PAA Climbing Club Reaches New Heights

January 24, 2019 | Education | Liesl Vistaunet

Portland Adventist Academy teacher Mark Smith followed the passion of a small group of students who loved rock climbing and guided them in the organization of the school’s first climbing club in 1997.

Smith remembers few students participated but also recalls big support and enthusiasm. “We began with five or six students and a $1,000 anonymous donation," he says.

Within a short time, the club had gained so much momentum that the school created space for a bouldering gym. It was funded, built and maintained by community members, alumni, parents, pastors, teachers and students.

Twenty-two years later with many twists and turns of change, the club is thriving with 34 active members and remarkable accomplishments Smith wouldn’t have imagined 22 years ago.

Emily Nagele, who was new to climbing as a freshman, graduated last year as one of the most accomplished climbers in the club’s history. “As a sophomore, Emily began regularly climbing boulder problems two grades harder than any previous PAA female climber,” says Smith. “She then also completed a climb five grades harder than any previous female climber.”

Now a student at Walla Walla University, Nagele, along with young alumni Lauren Solari and Will Howard, is certified Climbing Wall Instructors by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Howard, who began climbing at PAA despite an initial fear of heights, recently earned a Single Pitch Instructor certification from the AMGA.

Smith says these success stories are paving a way for future climbers’ successes. “The accomplishments of those climbers are important because it changed the mindset of the club going forward,” he explains. “Today, club members often attempt routes that would have never been considered 10 years ago.”

Club member and PAA junior Courtney Minden was a cautious and shy freshman when she was encouraged to join the climbing club.

“I was really shy and quiet back then,” says Minden, reflecting on her progress over the last two years. “But I’m not anymore.”

Her enthusiasm shines as she describes the challenges of a lead climb. “You have to hold yourself in one place while you’re clipping,” she says. Minden talks with excitement about good technique, the correct way to fall, belaying challenges and how she’s learned to manage fear with safety.

“Lead climbing is definitely more difficult than normal climbs,” she says “and it’s a huge jump from where I’m at right now. But I’m going to keep at it.”