When I was in high school, I found some old school climbing gear in my attic and decided to try the sport out. That day, I went to the gym for the first time, laced up my shoes, and became absolutely obsessed. Rock climbing is so interesting to me because it is not only physically demanding (and scary at times) but involves so much critical thinking and problem-solving.
Here is a bit of background for those of you who may not have heard much about climbing. Rock climbing can be done both in the gym on plastic holds and outdoors on real rock and comes in lots of varieties. The main two, however, are rope climbing and bouldering. While all climbing is strength-based, rope climbing requires a lot more endurance as the climber will actively climb up the wall for over 100 feet sometimes. In rope climbing, a belayer and climber are connected by a thick rope so that if the climber falls, the belayer will prevent them from hitting the ground (yay physics!).
On the other hand, bouldering is a much more power-based version of climbing where no ropes are used. Instead, big pads (think mattresses) are placed on the ground where the climber could fall. Typically boulders are around 10 or 15 feet tall, but some boulders can be over 40 feet tall! While I love all types of climbing, I definitely really enjoy rope climbing because it allows you to be in your own headspace while trying hard moves.
From years of climbing both outdoors and indoors, I have noticed that the majority of climbers I meet happen to be engineers. At first I thought it was just a coincidence; however, I’ve started to realize that this sport is meant for engineers. Both engineering and climbing involve constant problem solving and creativity. When I work on a tough climb, my brain is constantly working to find the most efficient route up the wall.
Additionally, both climbers and engineers have to get used to failing. Climbers will work tirelessly on their “projects”, falling hundreds of hundreds of times all in order to eventually “send” or complete the climb. Engineering is the same. When working on problem sets, I will try solving each problem a multitude of ways, tweaking my method each time before arriving at the right answer. The added bonus of rock climbing is its obvious connections to physics. Every move and every fall gives me an interesting “first-hand perspective” into the physics I have been learning in class haha!
If you haven’t tried rock climbing, I highly recommend giving it a shot. The climbing community is very welcoming and open to people of all skill levels and backgrounds. Climbing is a sport that is fun whether you climb once a month or every day. For me, joining SC Climbing my freshman year was my first sense of community at such a big school like USC. I’ve been able to climb in areas all around the United States with the team and have even had the opportunity to compete in USA Collegiate Climbing local and national competitions all while making lots of friends along the way. Additionally, climbing outside has given me an even greater appreciation for the great outdoors in California. In fact, some of the best climbing areas in the world lie within reach of Los Angeles. It is amazing to be able to experience nature in such a hands-on way.
Many people swear off climbing because it can be daunting. The high walls, weird lingo, and scary falls definitely intimidated me at first. However, I strongly believe that pushing your comfort zone is what college is all about, and will ultimately help us all as engineers.