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Carnegie Mellon Climbing Team Ascends to New Heights

student activities / outside the classroom

Months after tearing a tendon in her ankle at a National Cup Series bouldering competition, Carnegie Mellon University junior Erika Giuse pulls on her climbing shoes. She's healed, and back in the swing of things coaching practices of the Carnegie Mellon Climbing team at Ascend, a climbing gym in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood. 

Giuse chalks up her hands, reducing any moisture that might affect her grip, and walks to the base of a bouldering wall at the gym. She chooses her route, one of dozens delineated by hand grips of various colors, and proceeds to scale the wall. She moves quickly, familiar with this particular path. From a distance, she makes reaching the top look effortless. Up close, every muscle in her arms, back, and legs exerts ample effort.

Giuse is an information systems major. Her father, Dario Giuse, was on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science for 14 years before taking a position at Vanderbilt University. 

Erika Giuse swam competitively in high school in Nashville, but lost interest in the sport. She searched for a new activity and fell in love with climbing when she came to Carnegie Mellon. 

"I got addicted to the mental aspect of climbing," Giuse said. "It's a lot of problem solving. I've always enjoyed that, both in academics and in my hobbies. It's a full-body workout that's mentally engaging."

Giuse founded the Carnegie Mellon Climbing Team, which is a subset of the Carnegie Mellon Explorers Club, last semester to share her experience with her fellow students. Around 70 students have signed up, with about 30 regularly attending practices.

"Since Ascend opened, I thought it would be a great opportunity for students to climb more, and get together," Giuse said. "The climbing community is really social. When you're on the wall, you're the one climbing your problem. With the team, you have others looking at it, encouraging you and helping you figure out the right sequence of moves."

Half of the Climbing Team members have prior experience, and the other half are casual climbers or beginners. It's a nonjudgmental environment where everyone is welcome. 

"I hoped the team would be a flexible experience," Giuse said. "I didn't want it to be a source of stress, where you feel like you have to go and to compete. I want everyone to enjoy it the way I do. I look forward to coming every single time."