Climbing To New Heights

It’s Thursday night at the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC) where jocks are lifting downstairs and yogis are stretching upstairs. Outdoor Adventure Coordinator, Doug Tully, watches his rock-climbing students exhibit both skills, from ground level to ARC ceiling, as they lift their own body weight upwards and reach with stretching limbs to grasp rocks jutting out of the man-made rock wall.

Beginner climbers, such as fourth-year Angela Allen, feel safe and secure far above solid ground when they have a personal coach keeping the rope taut. Her climbing instructor trusted in her ability to conquer her fear and to maneuver in her own way. Even if she fell off the wall, she wouldn’t really fall. Her belayer had her back.

“As humans we fear two things, loud noises and heights. It is a matter of our level of comfort in facing that fear that gets us to the wall,” Tully said.

Climbers can find Tully teaching classes on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at the ARC.

When he is not teaching safety rules and technique at the rock wall, Tully is working on expanding the ARC’s Outdoor Adventure program as Outdoor Adventure Coordinator, a job he started in 2008.

When he arrived, the Outdoor Adventure Program didn’t exist much beyond the ARC’s outdoor ropes course.

Tully has collaborated with other ARC programs for the past five years to build the Outdoor Adventure Program, equipped with a community of teachers and students who lead outdoor activities that provide students with opportunities to rock-climb, sail, hike and camp in venues outside of the ARC, like Catalina and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Before Tully led adventure activities at the ARC, the rock-wall was a place where only experienced climbers practiced and where beginners were not encouraged to go.

“I want to create an inclusive community. I’ve stripped down the exclusive climber methodology and started putting beginners with experienced climbers so they could learn from each other,” Tully said.

Tully first learned to climb on a family trip to Yosemite at the camp’s mountaineering school. He learned the ropes on his trip and as soon as he got home to Missouri, he started taking rappelling classes. During his early lessons, other instructors were wrapping their ropes two and three times for extra safety and a slower climb.

However, his ex-marine instructor wrapped one loop for a more risky, but more exciting climb. He felt adrenaline pumping through his body as he flew across the rock, climbing high above the valley while the repelling rope created hot friction through his gloves as he and his leader traversed the rock. He was hooked.

After earning a BS in cognitive science at UC Irvine and a MS in kinesiology at Michigan State, Tully found himself coaching woman’s college volleyball in Michigan. It was a 365-day a year job; he was stressed, always thinking about the next match.

Resigning from coaching was not an easy decision for him, but as Tully’s new career as the ARC’s Outdoor Adventure Coordinator allowed him less stress in terms of competition, he could focus his energy on the climb and on teaching students at an individual level.

“Now I have a lot more free time, a lot less stress and I am able to teach, motivate and inspire students through being active in the outdoors,” Tully said.

At the ARC, Tully leads UC Irvine students like recent graduate, Stephanie Hwang, a former climbing-wall supervisor, to work up to leadership positions in a field they enjoy. After taking Tully’s climbing course and weeks of practice, Hwang became a climbing-wall instructor and route setter. She is now a student trip leader for Tully’s Outdoor Adventure program.

“Doug exposes the university to a world that may otherwise not be accessible to many people. He eases students into an environment that they may not have ever experienced, and he does it in a way that challenges those who are new to the outdoors,” Hwang said.

Tully climbs four days a week, taking small trips to Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, Malibu, Big Bear and Barstow on the weekends.

The freedom that goes along with a job at the ARC gives him the time to explore his other adventurist activities. Those feelings of release and accomplishment that go along with surviving a two-week hiking expedition, punctuate his 100-mile cycling bouts, and his completed lead climbs. It’s the kind of freedom that leads to a creative mind. He uses that energy to provide ARC members with an adventurous recreational department.

“For climbers, we live for the feeling of exposure. I like to feel that I am tightrope walking up as I am climbing, moving gingerly up. We want to feel as if one gust of wind might knock us into oblivion. We crave, seek out those kind of climbs again and again,” Tully said.