Summiting challenges: MVHS teachers undertake rock climbing

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Next to tight-rope walking and skydiving, one of the most nerve-wracking activities for those who fear heights is rock climbing because of the great heights involved. But for biology teacher Kenneth Gan and physiology teacher and leadership advisor Jenna Smith, rock climbing has become a major part of their lives. Though they are still relatively new to the sport, both Smith and Gan have learned many life lessons and befriended each other through their hobby.

This is Gan’s first full year of teaching at MVHS. He spent last year as a student teacher, working closely with biology teacher Pooya Hajjarian and Smith before being offered a full time position this year.

Gan’s experience with rock climbing began two months ago, when he was looking for a new hobby to take on. He describes it as being a “spur-of-the-moment” choice, and he now does it at Planet Granite at least once a week.

“It’s very much a mental game as much as it is a physical [one],” Gan said. “Rock climbing [requires]a lot of upper body, a lot of leg strength — it’s a full body workout. But also the way you approach a particular route, how you plan to get up that wall to finish that route, requires a good amount of mental skills. Understanding how you’re going to place your feet, how to place your hands and obviously, how not to fall off. It’s a mixture of both, and that’s what really draws me to the sport.”

One of the major lessons that Gan has learned from his rock climbing experience is the concept of conquering one’s fear. That feeling can sometimes foster a bond between people, as Gan reflects upon how some of his friends, who own a rock climbing gym together in Santa Cruz, introduced him to the sport.

“I’ve always said, ‘Hey, I wanna try it, can you take me out [and]show me some of the ropes?’ Pun intended,” Gan said. “That kind of grew our relationship. [My friend] was able to teach me stuff, and it was a good way to connect to people. Fear-bonding, almost.”

Click below to see some information on the most important pieces of gear that Gan uses while rock climbing.

Planet Granite, the place where Gan usually goes to rock climb, offers introductory lessons for beginning rock climbers. Gan thinks that everyone should try rock climbing if they can.

“It’s really good because when you take this class, in order to practice, they give you a temporary membership for the rest of that month,” Gan said. “So you can take a class on a Monday, and be able to get in for the rest of the month for free. I think it’s actually a really good deal. If I had known, I probably would have done that before buying a membership.”

Training and Developmental Lead James Connelly works at Planet Granite, Sunnyvale. The facilities at the site are very accessible for all levels of ability and experience.

“All you have to do is come on in, sign a waiver, and you’re ready to climb. There’s also routes for all ability levels and experience levels. So you can find pretty much anything that you could potentially make it to the top of,” Connelly said. “The great thing about indoor climbing is I consider it a training gym. That’s where you go and you can train and climb, and climb a lot of routes in a short amount of time, and really focus on what you’re trying to do in the long run. So you train in the gym for your outside climbs.”

Smith has developed a closer friendship with Gan because of their shared climbing sessions. She remembers the time they got together for Thanksgiving.

“He came over for Thanksgiving leftovers with my parents,” Smith said. “We had a second Thanksgiving feast together. My parents asked to adopt [him]. Every time I hang out with Gan, it’s always fun, even if we’re working really hard on something, collaborating on work, it’s still fun. He’s a great, great human being.”

Smith and Gan have also become closer friends because of free climbing, where climbers must keep each other safe by anchoring ropes and being ready to catch each other by pulling the ropes while ascending great heights. Connelly agrees that the feeling of camaraderie and partnership, as well as the beauty of the surrounding environment, can form friendships and memories that last a lifetime.

“The best life lesson that I can think of for climbing is just to learn to live in the moment and really appreciate what’s given to you. I find myself in crazy different places, whether it be just a new place in California, or the United States, or whether it’s a thousand feet up on a rock face, I think it’s really cool that I get these perspectives that not a lot of people get, and just being able to really appreciate those moments and sit back and take it in.” Connelly said. “The friendships that you make throughout climbing will definitely last a lifetime. I know for a fact that with my climbing partner, I will cherish their friendship forever, so you can essentially consider that a life lesson as well.”

Free climbing is one of the parts of rock climbing that Smith enjoys the most. She has learned much about pushing the boundaries of one’s comfort zone while doing so.

“Free climbing is an adrenaline rush — you have to rely on yourself and trust yourself even when you don’t feel stable,” Smith said. “That transcends the wall — figuring out that you can push yourself beyond what feels completely comfortable and be surprised at what you actually accomplish.”

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Bill Cheng is a junior and a part of the entertainment section. This is his second year on staff.