Have you ever thought about the exhilaration of looking down into Yosemite Valley from the rock face of El Capitan, Half Dome or Cathedral Spire? Can you picture yourself on a rock face, equipped with harness, climbing rope, carabiners, quickdraws and belay kit? Do you think that outdoor rock climbing is a sport you'd like? If so, there's a local organization, the Cragmont Climbing Club, that has a climb with your name on it.
Founded in 1932, the club has just celebrated its 80th anniversary, making it the oldest rock climbing club west of the Mississippi. It's named after Berkeley's Cragmont Park where the founding members practiced their climbing techniques. The 75 active members are committed to continuing the club's long tradition of climbing and teaching, and they're inviting new members to do the same.
"One of the concerns we've had is making sure we have people coming into the club to keep it alive," said Sean Ward, a member for 21 years."
These days many climbers spend their time indoors at climbing gyms, under controlled conditions, not really prepared to transition to outdoor climbing venues. The club strongly promotes and teaches techniques that ensure safe climbing.
In considering the sport of rock climbing, it's helpful to know what lures climbers onto steep rock faces. For Ward it's a combination of intensity and problem solving. "You have incredible focus, and you can't think of anything else," he said. "Nothing in
Dan Zimmerlin, in his 35th year with the club, relishes the challenge. "The singular personal challenge of going up a rock that's potentially dangerous," he said. "It's also meditative."
Locally at Indian Rock and Cragmont Park, and further afield at Tuolumne Meadows, Lovers Leap and Tioga Pass, surrounded by incredible beauty, the club engages in traditional climbing, bouldering and some sport climbing. Including practice sessions, activities occur every weekend of the month. Beginning in April there are out-of-town trips almost every other weekend through October. At other times, club members will meet to rock-climb locally or take trips on their own.
This brings up another important benefit of being part of the Cragmont Climbing Club, the social aspect. The club sponsors gym nights, informal bouldering (climbing without ropese), annual dinners and longer trips taken several times a year.
"We've formed strong bonds over the years," Zimmerlin said. "Sitting around a campfire, sharing climbs and making plans for another climb mean a lot to members."
The club offers the opportunity to make friends and climbing partners at different levels of ability and to tap into the wealth of their climbing knowledge. "There's a depth of experience in this club in both technique and climbs," Zimmerlin said. "You learn about what climbs to do, what's a safe route and what climbs fit your style and ability," Ward added.
For the 80th anniversary, the club added a theme-decorated cake to their annual barbecue and used the event to pay homage to early climbers who paved the way for the sport. "We thought it would be nice to let people in Berkeley know that this club is another bit of Berkeley history," Ward said.
The club welcomes new members who want to learn to climb safely outdoors and take advantage of the club's knowledge base.
"We have 80 years in the mountains and thousands of hours and pitches," Ward said. "Our unofficial club motto is 'Safe climbing since 1932.'"
For more information about the Cragmont Climbing Club visit www.cragmontclimbingclub.org.