Climbing center at EOU fieldhouse presenting new challenges to students, community members

Jan. 24—LA GRANDE — Many community members and Eastern Oregon University students are beginning the new year by scaling new indoor heights.

They are doing so at the new $12 million EOU fieldhouse, which features a climbing wall gym. The facility opened to students and the public on Monday, Jan. 9.

The gym's features include a 35-foot-high top rope climbing wall, the tallest indoor climbing wall within a 150-mile radius of La Grande. The wall is about twice the height of EOU's old top rope climbing wall at Quinn Coliseum.

"It is infinitely better," said Brian Prochazka, of La Grande.

Not only is the wall at the fieldhouse much taller, but its holds are positioned so there are a number of routes climbers can take to the top.

"There are so many more opportunities," Prochazka said. "There are a lot of creative sequences."

Prochazka said originality is important, because without it a climbing wall would have a one-dimensional feel to it.

"It could be like a ladder," he said.

The 35-foot wall provides a portion of the 2,500 square feet of climbable surface, which includes 600 square feet dedicated to bouldering — a type of climbing done on shorter walls with protective crash pads rather than ropes.

The new climbing facility, open to community members who have purchased passes, features a good mix of difficulty levels, according to climber Emmy Tyrell, of La Grande.

"This diversity is a real plus," she said. "There are good opportunities for people of all skill levels."

Alma Crow, of La Grande, who climbed the wall for the first time on Jan. 19, said the wall was intimidating at first but then she adjusted with the help of her friends.

"I got over the fear because of the people supporting me," she said.

Tyrell also said the complex's top rope wall was a bit daunting at first but she soon became accustomed to it.

"Riding in a car can be scary at first if you have never ridden in one," she said.

Ambrose Greif, a staff member of EOU's Outdoor Adventure Program, which operates the climbing wall complex, said that most people seeing the wall for the first time are "intimidated but also excited."

When climbing the 35-foot wall, the person on it is secured through a technique called belaying. The belayer — a trained individual on the ground — controls the rope tension while the climber navigates the wall.

During events, the number of belayers determines how many people can be climbing on the wall at one time.

The new center includes several TrueBlue auto belays — a device that allows people to climb without belayers by automatically taking up slack and locking during falls — which allows more people to climb without needing more volunteers.

Bringing track and field indoors

The entire fieldhouse, which includes a track and field complex that has a 175-meter four-lane synthetic oval, is now open to EOU students but only the climbing center is available to the public. The full fieldhouse will open to the public on April 3, when its track will also be available to everyone who has purchased passes from the school.

The track and field complex is far more spacious than the small west gym in Quinn Coliseum where the school's track and field teams conducted winter workouts for many years.

"We can do things now indoors that we never could before," EOU track and field coach Ben Welch said.

EOU's track team, for example, can now practice the long jump, triple jump and high jump, and can do every running event except the 3,000-meter steeplechase, indoors.

Shot-putter and discus thrower Maggie Ledbetter, like Welch, is also delighted with the track and field complex in the fieldhouse.

"It is absolutely amazing," she said.

Ledbetter noted that its spaciousness makes it much easier for her to practice her events and get a better feel for how she is progressing.

Madison MacMillan, a sprinter from Bruneau, Idaho, noted the new facility allows the team to practice together, unlike before when the full team could not get together to workout at one time in the winter because of the small size of Quinn's west gym.

"It has taken the team dynamic to a different level," she said.

Katie Brown, a sprinter from La Grande, said that the fieldhouse is making it possible for her and her teammates to practice their starting techniques more thoroughly during the winter. She feels fortunate, noting that many college track athletes do not have indoor tracks at their schools.

"It puts us a step ahead," Brown said.