When most people think of college athletes, they may be forgiven for only picturing football players, soccer players and maybe swimmers. Few outside of the know would immediately think of rock climbers—but Lewis & Clark’s Climbing Team is full of dedicated and talented students who work tirelessly through the year and compete around the Pacific Northwest at indoor rock climbing.
Team captains Hannah Lasky ’25 and Graham Protzmann ’25 have years of experience between them. Lasky has been climbing since age nine, and Protzmann began in high school. But just because team leadership knows their way around the climbing wall does not mean experience is required to join.
“We accept all experience levels,” Lasky said. “We have had people who came in who would have never climbed before who are now doing super good climbing, at V3 and V4 levels, which has been really awesome.”
Lasky also commented on the areas of focus for training climbers.
“We really emphasize good footwork, good technique, good bodyweight movements. (We teach) ‘reading your route,’ so looking at a climb before you do it, and a lot of technique-based things. We are at heart a competition team, so we will train you for what a competition is going to look like,” Lasky said.
The LC Climbing Team holds four practices a week at a local indoor climbing facility, of which team members are responsible for attending two. Members of the team work through “routes,” or specific climbing paths denoted by different colors, at increasingly difficult grades. The lowest grade, 0, is perfect for beginners. The highest, 11, is hard to come by and even harder to complete. But that is where the training steps in.
“At practice, we mainly train strength or endurance,” Protzmann said. “Endurance is doing a lot of climbs in a very short time frame. So you get really worn out, really tired, but then it lets you climb for longer next time. And then the strength training is a lot of trying climbs that are kind of above the level you are used to.”
The students practice alongside general gym members, and there is an air of infectious camaraderie to practice—climbers are constantly calling out and encouraging each other, strategizing on how to get up a route. It makes it easier for newer climbers, like Serena Claggett ’27, to move up in skill and enthusiasm quickly.
“I did not really have any goals going into it,” Clagget said. “I wanted to have something super fun to do, and also get some exercise in, and just get off campus. I think (the team is) a really cool opportunity. I would say, goals-wise, now that I am here … would be working on my upper body strength … I am learning how to do a pull-up and that’s cool!”
The team, which grows largely through word of mouth, attracts a lot of curious new members like Claggett, as well as more experienced climbers looking for a space to keep in shape with their sport. But what unites the team is working towards goals such as competitive indoor rock climbing competitions.
NCAA 3 Climbing League runs the competitive collegiate rock climbing at LC. This means colleges all over the Pacific Northwest compete against each other in indoor tournaments that feature “Comp Problems.”
“‘Comp problems’ are the competitive problems,” Tara Lewis ’27 said. “They do not have grades on them. They are much more strict about where you can start, where you finish and how you do it. They are also usually a lot flashier. Like, they will frequently have big jumps or really bizarre things that you have to do that you do not see in normal climbs.
Not all members of the team choose to compete, and none are required to, but working towards goals and constant improvement is encouraged by enthusiastic coaches.
“I definitely learned a lot about how to teach people to climb,” Lasky said. “It has been interesting, and your own teaching of other people emphasizes what you lack. Like, what I cannot teach or what I cannot demonstrate … I was always really technique- and endurance-focused, and now I have become much stronger.”
As team members hone their abilities, they forge connections with each other and the encouraging atmosphere of the climbing gym helps many, especially those new to campus, find a place to call their own.
“I come here with friends, I’ve made friends here, I have met some upperclassmen that I can talk to about certain things, ask them questions,” said Clagget.
Moreover, these regular practices not only contribute to one’s social life, but also play a crucial role in the nitty-gritty aspects of making progress in the world of climbing.
“Turns out, surprise, surprise, doing things consistently really helps,” said Lewis. “Also, it’s much easier to do things consistently when we have lots of cool people to do them with.”
The climbing team is available on Instagram @lcclimbing or via email at email@example.com.