College Students Discover Rock Climbing in Spearfish Canyon


Nestled only three miles away from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D is the mouth of Spearfish canyon. Gazing up among the towering canyon walls one will see groves of ponderosa pine and aspen trees that are sprinkled alongside a glistening creek. Lining the sides of the winding canyon road are numerous hiking trails, miles of biking paths, and scampering wildlife. However, a closer look at the rough walls of the canyon reveals an abundance of rock climbing routes for nearly every skill level.

“Rock climbing here is a world class destination,” said local veteran rock climber Tess Thacker.

Thacker and other locals are well aware of this easily accessible gift to climbers — but Spearfish canyon climbing is gaining attention from Black Hills State University students.

BHSU outdoor education assistant professor Dr. Christine McCart has been actively climbing since the nineties and now teaches introductory level climbing courses on campus. She has been getting lots of questions from students on where and how to get started in rock climbing, according to McCart.

Among these curious students is BHSU sophomore Gavin Brucklacher.

“I’d absolutely be interested in trying climbing,” said Brucklacher.

Some may see this sport as dangerous and Brucklacher voiced concerns such as bodily injury due to inexperience and equipment failure. However, with 18 years of experience under her belt, Thacker is confident in the stability of climbing equipment.

“The climbing gear now is tested multiple times for strength and safety,” said Thacker.

Once fears have been quieted, there is the question of where to learn the basics. Organizations on campus such as the Colligate Outdoor Leadership Program (COLP) offer introductory level classes for students.

“Half this campus climbs, so don’t be afraid to ask around,” said McCart

In asking around, one may find students who have already caught the climbing bug — like Wyatt Osthus, who began climbing when a good friend introduced him to the sport.

“My friend took me out and just showed me the ropes, and really got me into it, got my passion for climbing — just sparked it,” said Osthus.

Within the walls of Spearfish canyon — and only minutes away from the BHSU campus — lays vibrant opportunities to climb.

“It’s a hidden gem among climbing,” said Osthus.

Rock climbing presents both mental and physical challenges, but the excitement of success can create an outlet for climbers of all ages.

“How can you use climbing to go out and meet your objectives? Personally, that’s the stuff I love — going to the edge of your ability because you have to focus so much, and that’s where the sweet spot is,” said McCart.