A rock climber dangles from a crag, grasping rough granite with the pads of his chalked-up fingers. He looks epic, strong, daring — but mostly, he’s skilled. He knows what cam to wedge into the nearby crack and how to reach the next foothold. But he’s one of the lucky few, taught by an expert, mastering a sport that is typically viewed as a novelty.
You can’t imagine climbing in his tight, uncomfortable shoes.
A team at the Bangor Y is out to change that perception — that some outdoor sports are unattainable and meant to be enjoyed by a select few. The Y’s new Outdoor Adventure Club is set to launch Feb. 12, with lessons on rock climbing and paddling canoes and kayaks. The club’s activities will expand from there.
“We really want to get families active outside,” said Mike Seile, CEO of the Bangor Y. “This is the beginning of a vision — a pilot project.”
Seile grew up in Millinocket, a rural community with outdoor resources aplenty. Outdoor sports have long been a part of his life but he knows that for many people in Bangor, adopting a new outdoor sport isn’t all that easy. People lack the equipment, time, training and money.
The Y aims to keep the club affordable.
The canoe/kayak program, which will meet every Sunday afternoon through March 25, is free for Y members and costs $35 for nonmembers.
The indoor climbing program (“Level 1”), which meets every other Sunday afternoon, is free for members and costs $30 per session for nonmembers. The outdoor climbing program (“Level 2”) is $15 per session for members and $45 per session for nonmembers.
People looking to participate should register the Wednesday before each session. To be a part of the club from the get-go, participants should register by Wednesday, Feb. 8.
“This is just the beginning,” said Eric Taylor, Bangor Y Outdoor Adventure Club adviser, who has been director of the Y Leaders School for more than 20 years. “We want to get a couple of tracks [or programs] off the ground. We hope to expand to camping, hiking, orienteering and maybe cross-country skiing and other winter sports.”
Taylor has been brainstorming about the outdoor club for years but it wasn’t until December that a committee gathered to hatch a plan.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Seile said. “We’ve got the facilities and equipment and are drawing on experts who already exist in the community. To do something like this, you have to have partners.”
Maine Bound at the University of Maine in Orono is helping with the climbing program, and expert paddlers from the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization will be the chief instructors of the paddling program.
The Outdoor Adventure Club also falls in line with another Y goal.
When Seile became the Bangor Y CEO in March 2009, he took a tour of the Y’s Camp Jordan, a 200-acre wooded property on Branch Lake in Ellsworth.
“I was astounded that an asset like that is only used 10 weeks out of the year,” Seile said. He and the Bangor Y board share a vision to make use of Camp Jordan year-round and the Outdoor Adventure Club is a part of that goal.
The camp will offer lake access to the club’s paddling program and great bouldering places for the climbing program, said Emerald Russell, Camp Jordan director and a member of the club planning committee.
For now, the club will start indoors — rock-climbing at the Maine Bound indoor climbing wall and rolling kayaks in the Y pools. But as soon as the ice melts, both groups will rush outdoors to test their newly acquired skills.
“One phenomenon I’ve noticed while teaching at Acadia Mountain Guides is that climbing is treated as a sort of niche, like an amusement park ride, like a one-time thing,” said Jeremy Robichaud, who will lead the rock climbing program. “I want to place an emphasis on taking it beyond that and treat these outdoor skills as legitimate recreational choices and lifestyle choices.”
Robichaud, an avid climber and author of the guide book “Boulder Bangor! A First Ascender’s Guide,” works as a therapeutic recreation coordinator at KidsPeace in Ellsworth and as a rock-climbing instructor at Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School. During the summer, he also managed the ropes course at the Bangor Y’s Camp Jordan.
“The focus is not just having the experience, which is valuable, but beyond that is the actual skill building,” said Robichaud. “When they leave the program, they can be independent paddlers and climbers.”
Taylor, who is passionate about climbing and paddling, will be involved in both programs. Along with Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization experts, he will teach the fundamentals of paddling safety, rescue strategies and proper stroke technique, all valuable skills for quiet water, ocean and white-water paddling.
The club’s direction in the future depends on community interest and feedback. But as programs develop and the club expands in membership, the key objective will remain the same — to give people the knowledge and confidence to pursue and enjoy outdoor activities.
“When people of all ages attempt an outdoor activity as a group, unexpected challenges often arrive,” Russell said. “Whether it’s learning to canoe or kayak in white water or becoming a rock climber, we will all discover new fears, new thresholds for pain and the amazing feeling of overcoming an obstacle. Groups come together when faced with adversity and remind us what support we can rely on from our neighbors. I can’t wait to meet the groups that develop from the Outdoor Adventure Club this spring.”
Only so many canoes fit into the Y’s indoor pools, so there are a limited number of spots for the canoe/kayak track, and they may have to limit the number of people in the climbing tracks as well. The Outdoor Adventure Club welcomes people of any skill level and is limited to ages 11 and up. Consider registering soon. For information, call Eric Taylor at 941-2808 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.