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If you’ve ever been in Wilson Recreation Center, you might’ve heard some weird music blasting from below Red Mango. You might’ve gotten curious and leaned over the railing to see people tied to ropes, bouncing down walls or teetering across a weird looking balance beam on the bright blue floor. Don’t be worried. It’s just typical climbing wall antics, and you’re all invited.

One of the less conventional methods of working out, the rock wall features 11 ropes, colorful holds (some shaped like marine animals) and plenty of routes to explore. Although it’s tucked away from the weight lifters and runners, its 35-foot tall face acts as a beacon for the adventurous. You don’t need any prior experience or knowledge or reservations- just an open mind and a little bit of confidence. A Wilson membership is good too.

When you walk down the speckled staircase to the cardio area, round a left hand corner and through the corridor of stationary bikes, you’ll hit our entrance. If it’s past 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, we’ll be there until 10 p.m. (We’re also there on Fridays and Sundays, but with slightly different hours. It’s the weekend, people!). You’ve got your Duke card? Great! Go ahead and scan in, and we’ll get you ready to climb.

Mostly helpful staff members (myself included) will be behind the front desk and around the wall wearing gray shirts and name tags. If it’s your first time at the wall, we’ll throw a little welcome celebration first, and make it official with a safety waiver. Woohoo! After signing your life away (just kidding), we get you sized for climbing shoes and a harness. Climbing requires some special gear, and you’re in luck. We’ve got it all! The climbing shoes, a spirited Duke blue, are soled with rubber and good for the friction you need to get yourself up some rock. They should fit more snugly than a typical running shoe, but not too tight that they’re squishing your toes.

The harness has a lot of loops, but think of it as the skeleton of a pair of pants. Step in one foot at a time, through the waistband and leg loops, and pull it up over your hips. Tighten the straps around your thighs and waist. You’re ready to climb.

We’ll take you on a tour around the wall, explain the safety knots and systems used to get you comfortably and safely to the top, and give you some pointers. The heights can be a little daunting, but we promise you’re stronger than you think. Our wall has routes for everyone- first-time climbers to seasoned pros. They’re distinguished by the different colored holds, and difficulty is written on a tag at the first hold. We’ll help choose one that’s just right for you.

Once you’ve been tied in, take a deep breath. You’ve got this! We’ll run through a series of verbal checks just to make sure climber and belayer (the person controlling your safety at the other end of the rope, one of us cool Outdoor Adventure employees) are on the same page, and then you’re off. If you don’t reach the top, there’s no shame. Give yourself some credit for attempting something new, maybe facing a few fears, and giving the lonely staff some company aside from the Spongebob Theme Song and High School Musical.

You’ll ask us- On Belay?

We’ll say- Belay on.

You’ll ask- Climbing?

Climb on.

Contributed by: Christina Ferrari - Duke University, Class of 2024
Image Credit: Brook Anderson on Unsplash