On the Rocks.

Iowa City, IOWA—David Patton sprang up from his office chair to point out a framed newspaper clipping on the opposite wall.  Tracing his finger over a photograph of huge shafts of rock, reminiscent of a tree hit by lightening, which stretched into the sky, he quickly recalled the familiar routes of the vertical climb before proudly pointing out a small figure clinging to the rock face, “That’s my wife there.”  Patton settled back into his seat and continued the account of his first trip up those cliffs, the day he saved a man’s life.

It’s all come full circle for Patton, who grew up in Iowa City, and graduated from the University of Iowa where he worked with the almost non-existent Outdoor Program as an undergrad.   “There was no rental center, no trips, and no building,” recalled Patton.

After graduation, Patton and his new fiancé, whom he met in the Outdoor Program at Iowa, rented out their house, moved into their truck, and embarked on a 10 month road trip around the country doing what they loved, rock climbing,

Patton has been rock climbing since he was fifteen years old, allowing the sport to become his passion and major part of his life’s work.  The sport requires more than just physical strength, it’s breathing, footwork, and mental control.  “It’s a personal challenge, I like connecting to myself,” explained Patton, “the trick is not to be scared, but motivated by the fear.”

Over the past few years Patton played a key role in the planning and building of the new $350,000 climbing wall in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center (CRWC).  “That’s my baby,” said Patton who was there for every part of the process from choosing the company to creating the different routes of the wall.  Patton recalls that the build team was shocked when he stepped in to direct the project; rarely is there anyone involved on the users’ end.

Patton knew it was important to create a climbing wall for climbers of all skill levels because the sport is so personal.  “Whether you are on the hardest or the easiest route, you are still challenged in the same way,” explained Patton who finds that being able to stay connected to the beginning level is what makes you stronger.

As a guide, Patton advocates for teaching others on the trip the skills they need to take care of themselves and admits “I don’t want to be the guide.”  Every trip Patton leads is based around safety, fun and education.  “It’s the life skills that transfer back to everyday life at the end of the process that matter,” notes Patton saying that often the hardest part of a trip is when it ends.

Safety is always a concern with outdoor adventures, and Patton’s Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training has come into play more than once.

Patton pounded his hand on his desk to mimic the loud thud of a man’s body hitting solid rock and faintly called out “we’ve got a man down” the way a fellow rock climber had years ago.  Recanting how he left his own group to save a man he didn’t even know, Patton’s eyes were focused as he bent over in his chair remembering how he hovered over the fallen climber, creating make-shift braces before lowing him down the cliffs.

“I mean, this guy was dying.”

“And you saved him?”

“I saved him.”

For Patton, outdoor adventure programs and trips are about the experience, the debrief, what has been learned, and what can be improved.  Finding flaws in the system is only half the battle (though Patton jokingly claims his own is flawless).   Each new experience takes a person back to the beginning where they started out.  “The more you get into it, the more you don’t know,” says Patton.


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