Ah, college. A young academic’s home away from home. A place where you learn and grow, where you challenge yourself and others, where you become an integral member of a community. As a second semester senior with an eye towards the post-grad horizon, I have enjoyed my time at college, and it truly has become a home away from home. However, sometimes even home is the last place I want to be, especially in the dark winter months, when a non-skier like me is confined to the shadowed corners of our library, procrastinating all work by scrolling through an endless array of climbing videos and articles. No longer are my hectic weeks broken up by trips outdoors and afternoon bouldering sessions. As the winter rages on, a sort of gloom settles over the campus, and I find myself missing the sunny atmosphere and community of outdoor climbing.
Lucky for me and other college students with an affinity (obsession) for climbing, the popularity of the indoor climbing gym has recently taken our nation by storm. Even more lucky for me and my fellow Bates climbers, a small yet vibrant palace of a climbing gym by the name of Salt Pump Climbing Co. opened up in Scarborough, Maine, a couple years ago. As a bit of a city rat (living in New York City) I have climbed in my fair share of indoor gyms; Salt Pump is my favorite so far, and the fondness I possess for that place––from its layout to the staff to the community of climbers that congregate there––is unmatched. Thus, I dubbed this article an ode to a college climber’s gym: A Home Away from Home Away from Home. Here are five ways a climbing gym has affected my college experience:
1. A Community of Climbers
Salt Pump has all the qualities that make a climbing gym welcoming, functional, and perfect for staying in climbing shape during the winter season. With new routes going up every week, and a plethora of engaged and easy-going staff members, every session spent there brings new experiences and challenges amidst a space of familiarity and repose. Beyond all that it offers, the gym has become a place of a strong community in which climbers––young and old, new and experienced, outgoing and reserved––feel like they are entering a happy space. For a college student, such a place truly becomes an escape from the chaos and non-stop pressures of college life, a place where we can interact with new people, challenge ourselves mentally and physically, and grow our climbing community. Whether I go with one friend to grind out burns on a tough project, or with a group of people who are climbing for the first time, the gym guarantees an afternoon of challenges and fun for all.
I think it is important for college students to be involved in communities outside of their campus, especially when a college is as small as mine and the college experience can quickly become claustrophobic and secluded. With an activity such as climbing, but also with other passions and pursuits, finding such a community enables one to learn from others, to gain new perspectives and hear about the experiences of those at different points in their lives. Climbing at Salt Pump every week, I have met people from near and far who have had interesting and crazy experiences throughout their lives, and from whom I can learn much about climbing and life in general.
2. Winter training
With outdoor climbing just about impossible in Maine during the winter months, it is important to stay fit and in climbing shape. While we do have a small bouldering wall in our gym on campus, access to a climbing gym allows for in-depth training, sport climbing practice, and access to a variety of training equipment. Training at the gym allows me to prepare for the warmer climbing seasons, and stay in shape physically and mentally.
3. Staying sane
While climbing has a great impact on your body, the sport also impacts your mind, strengthening your ability to focus, remain calm, and deal with different kinds of setbacks. As a college student, I am constantly figuring out how to balance classes, extracurriculars, workload, the job search, and other commitments. Climbing has taught me how to stay concentrated and tackle any activity or problem with a strong mental focus and determination. Furthermore, after spending a morning or afternoon trying hard in the gym, I am able to stay productive for the rest of the day without getting distracted or restless.
4. The perfect escape
Being able to get off-campus with my friends and spend a couple hours not thinking about course work or searching for jobs is a true luxury. The climbing gym is a welcoming space of familiar and new faces, where I can focus all my energy, physical and mental, on climbing. I think this is applicable to all activities that engage college students outside of usual academic or social engagement, be it climbing, skiing, running, or any other activities that offer a change of pace.
5. A dogs-welcome policy. Need I say more?
The climbing gym part 2: An interview with gym creator and lifelong climber Taki Miyamoto