By Tanner Corbridge
Rock climbing in Utah Valley is an increasingly popular sport, despite its dangerous nature.
“I do it mostly for the sense of challenge that I feel,” said Tristen Laughlin, a BYU student who sets up climbing routes at the Quarry Climbing Gym in Provo. “There is a lot of strategy, technique and thinking involved. It”s very different from most other power sports.”
Jeff Pedersen is the co-owner of the Quarry and one of the pioneers of Utah sport climbing over the past 18 years. His development of climbing routes in numerous canyons throughout the state, as well as his work with the Quarry, have directly affected the population explosion of climbing.
Recent climbing deaths in the Salt Lake County area, however, have left the media and others questioning the sanity of those who climb.
“I feel totally safe,” Carter said. “In the summer I climb four days a week, and I”ve never seen anything scary. If people are well-trained the sport should be safe.”
Pedersen suggested climbing can be just as safe or dangerous as the next sport, depending on the participant. He also said the Quarry has never experienced an injury any worse than a sprained ankle since it”s opening.
“Insurance companies look at indoor climbing gyms the same way they do racquetball facilities,” Pedersen said. “But no one goes around saying, ”Oh, but racquetball is too dangerous.””
Pederson said the sport is growing in popularity throughout the county.
“Years ago, you had to know someone who climbed before you could really get into the sport,” Pedersen said. “Now you have big, indoor climbing gyms in densely populated areas. You can walk into a gym anywhere and learn how to safely belay and tie your knots.”
Pedersen also said that Hollywood has done a lot to increase the popularity of the sport as well.
“Every time a new movie like ”Vertical Limit” is released, (the Quarry) receives an increased number of calls from people interested in the sport,” he said.
Some students find climbing exposed rock walls as a way to escape from the demands of college life.
“It”s good for stress,” said Zane Carter, a senior at the University of Utah, majoring in communications studies. “It puts your problems out of your mind because you have to completely focus on what you”re doing.”
Carter loves going to school in Salt Lake City because of the close proximity to mountains that host thousands of bolted climbing routes.
“Nothing compares to being in the Uintah Mountains and looking behind you to see thousands of pine trees,” he said. “Or reaching the top of a multi-pitched climb and looking down the entire canyon into the Salt Lake Valley.”
Carter said he first began climbing he was terrified of heights, but now he finds himself addicted to the challenge of mastering new climbs.
“You”re never totally on top of it,” he said, “There”s always another step you can take it.”
Emily Miller, the executive assistant of the Quarry, from San Diego, Calif., feels the same attraction to the sport.
“You always set goals and then try to reach them,” she said. “It”s addicting.”
Miller said she loves the physical exercise involved with climbing but recognizes it might not be the perfect sport for everyone.
“You have to find your own niche, and climbing is a good niche,” she said.
Pedersen said his climbing mentality is to push his physical abilities to the limit but to never push the danger envelope.
Some climbers suggest that indoor climbing can facilitate climbing training as well as reduce the risk of climbing accidents.
“Indoor climbing is more training friendly,” Laughlin said. “It”s better for beginners because it”s more of a controlled environment. There is very little risk of falling because the gear is so good.”
Laughlin said risk increases with outdoor climbing because of the wear and tear on gear. He suggests that indoor climbing primarily helps climbers train for the outdoor walls.
“Indoor climbing is a great means to an end,” he said. “And Utah is great because some places you can climb year round.”