Yale’s student body participates in a multitude of club sports, from basketball to hockey to ultimate frisbee. One of the younger organizations on campus, however, is already scaling new heights in just its sixth year.
The Yale climbing team will kick off its season this Saturday with its first competition of the year against familiar Eli opponents such as Princeton, Columbia and UConn. The team was founded in the 2010–11 academic year, and has since grown to include around 80 active climbing members. Building off of a third-place finish at last year’s regional tournament, the Bulldog club will look to translate its increased popularity into improved competitive results.
“Climbing strikes a nice balance of being both close-knit and being really welcoming to newcomers,” co-captain Max Farbman ’18 said. “It’s a breath of fresh air during the week to take a break from worrying about school … and just going to the gym, hanging out with a lot of cool people, and doing something physically challenging and enjoyable. It can be easy for groups, once they’re close-knit, to be closed off to other people, and something we really pride ourselves on as a team … is hanging out and being really close. Anytime someone new comes in [we really welcome] them.”
The climbing team continues a long tradition of outdoor and mountaineering groups at Yale dating back to the formation of the Yale Mountaineering Club in the 1930s. A closer ancestor lies in the climbing club of the early 2000s, which used the now-nonexistent rock wall in Silliman College.
From its earliest beginnings six years ago, the new climbing team has grown in leaps and bounds. Membership has increased by a factor of eight in the last four years, and the club holds its three weekly practices at New Haven’s City Climb Gym.
At the gym, team members train for competition in three disciplines: bouldering, top rope and speed climb. Bouldering takes place at the lowest elevation, with courses rarely reaching above 14 feet high. The event focuses not on attaining altitude or rapidity, but instead requires a combination of strength, technique and problem-solving skills.
“Climbing is an unexpectedly intellectually satisfying sport,” co-captain Andrew Kilby ’18 said. “It requires a lot of mindfulness. It is so satisfying to do something that is physically difficult, but requires a level of engagement, where even though you’re exhausting yourself or on a time crunch because you’re tired from the physical exertion, you still have to think clearly about how you want to control your body.”
Top rope and speed climbing both take place on the same higher setup, but provide disparate challenges necessitating the use of a rope, carabiner and belayer. Top-rope climbers can reach the top of a course through a variety of routes, while speed climbing provides a pure speed test in which the two climbers begin at the same instant and the first to summit the wall and hit the buzzer wins.
Physical and mental demands flow together seamlessly in climbing, with both skills serving as essential prerequisites for success. A climbing course is set with different holds placed on the wall in various patterns and posing different problems, allowing for a wide variety of potential variations and difficulties on each given course.
Individual courses are evaluated according to difficulty metrics: The Yosemite decimal system ranks indoor top-rope courses from 5.5 to 5.12 in ascending difficulty, while the bouldering system begins at V0 and maxes out indoors at V10.
Yale’s team attracts climbers of all backgrounds, and while the roster includes some experienced climbers, the majority have never climbed before coming to Yale. Many come from athletic backgrounds, while others haven’t competed in an interscholastic sport before. The overarching, unifying factor comes from their love of the sport.
“I’m addicted to being on sports teams and was looking for my next fix after quitting the varsity softball team at the end of my sophomore year,” climber Ceri Godinez ’17 said. “I’d been on a rock-climbing team when I was younger and had really enjoyed the sport, so I decided to pick it up again. The team culture is great, we’re a laid-back, potluck-loving group, [that doesn’t] judge people for eating food off the ground.”
The climbing community remains tight-knit on and off the course. Many team members cite their relationships with their teammates as their favorite aspect of climbing at Yale.
“I’ve met some of my closest friends from the team, and I always enjoy recruiting my outside friends to the team,” climber Julietta Garbasz ’18 said. “We’re amazingly diverse, not just from backgrounds, but geographically and in what we study and what we do on campus. Being on the team has led me to get CEID certified, to learn how to cook new foods and to go to performances I wouldn’t have thought about before. We’re family.”
The Elis will compete in two more local competitions after this weekend before testing themselves in the season-capping regional tournament at the end of the school year.