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Climbing walls get self-serve option to welcome beginners

Christian Reyes climbs a rock wall on campus. Campus Recreation has now provided students with the option to auto belay when climbing so that barriers for new climbers are removed.

Christian Reyes climbs a rock wall on campus. Campus Recreation has now provided students with the option to auto belay when climbing so that barriers for new climbers are removed.

“We are trying not to turn people away, but to let people walk in and get them climbing as soon as we can. Now, they can come try it out for a day with a lot less pressure,” said Russell Hobart, the assistant director of climbing programs at Campus Recreation.

In rock climbing, a belayer is someone who is harnessed to the wall with the climber to provide them with the right balance. The belayer serves as a safety measure to support the climber in case of slips or falls.

Auto belaying is a mechanized pulley system that allows for the climber to climb without a belayer. The climbing walls at both Fetzer Gymnasium and Rams Head Recreation Center now have the auto belays.

In the past, beginner climbers at Campus Recreation were required to pay a $30 fee and take an introductory belaying course — but the new auto belays simplify the process and reduce training costs to only $10.

The new auto belays allow beginner climbers to get on the wall in a matter of minutes.

Maddy Strauss, the student manager for the wall, said prospective climbers now just have to ask someone at the front desk for an orientation on the auto belay, a process she said can be done in five minutes.

Hobart said the auto belay was implemented because there would be long gaps where no one would be able to get certified to climb.

“Last weekend we were on break and the two weekends before that we didn’t have classes,” Hobart said.

“If someone came in before spring break and said ‘Hey, I want to climb,’ they would have had to wait until April 2 to learn to climb, to take the class, then they could start climbing after that.”

Not all parts of the rock walls are outfitted with auto belays, but Strauss said there are enough options to try out.

She said the rock wall offers options for the experienced climber who may not have a partner, or for someone who is looking for more repetitive endurance training.

Strauss said she sees the auto belay and the simplified orientation as a stepping stone for further participation at the wall.

“It can be difficult to get involved in the sport as a beginner, but auto belay lets people come and try it out,” Strauss said. “You can come in, be on the wall and be with others on the wall, and then you can take the class later if you enjoy it.”

Sophomore Rachel Kleiman, who is a rock climber, said she thinks the auto belay is a great idea to get beginners involved in the sport.

“It is hard to be a beginner,” Kleiman said.

“People can now come in and try it out without all of the pressure and commitment. Then, if they do want to keep climbing, like learn to belay, they are already part of the climbing community. They are already established at the wall, and they can just keep going from there.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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