Rock climbing

Eastern Oregon University is building a new climbing gym

June 16—LA GRANDE — Work on Eastern Oregon University’s new climbing center is scheduled to begin in August.

The upgraded climbing wall is part of a larger $12 million pavilion project at La Grande University. In 2018, Eastern secured $9 million in lottery-backed government bonds for the land. Additional funding was provided through a large private donation and the EOU budget.

“It will be a great asset to the university, the community and the students,” said Tim Seydel, EOU Vice President for University Advancement.

Bringing an upgraded climbing gym to the university has been a dream of outdoor adventure program director Michael Hatch since he started working at Eastern eight years ago.

“We have phenomenal rock climbing here in eastern Oregon that’s actually very accessible,” he said. “To support that kind of outdoor experience, having a nice rock climbing wall here would be very helpful for the students and the community,” Hatch said.

Upgrades

The upgraded climbing center will be twice the size of Quinn Coliseum’s current climbing wall.

The gymnasium will have 2,500 square feet of climbing surface, with at least 12 rope lanes and 600 square feet dedicated to bouldering – a type of climbing practiced on shorter walls with protective crash pads rather than ropes.

According to Hatch, the new facility will have a good mix of difficulty levels: 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% expert. There will also be specialized training areas for multi-pitch, abseiling and ice climbing.

Eldorado Climbing – a Boulder, Colorado-based company that manufactures, builds and installs custom climbing walls – submitted the lowest bid. According to Seydel and Hatch, the installation of the climbing wall should be completed by the start of the fall term.

Hatch noted that the climbing gym will be the largest wall open to the public within a 150-mile radius.

“It’s going to be a really amazing regional resource,” Hatch said.

Opportunities

Improvements to the gymnasium will provide new opportunities for the Eastern Climbing Club, Hatch explained. There is a Northwest Collegiate Climbing Circuit that holds competitions at universities in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

“Now our students will actually be able to hold these climbing competitions here on campus,” Hatch said. “We hope this will increase the popularity of the program and we will have more students who want to get involved in the climbing club.”

Hatch believes the new facility will appeal to prospective students who are considering the East and are interested in competitive climbing.

The larger, upgraded climbing center will also provide more opportunities for community members. The schedule has not been finalized, but Hatch said the climbing gym will be open on weekends and have more hours during the week.

Seasonal gym passes will increase to $150 for individuals and $300 for families. Group rates will increase to $100 per hour for private parties of less than 10 people and $130 for more than 10 people. School groups and non-profit organizations will benefit from a reduced rate of $75 per hour.

Events

The new wall will also benefit community events. According to Hatch, the outdoor adventure program regularly partners with schools in the Union and surrounding counties.

The latest partnership — led by Ruthi Davenport, professor emeritus at Eastern Oregon University — was with the La Grande School District. In the past three months, the district’s third, fourth and fifth grade classes have twice visited the rock face of Quinn Coliseum.

Primary school students took to the climbing wall three times a week for one-hour sessions, resulting in nearly 450 children climbing.

“It was a huge success,” Hatch said. “It’s really empowering and exciting to watch these kids. When they first come in, they’re really shy. Some of them are scared, some don’t think they can do it. There’s this hesitation, that self-doubt. But then they start and within minutes that self-confidence rises and totally blossoms. It’s a really rewarding and cool experience.

In addition to local schools, the East partners with Boy Scouts, church groups, the Union County Juvenile Department and the Center for Human Development. EOU has also worked with Parks and Recreation to run summer rock climbing camps.

Community events depend on East faculty, staff, and students to take place. When climbing, the person on the wall is secured using a technique called belaying. The belayer – a trained person on the ground – controls the tension of the rope as the climber navigates the wall.

At events, the number of belayers determines how many people can climb the wall at the same time.

The new gymnasium will include multiple TrueBlue automatic belay devices – a device that allows people to climb without a belay device by automatically taking up slack and locking out during falls – which will allow more people to climb without the need for more volunteers.

“It provides really good community service and community space,” Hatch said of the climbing facility. “The more opportunities we have to engage kids in physical activity and keep them healthy and active, that’s a really good thing.”