Rock climbing more than just a sport, says K-State student and avid climber

Michael Weninger, former student in business, ascends the rock wall at the Peters Recreation Complex with ease in January 2014. (Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group)

The fear of heights is not an uncommon phobia.

But for Kansas State senior in construction science, Sage Waltemath, that fear never existed. He loves the adrenaline rush that comes with climbing — and sometimes falling.

Waltemath started climbing in the spring 2009 in Arkansas. He said he still continues to climb there but makes visits to other states when he can.

For his 21st birthday, Waltemath took a trip to the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, where he climbed multi-pitch routes.

Waltemath explained multi-pitch climbing as two climbers going up a certain section and then having to stop and set up an anchor. Afterwards, the climber below climbs up, meets the top climber and they continue. This method is used when there is not enough rope to get to the top of the wall or rock formation.

Waltemath joined the K-State Rock Climbing Club in 2014 and is now the club’s president. He also works on the rock wall at the Peters Recreation Center.

The rock climbing club has exclusive climbing hours Wednesday and Sunday for members, for $20 per semester. The club also participates in planned trips and climbing competitions.

“Arkansas is the main place that we go as students for both spring break and Thanksgiving break,” Waltemath said.

Since Waltemath took over as president, the club saw an increase in membership.

“When I took over, we had about 23 active members as a whole,” Waltemath said. “We stepped up to 74 this semester alone, and that was the greatest achievement.”

He said his favorite part about being president and working at the rock wall is the people he gets to interact with. Waltemath recently took a trip with 23 other K-State students to Horseshoe Canyon in Arkansas.

“Half of them had never been outside before and 13 had never been to Arkansas,” Waltemath said. “I went down there had an awesome trip. And to me, [it] was more glorifying and satisfying to get to see new climbers and get to make connections than [it was] to say ‘Hey, I climbed a 5.12.’”

Waltemath sees climbing as a community, not as an individual sport.

“It’s as strong as you can be, but on the flip side if you don’t have someone holding your rope, you can’t climb the wall,” Waltemath said.

During his time working at the rock wall, he said he also experienced that same close-knit community.

“There’s kind of this awkward social aspect of it … all these people know what they’re doing,” he said. “Half of them don’t know what they’re doing, they’re just having fun, which is even better.”

Waltemath said everyone there is willing to help whether they are an employee or not.

“Everybody’s willing to show you a cool move that they know,” he said. “And actually, a lot of people are even more excited to be like, ‘Hey, watch this really cool thing. I want you to try it.’ You fall a couple of times, and you keep trying it and then when you get it they celebrate with you”

Waltemath said the Rez’s rock wall sees more climbers during test weeks.

“So [you] go to the gym for a while and you just strictly think about the wall, you get to interact with people, get to be social — you get to have fun,” Waltemath said. “That’s a huge thing: the fun portion of it.”

Rock climbing has also shaped him as a person, he said.

“I used to take it as you know, I go about my daily business, I interact with my friends,” he said. “But since working the rock wall and starting my climbing community, it’s more of a reach out and see if someone needs help.”