It's the Climb
As he inserted his trembling foot into a small crevice and poked his fingers into a rigid hole, Alex Barganier climbed. He was frightened, but exhilarated by the rocks in Puerto Rico. Ascending higher and higher with caution, he felt his grip loosen and suddenly the senior economics major was free falling, unaware of where or how he would land.
Barganier is the Vice President of UB's Rock Climbing Club, and he shares his passion for the sport with many other students here. He spent his spring break with eight other rock climbers, taking advantage of what Puerto Rico has to offer.
Students with any level of skill are accepted into the club, where they can grow as rock climbers and make friends. While some students enjoy the adrenaline rush of climbing without being attached to a rope, others at the beginner level prefer easy courses and the assistance of a belayer, a person who holds the rope and prevents the climber from falling too far.
Accidents happen and, according to Barganier, his fall in Puerto Rico was not due to equipment failure but to human error.
"I was maybe five feet from the ground when I was finally caught by the rope," Barganier said. "I fell 15 to 20 feet and the person belaying me did everything they were supposed to do. If someone's about to take a big fall, what a lot of people who are belaying you will do is jump a little to soften your fall. But the person who was belaying me was a bit lighter than me so I pulled him up into the air and we just equalized out."
With teamwork, the group helped to get both Barganier and his belayer safely to the ground.
While the members of the club leave certain outdoor courses with wild memories, they also find time to strengthen their techniques in calmer, indoor facilities. In the winter, the club can be found practicing technique indoors while it prepares for the outdoor climbs that the nice weather brings.
"We spend most of our time at the Niagara Climbing Center," said Taylor Del Villar, a sophomore media studies major and one of the newest members of the club. "It's indoors and it's only like 10 minutes from school. I just started two months ago, so I kind of just saw the rock climbing club, emailed them, and they took me in and everyone was so nice to me."
When the weather does thaw out, the club goes to competitions throughout the U.S. and Canada. While they've traveled to Alabama, Puerto Rico, New Jersey and Kentucky, the members spend most of their time in the Northeast. This week the club is travelling to Albany.
Whether the members are contending in hardcore competitions or just climbing for some fun and exercise, they agree that the sport breeds passion.
Del Villar remembers immediately falling in love with the sport. She was one of the eight climbers that accompanied Barganier to Puerto Rico. After hiking through a rainforest for about 15 minutes, Del Villar spotted what she had been searching for.
"It was awesome," Del Villar said. "We went bouldering on the beach, which is just free climbing without ropes. You don't go very high, and the waves were hitting us. Some of us couldn't even get up."
Del Villar likes that climbing challenges her and provides an outlet from schoolwork and everyday life.
Something as dangerous as rock climbing requires a lot of safety and caution. By always taking the necessary precautions, the club is able to keep its members out of the hospital; the same way the members came together to make sure Barganier had a safe landing.
Though it seems there is no place the members of the club will not travel to, budget limitations do eventually come into play.
"I've heard fantastic stories about Joshua Tree in California," said Nick Marucci, a senior mechanical engineer and President of the Rock Climbing Club. "There's also a place in Switzerland that has these giant boulders among the hills that I would love to climb."
While Marucci attends competitions and he takes full advantage of them. After going to Canada to compete, he did not leave empty-handed.
"I went and participated in the Summer Sweatfest in Ontario and I actually ended up winning the series after about six or seven competitions," Marucci said. "I love it because there's always a challenge no matter what."
The difficulties of the routes along the rock faces are rated on the V-scale, with zero being the easiest and 16 being the most difficult. Since very few people in the world can climb a 16, there is no lack of challenges to test skill, strength, and perseverance.