The program had been using Wake Field House, which could be crowded and noisy, with weightlifting and music playing. As Berry put it, “that’s not really conducive for trying to educate someone on some very technical skills while hanging on a rope.”
In Drysdale that day, Mason said he thought, “That stairwell would be awesome,” referring to the three-story-tall stairwell that runs from a corner of the Veterans Lounge to the ground floor. So, Mason, Berry, and student Tim Slusser ’21 mounted a heavy metal pipe across the top of the stairwell and created a new recreational space at Lynchburg.
While the pipe is permanently installed, rappelling ropes and equipment will only be brought out by authorized personnel. “We don’t want anybody trying to use it like a jungle gym,” Berry said.
There are advantages to rappelling in the stairwell, Berry said, other than the relative quiet. The stairs encircling the drop zone makes it easy to help someone who’s having trouble or gets frightened. “Maintaining eye level” is easy, he said, and you can quickly pull someone over the railing if they “freeze up.”
He also said the space will be good for some of the classes he teaches. “It’s a great opportunity and location for both rappelling and ascending and rescue practices,” he said. “It would certainly be skillsets covered with our rock climbing and vertical rope-work class in the health and physical education [major] and outdoor recreation minor.”
As for safety, Berry described the system as “over engineered” and said, “You could lower a truck on it. I like overkill safety.” Participants also wear safety harnesses and Hornet-red helmets, and there’s a thick crash pad at the bottom.
Kendall Malsam ’17, a grad student who works in the Office of Student Activities, was one of the first people to test out the new rappelling site. He’d rappelled before and had done zip-lining and tree-climbing when offered at Lynchburg.
On a recent afternoon, Malsam geared up, got some basic instruction from Berry, and rappelled down the stairwell. After safely landing on the crash pad below, he announced the experience “a blast.” He added, “This’ll be cool. A lot of people will like it.”
A grand opening for the new rappelling site will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, October 16. The event is open to students, faculty, and staff who want to try rappelling. For the remainder of the fall semester, Berry said, there will be rappelling at least once a week. “We’ll schedule it, beyond that, based on interest and what students are most interested in.”