MONMOUTH, ILLINOIS (May 1, 2023) — A pair of Monmouth College professors are teaching students how to solve a giant puzzle and also maybe strengthen their position for a job.
The faculty are teaching a course on rock climbing, which is held twice a week in the Trotter Fitness Complex of the College's Huff Athletic Center.
Also known as Physical Education 139, the half-semester rock climbing course is being taught by computer science professor Logan Mayfield and political science professor Mike Nelson, who both have years of climbing experience.
"It's like solving a puzzle," said Nelson of negotiating the multi-color holds on the College's 22-foot wall. "It's very much a mental game, as well as a physical endeavor."
"There are definitely some times that it's harder than it looks, but I would encourage people to do it because it's so much fun," said Jake Rathgeb ('23). "There are beginner's routes all the way up to pro climbing. The variety is really cool."
One route and method of scaling the wall that Rathgeb is trying to master is crack climbing. Behind the wall, there is a list of climbers who've scaled it that way, and it's a very short list. Rathgeb is attempting to be just the seventh climber to do so. On a recent attempt, he had a pair of takes — taking the slack out of the rope — before reaching the top, so he hopes to make it back again with zero takes before the semester is out.Nelson has faith that Rathgeb will reach his goal.
"Jake's a natural," he said.
Rathgeb, who said he previously climbed once a year for the past five years or so, is one of nine students in the class. About half of the students are new to the activity and half have various degrees of experience.
"None of them had learned belaying yet," said Nelson of the process of protecting a roped lead-climber from falling by controlling the rope. "We added that right at the beginning."
'Best field trip ever'
Speaking on April 13, Nelson said, "New techniques have been thrown at them each of the past few classes, getting them in shape to go to the big gym," the First Ascent Climbing Gym in Peoria, on April 18.
"This wall is super awesome, and Nelson and Mayfield have set up some really nice routes," said Rathgeb. "But going to First Ascent with its forty- and fifty-foot walls was a whole new level of endurance. That was the best field trip ever."
"We were there [10AM-2PM]," said Mayfield. "We tried a little bit of everything, then we got exhausted and came home."
"That's the biggest gym I've ever been to. It was great, and a little bit scary," said Omar Godinez Quinones ('24), who is from Mexico and began climbing a few years ago after his father got started on the hobby. "He's coming from Mexico next month, and he wants to go to that gym with me."
Taking the lead
"It was fun to go to a gym that has different styles of climbing that we can't offer," said Nelson, who is a regular at the Peoria gym. "It was a chance for Logan and me to show them what lead climbing is like."
Now that their first field trip has been a success, Mayfield and Nelson hope to take future classes on an outdoor expedition, perhaps to Pictured Rocks County Park near Monticello in east central Iowa.
When it opened in 2003, the Huff Center had staff members who were trained on climbing instruction. Students could get the green light to use the wall after passing a test. That fell off, however, when those staff members left. The professors decided it was time to bring the activity back, not only because of their own interest but due to the, well, climbing number of participants nationwide.
"It's one of the fastest-growing sports in America," said Nelson. "I've been told that, on average, there's been a 6% growth annually in the number of climbers over the past few years. Every year, more climbing gyms are being built, and I even had a student say there was a question about climbing on a job application.""We decided we could just teach a class, so that's what we did," said Mayfield. "The Climbing Wall Association has standard practices for climbing walls, and they offer certification. We went to a wall in St Louis in January, and they ran us through a class, which took almost the whole day."
Nelson said the professors then got to work back on campus.
"We changed almost the whole wall for this course," moving the holds to different spots on the wall. "Some were changed for teaching purposes, and some of the routes we kept because we liked them."
In addition to the crack, the wall features overhanging elements and some "slab" with easier slope.
Other students in the class are seniors Conner Graham, Ryan Prusak, and Linsey Turner, juniors Marcus Albers and Xavion York, and sophomores Gianna Maughan and Jacob York.
"I always look forward to 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays," said Rathgeb of the twice-a-week class. "I never even consider this a class. There's definitely an academic part because there's so much to learn, but at the same time, it's so enjoyable. Nobody dreads coming to rock climbing class."