The students have become the masters at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary’s climbing club.
Every lunchtime, students practice climbing the school’s 15-foot climbing wall, tucked away in the PSO weight room. The wall has been in the school for 15 years but has started to become popular again, thanks to the efforts of teachers Ken MacKenzie and Rob Cook.
In the past four months, the club has grown from about five to a dozen members who come regularly to climb the wall. Up to 40 students have tried it out.
“Rob and I have both done a lot of climbing and we’re really interested in it so we just redid all the routes up the wall and just spread the news of the club by word of mouth,” MacKenzie said.
Grade 11 student Micah Kozier is glad to have a place to climb, having spent a lot of time climbing with his friend around Agassiz. The climbing club wasn’t active when he first moved to 100 Mile in 2020, so he would sneak into the weight room and climb during class. Now he climbs as much as possible with the club.
Student Wyatt Hollett shares his enthusiasm about climbing, as he has been doing it casually for years.
“My dad got me into it a few years ago and I really got into it this summer,” Hollett said. “It was really nice this school year to see Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Cook letting us come in here at lunch.”
Hollett said he enjoys the problem-solving nature of climbing and how there’s no one right way to complete a route.
“I find there are very few other sports where mentally you need to push yourself to hold onto the wall. If you fall off you have to restart so it really pushes you to go as far as you can push yourself,” Hollett said. “The improvement I’ve seen over the last four to five months has been great.”
MacKenzie and Cook said their role is mostly to teach safety and facilitate the club. Whenever a new student joins, they are taught how to secure their harness properly, tie a figure eight knot and belay. Belaying is a technique climbers use for safety. One student will climb the wall, while the other will provide a counterbalance on the rope. If the climber slips and falls, their belayer will stop them from falling to the ground.
MacKenzie said communication between partners is key and the students follow a strict protocol every time that includes checking the strength of the knots and ensuring they’re all connected.
“We teach them, they demonstrate they can do it, and then they have to come back on another day and show us they can do it again,” Cook said. “We use certain phrases for starting a climb, taking a break or coming down after a climb.”
Kozier loves bouldering, which is free climbing without a rope or harness. While regular rock climbing is about endurance, he said bouldering is a more technical activity that makes him think and build his strength.
“If you can see yourself improve that’s instant motivation to keep going,” Kozier said. “It’s a great way to build muscle and a great source of exercise.”
To challenge the students, MacKenzie and Cook have created a series of routes with varying levels of difficulty. Each route is marked with colours: Green is the easiest with black the hardest. Cook said several students have already completed the black courses, including Hollett.
“When they started off it was kind of entertaining for us. We’d watch them kind of grovel up these routes and muddle their way through it,” Cook said. “Now we’ve got kids who have just started climbing this year and make both of us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.”
The teachers said they also try to foster a strong community spirit in the club.
“A lot of these kids wouldn’t normally interact with each other but they’ve come together because of climbing. Some really good friendships have started and the atmosphere is really positive,” MacKenzie said. “Whenever someone almost makes it or makes a climb they give them a cheer.”
The club meets at lunch every weekday except Tuesday when they climb for three hours after school.