May 6, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Lorea Zabaleta | Illustration by Iris Guo

After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Colorado College Club Climbing team restarted, revamped, and took USA Climbing Collegiate Nationals by storm in late April. The team sent four men to Philadelphia to compete in both bouldering and sport and left with two podium finishes and another top-ten placement.

Ben Blackmore ’23 and Noah Wheeler ’25 got second and third respectively in men’s bouldering, a feat that is not only impressive but will also send them to Collegiate Worlds in June.

“[It’s] quite insane the fact that we did that well, our little team did that at Collegiate Nationals is absolutely insane,” said Dova Zilly ’23, a team captain and finalist for the USA Climbing Collegiate Ambassador. “The fact that we’re sending two competitors from Colorado College to Collegiate Worlds, is, like, I don’t even really know how to fathom how crazy that is.”

The road to CC club climbing’s success at this year’s nationals has been a little rocky, as a result of the pandemic.

“We kind of skipped a year. We essentially restarted it,” said Zilly.

But the team has been practicing hard all year at Springs Climbing Center, CityRock, and the Ritt Kellog Climbing Gym with a roster of roughly 45 people. 30 of those members competed in divisionals in Fort Collins in late March against climbers from all over Colorado, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Zilly said this division, Rocky Mountain, is the “strongest” in the United States.

“Utah and Colorado draw a lot of really strong climbers who are training at the elite level,” she said.

In order to qualify for nationals, a climber has to place in the top 13 athletes for either (or both) the sport and bouldering categories. Besides Blackmore and Wheeler, Manny Kahne ’25 qualified for sport and Connor Wellman ’25 for both sport and bouldering. Wheeler won for men’s bouldering outright.

The road to the nationals and a podium finish has been a long time coming for Blackmore, despite usually being more focused on and passionate about outdoor climbing.

He said making the U.S. team had been a dream of his for some time before the pandemic hit. While competing in the youth circuit during his freshman year at CC he placed fourth at nationals, just missing out on the chance to qualify. However, he made alternate and was able to climb at the Pan American Championships in Ecuador that year.

“I always wanted to be on like the U.S. team,” he said, “because of the pandemic I couldn’t do it I kind of like let go of that like goal a little bit not a sad way, I kind of lost interest but it’s awesome that it’s finally worked out this time.”

The day of, Blackmore had no expectations of podiuming, especially considering he hasn’t been training for competition climbing, which he said has a completely different style than climbing on rock outside.

“I guess I’m just kind of lucky in the sense that the climbs that they set for the finals were more similar to what you find like outdoors,” he said. “[It] just kind of catered really well to my style of climbing.”

Blackmore said he was surprised he even made it to the finals and after doing poorly on the third of the three finals problems, he thought he had gotten seventh or eighth.

“I did not expect it at all,” he said about finding out he had placed second. “Just like genuine surprise. Just because again like for whatever reason I was under the impression that I hadn’t done that well.”

Wheeler was unavailable for comment, but Blackmore emphasized that Wheeler is “the best climber” he’s ever seen.

The pair will be heading to Austria in June as the majority of the collegiate men’s U.S. bouldering team.

Zilly and Blackmore both expressed excitement about not only this achievement of CC’s relatively small climbing team but also about the growth of the team and all the members new to the sport who joined this year.

“We’re really excited for next season in the coming years to see how the team continues to grow and evolve,” said Zilly.

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