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Climbing to new heights

Climbing kyleClimbing kyleRock climbing isn’t just for Sylvester Stallone anymore.

As president of the UNB Rock and Ice Climbing Club, Shawn Fairweather is no stranger to the indoor wall at the Lady Beaverbrook Gymnasium. Built out of converted squash courts some 25 years ago, the wall now hosts a bustling club with over 150 members — with more joining every year.

“There’s always an influx of new climbers in the fall and winter, who just found out about the club,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t even know we exist.”

Indoor climbing has grown over the last two decades from a niche sport to one of the most popular indoor activities in North America, catering to people of all skill and fitness levels. For Fairweather, the appeal is simple.

“Basically, I like everything about it,” he said. “The movement, the difficulty — how it’s all on you, so you can push yourself as hard as you want, or not push yourself at all and still have fun. And it’s definitely a good full-body workout; it’s all I do for exercise.”

Since it can be intimidating to visit the wall and see experts launching themselves upwards like Spider-Man, the club has begun to hold beginner hours every Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m. Fairweather said experienced climbers will be on hand to give pointers to the newbies and teach them various techniques to scale the walls.

The club routinely goes on climbing trips outdoors as well, both on rock faces from spring to fall and ice cliffs during the winter months. Outdoor rock climbing can be a challenging sport, and ice climbing even more so. Performed on frozen waterfalls, it calls for a higher level of skill and concentration.

“It can be pretty dangerous,” he said, “but when we do our ice climbing school, we set up top-ropes to a tree. So if you fall off, you just dangle there. But when you get into lead climbing [climbing with a rope], you have to set anchors in ice grooves, and that gets more dangerous if the ice gives way.”

Fairweather remarked that while rock climbing is quite safe, the element of danger occasionally adds some thrill to the experience.

“There’s that feeling of danger when you’re lead climbing and you get above your last [anchor]. There’s a rush you get if you think you’re going to fall. I don’t like it when I’m in the moment, but when I get to the top of the route, I like it.”

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