Their friendship got off to a “rocky start.”
A mutual friend introduced Travis Haines to Kyle Stapp, an experienced rock climber, about five years ago.
“I don’t have time to climb rocks,” Haines recalls saying to Stapp at the time.
The two men laugh at the memory because today they not only share a love of rock climbing but are co-owners of the newly opened Susquehannock Climbing and Fitness Center.
Located half-an-hour north of Harrisburg in Liverpool, the business is housed in a former sewing factory known locally as “The Facktory,” just two blocks from routes 11/15 and the Susquehanna River.
Haines, 29, served in the U.S. Navy, worked as a park ranger at nearby Little Buffalo State Park, and enjoys obstacle course challenges so much that he has applied twice to the popular television show, “American Ninja Warrior.”
Stapp, 33, also served in the military—the Army—followed by six years as a rock climbing supervisor at Perry County’s Longacre Leadership Camp. He’s also a certified single pitch (meaning one pitch or one climb between two points) instructor by the American Mountain Guides Association.
Open since November, Susquehannock Climbing offers rock climbing walls with numerous options, skills and strength training, obstacle course training, instruction in wilderness survival skills and more. Patrons are also welcome to use the facility as an open gym.
All the skills learned indoors, in the controlled environment of Susquehannock Climbing, can be transferred outdoors, to other sports and life experiences, according to Stapp and Haines.
“We truly believe anyone can climb,” Stapp said. “If you’re a total rookie, we welcome you.”
The pair has additional aspirations.
“We want to teach rock climbing as a form of therapy—helping special needs children, those with PTSD such as veterans and recovering addicts,” Haines said.
Above and Beyond
Stapp said he “geeked out” researching what’s called adventure-based therapy.
He pointed to studies that show that climbing stimulates language, balance, spatial body awareness, overall muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills. Additionally, climbing is said to encourage problem-solving, independent thinking and confidence.
Haines said he especially enjoys teaching “newbies” how to climb since it wasn’t long along that he, too, was a beginner.
“I recently had a 242-pound man on the rope—he got the whole way up the wall to the top and that felt good,” Haines said. “I was so proud of him.”
Another source of pride for Haines is the “transformation” he says is underway in Liverpool.
“I feel this building has a lot to do with that,” he said, referencing the rehabilitation of the factory into “The Facktory” by owner Brent Lesperance.
A contractor for 25 years, Lesperance bought the former factory and began rehabbing it in 2004 with his stepbrother.
“We wanted to create a place for kids to go, and it was easier to repurpose the factory instead of starting over from scratch,” he said.
Within the 1900s-era brick-and-stone walls, Lesperance created an indoor basketball court, event and concert venue complete with a stage and sound system, kitchen, space for ping pong tables and other games. A former boxer, Lesperance coached area kids in The Facktory’s boxing ring.
Health issues soon forced him to shut down The Facktory, except for rentals of the space. But he said he was thrilled when Haines and Stapp approached him with a plan to lease part of it for the climbing center.
“They’ve taken it above and beyond what I imagined,” Lesperance said. “It’s inspiring, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Figure It Out
After touring the facility, it was finally time for me to “climb the walls.” I enjoy adventure—running, hiking and biking—however, I’ve always had a fear of heights. I figured if Haines and Stapp could talk me through it, they really could teach anyone to climb.
First, I had to put on my gear—special climbing shoes and a harness—and learn the lingo. Haines would “belay” me, meaning he would stay on the ground, bracing the rope attached to my harness, taking up any slack, so that I stayed safe. I learned how to do the “figure eight retrace,” a secure rope knot.
To climb the wall, my hands and feet would use holds bolted into the wall that felt like rocks. Their size varied, measuring a few inches wide and deep at most. Haines showed me how to start—pointing to a series of holds that mimicked steps where I could begin climbing. I took a deep breath, dug my fingers and toes into the holds and trusted he had my back.
Both Haines and Stapp cheered and encouraged me from below.
“Remember to use your legs—not just your arms so that you’re not relying completely on your upper body strength,” Stapp advised.
As I looked for the brightly colored holds, I realized that rock-climbing involves a good bit of creativity and decision-making. I paused several times, assessing which hands or feet (left or right?) would go where, in order to climb higher. Creating a path was harder than it looked from the ground.
“That’s good, take your time, figure it out,” Haines called up to me.
I tried not to look down, always looking up for more holds. I was inches from the top of the wall when my left hand reached what looked like a larger, more secure hold than most. Boy, was I wrong. As my fingers curled around the hold, expecting a firm grip, the hold shifted slightly and my heart raced. I held on for dear life.
“It’s OK—we didn’t tell you, there are a few ‘spinners’ on the wall,” Stapp called.
I had survived it and was almost at the top. I wasn’t sure if my voice would come out, but I managed to say, “I’m ready to come down.” As Haines let out my rope, I “walked” down the wall. Back on the ground, we high-fived, my heartbeat returned to normal, and I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Stapp explained how, in an outdoor experience, rock-climbing holds aren’t always as secure as they appear, which is why “spinners” simulate the experience on climbing walls. He also said that the placement of the holds is changed every few weeks, so that climbers can experience different routes and challenges. I noted how difficult it was, at certain points, to decide how to climb, to determine which hands and feet would go where—much like solving a puzzle.
Haines and Stapp both nodded in agreement, clearly excited that my first climb had given me this insight.
“Everyone is unique,” Stapp said. “Climbing is a holistic experience. It’s experiential learning at its best.”
Susquehannock Climbing and Fitness Center is located at 101 Chestnut St., Liverpool. For more information, call 570-541-6718 or follow them on Facebook.