Cassandra Jones St. Onge demonstrates how to use the ARC's newly-opened climbing wall safely and efficiently. Photo credit: Magan Carty

The highly anticipated 34-foot climbing wall and 15-foot bouldering wall in the Jack Doyle Athletics and Recreation Centre have officially opened.

Members of the Algonquin College community have wanted this and waited patiently for a long time, according to Timothy Lee, manager of athletic operations and fitness at the ARC.

Student athletes up for the challenge are invited to experience indoor climbing, no matter their skill level, in a safe and encouraging environment.

“What we’re finding is the climbing community as a whole is very supportive,” Lee said. “They look out for one another and are always trying to help the newer climbers.”

The climbing walls were purposed exclusively for orientation sessions during the first two weeks of operation. Lee said he and his staff wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to train and become “verified climbers” before the walls opened up for regular use on Friday, March 11.

While the full-time orientation period has come to an end, the wall with five climbing lanes will be reserved for orientation sessions between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

All climbers must attend a 30-minute orientation facilitated by a trained staff member before they are permitted to book their first climb. Lee could not stress enough the importance of getting people comfortable and confident with the equipment.

“This is because safety is our number one priority,” he said. “We are always tweaking and adjusting. We want everyone to have a great time, so the tighter our safety protocols, the less margin for error or injury.”

Cassandra Jones St-Onge is the ARC’s fitness and wellness coordinator. She facilitates orientation sessions, demonstrates proper climbing technique and supervises climbers as they scale the wall.

“The systems and equipment are inspected everyday,” she said. “We use auto-belay devices which prevent slack in the rope while the climber climbs up. Once they reach the top, or if they fall, the auto belay lowers them to the ground safely and automatically.”

Kick-off auto belay is different than traditional climbing in that no one is needed to control the descent. In other words, you do not need a person at the bottom of the wall roped into your harness and releasing slack.

St-Onge is a skilled climber and demonstrated how to use the different hand holds to try different climbing routes. There are various sizes of holds and different colours.

“The colour-coding creates pathways for climbers to attempt,” she said. “You can choose to follow just the pink or yellow holds if you are more advanced. The blue and green paths are good for intermediate climbers. Beginners usually just grab onto whatever they can.”

The bouldering wall is very difficult, according to both Lee and St-Onge. The athleticism required for this particular sport made its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Maggie Decady, a performing arts student, said she is looking forward to using the climbing and bouldering walls as often as she can.

“I really love rock climbing,” she said. “It’s a fun activity when I want to be physically active but don’t feel like doing a typical workout.”

Decady said rock climbing can be scary, but she feels safe at the ARC knowing there are professionals to train her and look out for her.

Climbing and orientation sessions can be booked through appointment-plus up to seven days in advance. A full-length slot consists of a 45-minute climb and a 15-minute transition period.

The wall is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. It is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Verified climbers are provided with a properly-fitted harness and liquid chalk for better grip. They must come prepared with their own athletic footwear and appropriate climbing attire.