Climbing to new heights

Students prepare for national competition

Kayla Trice


“Rock climbing isn’t a hobby. It’s more of a lifestyle,” senior Ben Hammer said.

Ben has been climbing at Stone Summit in Kennesaw, Ga. for about four years. His interest began in rock climbing when he saw his cousin climbing in a 2011 summer competition.

“My cousin came down from Michigan to actually compete in his first year of climbing, and he made it to Nationals,” he said. “Afterwards, I was like, ‘mom and dad, I need to do this. It looks [like] so much fun.’

Stone Summit houses seven teams. They invited Ben to join Elite, the highest team, but he turned down their offer.

“I do not have enough time because of school, so I’m on the second highest team, which is Summit,” Hammer said.

Thanks to nine hours of practice time every week, Ben has one of the top ten speeds in Nationals. Ben’s goal is to make the United States Team and compete in China next November for the Youth World Championship.

“The youth competition is what I’ve been competing in for the last couple of years,” Hammer said. “After graduation, I’m going to Nationals, and I have to make the top four or five in my category.”

Ben competes in bouldering and speed climbing. Bouldering involves a rock wall that is at least 20 feet tall and can be built at any angle. Speed climbing uses a 15 meter wall tilted at an eight degree angle.

For Ben, prepping for a climb is an all-day process. Preparing the night before and the day of gets him pumped for the speed climb. The day of the competition, he stretches and listens to music to get ready for his climb. He tries to stay focused, warm and motivated.

“When I’m preparing to speed climb, all that I’m really thinking about is to go fast, don’t slip up and remember to breathe,” Hammer said.

Unlike sports that involve balls or team sports, he says, climbing is “just you and the wall.” Ben has tried traditional sports, but his mom, Tracy Hammer, feels that rock climbing is the best for her son.

“When he was little, Ben tried soccer, baseball, taekwondo and even lacrosse, but when he started to climb, it just seemed right,” Tracy said.

Tracy also believes that, like other sports, rock climbing is risky.

“Climbing can be dangerous,” Tracy said. “So are other sports. Ben is aware of risks. I do worry, but I trust Ben.”

Ben and Tracy agree that anything can happen in the sport.

“Rock climbing is an extremely dangerous sport, and at any point, something can go wrong,” Ben said. “The belayer can have something wrong with the belay device. The rope could break.”

A belayer is the person who holds a climber’s rope. They provide slack and tension for the climber, and lower the climber to the ground after a climb. As Tracy puts it, a belayer “can literally have someone else’s life in  [their] hands.”

Despite dangers, Ben notices his team growing. He attributes the new interest in rock climbing to TV coverage.

“The more people that watch, the more people start to climb,” Ben said. “Now that rock climbing is on the short list for the Olympics, it’s going to grow more.”

Sophomore Audrey Miller is a fellow Stone Summit rock climber. Miller started climbing at age ten, after her mom prompted her to start climbing.

“She decided that I need to join the team because I kept climbing up trees and poles on the playground,” Miller said. “She didn’t want me to get into trouble, so she made me join the team.”

Miller is on Stone Summit’s Elite team. She is bouldering this season, which means she climbs to the top of the wall and falls on a mat instead of being caught by a rope. Like Ben and Tracy, Miller enjoys the uniqueness of rock climbing.

“It can be individual, but it can also be very social,” Miller said. “Rock climbing is also really challenging because it’s not only physical, but it is a mental sport.”

Both Ben and Miller have their own meaning of rock climbing. Miller looks forward to rock climbing, and uses it as inspiration to help her push through difficulty when she has a hard rock challenge.

“It is about doing the best you can do,” Miller said. “I just like a challenge and the social aspect of climbing.”

Ben agrees, but mainly sees rock climbing as a chance to show his strength.

“It is more of proving to myself that I am strong and that I can make it to the top in any situation,” Hammer said.

Miller and Ben are looking forward to Nationals this year.