One-on-one with Matt Rube '19
Matt Rube ’19, co-founder of the Dartmouth Climbing Club, was one of two climbers who represented the Big Green at the 2017 Collegiate National Rock Climbing Championships in San Diego, California. Rube advanced to the Speed Finals, finishing in sixth place, and helped secure Dartmouth’s ninth-place team finish.
How did you get involved in climbing and climbing competitively?
MR: I started climbing competitively when I was 11 — so it’s been awhile. I come from a very athletic and sporty family, and my parents always encouraged me to try out different sports and be active. I enjoyed playing sports and being active, but I was never really good at one sport — there was something missing with every sport that I tried. I went to sleepaway camp between elementary and middle school, and my parents on a visiting day, just noticed that I had somehow gotten recruited to join the camp’s climbing team. I don’t even remember this, but apparently they were told by the director of the camp that I was doing really well, and they thought to themselves, “Huh, I wonder if there’s a way to push this into something productive.” They did a little bit of research and found that there was a rock climbing team half an hour from my house that operated out of a climbing gym by me, so I went and tried out and got on, and I stayed on that team throughout middle and high school, so about seven or eight years. It was fantastic — I couldn’t love it more.
What are the different types of climbing, and what specifically do you do? What attracted you to that specific type of climbing?
MR: In competition climbing, there are three different types. Bouldering is low climbing, and it doesn’t go any higher than 15 to 20 feet with no ropes but pads on the ground. You have to follow taped or colored holds, and you’re only allowed to use the holds with that kind of tape or a specifically colored hold and that is called a route. Because it is in a gym, you can change the holds up and make it more or less difficult. Essentially the harder the route, the more points it is worth getting to the top of it. Speed does not matter, but in higher level competitions, like Nationals, there is a time limit. At Nationals, you will have four boulder problems that you will have to do, and you will have four minutes in total to try and get as high as possible on each. Another type of climbing called sport climbing uses a very similar format where again, at local competitions it’s if you get to the top whereas at Nationals, it is however high you get, but it’s the climbing most people are familiar with — with ropes, it’s high up. The third type is speed climbing which is on a standardized route — it’s an international standard. It is 15 meters high on a very, specifically grid-like pattern that never changes, and it is [based on] how fast you can get up it.
When I was back on my team in high school, I would train for all three. For bouldering, in a local competition you have somewhere between six to 10 problems that are all brand new that you get to try and figure out. There’s a huge problem-solving aspect, where there’s a new puzzle that you have to solve. You have to go through and figure out exactly where your hands go and the body positioning, and it can get really crazy with some of the harder problems. You’ll be at Nationals, having never seen the Finals problems, and you’ll turn around, because you’re not allowed to look at the problems before you start and see the problem. There have been instances where I’ve just started laughing because it was so crazy how they make you go upside down on some of them or how they have you jump from one hold to another hold. You get much less of that technical excitement from sport climbing. And then speed climbing is like climbing’s version of racing but vertically. I find it very exciting, but it is undervalued because you have less problem solving. It’s a standardized route, so you always know how you’re going to do it, and you train on it, which is a limiting factor for how diverse and weird it can get. That’s why many climbers don’t tend toward it as much, but I love it just because I think it is a lot of fun.
When coming to Dartmouth, what was the community like here prior to the formation of the Dartmouth Climbing Team? Why did you and Kayla [Lieuw ’19] choose to start the team in 2015?
MR: There was a huge climbing community here. We have the largest, oldest Outing Club in the country. We are under an hour away from some of the best outdoor rock climbing in the country, and you’ll get vans and trips running through every single weekend. There are always trips to Nevada, just expedition trips with people going to crazy places. You get some of that crunchy, outdoorsy rock climbers, which is awesome, because most of the people there, aside from one, had never heard of competition rock climbing as a thing. I came in with a friend who also competed in high school, and we knew each other through competitions and we put forward the idea to the climbing community for a competitive team. People were super receptive from a really early point. It was a really cool thing to come into a preexisting climbing community and be so welcomed. Because we operate mainly out of the climbing gym in the basement of [Maxwell Hall], we like to invite others with the idea of, if you want to get better in your technique and climbing skills, come practice with us because we do it three days a week — it’s impossible not to get better.
When we started, we briefly considered becoming a club sport to gain legitimacy of being a club sport, but we get more openness, funding and crowdsourcing of interested people through being in the Dartmouth Outing Club. We decided to do what the Woodsmen’s team did with Cabin and Trail but with the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club. We just wanted to get it off the ground as soon as possible, and we’re still getting our training wheels under us — we’re getting jerseys for people, figuring out how to send people to Nationals, funding, officers, by-laws and all of that kind of stuff. It’s a slow process, but we have a lot of talented people who enjoy it and are dedicated to it, and I’ll be working on this all over the summer.
What do your practices look like?
MR: We switch off what we want to train. Because I have been on a competitive team with a really good coach, I remember a lot of the different stuff that we did that I train with and that my coach gave to me. Alex [Waterhouse ’20], came in third at Nationals the other weekend and is one of the best rock climbers in the world — he knows a lot of stuff and has experience coaching his old team back in England. Kayla helped me start the team and has also been training and climbing almost her whole life and knows a lot about climbing technique. So what we do is we trade off who runs the practices, and each practice we focus on a different thing, whether it be footwork or other techniques. We are also responsible for creating a structured practice that everyone can participate in at all different levels of ability. One power and strength training drill is called “Four by Four,” where you do four climbs four times each, and you don’t stop. It’s a boulder exercise, so you do one climb four times, then you go to the next one four times, then the next one four times and the last one four times. It’s a rapid-fire and you have to go, go, go. For people who have been climbing with our team for a few weeks, they have the strength to do this exercise, it just depends on what climbs they do it.
What did you think of the team’s performance and your own performance at Nationals?
MR: I was pretty happy with how I did. I was surprised I made it to the finals for bouldering as well as speed, which I didn’t expect to do. Because you have to choose I only did speed because I am better at it overall and the bouldering competition is incredibly strong and difficult. You do the speed wall twice and keep the better of your two runs. On my first run, I did something like 10.13 seconds, which is not my best, but also okay because I haven’t been training on the wall pretty often. I was fairly happy with it; it felt clean, and I didn’t feel like I missed a bunch of feet. My second run my foot slipped a couple of times, I missed a foot-hold going the speed I was going at, and it just didn’t feel as good, and because of that I was an extra 0.7 seconds slower. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I felt like on my second run that was my opportunity to be a little less careful, be a little bit more aggressive and maybe cut that 10 seconds speed time down to somewhere in the nine second range, and I didn’t get the opportunity to because I had made a couple of mistakes. Overall, I was very happy with how I did — coming in sixth is not bad.
Alex killed it. It was so much fun to watch. Bouldering finals are so much fun to watch because the lights are off and the spotlight is on the climbs. He just nailed it. He got to the first one basically on his first try and just one after the other made these difficult problems look relatively easy. He’ll tell you he could have climbed better, but he did a great job.
What is the most challenging aspect of climbing?
MR: I’d say the most challenging aspect would be maintaining the physical ability. It’s a sport where if you take off a week or two you will feel the difference on how efficiently you climb or how easily you get up the wall. It’s the most difficult parts but also the most rewarding parts because you feel as you get better. If you put in the time, and I don’t mind putting in the time, I love putting in the time, then you feel yourself get better. If you want to be competitive, just show up — it’s great, but it can be hard for college kids.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.