Climbing Toward Success

By Heather Reichle

At Camp Courage, a place where abilities and disabilities become possibilities, campers are given the opportunity to test themselves and go beyond expectations.


Located in Central Minnesota, the camp offers a safe, accessible and natural environment where children and adults with physical disabilities, sensory and language impairments and other disabilities or illnesses discover abilities they never knew they had or thought they had lost.

The goal of the camp is to globalize the use of learning and recreational tools to give campers an education beyond what they would find in a traditional classroom as a way of showing them how to live.

The newest attempt at merging the two came with the installation of a traverse wall in January 2008.

Incorporating Learning With Recreation
Camp Courage chose a Magna Wall--a type of traverse wall with magnets that attach to the wall that staff members use with campers to work on speech therapy. Incorporating physical activity with learning helps stimulate the body, gets adrenaline flowing to the brain, and creates excitement while learning.

“I don’t like heights myself, so this was a good fit for me,” says Roger Upcraft, camp manager. “This wall gives these kids the same experience as traditional climbing walls--they are just going across instead of up. This helps with safety, and with the magnetic add-ons, the campers have a sense of learning at the same time.”

Camp Courage takes the approach that the best type of learning for these kids is done when they can be put in a real situation. For instance, they can sit in a room with a clinician and talk about a horse and what it looks like, or the campers can be taken to a farm and ride a horse.

“We’re always trying to find ways to incorporate literacy and communication in the camp setting,” says Upcraft. “It makes it worthwhile for kids. The Magna Wall has unique capabilities. It incorporates speech and language into the activity, and that is one of our goals with all the programs we offer. It’s not just for learning or just for fun. You do both.”

Consider The Alternative
“I always thought climbing walls had to go up,” says Upcraft. “With safety and training and accessibility for the physically disabled, it always made me paranoid to have someone 15 [to] 20 feet in the air. The traverse wall gives me peace of mind because it goes across and is closer to the ground.”

Those with physical disabilities can work their way along the wall by being close to the ground. Those who can only use their upper body are able to climb the wall with staff assistance.

“The majority of our climbing walls are installed in schools that serve a diverse population---so children with special needs use the climbing wall often in those settings,” says Lyle Helke, Sales Director of Everlast Climbing Industries, who installed the Magna Wall at Camp Courage.

Add New Programs To Create Buzz
Upcraft chose to install a wall to add to program variety.

“Climbing walls have a buzz right now,” he says. “People are talking about them a month before they even go to try them. It’s what kids like. When you are in the business of recreation, you have to come up with new things that kids are interested in doing.”

The addition of the wall has strengthened the camp’s program without a lot of financial investment. With a camp running on donations from benefactors, it’s important to weigh budget options when adding any new programs.

“Campers can come here whether they can pay their own way or not,” says Upcraft. “As a non-profit we benefit from the generosity of benefactors who donate money so a kid who needs this type of environment can grow and learn.”

The total cost of the wall was $7,527. This included a 10-foot high by 40-foot long traverse wall, 2-inch mats, 250 hand holds and magnets.

Is A Traverse Wall Right For Your Camp?
Consider the following:

· The age group to be served. This will help determine the height of the wall, as well as the surface. If serving children in grades K-5, an 8-foot wall is appropriate. For middle-schoolers, a 10-foot wall is recommended to accommodate the longer legs and arms of the climbers. As climbers gain more experience, there are different textures that can be added to give a fresh, new look and feel while increasing difficulty.

· The facility that is available to host the wall. Look for a space that is void of such obstacles as clocks, thermostats, fire-alarm pulls/strobes, pillars, dividers, basketball hoops, water fountains, windows, etc.

· The surface where the wall will be installed. Is it cinderblock, concrete, drywall with wood or metal studs, built into a corner, or a continuous straight wall? This information will determine the type of installation needed, and whether the panels are directly mounted to the wall or a subwall.

· Your budget. Most companies have walls designed to be priced flexibly to meet the needs of a wide variety of budgets. Many offer an affordable baseline product that has many of the features of more advanced walls (more hand holds, number of t-nuts, red relief safety line, cordless mat locking system, etc.). Another way to meet budgetary needs is through the length of the wall. Recommended is a minimum of 20 feet of horizontal climbing space, and the size can be varied in 4-foot increments. Therefore, a facility may start with a 20-foot wall to meet its budget needs, but can add on to the wall as more money is available.

When In Doubt
“If you are considering adding a wall at your facility, look for demonstration sites in your area,” says Helke. “This will give you a visual picture of what a wall looks like, as well as the features that it hosts. In addition, it will give you the opportunity to ask questions of people who have experience with climbing, and how it is received by their program participants.”

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at