Ascending two opposite sides of the near-24-foot portable vertical climbing wall, PCC students Lyric Green and Kevin Tran reached the top to ring the victory bell nearly in unison. Pinnacle reached, the real challenge laid in the descent. It was not so easy.
“Just let your hands go. Yeah! Right like that!” said Fred Willis, owner of Quantum Rock, who was assisting the students.
Willis’ company provided the portable rock climbing experience in the PCC Quad for fall’s first day at school on Monday, Sept. 30, and has done so for the last several years.
The company’s mobile “adrenaline-based fun” is hired for parties and featured in TV shows such as “Two and a Half Men,” “Last Man Standing”, and “Major Crimes.” Once a coveted treat by a former campus Rock Climbing club, the portable rock climbing feature continues to frequent the campus, providing a thrilling stress break to new and returning PCC students.
The rock, manufactured to look realistic by a company called Sport Rock International based in Paso Robles, is equipped with convenient stepping stones that dot the rock’s surface.
“The look and texture you see is because they have gone out into the mountains and molded from real rock, and then collaged them together,” said Willis. “There is maybe 50 different panels here that they’ve made look like one structure.”
Encouraged as instructed, Green and Tran finally descended. After a brief snag at the end, Tran, exhilarated and out of breath from the exciting but tricky descent, said it was his second attempt at climbing after trying it in middle school.
“It was scary at first,” Tran said. “The hardest part is going down. I don’t know if I let go or not.”
For Green, administration of justice, it was also not a first time climb. Trepidatious, she had perceived her descent as more daunting. She hung on at the top until comfortable in the security of her tethers, then descended with relative ease.
“I got stuck a couple of times, but I guess it’s really fun,” she said.
On-looking and eager students stepped up after queuing to sign the company waiver first before they could climb. Many watched a while before deciding to take that leap when they see the exhilarated faces of those who have accomplished the climb.
Gladis Ruiz, a full time mom of a three year old and an eight year old, also works part time with the company, which she has been with for nine years. Although she only rock climbs for fun and during her long time with the company, one wonders if she considers herself a pro.
“You could say that,” said Ruiz. “I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Ruiz and Willis help the students step into a harness, secure it around the waist, and lock in with a carabiner on a tether with an automatic belay that assists in the safety of the descent and landing. There’s a trick to putting on the harness to keep it from pulling in all the wrong places.
“The most important part of the harness is the waist,” said Ruiz. “You don’t really needs the leg straps, they are just to hold it in place.”
Ruiz enjoys the experience of working with the students and first time climbers.
“Usually, they are scared in the beginning. Some people have fear of heights. It takes more of a mental strength,” said Ruiz. “But when they get that confidence in the end, that’s the rewarding part of it. In the beginning you are cheering them on and the end, when they are coming down, they are so thankful that they did it!”
The portable rock and trailer together weigh three tons, where the fabricated rock tilts up and down hydraulically on the truck bed. Set-up takes about 15 to 20 minutes and the unit is equipped with several auto belays that assist the students down.
“The technology inside these is like a motorcycle clutch,” said Willis. “It’s a centrifugal breaking system. So as soon as it’s starts spinning, the brake shoes go out and they just give them a nice slow ride to the ground.”
As a student begins her descent, Willis moves to assist, but then sees she has quickly discovered the ease in getting down.
“They may not want to let go to start with, but once they do let go, they are comfortable,” he said.