“If I were to create a technical climbing school, I would put it in Plymouth, NH,” says Holderness climbing coach Erik Thatcher ‘08. Geographically, this area is ideal, with a wide range of climbing terrain from beginner to advanced. And with the changes in season, climbers encounter a variety of conditions from rock to snow to ice.
“Some of the best ice climbing terrain in North America is in Crawford Notch,” says Erik.
And while the geography is a good match, Holderness School is an even better match for the kind of program Erik wants to create and the things he wants to instill in his students. In addition to teaching the technical skills necessary for climbing, Erik hopes his students pick up an appreciation for nature and in turn a desire to protect and preserve it. He also hopes his students will learn about self-sufficiency and about giving back.
Fortunately, this winter he’s had additional opportunities to work some of these skills into his lessons with students. For the past four years Erik has been working with the fall and spring rock climbing teams, but in November, he took on a new role and is now responsible for developing and leading the first winter mountaineering team at Holderness.
But this isn’t been Erik’s first experience with climbing at Holderness. As a student, Erik’s mild interest in rock climbing developed into a lifelong passion under the guidance of former teacher and coach Richard Parker.
“During my senior year, Dr. Parker offered a guide apprenticeship program to anyone at Holderness who was interested,” says Erik. “I was the only one who signed up.”
During that season and throughout college, Erik continued to develop his skills both as a climber and as a leader; in addition to obtaining certification as a Wilderness First Responder, he took a level 1 course in avalanche hazard management and obtained a Single Pitch Instructor certification through the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Erik also worked for, and continues to work for, Mooney Mountain Guides.
After college Erik returned to Holderness to coach the fall and spring rock climbing teams that fueled his passion as a teenager. And now he has an opportunity to develop that program into a year-round progression. Four to six days a week this winter, his four-student team has ventured from Rumney to Franconia Notch, from the shores of Newfound Lake to cliffs in Crawford Notch. And when they are not exploring the local ledges and cliffs, they are in the climbing room in Bartsch learning the advanced skills and safety measures needed for different types of belaying and multi-pitch climbs. By the end of the season, the team hopes to complete a technical climb up Mount Washington through the infamous Huntington Ravine.
But the program, as Erik sees it, isn’t just about learning the technical aspects of the sport. “I think the climbing and mountain sports communities as a whole offer good examples of healthy communities propping each other up for the betterment of all—a very Holderness-esque vibe,” says Erik. “I want students to recognize that it’s worthy to spend some of your days slotted for recreation in a selfless way, supporting others or the community that supports you.”
To that end, Erik hopes to get students maintaining trails for local organizations like the Squam Lakes Association, the USFS, and the AMC. In particular he hopes that students will help map the trail system at Rumney Cliffs for the USFS.
Erik also hopes that the climbing program will not be limited to students. “My hope is to offer more climbing opportunities outside of sports practice to both my climbers and the general school population,” says Erik. “The end goal is to make climbing more of a known activity on campus, to give everyone a taste, even if just for a day.”
With this in mind, Erik continues to seek other certifications that will allow him to provide additional experiences to his students and to the greater Holderness community. “I took a rock guide course with the AMGA last summer and was accepted into the Advanced Rock Guide course this summer,” explains Erik. “After that I’ll be a six-day exam away from being internationally certified as a rock guide. I’m also taking my Avy 2 course next month. The specific hope there is that it puts me on track to get trained and certified in offering our students the official three-day Avy 1 curriculum.”
He’s the man with a plan in all senses of the phrase, and Holderness is lucky to have him here to develop a program that so closely aligns with the school’s strategic plan and mission…and geographic location.