In only its second season, the 5C Climbing Team will send four members to the USA Collegiate Climbing Nationals at the end of April, thanks to the quartet’s high finishes at the 2019 Southern California regional competition earlier this month.
Team captain Laurel Melton PZ ’20, one of the climbers who qualified for nationals, started the 5C climbing team at the beginning of the 2018 spring semester, after returning to Claremont from studying abroad.
Melton has been climbing for 12 years and competed on youth teams before coming to Pitzer. As a first-year, she competed in the collegiate division, but without a team, traveled to competitions alone.
Melton trained at the same climbing gym other 5C students used recreationally, which motivated her to organize 5C climbers into a club sports team. While the 5Cs have numerous climbing clubs, which give students opportunities to leave campus and go to gyms, the team Melton organized includes organized practices, workouts and competitions — setting the team apart from recreational climbing.
Since its founding last year, the 5C Climbing Team has grown to 46 members, with a relatively equal distribution across the consortium. Last year, the vast majority of the team was comprised of Pitzer College students.
Melton attributes the team’s growth to its supportive atmosphere and attractiveness to first-year students.
“I’m really excited the team has grown so much this year. First-year interest and talent has been a huge deal for us,” she said. “I started the team second semester last year, which was difficult because by second semester, everyone is involved in their things already, so it’s been cool to have it for a full year.”
Throughout the year, the team competes in competitions within the Southern California region of USA Climbing’s collegiate division. The 5C students face off against UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and other large schools. Climbers compete in bouldering climbs in each competition, but speed and sport climbs are only offered at specific competitions.
At regionals, the 17 5C climbing team members competed in bouldering, sport climbing and speed climbing. Melton, Kira Bloomenthal PZ ’22, Rachel Lau PO ’22 and Ihlara Gray HM ’22 were the four climbers to qualify for the national competition after their performances at the regional meet.
Melton placed fourth in the entire region, finishing fourth in bouldering and second in speed climbing. Gray had multiple top-six finishes — third in bouldering and sixth in speed.
Bloomenthal’s top finish was eighth in bouldering, while Lau placed fifth in speed climbing.
Bouldering does not utilize ropes or harnesses and is scored on two facets — how much of a climb a climber can complete and how many times they attempt that climb. Sport climbing includes ropes in climbs, while climbers race to the top of a fifty-foot wall in speed climbing.
Melton and co-captain Serena Faruqee PZ ’20 also appreciate the opportunity to coach first-years in particular.
“I love coaching, I love leadership and I love being involved with every member of the team,” Faruqee said. “That’s something I didn’t get to do training on my own when I came here freshman year.”
Melton said the team attracts students of all levels.
“There are a lot of different people competing from other schools too that are new to it, so the climbs are set to be pretty accessible,” Melton said. “There’s something everybody can do.”
Faruquee said the welcoming atmosphere of the team and the larger collegiate climbing community has led to the 5C team’s current success.
“We don’t want people to think because we send people to nationals, workout and compete so much that we are not open to beginners, because we are a welcoming team,” Faruquee said. “So many of the people we are talking about right now came into this year with very little experience and had not competed before, and experienced climbers are in the minority. It’s a great opportunity to learn a new sport around people who are also passionate about it.”
Melton and Faruquee said competing at the national level far surpasses any expectations they had for the team prior to the season’s start.
5C climbers will be focused on their individual success at nationals, Melton said, as the team award involves the three highest scoring climbers per gender, and the 5C team is only sending four women.
Melton said nationals will provide valuable experience for the first-years, adding that the four climbers are looking forward to “going, having fun and competing.”