“Male bodies have a muscle that is only there to regulate the tightness of the scrotum in relation to outside temperature,” said Savana Dumler. Would I have ever known this fact had I not interviewed her and Karina Gallant for the present article? Probably not. Indeed, hilarious anatomy facts were not the reason I was sipping delicious tea in the comfort of a Riverside apartment on a Tuesday morning blessed by the appearance of a rainbow. Instead, I had wanted to learn everything there was to know about the Quest climbing team. Besides, I was also told that the muscle in question cannot be controlled consciously. This feature makes it completely irrelevant to climbing.
Quest, indeed, has an official climbing team now. If, like me, you learn about things happening at our university only through the student Facebook page, you would know that there were climbing tryouts that took place on September 17th of this year. Other than that, the newly assembled climbing team has flown under the radar. They have been busy though, and I am here to bring you up to speed.
Let me introduce the team: Savana Dumler (4th year, Colorado), Karina Gallant (2nd, Washington), Nicholas Godri (2nd, Alberta), Andrew McKean (5th Veteran, Illinois), Malcolm Oliver (2nd, Colorado), and Amaya Selene (3rd, Yukon). Coach Mason Pitchel (3rd, Massachusetts) completes the roster as teammate, leader, trainer, and organiser. The group trains three times a week at 6:30am at Ground Up Climbing Center under the supervision of Patrick Humphries, a professional trainer at the gym.
The word climbing is used to describe a great many different activities. So what version of using their limbs to move up a mostly vertical surface does this team practice? “Bouldering season happens in the fall,” answered Dumler, “So, all of our competitions until the spring will be bouldering. And then in the spring, we’ll be doing sport climbing.” While bouldering uses no ropes and remains close to the ground, sport climbing involves going to greater heights and the protection of a rope attached to bolts that are already in the rock. According to Dumler, the former is “very powerful and strength-based,” and the latter is “more endurance-based”. All of their competitions happen indoors on artificial rock.
Their first event was during September block break, in Bellingham, WA, which also happens to be Gallant’s hometown. Four of the team members competed. They joined different categories based on gender and skill level. “It’s pretty casual,” Dumler observed, “you just go there and climb with random strangers. You just need someone to watch you climb so that someone can say you actually did it.”
According to Gallant, who has more experience competing in other teams before coming to Quest, the competition gets “less casual” at a higher level. “It’s a different kind of competition for the finals of the hardest category,” she said. “All the contestants sit behind a curtain and then come out one by one to try one specific route in a limited amount of time.” Depending on the competition, this happens 5 or 6 times. At this level, the winner is the one who gets the furthest, or completes the most problems.
The competition schedule of the team is still being confirmed, but their next big event is slated for Saturday, November 11th in Kelowna, BC. “It’s going to be fun to travel there.” Gallant said. “We’re probably going to make a trip out of it, and climb in the area as well, but it might be too snowy. I hope everyone gets to go.”
According to Dumler, climbing is more often practiced as a casual sport at Quest, without weight training, nor scheduled practices. “A lot of climbers I know are against the practice of lifting to improve their climbing aptitudes,” she said. “Maybe, it goes against the reasons they’re into climbing in the first place, because they’re in it for the outdoor adventure part of it.” But for Dumler, who is seeing improvement after only one month of training, the prospect of further improvement through cross-training is very exciting. However, weight training is not the only contentious issue surrounding the climbing team.
Gallant added that she has “heard people say that it feels exclusive to have a climbing team at Quest.” It is true that many students consider themselves to be climbers, and more than a few tried out for the team, but there was a limited number of spots. This year’s program was small due to its newness, and Gallant voiced her hope that the team would grow, and thus be more inclusive in future years. Dumler echoed a similar concern to her teammate’s in regards to the try-outs. In her opinion, it was a shame that so many of her friends were not invited to join the team, even though she considers some of them to be better climbers than herself. Dumler said: “I want to climb with anyone all of the time, and being on the team has more to do with my personal training.” Similarly, for Gallant, “It is important that people understand that we are not better than anyone because we were selected to be part of the climbing team.”
I knew from the start that researching the climbing team would take me on a journey; there was so much to learn. Chatting with Dumler and Gallant took me far along the way to where I wanted to be in terms of understanding the climbing team. However, I was still missing maybe the most crucial part of the entire story: its origin! Following the women’s advice, I sought to speak with the only man who was there when it all started. He was the one who birthed the climbing team project: Coach Mason.
I had heard from multiple sources that Coach Mason would be hard to find. I searched for weeks across campus to find this legend. I finally found him one rainy Saturday evening, as I was walking to Riverside. He was in the Kermode Cave setting new problems for avid Quest climbers when I saw him through the foggy glass window of the RecPlex. Quieting my curiosity, I entered the space to ask him the ultimate question: where, when, and how did this team begin? What follows was his response, transcribed almost verbatim, as to lose none of its wisdom and beauty.
By Coach Mason
“For me, it started before I came to Quest, actually. In the summer before my first year, I had sent J-F Plouffe an email saying: “Hey, my name is Mason. I am really stoked on rock climbing. I have been doing it for a long time, and I have been on a team for a long time. I am wondering if there is a team at Quest, or if it is something that could happen.” I did not hear back from him until I showed up to Quest. He was probably off guiding somewhere.
Upon arriving in the Fall of 2015, I found out that there was no team. However, it was my first year, so I did not do much about it. I talked to J-F during that year, to bring the idea up again. Nothing really came of it at that point. It seemed like he had a lot of things going on, and was not really ready to do much on this particular project. Then I took a semester off in the beginning of my second year to climb.
When I came back, all of the sudden, J-F was super stoked on a climbing team. He knew that I had been wanting this for a while and he reached out to me to say: “Okay. We’re going to do it; we’re going to make it happen.” And he already had this proposal written up that he was going to send to someone in the administration who deals with the budget.
The proposal was for a climbing club, a running club, and maybe a mountain bike club. I do not know too many details there, but he was really psyched. He told me: “This is going to be good. You will have a 7-person team, and you will need to be coach and organiser of the whole thing.” He was the one who put the money up for it, the one who pushed the project through the administration, and worked with Ground Up, the climbing gym in town, to find a good schedule and a good system that works for them and that worked for us. In fact, I knew the coach from there before, which was nice because we had already been friends before starting the project.“