Dixon Rec Center provides a peak experience
By THERESA HOGUE
It looms like a candy-covered mountainside, 7,000 feet of wall covered with bright red, blue and purple knobs jutting out like so many gumdrops.
It could be where oompa loompas go for fun when Willy Wonka's not looking, but it's actually the new Oregon State University Climbing Center, which saw the first climbers scale its walls Wednesday.
The Climbing Center is the largest of its kind in the Northwest, and it includes modular paneled walls that can be reconfigured, a caving area, a splitter crack along the back wall and walls that top out at 42 feet. There are 38 climbing routes, including 15 lead routes.
One of the rappel ledges is accessible to those with disabilities, so members of the motor fitness clinic and others can use the center as well.
"Hopefully, all members of the OSU community can climb (here)," said Kristie Deschesne, director of the former Climbing Center and coordinator of operations at Dixon Recreation Center.
The Climbing Center is part of the Dixon Recreation Center's expansion and renovation, which is scheduled for completion in March. A new gymnasium and cardio center also opened this week.
"We're really excited," said Tom Kirch, director of recreational sports at Dixon. "In the last week or two, we opened the doors of the center, and it's unbelievable the stares and the awe this has caused."
Construction has caused many inconveniences for users, from rain pouring into locker rooms to the temporary relocation of the front entrance on the opposite side of the original entrance.
"I want to thank all the users who in the last two years have put up with chaos," Kirch said.
The original climbing center was located under the west end of Reser Stadium. It was the result of a student initiative, cost $5,000 and was the result of 2,000 hours of volunteer time. The new center cost about 90 times that, Deschesne said.
Student building fees helped pay for the Dixon remodeling project, ASOSU President Andy Saultz said.
"There was no doubt that students wanted to increase Dixon and increase service," Saultz said. "It's nice to see the need (being fulfilled)."
Saultz was among the first to climb the wall, with the support of the crowd below. It was Saultz's first climbing attempt, and he benefited from both shouts of encouragement, and direction from the new Climbing Center coordinator, Josh Norris, who was watching from the top of the wall and keeping an eye on Saultz's belay rope.
There were several pauses in Saultz's assent, as he looked around for hand and foot holds and on occasion, bit his lip as his feet waved in frantic search for another colored knob on which to balance. When he finally reached the 42-foot summit and crawled onto the ledge, belly to the ground, the crowd erupted in applause. He wiped his brow as he looked down at the fans below.
RecSports Center manager Kimiko Gilyard followed, and finally, Jackie Balzer, OSU's interim dean of students, made her way up the wall. Balzer was also a first-time climber, and took a lot of coaxing and coaching as she slowly but doggedly made her way to the top.
"Thanks Josh," she called up to Norris at the halfway point. "Let's do this again soon."
Shouts of "Use your legs, Jackie" echoed up to her, and when she reached the top, she received the biggest round of clapping.
The three then rappelled back to the ground.
"Didn't I look brave coming down?" Balzer beamed. "I'm so proud of myself. I was out of my comfort zone."
The Climbing Center is open from 4 to 10 p.m. weekdays and from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekends. In order to use the facility, one must take an orientation class and pass a skills check. Beginning Jan. 28 and continuing through Feb. 13, free climbing orientations and skill check classes will be offered.
Sign up in advance by calling 737-3736. The center is also available for rent.
Theresa Hogue is the higher education reporter for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-9526.