By their fingernails

Dec 22, 2006

Most college students hang on by their fingernails, figuratively, at some point in their academic career, but Kettering's Cliffhangers Club does it literally.

Hanging on by your fingernails usually refers to barely managing to avoid failure - very often a common feeling among college students. But for the Cliffhangers Club at Kettering the term is taken literally - at least two or three times a week.

Cliffhangers are a group of students interested in rock climbing for sport. The B-Section chapter of the group was climbing right up until finals, with their last climb of the term scheduled for Dec. 11.

They typically climb two or three times a week at Planet Rock Climbing Gym in Pontiac, Mich., an indoor climbing center, and also take occasional weekend trips to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and New River Gorge in West Virginia with the Outdoors Club.

"I enjoy the workout and the challenge," said Lindsey Scheer, an Electrical Engineering major from Northville, Mich., and treasurer for the group. "You aren't dependent on a team to do well, it's just you," she added, "there's the physical challenge of being able to do it and the mental challenge of figuring out what you need to do and convincing yourself you can do it. It's a really great feeling when you send a route," she said. "Sending" a route is when a climber climbs all the way to the top on their first try without falling, taking a break or having the person on belay hold them up.

The individual effort factor appeals to Sean Hirtle as well. Having climbed for three years, Hirtle got involved as a freshman and was immediately hooked. "I really enjoy the challenge of climbing. There is nobody to beat but yourself, so it is very rewarding. When you start climbing harder, it gets intense, so there's a rush to it as well," he said.

Less experienced climber Matthew Mitocky has only been climbing for nine months, but has made Cliffhangers his primary non-academic outlet. "It's a great way to get awayfrom the monotony of school while getting an awesome workout," said the Mechanical Engineering major from Cleveland, Ohio.

Cliffhangers members do a lot of "bouldering," what some climbers consider the purest form of climbing, without ropes or harnesses. Some of the most difficult moves can occur only a few feet from the ground. Occasionally they will do "top rope" climbing with the ropes already anchored above while a partner belays from the ground. (Belay is when one climber "spots" another by anchoring their rope in case they fall.)

"It's harder to boulder," said Scheer. "In general it's easier to climb with ropes with only one or two hard spots to overcome," she added.

A few of the Cliffhangers have tried "lead" climbing, a more advanced climbing method where the climber clips their rope into anchors as they ascend the wall. This type of climbing allows the individual to do more varying routes including the steepest and longest climbs. Most group members agree that it requires experience to lead climb.

Founded by B-Section students in 2001, the Cliffhangers Club is a way for students to try rock climbing for the first time and for those who like to climb weekly. Approximately 30 students belong to the B-Section group.

The Planet Rock Climbing Gym in Pontiac Michigan has more than 13,500 square feet of climbing area with 55-foot high walls, a motorized climbing wall and a bouldering cave. For more information visit:

Written by Dawn Hibbard