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Off belay: The BOC is leaving climbers hanging

February 23, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the author s.

For prospective students interested in attending Bowdoin, our school’s legendary Outing Club (BOC) is often an important draw. These students might visit the BOC’s website to read about its incredible offerings, which include an impressive whitewater program and a multitude of day hikes and longer backpacking trips. Maybe the prospective student is like us, and they really want to rock climb. In that case, they’ll visit the BOC’s website (as of February 22) and read the following:

“The Rock Climbing program at the BOC focuses mainly on introducing students to the climbing opportunities within driving distance from campus. We primarily climb in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Clifton Crags in Maine, both of which offer world class climbing on a variety of rock types. Trips are typically small, and are tailored to the group’s goals and ability levels. Climbing trips are typically day-long excursions spent top rope climbing and working on our strength, skills, and technique. There are also lots of opportunities to learn the technical skills needed to climb safely, such as anchor building, and top rope site management.”

Unfortunately, we have not found any of this to be true.

When asked about this, staff at the Outing Club have told us that there will not be any BOC-sponsored outdoor climbing trips unless a BOC staff member, not a student, with climbing experience is willing to lead one. They have left no room for students to obtain certifications such as Single Pitch Instructor (SPI), the industry standard for leading outdoor climbing trips, in order to restore the climbing community at Bowdoin. No current staff member of the Outing Club is willing to lead an outdoor climbing trip.

However, Assistant Director Eric Guiang is leaving his role at the Outing Club later this year, and the BOC is planning to hire someone new to fill his position. This means that the BOC has an opportunity to rectify this gap in climbing programming and hire someone willing and excited to spearhead outdoor climbing trips. A new staff member with an SPI certification and enthusiasm for harnessing the passion for climbing on campus would be, in our view, a welcome addition to BOC leadership.

We see two solutions to the current problem of climbing at Bowdoin: Take climbing out of the hands of the BOC and allow us to found a climbing club, or ensure that the next staff member hired by the BOC has climbing experience and a desire to foster and support Bowdoin’s large and growing climbing community.

In a petition last spring, over 60 current students expressed written interest in starting an independent climbing club. Additionally, a number of Bowdoin students created a GroupMe, which currently has 86 members, to connect climbers on campus. There is clearly a large community of students on campus who enjoy climbing.

This is not a new passion for Bowdoin students and our vision is not original. The Outing Club at Bowdoin used to foster a love of climbing; all we want is to restore it. In fact, Lucretia Woodruff, wife of Mike Woodruff (the director of the BOC), used to run the climbing program at Bowdoin. After her retirement, others took on the program until recently.

The biggest barrier to rock climbing is access: The two nearest climbing gyms are both 40 minutes by car, climbing gear and gym memberships are expensive, and the sport relies on techniques and skills that, for beginners, are often accessible only through expensive gym classes. If the College wants to make the sport equitable, there must be an organization, either under the BOC or as an independent club, that arranges transportation, subsidizes admission and equipment costs, and provides skill and technique education by student leaders to encourage and facilitate confidence in novice climbers. Additional changes to the wall in Buck, such as an improved route-setting system, cleaning of holds and improvement of permanent fixed gear are also important and pressing concerns that we would address with the proper funding and attention.

In the same way that the Alpine ski team drives vans to Lost Valley, we want to charter a climbing club that drives vans to Salt Pump Climbing Company and/or Evo Rock and Fitness without needing someone who has completed BOC Leadership Training to drive the van. And in the same vein that the Student Activities Funding Committee covers the cost of fall lessons for students joining the equestrian team or funds the ski team’s tickets, we also want to subsidize the cost of entry for our members. We tried to make this happen last fall, but the Office of Student Activities referred the proposal of a climbing club to the BOC, and the BOC rejected it. The staff members cited safety concerns and the lack of staff with adequate outdoor climbing experience as their reasoning.

The idea of a climbing club isn’t unheard of. As of 2021, Tufts University, Wesleyan University, Williams College, Middlebury College, Colby College and Trinity College all have climbing and/or mountaineering clubs.

Bowdoin should join the ranks of other colleges and universities in supporting students’ passion for indoor and outdoor rock climbing by fostering a community of both experienced and beginner climbers. We have the enthusiasm and expertise—all we need is support from the BOC and/or Student Activities. Don’t leave us hanging!

Ben Johnson is a member of the Class of 2026. Eli Bundy, Fiona Jenkins and Matthew Stein are members of the Class of 2027. 


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