By Dan Nienaber
Scaling up the side of a steep rock wall, advancing one colorful handhold at a time, is almost as easy as riding a bike around the block for Delaney Rager.
It can also be as tricky as a math quiz, which is what Rager likes best about the sport of rock climbing.
“You gotta look at the route before you go up,” she explained while refueling with some grapes and a jam sandwich. “Then you just grab the holds.”
The 9-year-old Lakeville girl was one of about 80 people who participated in Minnesota State University’s third annual Kato Krusher Climbing Competition Sunday. Hosted by the Adventure Education Program, this year’s event doubled in size compared to last year. Competitors from the five-state area traveled to Mankato to participate.
For Rager, the rock climbing is as much about the mental challenges as it is about the physical challenges, said her father, Travis.
“I think she likes it more for the problem solving part of it because she’s meticulous about what she does,” he said. “But it’s also made her stronger and more flexible.”
Climbers scored points in a variety of ways, said Sam Steiger, Adventure Education Program coordinator. They were required to follow paths marked by colored tape as they worked their way up the wall. It had to be a “clean” climb, so if they put weight on their safety rope the climb was over. They were allowed to climb as many times as they could within a set period of time. Each climber’s top five scores were used to decide the winner.
“Although it feels like you’re climbing against other people — there’s an intimidation factor because everybody is watching — you’re really climbing against yourself,” Steiger said.
The winners received trophies that were actually cut from old wood pallets Steiger found at a dump in Kasota. Climbing holds were fastened on each piece of wood and some paint was added for extra color.
Laura Reis was competing in the event for the first time. She had been to the previous two Kato Krushers, but she was working for Steiger as a graduate assistant. She’s done with school but she still enjoys returning to use the climbing walls, which are open to the public through the purchase of a variety of different types of passes.
A native of New York City, Reis didn’t get involved with rock climbing until she arrived at MSU as a student. Back then, students were traveling to Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne to do their climbing. Now there’s both outdoor and indoor climbing walls on campus.
It’s the friendships she’s found through the sport that have made it the most fun for her.
“You can go to a regular gym and not talk to anyone the whole time you’re there,” she said. “You can come here by yourself and strangers on the ground will be cheering you on. It sparks conversation.”
Steiger hosts two rock climbing events each year. The Whipper Snapper Climbing Competition will take place this spring.