By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – They came, they climbed and they conquered.
Over 75 youths ages six to 19 tested their mettle Saturday afternoon at Caribiner Indoor Climbing in Fairfield’s new Sportsplex, 85 Mill Plain Road, in a USAC Sport Climbing Competition. In addition to offering a number of challenging climbs, the event featured a DJ, raffles, frozen yogurt samples from Tasti-D-Lite and a bake sale to raise money for the resident climbing team to attend a national competition. The facility, which is housed in a former factory space, opened August 6, 2010, and has a vertical climbing height of 40 feet.
“This is the first ‘top roping’ competition being held in this location,” said general manager Alicia Aguiar. Top roping is any climbing activity wherein the climber is in a harness attached to a rope secured to a top point and held by a belayer. The belayer is a certified guide who takes the slack out of the rope and is required for any climb at the facility.
Meaghan Smith, coach of the Junior competitive team, gave an overview of the day’s competition. “USA Climbing is a national organization that offers a bouldering series, college series and sport climbing series,” she said. “Today’s competition is a SCS event, primarily youth targeted but open to all ages. There are 67 routes defined across 30 stations. Kids have been divided into categories by age: 11 and under, 12-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-19 and open. They are scored and verified by belayers who ensure they complete their defined routes. There are degrees of difficulty assigned to routes and points are tabulated accordingly. Participants can climb for the full three hours of the competition but are scored on their top five climbs only.”
Smith said that youths that are USA Climbing members would be accumulating points that count toward a regional competition in Boston, a divisional in Pennsylvania and nationals in Georgia.
At the outset of the contest, member Tyler Cordes, 13, of Shelton, hoped to rise to the challenge. “I’ve been climbing since November,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, though was a little difficult at first. I’m getting much better. I’ll go on to regionals no matter how I perform today and, if I do well there, I’ll go on to divisionals.”
Cordes’ pal Henry Boyd, 14, of Fairfield, had adopted a similar attitude. “I was excited about this place opening and started climbing late August,” he said. “The climbs are graded 5.4 to 5.14 depending on difficulty. I’ve reached a steady level of 5.10.”
Halie Saferstein, 14, of Weston, was a virtual veteran and a big fan of the facility. “I started doing this around age 7 or 8, in camps and at carnivals,” she said. “Then I climbed at Go Vertical in Hartford. When it closed, I started coming here. The people are really nice and the routes are really good.”
The few parents that were standing by, like Kristin Schleiter of Fairfield, said climbing has been a beneficial pursuit for their children. “It makes my daughter Greta feel empowered and more confident,” Schleiter said. “She really competes against herself. We were so excited when this opened here.”
Classified as a “Junior” climber, Augy Cohn, 18, echoed the benefits that Schleiter’s daughter has experienced. “I’ve been climbing for seven years and it’s a fun way to challenge myself,” he said. “There are times when I think a climb’s going to be hard or I have a scary slip, but I take it in stride.”
It was clear, as participants scrambled up the steep and angular walls and were lowered back down by their belayers, that they enjoyed the day’s contest. Satisfied smiles trumped any feelings of exhaustion as they clipped on and off climbing ropes and rotated from station to station throughout the facility.