ONTONAGON - Ten seventh graders at the Ontonagon Area School District recently learned about rock climbing techniques.
Semi-retired OASD teacher Jim Waters volunteered to assist the students in gym class as they tried the activity out.
The wall was constructed years ago with hand- and footholds of varying sizes, teacher Ken Raisanen said.
Waters, assisted by seniors Tony Roberts and Will Schober, stressed the importance of communication needed to climb safely after helping students into their harnesses.
"Climbers don't just start climbing," Raisanen said. "They first ask, 'On belay?' to the person holding the safety rope or belay line. Hearing the response, 'Belay on,' they announce they are 'Climbing' and the belayer acknowledges with 'Climb on.' To the casual observer, it may seem redundant but as Waters stressed, 'It is all about safety.'"
Preparation time was needed to set ropes and organize harnesses and clips needed to run multiple belay lines simultaneously. Waters, Roberts and Schober had help from custodian Roger Ruuti and his scissorlift while setting up.
All the climbers made multiple assents and all made it to the top on the easier parts of the wall. "A couple managed to scale the side with the smallest handholds, but all agreed on one point: The smallest holds are very hard on your fingers," Raisanen said.
One of the most challenging parts was letting go once the climbers reached the top, Raisanen said. "As Noah Kaarto's photo suggests (below), one needs to let go of the rope, push back with their feet and 'walk' down the wall. It is perfectly safe but it doesn't hurt to hear an encouraging word from the person on your belay line before you lean back."