“The different colored tape represents the different difficulty routes. So, you follow that and climb what you’re comfortable with or what your skill level is,” Bemiss says.
Mort Harris Fitness Center’s rock climbing wall named one of the best in metro Detroit by CBS Local. Photo by Kaitlin Fazio.

Editors note: This article was also featured in the 2016 New Student Survival Guide. 

While many colleges and universities provide fitness facilities for their students, the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center at Wayne State offers students a unique athletic experience: an indoor climbing wall.

Towering 30 feet high against a stately backdrop of windows, the Mort Harris climbing wall is outfitted with convertible courses designed for any level of climber. WSU is one of four universities in Michigan to have a rock wall and in February, CBS Detroit listed the Mort Harris climbing wall as one of the best in Metro Detroit.

“We have our top rope routes, which are anywhere from a 5.7 skill level to a 5.12, and then we also have routes called bouldering, where you don’t need to be tied into a harness or a rope,” Intramural and Club Sports Supervisor Justin Harden says.

The figures Harden refers to are part of a classification system called the Yosemite Decimal Scale. Each class contains a range of decimals that signify the varying levels of difficulty of a climbing route. Class five routes, like those at Mort Harris, can be rated anywhere from 5.0 (easiest) to 5.13 (hardest).

The Mort Harris climbing wall is currently configured with routes from level 5.6 to level 5.11. Charley Bemiss, a freshman pre-pharmacy major and climbing wall attendant, says the fitness center maps out each route option with colored tape by hand grips.

“The different colored tape represents the different difficulty routes. So, you follow that and climb what you’re comfortable with or what your skill level is,” Bemiss says.

In order to use the climbing wall, patrons must either possess or purchase a climbing pass. Mort Harris offers both daily and yearly passes as well as an equipment rental option. WSU students and MHRFC members can purchase a daily climbing pass for $5 and a yearly climbing pass for $50. Harden says yearly passholders can climb anytime rather than just during the facility’s climbing hours from 4 p.m. to close. Students or members that need to rent equipment from the facility can purchase passes for $10 daily and $60 yearly. Mort Harris also has climbing pass options for nonmembers.

Once the prospective climber purchases a pass, he or she will go through a belay certification process with a climbing wall attendant.

“One of our staff members for the wall will teach you how to use the harness, how to tie the proper knots, and then how to belay properly,” Harden says . “And belaying is when you’re on the rope making sure that if someone falls, you know how to check them, stop the rope, that kind of thing.”

Mort Harris has one more requirement for climbers, and that is to have a partner. Harden says partners are necessary to either belay (top ropes) or spot (bouldering) during climbs. If you are without, Mort Harris maintains a list with potential partners, their contact information and their climbing preferences. Harden also says that the regular climbers are often more than willing to lend a hand or climbing advice.

Climbing isn’t your run-of-the-mill workout, and those who climb find it extremely rewarding both physically and mentally. “It’s a full body workout,” Bemis says . “It keeps you engaged, and just it’s more exciting and hands-on than some of the other workouts or machines that you can use here in the gym.”

Harden says Mort Harris is planning more climbing events for the upcoming school year, including climbing competitions and free climb nights. So if you’re looking to switch up your fitness routine, consider the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center climbing wall.

Contact Multimedia Editor Kaitlin Fazio at kaitlinfazio@wayne.edu. Follow her on Twitter @knfazio.

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