Tiana SantaBarbara, a sophomore at the University of Oregon, stared at students scampering up the rainbow-colored plastic rock wall located in the heart of the Student Recreation Center. “I feel like this would be a great place to bring a date,” she said. “If it got really awkward, you’d always have something to talk about, and you’re bound to see somebody else you know.”

Collin Wellman talks to Lana Caldwell as she belays her friend up the climbing wall at the Student Recreation Center. (Levi Gittleman/Emerald)

Throughout the day, students can be seen attempting to conquer the wall by reaching the top or simply socializing with the large community that constantly flows in and out of the area. The indoor rock climbing scene began in 1987 when the Vertical Club in Seattle opened the first indoor climbing gym. It continued to evolve into an industry as companies such as Patagonia and Black Diamond produced materials for avid climbers.

Indoor gyms provide a space for beginners to make their first ascents and for experienced climbers to fine tune their skills in less risky situations. They also create an opportunity for students to join and interact with a large community of outdoorsy people. The UO rock wall even has its own Facebook page where members frequently sell climbing gear, post about upcoming events and ask others if they want to go climbing.

“The climbing wall is super social,” said Will Phelan, an experienced rock wall climber and former rock wall employee. “Whether you go to the rock wall alone, with a date or with a large group, it’s easy to meet other people. It’s a great way to be active, relax with friends and try new things.”

The climbing community at UO comprises a variety of people. Most share a common love for the outdoors, but some are simply drawn to the seemingly tiny figures dancing their way up a 30-foot wall while dangling from a long rope.

Senior Lana Caldwell has been a part of the climbing community for a few years. “Climbing is such an ‘anyone can do this if they try hard enough’ type of sport, so you meet people from all different walks of life, ages, countries, majors, etc.,” she said. “I don’t know any other place where people say, ‘Hey I see you’re struggling, let me help you with that.’ ”

Whether you want a new date spot, a place to push your climbing skills or an opportunity to meet new people, the climbing wall has it all.

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