How to start rock climbing at the climbing tower

An SUU student prepares for a complicated bouldering route at the climbing tower.

Rock climbing is an intimidating sport to get into, and there is a lot of gear needed to ensure a climber’s safety. Especially for those with no prior knowledge of climbing, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to learn.

In 2007, SUU installed a climbing tower in the Physical Education Building to allow students to learn about rock climbing in a controlled, safe setting. This sport has since become very popular among students. The tower has given students an easy opportunity to introduce themselves to both climbing and bouldering training and their safety measures.

An SUU Outdoors staff member hands a rental harness to a smiling climber.
An SUU Outdoors staff member hands a rental harness to a smiling climber.

Students can climb for free as long as they bring their student I.D. Non-students will need to buy a day pass for $6. Both options include free rentals of a harness, climbing shoes, a locking carabiner and a belay device. Students can bring their own gear or extra items, such as climbing chalk, which is not provided at the tower. Participants should be sure to dress appropriately in moveable clothes.

Those interested in climbing on a rope should visit the tower between 5 and 10 p.m. when SUU Outdoors has staff there. The staff will be happy to answer any questions and walk prospective climbers through how to get started. Before climbing, be sure to fill out a waiver online. 

Bouldering differs from climbing in the height and difficulty of routes. Bouldering does not require a harness or ropes, as climbers only climb to a height from which they could safely fall off the rock. At the climbing tower, students can boulder up until the yellow line without gear. 

Anyone can boulder any time that the P.E. Building is open. These hours vary based on the semester and the season, so check the P.E. Building’s website for an accurate schedule. 

Climbing is much more high stakes, considering the safety precautions that are necessary. Two people are required for one person to climb. One student, known aptly as the climber, climbs the rock while the other, known as the belayer, stays on the ground.

The belayer’s job is to keep the climber safe in case they fall. The belayer and climber are connected by a rope attached to each of their harnesses and to the wall. For those who want to belay, they must see an SUU Outdoors staff member during climbing tower hours to go through a short training course on belay techniques and safety. 

Climbs where the rope is already attached to the top of the wall are known as being on “top rope.” As the climber ascends the wall, the belayer controls the slack left in their rope, eliminating all of it in case the climber falls. 

Lead climbing, where the climber “clips in” to bolts in the wall, is also offered at the tower. These climbers use carabiners to attach their rope to bolts in the wall as they climb. This means that the belayer’s job is to give the climber enough slack in the rope to attach to the wall, but not so much that if they fell, they would hit the ground. 

As a climber, one must learn how to tie the rope to their harness safely and effectively. Most climbers use a knot called a double figure eight. Belayers use a fisherman’s knot and a belay device connected to their harness.

A double figure-eight knot used by climbers.
A double figure-eight knot used by climbers.

After checking out the tower, students may be interested in the treadwall or the rappel station. Although the rappel station is reserved for large groups, the treadwall, which is located on the third level, is open whenever it is not being used. The same waiver must be filled out, and using the wall requires training from an SUU Outdoors staff member.

For those interested in outdoor climbing, the resources provided at the climbing tower provide excellent foundational knowledge. Before one adventures outdoors to try this sport, going to the climbing tower can help build the confidence, skills and muscles needed to climb. Check out SUU Outdoors trips for future climbing expeditions.


Story by: Lily Brunson

Photos by: Devan Call