• Layn Sarsten

'But it's so flat!'

Tell someone that there is rock climbing in North Dakota and “but it’s so flat” is the standard reaction, even from locals. In most regards, it is a fair reaction.

There is climbing in the Flickertail State, but not in the traditional sense. Outside of a few sunbaked, dirt bluffs in the Watford City area, there isn’t much outdoor climbing. But there are quite a few indoor climbing gyms throughout the state. The trouble is, even high-traffic climbing websites like www.mountainproject.com don’t list all the available locations. That site only shows the YMCA rock wall in Minot; the gyms in Bismarck and Dickinson aren’t listed.

That is why local and dirtbag climbers alike should count themselves lucky. Not only is there a local YMCA wall, but Minot State University also houses a hidden gem of a climbing facility. Minot is one of only two cities in the state to have two different climbing walls.

“It’s small here, but it’s still efficient, and I like the routes on it,” said Wellness Staff Member Chandra Battles.

Minot State University installed a 35-foot, natural-featured climbing pillar during the 2012 Wellness Center remodel. The natural features cut through the wall, creating hand-and-foot holds for the climbers to use to scale the column.

“I do like the cut outs,” said Battles.

The cut outs create a surface that is different from the colored fiberglass rocks that spatter the wall like a strange, half-finished pointillism painting. White chalk cakes not only the nice jugs, but also the not-so-friendly slopers and crimps. The smaller holds have more chalk than the larger ones, because those are the ones that really need that little extra grip. Begging for all the friction that human fingers can muster to stay attached to the rocks, they become caked in white chalk.

Most people in Minot do not come for those holds, though. Most come for the general workout climbing can provide. For newcomers looking to get into climbing, it can be intimidating. The mental hurdles can often be larger than the physical ones.

“It’s more of a mental challenge,” said Battles. “You have to sit there and figure out how am I going to do this to get (to the top of the wall). I feel with a lot of people, they don’t have the trust in themselves that they can do it. It’s the same with weight lifting. You have to be able to push yourself to do it.”

That initial hurdle can be hard, but it doesn’t seem to damper the spirits of the newcomers.

Battles continued, “I would say that they’re very excited people. [They] have a lot of energy in them. You can tell that they’re kinda new to it, which is really cool that they’re excited to learn about it and everything.”

With a little bit of help from the staff at the wall, the climbing slowly becomes more of a physical challenge.

“You have to put a lot of trust in yourself and in the person belaying you,” Battles added. “It’s really not that hard. Just use your legs a lot!”

New climber Deann Rasmusan echoed this sentiment.

“It’s not as hard as you think it is” she said. “I was always afraid because I didn’t know if I could figure out the footing or whatever so I just didn’t want to try because I didn’t want to fail. It was a lot easier than expected.”

As with most physical challenges, rock climbing can be turned into a workout.

“It definitely helps build calluses. So when you’re doing heavy lifts, your hands are already built up from that, and I think that it works some muscles that you don’t necessarily exercise in the same way when you’re weight lifting,” Battles said.

The obvious benefits being forearms and grip strength, climbing also targets the core and, as Battles mentioned, legs. It’s truly a full body workout, with new climbers like Rasmusan getting in on the action at least once a week. She is also looking forward to the physical benefits that climbing brings while noting that her forearms tend to get quite sore.

Minot State has held a hidden gem inside of the Wellness Center for seven years. The MSU rock wall provides a fun alternative or addition to normal workout routines, working out different muscles and helping students learn to flex their brains differently, while piecing their bodies into the puzzles of each route on each climb. Climbing provides experiences and challenges for all levels. The wall waits for all.

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