Reaching new heights: Basalt, Aspen high climbing clubs get seasons underway
Wyatt Balderson isn’t into the traditional sports, which is part of the reason he latched onto climbing. The Basalt High School senior was one of the first to help head coach Tanner Jones establish a club team at BHS a year ago, and even he’s amazed by how far things have come in that time.
“It’s really different from last year where we really only had like maybe seven kids. It’s really interesting to see it grow and progress,” Balderson said. “I’ve definitely progressed my climbing way more. When I first started I was super weak and was just trying it because I thought it would be fun. I didn’t know it would grow into something I really love doing, but it has and it’s one of my favorite things.”
In only its second season, the BHS climbing team has gone from about seven or so kids to roughly 20. A big reason for this is the addition of its own climbing wall, built in January inside the school’s auxiliary gymnasium. A winter sport, the Longhorns got their season underway Saturday in Grand Junction. The climbing season runs through the state meet in February.
“It’s probably the most supportive, laid-back competition environment I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “It’s super inclusive. Kids from all abilities can climb. There is no bench, there are no starters, there are no tryouts. It’s you against the rock. It’s you climbing with other people of your same ability level and just trying to do the best you can and it’s a lot of fun.”
Basalt competes through the Colorado-based American Scholastic Climbing League, which was established in May 2018 and replaced the 10-year-old Colorado High School Climbing League. The nonprofit organization operates separately of the Colorado High School Activities Association.
The league is divided into four regions across Colorado, with Basalt being one of 19 teams officially listed as part of the Western Slope region. That group includes Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, coached by Dave Meyer, one of the regional directors, Roaring Fork and Aspen. Aspen’s club team is a couple years older than Basalt’s and has also seen considerable growth.
“It’s fully grown over the past four years or so into a pretty big program here at the school,” Aspen coach Kim Hammond said. “Everybody is really cohesive and kids are really kind and supportive of each other. I think that has a lot to do with the nature of the sport. It’s very self-driven and we as coaches really try to make it so everyone feels they have a place.”
Both Aspen and Basalt competed Saturday at Grand Valley Climbing in Grand Junction. The AHS boys finished second behind CRMS, while the Basalt boys were seventh. Aspen’s Henry Palmaz was ninth among individuals. In the girls’ competition, CRMS won, Aspen was sixth and Basalt didn’t record a team score, although did have a couple of girls compete.
Unlike the upper end of USA Climbing events, which are largely built around racing the clock up a wall, ASCL events are much more laid back. Climbers are given three hours to figure out as many of the 20 boulder problems as they can, which vary in difficulty.
“Your plan is to climb the hardest routes that you are capable of,” Jones said. “It’s a newly-formed league and they are ironing out the kinks. Each year it gets better and better and more and more organized.”
Basalt’s own climbing wall has been a big boost to the club. Jones arrived in 2017 and took over the wall’s fundraising, which had been approved by the school prior to his appointment. To date the club has invested about $85,000 into the project, with about $70,000 of that going into the construction of the wall itself. The other $15,000 went to gear, such as shoes and ropes, with the money being raised almost exclusively through community fundraising or donations.
Aspen, which currently trains out of the Red Brick Recreation Center, hopes to follow in Basalt’s footholds with its own climbing wall one day.
“We are growing so quickly that we are really overwhelming the (Red Brick) climbing wall. There are a few of us here that would really love to see the high school get a climbing wall,” Hammond said. “We are in the very beginning stages of hopefully someday getting our own climbing wall that can support the large amount of kids that we’ve gotten over the last few years.”
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Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt has put its stills to critical use during the pandemic. It has temporarily switched over to making sanitizer rather than vodka and gin.