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Michigan State climbing club provides joy in learning challenging sport

Nora Fleming

The growing co-ed club is a home for experienced and newbie climbers, a place where they can experience the sport in many ways.

Kolbe Mills, a junior accounting major, knows the dangers of rock climbing firsthand. He was on an official trip with the Michigan State climbing club, scaling the world renowned Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky, when he fell from 30 feet, gashing his leg open in the process. Luckily for Mills, his harness was able to prevent him from further injury and the fall became his favorite club memory.

“It was quite scary and I gashed open my leg a decent bit,” Mills said. “But the adrenaline and then feeling of getting back up and finishing the route was really sick. Plus, I’ve got a cool scar now to show for it.”

The MSU climbing club consists of 200 members that rock climb in both indoor and outdoor areas around Michigan and the United States. Mills has been in the club for two years, because he wanted to get more climbing experience. Members have gone to outdoor routes ranging from 20 to 100 feet, and there are no pillowy foam pits to catch them when they fall, only dirt. It welcomes those of all abilities, from beginners to experienced climbers and makes monthly trips to locations like Devils Lake in Wisconsin and New River Gorge in Virginia.

Nora Fleming

Carpooling, like falling, is a part of the MSU climbing experience. The closest outdoor rock climbing area is in Grand Ledge and closest indoor gyms are in Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Grand Rapids. Though the club has no official practices, members ride share to different indoor and outdoor areas each week. Monday meetings consist of going over rope knots, learning the basics of climbing, and checking equipment. The time together gives people opportunities to meet fellow climbers and arrange trips outside of school.

Kat Poon, a junior psychology and theater design major and the club’s secretary, initially joined to meet new people and has since become a skilled climber.

“I had never climbed before,” she said. “But I love outdoor adventures and thought climbing sounded fun. I had previously raft guided in the past but stopped and wanted to find another outdoorsy adventure community to connect with.”

The community portion of the club is something Poon has tried to emphasize as secretary. There are plans for more social events this fall, such as holiday parties, karaoke, and movie nights to bring people together outside of climbing. Friends bringing friends is what helps the club expand; it has over 200 active members and 700 people total on the email list. Still, Poon hopes to preserve the closeness of the group, making efforts to talk to each member about climbing and answer any questions.

“I hope that people can make friends as great as I have,” she said.

Mills has formed connections with fellow club members through photography. He bought a small Sony camera last summer, wanting to expand his talents beyond a cell phone lens. He now takes pictures for club members to post on social media, showcasing their adventures to the rest of the world. Though he has not taken the camera up with him on a climb, preferring to shoot from below, it’s something he wants to try in the future.

“People love getting photos back of them doing cool things and being able to offer that to someone is a really cool feeling and is what makes me want to take pictures,” he said.

Nora Fleming

The addition of two climbing walls in the new Student Recreation and Wellness Center, set to open in February 2026, means the club will not have to travel far to climb. Rick McNeil, the director of MSU’s Recreational Sports and Fitness, is meeting with different clubs on campus to get their input on the interior of the building and will be meeting with the climbing club in October. Right now there are plans for two climbing walls.

“One’s a traditional climbing wall that you’ve seen in other climbing centers. No one uses real walls anymore, they're all fake walls so you can change courses easily,” McNeil said. “Inside, there’s going to be a bouldering wall that you can just free climb on your own and if you fall it’s like falling into a trampoline or a foam pit.”

Mills and Poon will have graduated by the time the new building opens, but they are excited for the future of the club, hoping that the new wall generates interest in the sport. Though it’s taken some time for MSU to build a climbing wall, past clubs have petitioned for one to be built for several years, the new building will be a way for climbers to work on their skills and if they fall, there’s always a layer of spongy soft padding to catch them.

“Climbing is intimidating,” Poon said. “I hope that this wall will make it less so.”

0907 MSU SRWC Animation.mp4

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