RIDGWAY – The very tall, state-of-the-art climbing wall at the Ridgway Secondary School got its texture and a coat of paint this week, but is still at least a couple of weeks away from hosting climbers.
“It’s pretty close,” said engineer of record on the project, Matt Hepp of Alpine Edge Engineering. “We hope to get the climbing team on the wall after the Christmas break.”
Hepp stood in the sun-splashed, south-facing tower room at the school which will house both the weight room and the climbing facility, its 38-foot-high, sandstone-colored, overhanging wall looming above him.
“We have to get this impact floor down,” Hepp said, grabbing a piece of the 4-inch-thick, springy flooring that, like playground surfaces, provides some cushion in the event of a fall. “And we have to complete our inspection with the Colorado Division of Oil & Public Safety.”
Sounds like a mismatch, but in fact, the Division of Oil & Public Safety does have a Public School Inspection Program, and has been involved in approvals for the newly completed gym and will need to sign off on the climbing wall, too.
Like the gym next door, the climbing wall was a long time in the making. “We’ve been fundraising for it for six years,” Hepp said. “Some of the kids who did fundraising have graduated without seeing this. But a couple of them have come back home and are volunteer coaching the team.”
A lot of the effort has been volunteer. Hepp and other members of the ad hoc climbing wall committee, Chris Haaland and Brad McMillan, did the engineering work pro bono. “We had hoped to [build] it with 100 percent volunteer labor,” Hepp said. But, in the end “the school decided they wanted a professional texture on the wall. We talked with Vertical Solutions out of Salt Lake City (one of the handful of companies in the West that specializes in building climbing walls), and they gave us a bid for all the structural work, which was quite reasonable. So we paid them $33,000 to do the steel work, install the panels and apply the texture. They just left a couple of days ago. Now we’re out of cash.”
Adam Johnson’s shop classes glued the half-inch plywood panels together and inserted the T-nuts, the countersunk threads into which the climbing holds are screwed. “Bill Whitt (a professional painter from Ouray) and a couple of other guys came in the other day and splashed this paint on. They were like kids in a candy store. They could just let it drip” like water stains on desert sandstone. “They don’t usually get to paint this freely.”
Hepp said that because they are out of money, they only have about half the holds they need. “We need holds and ropes and harnesses. I’m sure people have boxes of old holds in the garage they could donate.”
Nevertheless, Hepp expects members of the Ridgway/Ouray Climbing Team to be on the wall soon after the Christmas break. The team is an ongoing project of the schools, volunteer coaches, and Voyager, the 13-year-old Ouray County program that provides, besides drug and alcohol education (according to its website), “fun and interesting alternatives to risky behaviors.”
“The team has been a youth club sport,” said Hepp, “sponsored by Voyager. This year it’s become a varsity sport, like soccer, with participation from both schools. We have 11 high school athletes and 10 middle school athletes, about 50/50 boys and girls.”
Other schools in the climbing competition league include Telluride, Silverton, Montrose, Grand Junction, Gunnison, Rifle, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The first competition of the season is January 9 in Ridgway.
“This wall has got to be one of the tallest on the West Slope,” Hepp said. “We’ve been training in our little climbing closet at the elementary school. It’s going to be so cool when we can get on this thing.”