Business profile Earth Treks Columbia

Sharing, teaching climber's art

In Columbia, walls as high as 44 feet present a challenge to a range of clients

January 31, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Chuck Dasey is leaving this week for an 18-day mountain-climbing expedition with a team from Earth Treks, the climbing center that started in Columbia 10 years ago.

The trek up Aconcagua, a 22,841-foot mountain in Argentina, will be his seventh with Chris Warner, the head of Earth Treks. Dasey knows he is in good hands.

"He's very knowledgeable in the mountains," said Dasey, who is 55 and lives in Frederick County.

Warner, 42, has been sharing his love and knowledge of climbing for years. He started Earth Treks in 1990 as an outdoor climbing and expedition center and has since opened three indoor climbing locations in Maryland.

Last year, the three locations saw about 20,000 students, said Chris Everett, the organization's director of sales and marketing. Those people range from adventurers such as Dasey to children who take classes in rock-climbing and boulder-scrambling.

In addition, the three Earth Treks locations host birthday parties that let kids try their hands at climbing. Also, anyone can buy a day pass or membership and use the rock walls at their convenience. "We have a lot of people who will use the facility kind of like a health club," Everett said.

Warner discovered mountain-climbing while growing up in New Jersey. He went to college in Boulder, Co., so he could climb. In 1986, he moved to Maryland and started an Outward Bound program in Baltimore.

He noted that his particular skill seemed more attractive in Maryland than in Colorado, where nearly everybody climbs. "Opportunities existed for me here that would not have existed in Colorado," he said.

Warner opened the Columbia location Jan. 29, 1996, he said, then opened Timonium in 2002 and Rockville in 2005.

He runs outdoor climbing sessions at nearby sites and travels the world on mountain-scaling expeditions, including Mount Everest.

His climbing skills allow him to serve as instructor and guide with clients of differing abilities.

Dasey recalled a 1999 hike with Warner up Alpamayo in Peru. At one point, the two climbed a steep ice ridge together. "I got to climb directly with Chris, and we zoomed up the route," Dasey recalled. "I felt like I was with a very skillful climber and that improved the experience for me quite a bit."

But climbing close to home offers challenges, too, Warner said.

The centers offer a range of classes, starting with beginners who can be as young as 6, and progressing from there. Earth Treks also has a nationally ranked climbing team and recreational climbing clubs.

The Columbia location has climbing walls as high as 44 feet. On one side are ropes that can be used to "belay" in teams, and on other side are clips, for attaching to a climber's harness. The floor is soft foam rubber. The 20,000 holds are changed once a month, to create new climbing challenges, Warner said.

The centers also have boulder-climbing sections, said Everett. Boulder-climbing, which does not involve a harness and is done much closer to the ground, has grown in popularity, he said.

Earth Treks also has "leadership" climbs, including ones for the elite Wharton Business School, said Warner.

"The most important thing with all these kinds of trips is really helping people push themselves past the point of what they thought they could do," he said.

"When you're up on the rock or trying to climb to the summit of Everest, it's much more than a physical challenge," he said. It's emotional too, he added, and "there's a really powerful intellectual part."

Everett said climbing uses the entire body and calls for problem-solving and responsibility because climbers must look out for one another. It is social, as well, because climbers work in teams. He noted that most of the trips do not have a prerequisite, though clients are made aware of the risks involved.

Warner said he feels fortunate that he gets to travel and climb frequently and share his passion for the sport with others. "I can't imagine having a better life," he said.

Columbia Earth Treks is at 7125-C Columbia Gateway Drive. 410-872-0060. www.earthtreks climbing.com.

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