’burg and Beyond
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Michael Duncan using his DIY rockwall
Photo: Tom Duncan
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Michael Duncan ’23 used his engineering know-how to build a climbing wall on the family farm.
" "Milford, Pa.
Michael Duncan ’23 first learned to climb on rocky escarpments around his hometown — in a rugged corner of Pennsylvania hemmed in by the Catskills and New Jersey’s Skylands region. At Bucknell, he burnished his skills and sinewy muscles with a tight community of climbers at Gerhard Fieldhouse’s indoor wall. When COVID-19 cut Duncan off from both locales this summer (solo outdoor climbing is risky, and Duncan was self-isolating to protect elderly family members), he found a creative way to practice his favorite sport in quarantine.

What He Did
With some scrap lumber, secondhand gymnastics pads, $200 in supplies and a lot of engineering know-how, Duncan constructed a 13-foot climbing wall in a 19th-century barn on his family’s farm. The project combined knowledge Duncan gained in his mechanical engineering major, where he learned to calculate the maximum load its handholds could bear, and at the fieldhouse, where he devised creative routes to challenge climbers of varying abilities and body types. “Climbing is a lot like engineering — you’re just solving a big puzzle,” he says.

What He Loves
For Duncan, nothing beats the exhaustion and exhilaration following a hard climb, and he likes that he can customize his wall as he progresses as a climber. But he most anticipated a return to Bucknell’s gym in the fall. “The camaraderie at that climbing wall is like none I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “It’s like everyone is cheering you on.”
Matt Hughes