The first time Andrew Lamb tried rock climbing at a friend’s birthday party, he was 6-years-old.
“I hated it,’’ he said. “I was scared of heights, so I wasn’t really into it. A couple months later, for some reason, I wanted to go back. The second time, I really liked it.”
A rising junior at Stanford, the 20-year-old Boston native has blossomed into one of the top collegiate climbers in the country. He was one of 12 members of the relatively new Stanford Climbing Club to compete at the Collegiate National Championships in Florida this spring and won the school’s first national title in men’s bouldering.
“The club just got started the winter quarter of my freshman year, so we weren’t entirely sure what to expect at the nationals,” said Lamb, a computer science major. “Overall, we did really well as a team. A lot of people climbed well and are excited to go back next year.”
Lamb helped start the Stanford squad consisting of about 15-20 dedicated climbers, and often sets the routes at the climbing gym.
“I’ll probably climb five days a week for two to three hours each day,” he said. “I train with the club team and other friends.”
Stanford has two climbing walls on campus, including a new 8,000-square foot, 31-foot structure at the Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center built last fall. It is used for team development and teaching.
“It’s probably the nicest at any college anywhere,” said Lamb.
The new wall, one of two on campus, has attracted many new participants.
“It got a ton of people interested in climbing or trying it out, and they are sticking with it,” he said. “A lot of my friends didn’t climb before. It’s really cool to see the community getting bigger and bigger.”
Lamb has made a steady climb himself. He competed in the Youth Nationals in Sunnyvale, Calif. before coming to Stanford, and made the U.S. Men’s National Team this year, which will participate in international events. He finished third in the American Bouldering Series Nationals in February, and placed 21st in the Bouldering World Championships last month. The latter was held during finals.
“That was very stressful,” said Lamb.
In late August, he will travel to the World Championships in Munich, Germany.
“I’m going early to do some touristy things and hopefully climb well,” he said.
Kevin Hopper, Climbing Coordinator at Stanford, has no doubt he will.
“He’s very quiet and mild-mannered most of the time,” said Hopper. “Not your typical boulder climber. But once he gets on the wall, he’s unstoppable and kind of in his element.”
Lamb competes in two types of climbing: bouldering, where you climb without a rope, usually on a structure 20 feet or less; and sport climbing. Bouldering focuses on a few smaller, powerful moves, and the walls are steep. Sport climbing can range anywhere from 50 to 100 feet and involve a rope. This discipline centers on endurance and incorporating a sequence of moves.
“I kind of do both,” said Lamb. “The seasons overlap.”
Lamb estimates his tallest successful climb is 70 feet.
“I tried it for several weeks,” he said. “When I finally finished the climb without falling, it was really rewarding.”
Asked if he is a thrill-seeker, Lamb thought hard before answering.
“That’s definitely an interesting question,” said Lamb. “Bouldering is a little more dangerous because you’re obviously going to be hitting the ground every time if you fall. So there’s a pretty high chance of spraining an ankle or hitting your head on a rock. It’s not necessarily a fatal injury.
“In sport climbing, you’re using a rope and the rope isn’t going to break. You might fall 20 feet, and that can be a little scary when you start, but you get used to it. When you are really focused on getting up the wall, you aren’t thinking about what falling is going to be like. I luckily have never had a major injury.”
What goes through his mind while he climbs?
“It really depends on the style of the route,” Lamb said. “Some boulder problems will be really short, 15 feet, but really steep with small holes. On those powerful routes, you want to be in an intense mindset. You put all of your energy in each move and hold on as hard as you can.
“In a 100-foot route, every route is kind of hard and you have to have some energy left for the top and focus on your breathing. It’s pretty easy when you get anxious to tense up and hold your breath a lot, so you want to almost feel relaxed with each move and conserve as much energy as possible.”
Lamb played one year of soccer in high school, then joined the Ultimate Frisbee team his senior year. He didn’t come to Stanford for climbing, but admits things have worked out well.
“When I was thinking about colleges, it was about academics and Stanford was my first choice,” he said. “In hindsight, I got really lucky, because it’s a place where I can continue to climb and train at the level I want. There is a culture of people who work hard academically and you’re expected to put a lot of time into your studies. But the culture emphasizes pursuing things you are excited about outside of classes.”
Lamb, who is interning for a software company this summer, hopes climbing will always be a part of his life.
“There’s always going to be a harder climb or rock waiting for you to climb on,” Lamb said. “My goal is to stay motivated, get better and keep enjoying it a lot.”