They take turns, climbing and belaying, trusting each other to keep them safe while they climb to high heights.
Using only their hands to balance their weight, Max Cormier and Hunter Gvozdich make it their goal to climb both natural and artificial rock walls in hopes of reaching the top, testing their strength, endurance, agility, and mental control.
Cormier and Gvozdich started rock climbing one day in August and haven’t stopped since.
“I was just reading Outside Magazine and I saw an ad for climbing,” Gvozdich said. “Then I texted Max.”
“The rest is history,” Cormier said.
The Seaholm seniors climb an average of three times a week at Planet Rock in Pontiac but they took their skills to the next level over spring break when they drove 7.5 hours to get the real experience of climbing outdoors at Red River Gorge in Kentucky.
“It’s like the Mecca of rock climbing, east of the Mississippi,” Gvozdich said.
The pair camped for five days at a rock-climbing-only campground called Miguel’s Pizza.
“It’s extremely famous in the rock climbing community,” Cormier said. “It’s the place to stay.”
Red River Gorge features sandstone crags, also known as a group of cliffs, which contain over 1600 different climbs and give a variety of options for beginning to experienced climbers.
“The biggest thing we climbed was probably 100 vertical feet,” Gvozdich said. “It was a pretty incredible experience overall.”
It wasn’t just the climbing that added to the adventure.
“We drove through oil roads which were literally riverbeds at places and down 50 degree inclines that are all single lane dirt roads with two way traffic, a foot of gravel, and a 100 feet drop on either side,” Cormier said. “You have no room for failure. The driving was actually scarier than the climbing.”
In addition to their physical activities, they met other interesting climbers during their stay in Kentucky from places all over the map.
“The people were amazing. We met someone who hitchhiked to Patagonia and people who had traveled the world,” Cormier said. “One time we were climbing at a crag and we were next to people from Italy, Tennessee, Canada, France, and Mexico.”
Even though the danger of rock climbing usually leads people to avoid trying the sport, Cormier and Gvozdich don’t think of fear as an issue.
“You feel scared sometimes but you don’t feel unsafe because when you feel unsafe that means you are doing something wrong,” Cormier said. “Everything is double checked, triple checked.”
The process of getting ready to climb is often long and deliberate. First, they look at the route and figure out the best way to climb it, then they “flake” the rope meaning they check for knots and places where the rope could be weak. Following that, they tie the rope to their harnesses using a double figure eight knot with a Yosemite backup knot. The belayer then clips in belaying device with a carabiner and finally, they check each other’s set up to make sure carabiners are locked and everything is secure.
Gvozdich is committed to the sport of rock climbing and continues to get enjoyment out of it.
“My favorite things about rock climbing are the community, the adrenaline, and the fear,” he said. “There is always something you can push yourself on. There is always going to be a way to go harder.”
Cormier feels the same way.
“It’s super centering. It’s very meditative, actually. Focusing on one single very difficult task where it is both physical and mental,” he said. “You’re only thinking about that task and not about anything else and you are just really caught up in the moves you are doing. It is really calming and really rewarding. It feels very meaningful.”
Another reason why rock climbing is such a lively activity is because of the all the different places it is available.
“It’s cool going out and finding new places to climb,” Gvozdich said. “It gives you a reason to travel.”
Their plans for the summer include climbing in New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Kentucky again. However, Cormier’s dream climb would be El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
“It would take a few days to get up a wall and you could have to sleep on the wall,” he said. “That’s what I would want to do. It’s basically hardcore vertical camping.”
Both Cormier and Gvozdich want to continue climbing in college and for years after.
“Once climbing chooses you, you have no escape, really. You don’t choose climbing,” Cormier said. “Climbing chooses you.”