From indoor gyms to outdoor natural parks, Bella Jariel HM ’24 thrives in competitive rock climbing

A climber hangs off a boulder.
Bella Jariel HM ’24 engages in a challenging outdoor bouldering climb at Red Rocks, Nevada. (Courtesy: Jennie Jariel)

Stepping up to the wall with chalked and blistered hands, Bella Jariel HM ’24 observes the course she is about to tackle. After finding a route, she paces up the rocks using every muscle of her body, supported only by a rope strapped to her harness.

Originally from New Jersey, Jariel began rock climbing at seven years old, when her dad brought her to a gym. After a friend invited her to join a climbing team, she quickly fell in love with the sport.

“My favorite part [of climbing] has always been the community aspect,” Jariel said. “It started with family, which was fun, but then I became really close with my climbing team and made really good friends.”

Indoor climbing has three competitive events: speed, bouldering and lead climbing. Speed climbing involves a timed race to the top of a wall. Bouldering requires scaling a shorter wall without rope in the fewest number of attempts. Lead climbing tests how high climbers can go up a wall with one attempt, under a time constraint. 

Engaged in all of these distinct events, Jariel expressed how each category requires specific preparation.

“Speed involves a lot of strength and resistance training, since most climbers have [the route] memorized,” she said. “Bouldering is all about learning new movements and involves a mix of problem solving skills and pure strength.”

Of the three, however, lead climbing involves extra extracurricular training, according to Jariel.  

“Lead climbing is endurance focused, so I prepare by [running] lots of laps outside of climbing to improve recovery and energy on the wall,” she said.

Even within its different categories, Jariel expressed how there’s much more to climbing than the activity’s physical aspects. 

“There is strength involved but there are lots of intricacies; sometimes that’ll mean taking one foot off and putting your center of gravity in a different spot so you don’t move too much, or locking one arm in so you can go slowly.” – Bella Jariel HM ’24

“Climbing is a lot about techniques,” Jariel said. “There is strength involved but there are lots of intricacies; sometimes that’ll mean taking one foot off and putting your center of gravity in a different spot so you don’t move too much, or locking one arm in so you can go slowly.”

Learning these strategies has helped Jariel find success in the sport. Four years ago, she placed first in speed and third in bouldering at the Pan-American Championships, finishing second overall. 

“Winning those events was really important to me because it felt like I was able to show the full extent of the hard work I put into training,” Jariel said. 

The same year, she participated in the Youth National Championships for speed climbing. Despite finding it one of the “trickier” disciplines of the three, she failed to make a mistake and came out on top. 

“[National Championships] was one of my proudest performances because I was able to show my best in the final round with a personal record despite all the pressure,” she said. 

Jariel’s success has helped her find other climbers of similar caliber. She’s been longtime friends with professional climber Ashima Shiraishi, now a student at nearby UCLA, who has won prestigious competitions such as the Climbing World Championships and the USA Open Championships. Last summer, the two went on climbing trips with one another. 

“Watching Ashima’s continued dedication to both the sport and community is really inspirational to me,” Jariel said. “Not only does she work really hard and have incredible skills, she is also always looking to give back to the people around her, which is something that I definitely aspire to do.”

Outside of indoor climbing gyms, Jariel also climbs in natural environment settings. After setting up mats underneath large cliffs, she engages in bouldering to foster her abilities in endurance. 

“I actually just go into the mountains and just climb on real rocks that people have hiked before,” Jariel said. “I remember I would sometimes see people pass by with hiking gear as I hung by a wall.”

In outdoor climbing, she aims to earn more “first female ascent” titles, an honor given when a woman becomes the first to have completed a specific climb.

“I haven’t explored the [nearby] area as much as I would have liked to, so I don’t have any specific [climbs] in mind yet,” Jariel said. “I’m just hoping to find and complete a climb that is at the edge of my capabilities and takes a long time for me to do.”

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