On a recent rainy weekend, a unique group of climbing rookies assembled at Wild Walls for a Vertical Intro clinic. Ranging in age from 5-75, they didn’t typify the usual sport climber. There were participants in wheelchairs, others were missing a limb, and another was blind. One at a time, each climber learned the technical skills, climbing safety, and equipment modifications needed to scale the wall.

 

Photo of Tyler Byers in wheelchair, tying a figure-eight through his son's harness.

Coach Nancy Kiehn instructs Tyler Byers with safe knot-tying techniques prior to belaying his son Truman. // Courtesy of Robin Redman

 

Encouraged by indoor climbing’s recent surge in popularity, communities have collaborated with climbing gyms to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in this growing sport. Over the last year, Inland Northwest Adaptive Initiative (INWA) has been working in partnership with Wild Walls to create vertical opportunities. INWA, formed in 2015 by a group of passionate outdoor enthusiasts, provides access to equipment and instruction for individuals with physical impairments who might otherwise be discouraged from participating.

Tyler Byers, an accomplished Paralympic track athlete, marathoner, and alpine mono-skier, was at the clinic. He was looking for a new activity that he could enjoy with his young family. Tyler first learned the ropes—knot tying, belaying, and basic climbing techniques—from his own instructor before climbing with his two children. “I’m looking forward to getting in the climbing gym more frequently,” says Tyler. “It’s a fantastic full-body workout that gives me the opportunity to work muscles different from those in wheelchair racing or sit-skiing.” His five-year-old daughter, Betty, was even more enthusiastic: “This was the most fun thing ever! And I climbed higher than my brother…TWO TIMES!”

The focus of INWA is to provide opportunities for all abilities to access the abundant outdoor activities available around Spokane, and to progress to independent recreation with family and friends. Wild Walls will continue to host monthly Adaptive Vertical Intro classes this winter, with a reduced first-time fee, adding more sessions as the demand grows. Though not always needed, adaptive equipment is included at no cost. In addition to pre-scheduled clinics, both one-on-one and private group sessions can be arranged. To find out more and preregister, visit wildwalls.com. // (Robin Redman)

Robin Redman is a nurse, outdoors enthusiast, and community volunteer. This is her first full article for Out There.