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Minnesota State University, Mankato
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More than 100 Participate in Climbing Event

The 3rd annual Whipper Snapper competition was held March 29 on campus.

Jessica Bies, Mankato Free Press, 3-30-2015

The intricately designed route kept stumping her. Over and over again Tri-City-United High School “whipper snapper” Meleah Schoenbauer would step up to the massive Minnesota State University, Mankato indoor climbing wall, cover her hands in chalk and start the ascent.

The junior scaled the artificial cliff slowly, following the brightly colored tape up its face. And just as she got almost all the way up to the top … she’d fall.

“You can’t use any of the holds that aren’t on your route,” she said.

The ascents are all marked in different colored tape: green, yellow, orange and pink. Each is more difficult than the last.

“You have to do it in a controlled manner,” she said.

One hand after the other. Each foot carefully placed.

“You can’t go all crazy,” she added with a laugh.

Schoenbauer, from Le Center, competed in Minnesota State Mankato’s Whipper Snapper spring climbing competition Sunday, in the advanced women’s division. She was up against college athletes, her mother said.

The high school junior has been rock climbing at the university several days a week for almost three years now, giving many of the undergrads a run for their money.

“She holds her own,” Sheila Schoenbauer said. “This is definitely her thing.” Sam Steiger, program coordinator for Minnesota State Mankato’s Adventure Education Program, agreed. The spunky high schooler was one of the best climbers in Sunday’s competition, he said.

“What’s nice about it is she’s hanging out with college students in a real positive way,” he said.

She, like many of university’s rock climbers, are pretty impressive to watch. Because the climbing wall is open to the public, people from all over the region end up dangling from the impressive looking edifice, Steiger said.

On Sunday, more than 100 people participated in the university’s third-annual Whipper Snapper Competition. They came not only from all over Minnesota, but from North and South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

One group was a climbing club from Marquette University, located in Milwaukee, Wis. The school doesn’t even have its own climbing wall, one of the students said. They practice in the basement of a restaurant and music hall.

“This is one of the only competitions we’ve been able to do as a club,” said Marquette University sophomore Alexis Worden. They drove six hours to climb at Minnesota State Mankato. “We’re just now becoming a rock climbing club.”

Steiger and his staff started getting the wall ready for the competition Thursday night. They removed all its hand holds, washed them and then put them back on, working nonstop for almost three days to get it set up.

“It’s not just me drilling them in and guessing,” Steiger said. “It’s really an art form. You’re forcing movement and setting different levels.”

The university uses the Yosemite decimal system — the American standard for rock climbing — to decide how difficult each route is.

“It starts at 5.5,” Steiger said. “That’s a wet, slippery ladder. 5.6 is harder. It goes all the way up to 5.14. Our wall is set to only 5.13, which is incredibly hard.”

Minnesota State Mankato junior Madison Dillard has only been climbing for three months, but can already do a 5.8. She competed in the intermediate division instead of the basic on Sunday, so she could challenge herself.

Rock climbing is more than physical, she said. It’s mental, too. You have to psych yourself up.

“You get to the top and you almost have the climb, you’re so close and you’re so tired and your skin starts to feel raw … I think that’s the hardest part,” she said.

Steiger said the rock climbers get points for a “clean climb,” one that’s completed using only the route’s marked hand holds.

“It’s not a race,” he said. “It’s mental and physical. When you get a climb clean, there’s this sense of success and achievement.”

The wall was constructed three years ago and since then “climbing has just exploded,” he added. Last year alone, Minnesota State Mankato logged 80,000 visits to the indoor climbing center. In its first year, it logged almost 70,000.

The Minnesota State Mankato recreation department holds open climbs every week, 7:00 - 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursday, as long as there are not indoor track meets. A complete schedule, as well as pricing, is available online.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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