Saturday’s midmorning sun and temperatures, already in the mid-90s, didn’t discourage these folks from plastering themselves against a hot concrete wall and climbing.
They were smiling as they scaled a 100-foot wall of an abandoned concrete plant, which serves as cliffs for members of the Kansas Cliff Club, near 47th Street South and K-15.
“It’s a good place to train,” said club member J.D. Ratts, a 56-year-old pilot. “We don’t exactly have rocks and mountains around here.”
The nonprofit, grassroots club was established in 1998 shortly after avid climbers J.F. Dumont and his wife, Chantale Kirouac, moved to Wichita from Montreal when he took a job at Boeing.
They saw the old plant as the perfect spot to establish walls that simulate the cliffs and obstacles encountered on the real stuff in such places as the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma and Horseshoe Canyon or Sam’s Throne in Arkansas. From a handful of members, the club has grown to about 125 – ranging in age from 8 to 80.
“Some members in their 20s and 30s really get after it,” Ratts said. “I do it for the exercise and love of the outdoors.”
Even when it’s hot.
So while others tried to stay cool in a pool, inside by the air conditioner or under a shade tree, a handful of members were putting on harnesses and climbing the walls, which have more than 300 routes. Most members climb at the club’s walls two or three times a week so they’ll be sharp and in shape for destination cliffs and rocks.
“You get a good workout,” said member Jason Kruse, a 41-year-old physician’s assistant. “It’s good to get well-hydrated before coming out here.”
There are two exterior walls with routes that are 85 and 65 feet. Four inside chambers have walls ranging from 16 feet to 35 feet with varying degrees of difficulty and obstacles. The routes on the inside walls are changed once a year.
“It’s a challenge for the best climbers,” member Dean Mehler said during a break after a climb.
To help cover basic costs, including lease payments and liability insurance, the club has membership fees that range from $225 for an individual to $175 for a student.
Before becoming a member, a person must demonstrate basic climbing skills and agree to a number of conditions, such as no horseplay or alcohol and to always put safety first. No one climbs alone.
“It’s not just show up and have a good day,” Mehler said. “It’s a serious sport.”
Shanna Matthews, a 28-year-old registered nurse, was out Saturday as a prospective member and climbed a wall. She and her husband, Josh, had done rock climbing when they were in college.
After climbing last week during a trip to Vail, Colo., she said, “Our interest is piqued. It’s a good exercise for the whole body.”
Club members include lawyers, doctors, teachers and engineers.
“This sport isn’t like it used to be a long time ago, when it was kind of an outlaw sport and attracted people who took chances in life,” said Mehler, an electrical engineer. “Now they are people who like to solve problems, push the limits. The difference is back then they took chances for the sake of taking risks.
“Now climbers are more about risk management, solving problems. They want to get home.”