By Stephanie Liakos
Suspended up to over 1,000 feet in the air from a 9.8 millimeter rope and a harness, 47-year-old Christopher Armitage pushes himself physically and mentally for an average of 18 hours a week—and he does it for fun.
Armitage, a full-time chemistry and biology teacher at Portage Northern High School, spends his free time at Climb Kalamazoo, an indoor rock climbing gym in Kalamazoo. A natural-born outdoorsman, he has also been a recreational motocross rider, mountain biker, and hockey player. During the holiday season, while many people will vacation to places with beaches or busy cities, Armitage chooses destinations with mountain ranges, such as Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.
Whether he is indoors at the Climb Kalamazoo gym or outdoors at the Red River Gorge, Armitage has found a strong community, a physical challenge, and a mental escape through climbing.
Armitage became a member of the gym seven years ago and is so passionate about climbing that he is now a part-time instructor at Climb Kalamazoo. “Climbing started out as a hobby, but now it’s a lifestyle,” said Armitage. “Everything I do involves climbing.”
Climbing is not only challenging physically, but also mentally, said Armitage. “When you climb you literally cannot think of anything else. Climbing is very cathartic. It’s almost like doing meditation. It gets you centered.”
Armitage’s coworkers at Climb Kalamazoo agree that rock climbing is as mentally engaging as it is physically. “Climbing is very personal,” said Leo Siciliano, the head route setter at Climb Kalamazoo. “It is a lot of figuring yourself out.”
Route setters at the gym are responsible for changing the climbing courses so the climbers always have new, challenging and engaging paths.
Rock climbing is more of a community than a sport, because there is such a strong member base that travels and climbs together, said Siciliano. Because there is a need to ensure safety and have spotters called belayers to handle ropes, climbing is a sport that involves working with a partner. Climbing partners often choose each other based on experience, physical ability, and trust.
Another Climb Kalamazoo employee, Colin Hopper, agrees with Armitage and Siciliano. “There really aren’t any mean people in this sport,” said Hopper. “It’s a solitary activity, but you climb in groups so you’re always encouraging each other.”
What sets Armitage apart as a climber is how deliberate and conscientious he is, said fellow climber Todd Barkman.
“Chris is strong and he has good technique and skills,” said Barkman. “He has enhanced my climbing experience for sure. We motivate, challenge, and encourage each other.”