The “School of Rock” met for the third consecutive year not too long ago. “The School,” as it is affectionately called, was born as an opportunity for some of my elementary school teaching partners to try out the sport of rock climbing. WenatcheeOutdoors editor Andy Dappen was on the inaugural trip in 2008 and posted a report called “School of Rock” worth reading on the website. My wife, Janet, and I have hosted this event now about a half-dozen times over three summers. A core group seems to come back each year while others try climbing just once to see what it’s all about.
This year’s group were all back from previous years and it was gratifying to see how everyone has gradually improved their skill and confidence level.
Typically we climb at “The Feathers” at Frenchman Coulee, a climbing destination not far from Quincy. Busy on weekends in the spring and fall with climbers from both sides of the Cascades, the place is often empty on weekdays during the summer. This is perfect for teachers with summer weekdays at their disposal. The climbs offer ample shade for hot summer days and a large group can spread out on several climbs without impacting others. The climbs there offer beginner routes on lower-angle slabs and more-difficult routes on vertical and overhanging faces — basically something for nearly every skill level.
This group meshes well and supports each other with safety reminders, encouragement, and inevitably, some “teacher talk.” My wife knows that when she goes climbing with my climbing friends and I, she will often be the only woman along. However, when the focus is elementary school teachers, she is enthused to know that most of the participants will be of her gender.
One member of “The School” is a local educator by the name of Jocelyn Flitton. We used to visit with her and her son, John, at the YMCA climbing wall. When the “School of Rock” was born during a break at a third-grade teacher training meeting, Jocelyn was eager to be “in” as a participant. She has recently transitioned from a classroom to P.E. teacher. Her participation in rock climbing serves as a model to her students that anyone can challenge themselves to try a new sport and gain self-confidence. Her elementary school-aged son just continues to get stronger and more focused each year he climbs.
A neighbor of Jocelyn’s, Jamie Johnson, was an unexpected participant on the first event two years ago. That day we had met at Jocelyn’s house before heading out and I was a little nervous knowing that most of the people were raw beginners. Although she was a familiar face as another elementary school teacher, I had no idea Jamie had experience leading sport climbs. She shyly asked that morning if she could come along, adding she didn’t mind doing mostly belaying.
Jamie’s sister, Kade Johnson, wasn’t on the inaugural trip, but is now somewhat of a regular with the group. She teaches college in Omak, and shares the teacher lifestyle of having summers off.
Teresa McFadden has been an inspiration to our group, entering the rock-climbing scene in her early 60s, at an age that most rock climbers have already hung up their harnesses for good.
During our outing this summer, I looked over at other climbers nearby and spotted Drew and Cathy Gaylord, who also are local teachers. Climbers often show respect and courtesy for others by sharing topropes, a technique that allows others not part of a group to share in a climb that someone has led. This gave Drew and Kathy an opportunity to try a few of the climbs that we had set.
When the early afternoon shade was just right, I climbed “Satan’s Wagon,” an overhanging climb (steeper than 90 degrees), as I have each year, somewhat to satisfy my own desire to lead a “5.10” route each time I’m out on the rock. In past years, most of the group was satisfied to just watch and stick to climbing easier routes.
In a testament to the group’s higher-skill set and increased confidence, this time most of the participants took a turn on the route, knowing that their first attempt would be “exploratory” and not result in “getting to the top.”
When the initial conversations about teachers getting to rock climb began two years ago, I had uncertain thoughts about leading this type of group. I have 30-plus years into the sport, but have mostly done it for my own personal satisfaction of “completing difficult tasks” (kind of a “outdoor gymnastics” thing) while being a part of the outdoor scenery that I so enjoy. It’s also been great to participate in this sport with my two brothers, each of us avid climbers now for decades.
While I’m not transitioning to being a professional guide, there has been a lot of satisfaction in helping others to sample rock climbing and seeing how some have thrived within that setting.
Charlie Hickenbottom lives in Wenatchee with his wife, Janet. He has been climbing for more than 30 years. A longer version of this article was first published at WenatcheeOutdoors.org. For information on climbs in the region, visit the website.