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Stoked all season

Members of Western Washington University’s climbing team reflect on their experiences as competition season draws to a close

Students climb side by side during a team practice at the rec center. // Photo by Hanna Rhody

Western Washington University’s climbing team gave it their all this year as they made their way back into the scene of the Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit after a year away from competing due to the pandemic.

This year’s team consisted of climbers coming from a wide range of skill levels, from beginners to those who have had many years of experience.

The team participated in a series of competitions alongside 11 other teams from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Each competition is divided into two parts. 

The first is a redpoint comp, where each team is broken up into heats, each of which has two hours to complete as many routes as they can to be tallied up on a scorecard. After everyone’s cards have been tallied up, finalists are announced, who compete in a second round of climbing, which determines their placement overall.

At the last meet of the season, hosted by Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., fourth-year Mara Morissey and second-year Soma Smith from Western placed second and third in women's open climbing finals, respectively.

Comp season comes to an end - 1 of 2

Western Washington University’s climbing team captain Mara Morrissey tries her hand at a route while her teammates watch and take notes on Monday, April 25. The team meets every Monday and Wednesday for training in the Wade King Student Recreation Center. // Photo by Hanna Rhody

“I don’t think I could’ve bioengineered a better team this season,” said Team Captain Morissey. “I saw growth at every level.”

Morissey began climbing during her first year at Western, after her roommate at the time introduced her to the sport. Two years later, she was elected captain and learned to navigate a leadership role during the height of a pandemic. 

Morissey said her time as captain was both terrifying and rewarding.

“I’ve learned my level of what I can dish out socially," she said." Being in charge of 26 people is a lot harder than I thought, and I have a lot more respect for other coaches now.”

Making finals was especially rewarding for Smith, who struggled with various injuries throughout the season that limited her ability to participate in many team events and practices.

Smith has been climbing competitively since middle school. Before finding climbing, Smith swam for her school’s team in her hometown of Durango, Colorado.

“I got bored doing the same four strokes over and over again, and finally my brother suggested that I try out for the climbing team. Right away I was like 'Wow, there’s nothing boring about this.'”

For Smith, climbing means having drive and passion, which has taught her a lot about approaching other things in life as well. 

Aside from competing, a huge part of climbing is the sense of community that comes with it. Team captain and fourth-year Luke Turner made it a goal to make the sport accessible to as many students as possible. 

“The barrier to entry can seem higher than it actually is sometimes when there’s so many people involved,” Turner said.

Many members of the Western climbing team said their favorite part about being on the team was the sense of acceptance and support that came with it.

“People here are so excited for you to improve and get better,” said first-year Megan Neufeld, a new member of the team this year.

“All the other teams comment on how we bring so much stoke. They all know how much fun we have,” Smith said.

Bellingham is a hub for climbers of all kinds, who come to explore the many crags, boulders and other rock faces the region has to offer. 

“We get lots of different groups here: alpine, trad, sport climbers, everything,” said Tess Henning, a staff member of Vital Climbing Gym located downtown. 

She says being a part of the climbing community in the Pacific Northwest offers a chance to meet and quickly bond with all kinds of people.

Students on Western’s team commented on how they enjoyed climbing not just as an exercise for their body, but also for their mind. Jahldi Merrit, a recent Western graduate who worked as a route setter at the Wade King Student Recreation Center, says he enjoys climbing because he likes how one’s personal progress is so easily trackable.

“Climbing team is one of the most supportive team settings you’ll ever experience,” Morissey said. 

Both captains said they encourage any students interested in climbing at Western to try out for the team next year.

While competition season might now be over, Western’s climbing team remains “stoked” for what’s to come next season and continues to work as a group toward building their skills as both individuals and as a community.


Hanna Rhody

Hanna Rhody (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second year majoring in environmental journalism. In her free time Hanna enjoys all things music and all things cheese. 

You can find her on Instagram at @hannatheginger. 

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