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Dare to Dangle

Young climbers hit the competitive rock-climbing scene


Scientists searching for the missing link between man and monkey need only check out a group of kids during recess. But for final confirmation, you might also consider the upcoming youth climbing competition at Boise Peak Fitness on March 1st.

Twelve-year-olds Kevin, Megan and Robin Crotteau climb with the Boise Peak Fitness team. The three of them constitute the only set of triplets in USA Climbing. Kevin supported the missing link theory when he talked about Robin's climbing muscles.

"She's like ape-woman," said Kevin. "[But] Robin just does it for fun, more than being serious about [climbing]. Megan climbs, and Robin screws around."

The climbing competition is the first in a series of local events sponsored by USA Climbing, a national climbing organization, and kids who compete must take part in and place as one of the top five climbers in three local competitions to qualify for the regional competition. Idaho is part of the Big Sky Region climbing circuit, and the Boise Peak Fitness competition is one of seven climbing competitions throughout Idaho, Utah, Montana and Wyoming leading up to the Big Sky Regional Finals, to be held in Bozeman, Mont. Youth climbing teams from all four states will travel to compete in the Boise Peak Fitness contest.

Just because her brother thinks she isn't serious doesn't mean Robin isn't seriously planning to win, but she knows she needs to step up her training a bit to improve her skills.

"I hope I'll place in the top five," said Robin. "We have this pull-up thing, and if I actually decided to use it, I would probably be better."

Pete Vanek, the owner of Boise Peak Fitness, is filling in as coach of the kids' climbing team while their regular coach, Sarah Durney, studies yoga in India. Vanek likens the kids' climbing competitions to other youth athletic programs.

"It's a lot like Little League," said Vanek. "Some of [the kids] may not be that serious, but some of them are very serious, and the parents are even more serious. If anybody's cheating, they're watching. We cannot set routes until the very last minute. It's very guarded, very controlled."

There are different types of competitive climbing on a man-made rock wall: speed climbing and difficulty climbing. A speed climb is called an on-sight: the climber has never seen the route, must walk into the gym and climb without any familiarity with the obstacles the route will present. This type of climbing is saved for the regional competition. At local competitions, the kids climb for points, based on the difficulty of the climb.

All routes will have a point rating, Vanek explained. If a climb is rated 5.7, it's worth 570 points. If they finish the climb cleanly, they get all the available points for that climb.

Steve Fultz is the director for USA Climbing in the Boise area and believes climbing is an ideal sport for kids who aren't much into team sports such as football or soccer.

"I think [all] kids are different. Some kids thrive in a team-sport environment. Other kids are more [into] an individual kind of sport like track or golf," said Fultz. "A kid can focus on [climbing] and get very, very strong. It's not speed, it's who can do the more difficult route."

The growing popularity and awareness of climbing are bringing more children into the sport at an earlier age, which can benefit a child well into their adulthood. Fultzs' son, Matt, placed third at nationals when he was 12, only a few months after he started to climb. Now a sophomore in high school, Matt has become something of a climbing phenomenon, and will soon co-publish a guide to bouldering at Swan Falls in Kuna, where he can claim at least 80 first ascents.

But, his dad said, Matt has decided to take a little time off from climbing over the next two years and focus on football and other school activities.

"He knows that these other things are only for this time in his life," Fultz said. "He can always come back to climbing later. He sees climbing as a lifelong activity."

Fostering lifelong athleticism in their children is something most parents aspire to do, but finding a child's niche can be a tougher task. With climbing, it never hurts to try, and the competitive side of things make it more interesting for young athletes.

"[Young climbers] get good real fast. If you're good at it, you tend to like it," said Vanek. "A lot of the kids at the gym, they're lean. The lean thing is a good thing. This is much more like the football team at the school. They're competing against each other. They're getting points themselves, but they're on a team. We keep track of both."

If a child turns out to be a phenomenon, however, Steve Fultz can testify that it isn't all chalk clouds and bulging forearms.

"You don't have a normal life. For three years, I was the USA climbing coordinator. I was the one who scheduled and ran competitions. We followed him to competitions. It's been a huge sacrifice both in time and finances," said Fultz. "We laugh about how one week we're hanging in the Pacific Ocean, next the Atlantic. It's been worth it. He's developed discipline in his life."

Whether it's about discipline or fun, climbing taps into something most kids have gotten through their ancestors: the desire to dangle.

Boise Peak Fitness. 308 S. 25th St., 208-363-7325.