By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Being an alumna of Minnesota State University earned Bev Thorn a bucket full of grandma points Sunday afternoon.
She had a front row seat in Myers Field House as her granddaughter, Emily Fitterer, and three grandsons used colorful handholds and footholds to maneuver up the university’s challenging indoor climbing wall. They joined dozens of alumni and their family members for the first-time event that gave them a chance to try the wall for free.
“I got an email from the college,” Thorn said. “I thought this would be a fun thing to be doing on a cold March afternoon.”
Fitterer, a North Mankato fourth grader, was thrilled. She and her friends had seen the climbing wall during indoor soccer practices. She said she had been hoping for a chance to join in the fun.
“We were just hanging around and she showed me some pages with pictures of the wall,” Fitterer said. “She said, ‘Oh, didn’t your mother tell you, we’re going to go climbing.
“It’s really fun, but it can be a little scary. When you get up high, some people are scared of heights and you can get a little dizzy. But it’s a lot of fun when you figure it out.”
Climbing has become a popular sport and is growing because it’s both mentally and physically challenging, said Sam Steiger, MSU’s Adventure Education Program coordinator. In addition to the indoor climbing wall, Campus Recreation also has a an outdoor wall that looks and feels more like real rock, Steiger said. Both walls are less than a year old.
The program is offering a variety of camps this summer for people of all ages. The indoor wall also is open to the public Sunday through Thursday nights from 7 to 11 p.m. A daily pass is $12, a four-month pass is $60 and a four-month family pass is $150.
“A school our size should have had this 10 years ago,” Steiger said. “A couple years ago we got the funding and it’s just been absolutely great.”
People have signed up to use the wall more than 12,000 times since it opened last summer, but Steiger said he wants to see it used more. He had it built next to a window next to Stadium Road with the hope that people driving by would see it. The problem area residents outside the MSU community aren’t always used to using the university’s facilities, he said.
“I would say we have 20 or so community users who are diehards,” Steiger said. “But most people are thinking, ‘Where do I park? How do I get inside?’ We’re trying to change that.”
Climbing walls such as the one at MSU have a good safety record, Steiger said. Safety harnesses and rope controls called auto belays keep climbers from falling if they slip off the wall. Auto belays connected to the wall’s 15 ropes automatically bring the rope in as climbers get higher, then let them down easy when they fall away from the wall.
Thorn said the down side to Sunday’s event was her granddaughter could become so enthusiastic about climbing that she decides to try less safe methods of enjoying the sport in the future. The up side was it could encourage her grandkids to attend her alma mater.
Steiger said there are many ways to enjoy climbing in natural settings that also are safe, so Thorn doesn’t need to worry too.
Chriss Page saw Sunday’s event as way for her family to enjoy some time together. Her daughter, Abbie, and Abbie’s sister and two cousins were learning quickly with the help of Steiger’s staff.
“The girls have been wanting to do this,” Page said. “We got the email and decided to come out. It’s a nice family friendly event.”