Young Dexter Wall Climber Qualifies for National Championships

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Charlie Baker where he likes to be. Courtesy of Andy Baker.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

Things are looking up for young Charlie Baker, and the higher things get, the higher he climbs.

Dexter’s 12-year-old wall-climber has taken to the sport so proficiently that he will be competing in the 2022 Youth National Championships, July 25-31 in Arlington, IL, just outside of Chicago. The event is sanctioned by USA Climbing, the national governing body of the sport of competitive climbing in the United States.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Charlie and his father, Andy, to hear more about the Ann Arbor area's newest climbing phenom and his love of a little-known sport.

I asked Charlie how long he had been climbing, and he gave me a great answer.

“What do you mean?” he asked back.

Andy explained that “Charlie has always climbed anything he could since he was a baby. Wanting to climb things seems to be in his DNA. He started wall climbing officially at Planet Rock at age seven.”

Charlie competing at the Divisional Final on May 7, 8 at Vertical Endeavors in Bloomington, MN. Courtesy of Andy Baker.

For Charlie, climbing has no tangible starting point because it is something he has always done. He can’t remember not grappling to reach a higher level. Recognizing his son’s enthusiasm for such activity, Andy began climbing with him at Planet Rock, a wall-climbing gym on Jackson Road in Ann Arbor.

“I figured Planet Rock must have a kids’ program, so I took him to those,” says Andy. “Some people were wearing Planet Rock team jerseys, and that caught our attention.”

It caught Andy’s attention because Charlie demonstrated exceptional prowess on the walls. He spoke with the coaches and learned you couldn’t get on the team by simply signing up. Charlie would have to try out. The coaches watched him at a bouldering competition and were impressed. He did well for someone uncoached. This was a year ago, and Charlie joined the team.

He goes to the gym three times a week. He entered and placed well enough in the qualifying events to be invited to the Youth National Championships. He finished fourth in his category at the Division 6 Top Rope Championship in Minnesota held on May 7 & 8. Andy and his family do some significant traveling for Charlie’s events. Another qualifying event was held in Cleveland.

Top rope climbing is where the climber is secured to a rope that passes up through an anchor system at the top of the climb and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb.

In rock and wall climbing, routes to the top are assigned a grade to describe the difficulty and danger of climbing them. Several factors are considered in route grades—the technical difficulty of the moves, the strength, stamina, and level of commitment required, and the difficulty of protecting the climber. For you wall climbers at Planet Rock, Charlie climbs a 5.11+. For us non-climbers, that’s dang hard!

When I asked Charlie what he liked about climbing, he gave another happy but terse reply, “I don’t know. I just like climbing.”

How does anyone describe a passion or instinct? “He has this compulsion to do it all the time,” says Andy.

Andy Baker (L) and son Charlie. Photo by Doug Marrin

I asked Charlie how he keeps the height from getting to him. The exposure and height can be very intimidating.

After thinking for a moment, he says, “I guess I don’t really think about it. I’m just thinking about how I can get to the top.”

Good luck, Charlie, and thanks for the great metaphor.

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