Rock climbing is not all it’s cracked up to be. In the last few years, the sport has experienced massive growth, particularly in its indoor form, in which climbers scale faux rock walls. This form of the sport has made gains in popularity due to its safety and convenience. In 2016 alone, the number of so called “climbing gyms” in the US grew 7 percent, according to the Climbing Business Journal. Growth rates were similar in each of the last five years. Thanks to this expansion, climbing is no longer the preserve of those with nearby natural heights, as gyms have been established throughout major metropolitan areas, even in flat regions of the country such as the Midwest. In total, the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) states that 25 million people worldwide regularly take part in climbing, with an estimated 1,000 people experiencing it for the first time every day in the US.
What’s up with the craze? The allure of the climbing lifestyle, as well as the attractive traditional association of danger with outdoor climbing, may be factors causing its popularity among America’s youth. The exploits of highly visible climbing stars such as Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and Kevin Jorgeson also likely play a role. Caldwell and Jorgeson’s 2015 ascent of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, considered the most technically difficult climb ever, achieved approximately 13 billion social media impressions. Adding to climbing’s association with danger, Honnold, in June 2016, then scaled a separate route up El Capitan using no ropes or safety equipment, accomplishing the epic day-long climb in a matter of hours. In an Instagram post, Caldwell himself called Honnold’s achievement “generation defining.”
However, whether climbing will prove to be a fad remains to be seen. While the IFSC claims that it is a lifelong sport, with participants continuing into their sixties and beyond, the aforementioned stars of the climbing world are all in their thirties, and it is difficult to imagine that the risks of climbing (which seem attractive to a young person) would appeal into old age. In any case, expect the popularity of sport climbing to rise in the next few years. Due to popular demand, it has been added to the list of sports for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Now is a better time than ever to try out climbing here in Ithaca, as Cornell has recently renovated and enlarged its Lindseth climbing wall. Those new to climbing will need a two-hour lesson to learn basic technique and safety procedures ($35), which also includes vouchers for two additional days of climbing; after that, each day costs $10 at the student rate with an additional $4 per day to rent equipment for climbers who do not have their own. The 50-foot tall and 160-foot long wall is located in Bartels Hall.