Months after sport climbing debuted at the Tokyo Olympics, the current climbing wall section at the south end of the Nelson Recreation Center is expected to be revamped. Parts of the floor will be changed from padded surface to rigid surface in order to install an additional freestanding wall unit next to the existing climbing wall. The renovation is made possible through the college’s operating budget and alumni donations.
The project is spearheaded by Middlebury Outdoor Programs, a branch of Student Activities that helps students connect with the outdoors. A shortage of contractors caused some delays, but Facilities Services has now contracted Naylor and Breen Builders Inc., according to Associate Director of Maintenance and Operations Luther Tenny. The tentative completion date for the project is the end of September.
Since the wall was installed in 2002, Outdoor Programs has purchased new holds, replaced ropes, improved padding and reset routes. During the summer, the entire wall was stripped of holds and student climbers added new routes to the wall.
When asked what prompted this initiative, Director of Outdoor Programs and Club Sports Doug Connelly pointed to the popularity of the climbing wall on campus.
“The climbing wall is an incredibly popular resource, so Outdoor Programs is committed to keeping it great,” Connelly said. “I am constantly assessing our equipment needs and infrastructure to make improvements.”
As part of the larger effort to reopen more facilities this year, there will no longer be limited slots to use the climbing wall, though students are still asked to sign up in advance and follow other protocols. According to the Middlebury Outdoor Programs website, there will only be bouldering at the wall in order to comply with Covid-19 measures. To add variety, there will also be outdoor rock climbing opportunities on Friday afternoons in September and October.
Currently, the climbing wall is open on weekdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Seven students work at the climbing wall to oversee safe climbing protocols.
Windsor Smith ’24.5 developed an interest in rock climbing when she was 11, and she climbed on an indoor wall for the first time at Middlebury. As a second-semester climbing wall monitor, she is excited to see new changes added to the space.
Climbing wall monitor Jackson Evans ’22 sees the climbing wall as a unique community-building space because it combines social interaction with creative physical activity. Last year, he worked to expand the affinity group climbing sessions to provide affinity organizations at the college a space to reinforce their intra-team connections. By extending an invitation to a larger college community, he hopes to see more diverse representation at the wall.
“While a community certainly surrounds the wall, it has always been a homogenous community of white people,” Evans said.
This year, the team is also growing more mindful about the accessibility of the wall. Evans wants to make sure that the wall becomes a comfortable place for people who have been systematically marginalized in wall climbing.
“In planning the routes we set for people to climb, it is vital to ensure a range of possible methods and design sufficient beginner climbs for anyone to access.”
Rain Ji ’23 is the Arts & Culture Editor. She is returning to this role after a year of remote learning in Beijing, China.
Ji is an Middle East and North Africa studies major, and she is also working on a minor in Arabic studies and Education studies. The past summer, she worked at a news outlet named Caixin Global, where Ji worked as an intern policy analyst and wrote about Middle Eastern politics.
When not writing or editing or designing layout, she likes to watch crime shows.