If you go
What: Climbing night
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays
Where: Steamboat Springs Middle School
Cost: Climbing night costs $5 for experienced climbers with their own equipment. A belay lesson — required for beginners — costs $10.
Steamboat Springs At first, Steamboat Springs Middle School screamed with an eerie silence, the way all buildings that are often filled with a bustling crowd do when the doors are locked and the lights are turned off.
Slowly, though, the people came.
At first there were three. Then eight. And by 7:30 Wednesday night, a dozen people had showed up.
Climbing night, Patrick Meyer explained, is popular.
“People just want to get in here and climb,” he said, shifting through release forms and glancing up as the night’s first climbers began to scamper up the 2-year-old wall in the middle school.
The twice-weekly climbing nights started last year, and Meyer supervises the endeavor in addition to running Rocky Mountain Ventures climbing guide service in Steamboat Springs.
At first, there were just a few climbers, working on the wall installed by the Everything Outdoor Steamboat organization, which is lead by middle school teacher Matt Tredway.
As the climbing night’s first year wore on, as many as 30 would show up and pay to get two hours of good rock climbing work in no matter how much the snow piled up outside.
The night costs $5 for experienced climbers with their own gear and $10 for those needing a class on how to belay (act as a human anchor). Though there are nights set aside for children, the regular sessions, scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, typically are reserved for ages 18 and older.
The money all goes back to EOS.
For Mike Arnold, the idea is simply to satisfy an addiction he first developed six years ago. He guides for Meyer at Rocky Mountain Ventures, spending his summer days climbing and his winter days skiing or ice climbing.
That’s still not enough.
“It’s a good workout,” he said. “Mostly, I come to stay in shape during the winter, so as soon as rock season comes, I’m ready for it.”
He appeared plenty ready Wednesday. He flew up the wall in no time and was back down before many of the night’s participants could slip on harnesses.
“Climbing is a way of life,” he said.
As the cold and quiet middle school came to life around the climbing wall, no one was about to disagree with that sentiment.
Sean Kuusinen grew up climbing in and around Steamboat Springs.
“I love the mix between the physical intensity and the mental intensity,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like climbing. It’s always a challenge.”
Novice and expert
That challenge Kuusinen craves is present even on the familiar wall at the school.
In many ways, only the edge of one’s imagination can limit the wall’s flexibility.
Along one side, Annie Bendon and her boyfriend, Chris Freed, took turns trying to work their way to the top.
Bendon grew up in the outdoors paradise of Hawaii, attended The Lowell Whiteman School in Steamboat Springs and now lives in New Zealand. Still, Wednesday marked her first experience climbing, and she worked her way up the easier side of the wall slowly and deliberately.
“I liked it,” she said moments after her first real attempt, having kicked away from the wall about halfway up before being slowly lowered to the floor by a rope attached to her harness. “I live in New Zealand now, and there’s a lot of people that rock climb there, so I figured I might as well try it.”
Large “boulders” jut out from the wall opposite of where Bendon worked on the basics. That’s where Meyer, Arnold and Kuusinen worked, crawling up and around the obstacles. It can be made easier by hanging on the available handholds or almost — only almost — impossibly hard by trying to cling to the narrow cracks or thin ledges.
“Everyone is pushing their limit when they climb,” Kuusinen said, “and here, there’s always someone helping you get past that limit.”
Jackie Kuusinen, Sean Kuusinen’s older sister, wasn’t pushing her limits Wednesday. Instead, she was helping Bendon, a classmate at Lowell Whiteman, pick up the sport.
Jackie Kuusinen said she climbs whenever she can. She teaches a climbing class at Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus in Steamboat and said she’s loved the sport since she was 12.
“I love so many things about climbing,” she said. “I love that climbing brings you into the moment, and I love just being on the rock and overcoming challenges and all the dynamics of trusting your partner and being outside and getting really high off the ground.
“Climbing is my love.”
It’s a passion, coincidentally, that started right where she stood Wednesday night, helping introduce climbing to a new set of outdoors enthusiasts.
“I was in Matt Tredway’s class where we sold the trees to raise the funds to build the first climbing wall here,” she said. “This is the second wall now. I remember thinking it was really hard and exciting and fun.”
On Wednesday night, she said climbing still brought out the exact same emotions.