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Columbia climbing ascends in popularity

Edited by Tristen Rouse

For the Columbia Missourian

Jalen Julian, center, leads a route as his friends cheer him on from the ground on Sept. 9, 2022 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Ark. Leading is a style of climbing where the climber is fed rope from a “belayer” on the ground, pulls the rope up with them, then clips it into carabiners as they move up the wall.

Anthony Bradford, made minuscule by the reddish sandstone cliff before him, dipped a sweaty hand into a small fabric bag attached to the harness around his hips. His hand emerged white, covered in chalk to dehydrate his skin and increase the friction between him and the rock he is about to scale.


More friction means a better grip. And a better grip means less chance of falling.

“I’m kind of nervous,” he said, smiling.

Anthony Bradford, 19, looks for the next hold on his climbing route while a gaggle of friends support from the ground on Sept. 9, 2022 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Ark. “There’s just such a social aspect to climbing that I don’t want to say isn’t found in other sports,” Bradford said. “But there’s so much reliance on your partners, especially with rope climbing.”

Aidan Lee rests a chalk-coated hand on his hip before beginning a climb. Lee spent the weekend helping those new to outdoor climbing, often asking them if they were ready to “absolutely crush it.”

A pile of climbing rope lies uncoiled on a tarp. The MU climbers took turns tying into each other’s ropes for protection should they let go of the rock wall during a climb.

From left, Jalen Julian, Malek Necibi and Jordan Steuck try to figure out the mechanics of a stick clip, a safety mechanism that allows climbers to attach their rope to the first bolt on a lead route.

Bradford, 19, and over 40 other climbers from MU made a trip to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, a rock climbing hotspot in Jasper, Arkansas, on Sept. 9. The group, made up of experienced and first-time climbers alike, spent the next two days “sending it” up dozens of climbing routes marked by metal bolts drilled into the rock face.

“It’s a weird sport in that it’s very competitive if you want it to be, but it’s not like soccer where it’s all about the competition,” Bradford said. “You can just be a casual climber and not feel bad about yourself.”

Attendance was almost three times higher this year than in the previous Horseshoe Canyon Ranch trip. Increased interest in climbing at the university level reflects the sport’s rising popularity on a global scale.

The climbing movie “Free Solo” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature film in 2019. At the 2020 Summer Olympics, which was held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sport climbing became a category for the first time.

Jordanne Steuck, 19, scales up one of the most advanced routes in Horseshoe Canyon Ranch on Sept. 9 in Jasper, Ark. “It’s not just competing to get a harder grade than somebody else,” Steuck said. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god, you did something that you haven’t done before and I’m so proud of you for that.’ That’s just the climbing world in general, but Mizzou is very family-based like that.”

Jordanne Steuck, center, maneuvers up a cliff as other climbers descend from their routes. “You’re outdoors and you’re in the fresh air and you’re surrounded by everyone else that just loves the earth and wants to protect it,” Steuck said. “I think that that attracts a lot of climbers. It’s just very raw.”

MU climbers wait for their turn at the wall on Sept. 9 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Ark. The ranch has over 420 climbing routes throughout the complex.

Backpacks, road snacks, toilet paper and climbing gear lie on the trail near the climbing spot. MU climbers camped for two nights on the ranch and hiked a half-mile to the rock wall in the mornings.

MU Climbing Club president Zoë Spriggs also attributed the club’s new success to its efforts to be more actively inclusive.

“Climbing has traditionally been really dominated by straight, white men,” she said. “One of my goals is to make sure that we’re trying our best to expand access. We want to be able to bring people of any type of marginalized group into the fold.”

Jim Karpowicz, 66, has been climbing in Columbia for over 40 years and sees a shift in how the local climbing community is organizing itself. He remembers seeing the same 10 to 20 people, or “hardcore crushers,” in his terms, at the local climbing spots. With the new construction of CoMo Rocks, an indoor climbing gym, Karpowicz said he feels more people have access to the sport in one concentrated place.


His roots lie in outdoor climbing, though. Newer climbers like Bradford and Spriggs can thank him for setting some of the local routes.

“I’ve certainly climbed up some bluffs with a drill and put some bolts on stuff,” he said. “It’s never really been an issue here, amazingly.”

Drew Isom takes a “60-second power nap” between climbs on Sept. 9 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Ark. Isom woke up saying he felt rejuvenated and that it was “the best rest.”

Silvia Stambaugh calculates her next move up a cliff. Stambaugh conditions herself for outdoor climbing at the indoor rock wall in the MU Student Rec Complex. 

Anthony Bradford relaxes while belaying a friend up the rock face. Bradford serves as the MU Climbing Club’s social media manager, and he attributes part of the trip’s success to the promotion of it online.

MU climbers eat hash browns, eggs and sausage cooked over a portable propane stove on Sept. 9 at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Jasper, Ark. The group’s collective wake-up time was around 7 a.m. so they could cook breakfast before hiking to the climbing spots by 8 a.m.

Even though the geology in other states like Arkansas and Colorado is more well-known for climbing, Karpowicz said he appreciates Columbia’s close access to climbing spots.

“I find it curious when people quiz me about, ‘Oh, is there climbing outside? Do you climb outside?’ Like yeah, duh!” he said. “There is nothing more beautiful than the fall when the leaves are turning and you have the sun setting and bouncing off the river and lighting up the cliffs with this beautiful orange light.”


As more mid-Missourians turn to climbing as a hobby, Karpowicz advises new climbers to maintain good relationships with landowners, as most of the popular climbing areas in Boone County are on private land.


“Large groups, music, hammocks — that tends to kind of mess things up a little bit,” he said. “It’s better to be a little bit stealthy and not call too much attention to yourself. That’s worked for us for years.”

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