Ain't no mountain high enough — Kitsap youths climb for the challenge

Annalise Rubida
Annalise Rubida 'boulders' the climbing wall at Vertical World Bremerton last Thursday. The 15-year-old is part of Vertical World's youth climbing team.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

When Annalise Rubida and her friend visited the Bremerton area from Port Townsend because they had some free time, they were planning on roller skating. But since the skating rink was closed, they decided to give rock climbing a try next door at Vertical World Bremerton.

“It was just sort of an accident,” said Annalise on how she got started rock climbing  18 months ago.

The 15-year-old is now on the youth climbing team at Vertical World and tries to climb about three days a week. Even though Annalise said she is small for her age — she thinks she’s about 5 feet tall — it does not come as a disadvantage in climbing as it can for other sports.

Also, she enjoys the challenge of it all.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” Annalise said last week of reaching the top of the gym’s climbing walls.

Currently in bouldering season, which runs through January, the team practices climbing 12 to 14 feet without ropes. Bouldering is climbing without the use of a harness or ropes and is often times a set of specific corigraphed moves to complete the “problem.”

The team participates in competitions sanctioned by USA Climbing, the national governing body for the American Bouldering Series, the Sport Climbing Series and the Pro Climbing Series in the country.

“Bouldering is really taking off,” said Ben Massie, the youth climbing team coach. “It’s the trend for newer, younger climbers.”

Bouldering is focused more on strength and power while rope climbing is more on endurance, said David King, a youth climbing instructor.

Twin sisters Cierra and Makenna Graham, of Poulsbo, are on the climbing team and have been climbing for about two years.

Cierra placed 10th at the national championships last year in Atlanta.

Their reason for getting involved with climbing was not as happenstance as Annalise’s though it didn’t directly relate to getting out climbing. The first time the Graham sisters climbed was not in Kitsap but rather inNew Zealand.

“Our parents wanted to get us tired before we got on the plane home,” said Cierra.

Maybe it worked, but it also gave them a new sport and activity to take part in closer to home.

They both said they like the competition involved with climbing, but also because climbers are a tight-knit group. Makenna said she has made friends with other climbers from Oregon through competitions. Even though they each want to individually perform well, climbers are always cheering one another on at competitions, Cierra added.

“You’re competing against the problem,” said King, rather than other people.

Currently there are six members on the team, which at times grows to about 12, said King.

For rope climbing, people wear padded harnesses and have a belay, a controlling rope with the climber, said King. There is always a certified belayer with the climber to keep the rope locked into the belay device and assists the climber to repel down the wall. Climbers wear shoes that are designed especially for climbing so that their feet cannot move around inside the shoes. The tallest rope climbing wall the gym has is at about 38 feet, added King.

“You can climb as hard as you want or as easy as you want,” said King, adding that it is a sport that people of any age can take part in. His daughter started competing at the age of 7 and Vertical World has a program for children beginning at age 4, “Little Rockers,” to learn how to climb.

If they can fit into a harness, they can climb.

“Kids see the rope and the wall and they are drawn to that,” said Massie.

The walls at Vertical World are scattered with different colors of tape, each color signifies a different climbing route up to the top — some are more challenging than others.

King, who teaches the children so that they can transfer into the climbing team, said the common mistake beginner climbers make is relying too much on their upper body to get them up the wall. It’s more about footwork, balance and movement, he said. Sometimes he will have the kids practice balance by climbing without using their hands on the rock climbing holds of the wall.

“It is intimidating but anyone can do this,” Massie said.

For Justin Howard, of Bremerton, who isn’t on the team but has been climbing for about a year, said he likes climbing better than other sports he has done like soccer, because he can do it all year. It’s also because of the feeling that comes with climbing that he is drawn to, the 12-year-old said.

“I like getting to the top and looking down,” Justin said. “It’s a victorious, proud feeling.”

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