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Spring allows for great outdoor rock climbing at Skinner Butte

Everyone knows that University students can learn how to rock climb on the Student Recreation Center’s indoor rock wall. What many students don’t know, however, is that Eugene is also home to an outdoor rock climbing spot that offers challenging climbs to test your abilities and build your skills outside the gym: Skinner Butte.

Located northwest of campus behind 5th Street Market and the Amtrak station, the columns at Skinner Butte offer dozens of different top-rope climbs that can be accessed by anyone who wants to go for it. Dave Villalobos of the University’s Outdoor Program@@[email protected]@ said that, just like the indoor wall at the SRC, one vertical climb at the columns can have many different routes, changing completely with just one different hand placement or foothold.

“It’s kind of like a dance with the rock,” said Colette Ramirez-Maddock, recreation program assistant with Eugene’s Outdoor Program@@[email protected]@. The city-wide program offers community climb times at the columns during the summer months and helps new climbers become more comfortable on the rock while stepping out of their comfort zone about heights.

“For beginners top-rope climbing, it’s exceptionally safe,” Ramirez-Maddock said. Top-rope climbing means the rope has been secured at the top of the rock, so if you fall the rope will catch you from above and you won’t fall more than a few feet.

While the climbing experience at Skinner Butte is exciting and relatively safe, falls are still a danger. Roger Bailey@@, program supervisor at the River House, said the basalt columns are a great place to practice setting up your own rope and being responsible with the sport.

“Part of rock climbing on a rope is basically having permission to fall,” Bailey said. He said you have to be careful of loose rock and really trust your partner to belay you, but trying things that are harder than you can do and falling a lot are parts of the process.

Villalobos puts a lot of importance on the trust between a climber and his or her partner. “You have to have 100 percent faith in your climbing partner,” he said. Once you feel confident in the sport, he said, it is more fun than scary and the challenge is exciting.

Nathan Howard, a University senior@@[email protected]@, started indoor climbing fall term through an intro-level class. He has since been climbing at the columns, and he described his experience as “excruciating.” He said the fact that he is someone who just likes to go for it rather than ask questions made for a painful climb. However, he feels someone with more experience might not have such a hard time with it.

Despite his struggles climbing the columns the first time, “I would absolutely do it again,” Howard said.

While Bailey and Ramirez-Maddock both recommend getting some kind of instruction, they said anyone can learn to climb. The people who are best at it are not always the strongest, but often are the most flexible or balanced. And now that spring term is here, the weather is ready to help climbers take on Skinner Butte’s columns.

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Rebecca Sedlak

Rebecca Sedlak