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Obsession and Ingenuity, Part IV: Kansas


Ben Reader spots Brady Karlin. The KU campus' older buildings offer traverses, highballs and numerous other problems. [Photo] Ashton Martin

A man was arrested a few years back for roping up and climbing an offwidth up the side of the University's Memorial Stadium. Rumor has it that Fraser Hall used to be bolted, and someone free soloed the 80-foot Mallott Hall. Supposedly an old issue of Climbing has a picture of a Kansas climber atop a light post on the KU campus [Figures. —Ed.]. A few weeks ago two climbers were warned not to builder on campus. The police still refuse to slackline with us.

The point is this: Kansas climbers exist, and they naturally occur. Flat land doesn't preclude climbing; it modifies it. They say a person is never more than 50 feet from a rat. I'd argue the same is true of climbers, even in Kansas. We're not just climbers, though—we're completely obsessed. Even without a mountain in sight we drool at the thought of beating our personal bests. Kansas climbers understand the sacrifices it takes to live lost in a sea of plains. If time is money, then we’re taking out second mortgages just to get to decent rock.

Hoelscher on Robot 11 in The Climbing Garage. The roof crack is R-rated due to its proximity to a large glass window. [Photo] Adam Hofmann

Last fall break I drove with the KU Rock Climbing Club to Moab, Utah, for a three-day weekend. It took four of us about twenty hours longer than the rest of the group when a rock on I-70 ran in front of two of our cars, shredding two wheels and two tires on each car. That's ridiculously unlucky. It's ironic too, as the oily tow driver pointed out, that a rock should stop us from rock climbing. We were stranded in Salina, Kansas (picture tumbleweeds), two hours from home, and twelve-plus hours from Moab. But we pushed on. We stayed the night at a highway-side motel, drank beers and called insurance companies. The next morning we rented a car and continued on. In Denver that car broke down, stranding us for another four hours in a parking lot, watching the sun set in the west and the cars stream by for what felt like eternity. We finally got a replacement and dragged into Moab far past midnight. I'd rather epic on a climb than on I-70. After all, driving is inherently dangerous.

But it was absolutely worth it. And I would do it again tomorrow, car trouble included, if you asked me. We climbed at Indian Creek the first day, and I bagged my first desert tower the second. Ultimately, the positive experiences in climbing always outweigh the negative.

I think there is something to be gained from considering the Kansas climber. Climbing is an obsession that runs deep and red in the veins. It's not something that will simply go away, even if you move (heaven forbid) to a place where there is no climbing. This is because climbing is not simply a sport; it's a form of thinking, a way of approaching difficulties.


As for the Kansas climber, imagine a carrot at the end of a thousand-mile stick that lures us through the worst of it just to climb for two days. Maybe one day you'll see us chewing happily away. But please, don't ask us about our local crag.

Pass (left) and Hoelscher get in a few last reps at the University of Kansas Union parking garage, aka The Climbing Garage. [Photo] Adam Hofmann

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