’re doing out in the real world.”

The local “real world,” however, is low on opportunities.

“Ohio is the flattest state,” sighed Ewald. “Therefore, we get sad that we don’t get to climb on real rocks very often.”

The ExCo combats this unfortunate circumstance with an annual, optional spring break trip. This year, Ewald and Kajstura took half of the ExCo to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, where they got a chance to test their new skills and bond.

Ewald characterizes this semester’s batch as a “strong group” and predicts that many will go on to work at the wall.

“A misconception about the course is that it’s just a bunch of people climbing around, when it’s really preparation for being a supervisor,” she said. “People should take it if they’re interested in having a really fun job at Oberlin in the future and becoming part of a fun community.”

With its passionate teachers, fun, intimate atmosphere, thorough training and groan-inducing puns, this ExCo looks to be an Oberlin favorite for years to come.


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