Harnesses and clips clapped together in the breeze. The sound of ropes being lowered and tightened through anchors and pullies was constant.
Ethnic studies junior Matthew Holguin stood and watched fellow rock climbing friends scamper up walls and try out new routes. He was wearing his own harness and a green Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) shirt.
Holguin is a wall supervisor at the rock walls on campus.
“I probably climb about three to five days a week,” he said.
The rock walls at Cal Poly have become a microcommunity on campus, with regulars that climb almost every day.
“I got involved with the help of a friend,” Holguin said. “We were just always here and because of that I was always super interested in getting a job here.”
Holguin, along with three other wall supervisors, help anyone who wishes to test their strengths on the rock walls.
The larger wall is for sport climbing, according to Holguin, and the smaller rock wall is for bouldering — which is climbing shorter routes without a harness.
“Bouldering is typically shorter and for more power-based climbs and you don’t need a harness or a rope for that,” Holguin said. “Sport climbing — you need a harness and rope.”
At least 20 people either sat around one of the walls watching their friends take turns climbing, or were on the wall, contemplating where to put their foot next.
Mechanical engineering senior and wall supervisor Dakota Schwartz said the walls host climbers of varying abilities.
“We have a pretty relaxed culture here,” said Schwartz, who has been climbing for 12 years. “It’s great, a lot of our climbers are new and some are a little more experienced.”
Civil engineering sophomore John Hickey got his start on Cal Poly’s rock walls and has been climbing ever since.
“I think it’s a great way to get introduced to climbing,” Hickey said.
Considering people like Hickey who only started climbing while at Cal Poly, Schwartz encourages everyone who has ever considered climbing to come out and give it a try; there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“I think a lot of people are afraid to try it because it can be kind of intimidating and scary,” she said. “Everyone might look like they know what they’re doing, but everyone has to learn.”
While the community at the rock walls is strong, there are a few common stereotypes that have been held over those who climb at Cal Poly.
“We’ve been told that this is called ‘geed’ mountain,” Holguin said. “A lot of people think that climbers are kind of lazy.”
“Geed” is slang that’s used to describe non-greek affiliated students, Holguin explained.
Though some of the climbers that hang out at the rock walls might not be associated with greek life, lazy doesn’t quite cut it.
Watching one climber after another scale the sides of the sport climbing wall and leap from one grip to another, it’s hard to associate laziness with this activity.
“I think it’s more of the ‘dirtbag’ idea that people associate climbers with,” Hickey said. “‘Dirtbag’ being someone who lives out of their van — that generally goes side-by-side with climbing.”
Hickey and Schwartz have climbed in places like Yosemite Valley and Bishop, Calif., where climbing is second nature for many who go there.
The community that surrounds the rock walls at Cal Poly would not exist without those who dedicate so much of themselves to it.
“I climb for three reasons,” Holguin said. “The first is because I am trying to get into competing — and it’s something that I got into at college — in the place of other competitive things.”
Competitions are not common when it comes to rock climbing but can be a part of the sport. In fact, according to Holguin, there will be a bouldering competition in April at the Cal Poly rock walls.
“The second reason: It’s fun, the people are fun, climbing is fun and it forces you to go outside,” Holguin said. “And the third reason is the mental aspect of it; it makes me push myself — with climbing and other things.”