After injuries, Westminster's climbing wall plans to improve its facilities

Gabe McKenzie, a Westminster student and frequent climber, boulders on Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center. Bouldering is a style of climbing where a climber ascends the wall a short distance—around 10 feet at Bishop’s Wall, according to the wall’s staff supervisor. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Gabe McKenzie, a Westminster student and frequent climber, boulders on Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center. Bouldering is a style of climbing where a climber ascends the wall a short distance—around 10 feet at Bishop’s Wall, according to the wall’s staff supervisor. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Staff at the climbing wall located in Westminster College's Health, Wellness and Athletic Center, known as Bishop’s Wall, look to improve facilities after some students have been injured.  

Bishop’s Wall is always improving, said Josh Schmidt, a senior biology major and the wall's staff supervisor. The newest area of improvement at Bishop’s Wall is its bouldering pads. The college is looking into purchasing new pads that would provide more protection from injuries than the current foam-composite flooring with additional smaller pads on top, according to Westminster's Outdoor Recreation Coordinator Andy Tankersley.  

Bouldering is a style of climbing where a climber ascends the wall a short distance—around 10 feet at Bishop’s Wall, according to Schmidt. If a climber falls while ascending or lets go at the top, the individual lands on a foam pad.  

Not everyone at Bishop's Wall lands on the pads, however.  

Josh Schmidt, a manager at Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center, said he got his start in climbing at the wall. Schmidt said some of the recent injuries that have occurred at Bishop’s Wall could have been caused by climbers missing the pads but said there's more that goes into a climbing-related injury than just missing the bouldering mat. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Josh Schmidt, a manager at Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center, said he got his start in climbing at the wall. Schmidt said some of the recent injuries that have occurred at Bishop’s Wall could have been caused by climbers missing the pads but said there's more that goes into a climbing-related injury than just missing the bouldering mat. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

“I broke my ankle within the first six months of when I first started climbing,” said Chris Keim, a senior environmental studies major. “I landed on the edge of the mats that they place down and rolled it over the mat. It fractured the talus bone and tore some ligaments.”  

Keim said the injury required surgery.  

Schmidt said some of the injuries that have occurred at Bishop’s Wall could have been caused by climbers missing the pads but said there's more that goes into a climbing-related injury than just missing the bouldering mat.  

“In any situation people get hurt climbing, I see the most injuries when people are bouldering,” Schmidt said. “A lot of things happen when you fall. Not only falling but falling incorrectly can cause injuries.”  

Schmidt said climbing is a dangerous sport and climbers can get hurt without falling.  

“I have also sprained my ankle climbing at the Westminster wall,” Keim said. “I fell and rolled my ankle on the mat.”  

Keim said his sprained ankle was not caused by a lack of padding.  

Abby Jorgensen, a junior biology major at Westminster, said she was also injured at Bishop’s Wall.  

“When I fell, my left foot fell off the pad and my right foot fell on the pad,” Jorgensen said. “My ankle shifted left to right and within five minutes my ankle was huge.”  

Westminster student Joe Kiffney climbs on Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center. After some students have been injured on the wall, the college is looking into purchasing new pads to improve student safety. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Westminster student Joe Kiffney climbs on Bishop's Wall in the Westminster College Health, Wellness and Athletic Center. After some students have been injured on the wall, the college is looking into purchasing new pads to improve student safety. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Jorgensen said the University of Utah's health clinic diagnosed her with a sprained ankle. Several weeks later, she said she was injured again while skiing and was diagnosed with a broken ankle. 

“I think my climbing fall contributed to my broken ankle,” Jorgensen said.  

Both Jorgensen and Keim said they believe their injuries could have potentially been prevented if the gym had larger pads.  

"I've seen other people fall in really weird spots in the pad," Jorgensen said. "I think that could have contributed to their injuries."   

Jorgensen said she believes she could have been hurt from her fall regardless but said she thinks the lack of padding made her injury more severe.  

Tankersley, Westminster's outdoor recreation coordinator, oversees the student staff and student managers at Bishop’s Wall and said the college is working on replacing the pads. 

“Our goal is that within the next couple of years we have a new surface downstairs,” he said. 

Tankersley said he's currently talking to different padding companies and weighing options of which pads to install at Bishop’s Wall.  

“Different companies have different recommendations,” he said.  

Because Westminster has such a large community of people who enjoy the outdoors, Schmidt said Bishop’s Wall serves as a platform to introduce students to the sport. Like many other students, Schmidt and Keim were both introduced to climbing at Bishop's Wall.  

"The Westminster climbing wall is the reason why I climb so much," Keim said. "Even after I broke my ankle, I went there every night so I could climb and meet people who climb. I made friends who I am still friends with today and still climb with today."