For three nights a week, Swarthmore students are exchanging problem sets for a different kind of problem altogether — bouldering problems. A “problem” in rock climbing lingo refers to the route a climber will take to complete a climb.
“We have a lottery system in place because a lot of people want to go [climbing] and we have limited transportation,” Jennifer He ’24, founder and president of Swarthmore’s new climbing group Swat Rocks, said in an interview with The Phoenix.
“We had 150 sign-ups for our email list; the interest has been overwhelming,” she said.
He is a Sophomore who spent her first year studying remotely. She only became interested in rock climbing three months ago after watching videos of the sport. A short while later, she purchased gear and started spending time at a local climbing gym.
Swat Rocks is a subgroup that He helped develop within the Swarthmore Outsiders club, of which she is also a member. It aims to restart The Outsiders’ rock climbing program, which was shut down during the 2021-2022 school year as part of COVID-19-related restrictions.
The group climbs at the Gravity Vault, a gym fifteen minutes north of campus in Radnor, PA, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 6-9 p.m.
“It’s a physically demanding activity, it’s a full-body workout … so you have to train your fingers and arms,” He said.
But she also thinks the analytical aspect of the sport might be a draw for Swatties.
“A lot of it involves technical thinking, you have to problem-solve all the problems and figure out what the most efficient way to hit the top is,” she said.
The group is made up mostly of beginners with a handful of more experienced climbers.
“We genuinely welcome everyone of all levels, we love showing people how you’re supposed to solve a problem, being able to see different ways of doing it,” she said.
Most nights, the group practices bouldering, which involves navigating artificial rock formations without ropes. The gym provides mats to catch climbers who fall or need to descend after completing problems.
For most advanced members, the group offers “toproping” which involves scaling taller walls while being clipped into a harness and “belayed” or guided up with ropes.
Tristan Walker-Andrews ’22 is a more experienced climber who helped organize the club with He and drives students to the gym. “Over the last semester, I couldn’t climb at all because we were stuck on campus, so I was especially excited to get involved this semester,” they told the Phoenix.
“It’s great, we still get new people, but have a solid group that comes each week,” they said.
Recent documentary films like “The Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo” have portrayed rock climbing as something almost religious — a solitary and dangerous activity practiced by a committed community of devotees. Swat Rocks isn’t engaging in death-defying acts, He assured, but it does offer opportunities for outdoor climbing in the Crum Woods and other nearby areas.
“It’s important to build up some calluses before you start heading outside,” she said, laughing.
“The holds aren’t bright pink and yellow anymore, so you can’t really figure out what you’re supposed to grab, you have to figure out the most efficient way for you to climb over and solve it.”
Swat Rocks is planning outdoor bouldering opportunities over the upcoming Fall break. He hopes the group will continue to generate interest and encourage Swatties to explore a new experience.
“The level of interest has been super exciting, we’re going to do what we can to keep trying to take as many people as possible.”
For information about joining Swat Rocks, Jennifer He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org