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Chalk dusted climbers' heads as their competitors reached higher and higher.

About 35 climbers competed in the annual Rock the Rec, a rock climbing competition held Sunday at the University of Montana Fitness and Recreation Center's rock climbing wall. Once the competition got under way, it was a climbing free-for-all as they attempted 20 roped routes and 27 bouldering (no ropes) routes.

The routes varied in difficulty, and each had a different number of points awarded if a climber made it to the top without falling. It doesn't matter how easy the rest of the route is; it takes just one difficult move to push the route's rating up a notch.

"I started climbing when my sister got me a membership at the local gym where I'm from and I just became so obsessed with it," said UM senior and climbing wall monitor Danielle Sanderson. "I was a gym rat, which means you only climb indoors, for a really long time. We had this tight-knit little community and it blossomed into this where I'm leading trips outside."

Outside climbing is the most fun, she said. Indoors, there's a set route; climbers follow the tape and they try to perfect their technique.

"Outside, you are given directions if the route is bolted ... but you get to choose any of the holes that you want," she said. "There's a lot of different ways you can do it. You're kind of creating your own route in your head.

"You're the artist instead of someone else being the artist for you."

Sanderson said she enjoys leading climbs outside because she gets to create routes for other climbers.

"You can plant a seed in people's heads to want to go outside," she said. "Helping people learn how to climb outside is this huge transformation, it's a confidence boost."

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On Sunday, judges took the top three scores in each category – beginner, intermediate and advanced – to determine the winners. 

The competition brought all types of climbers to UM: boulder climbers, rope climbers, indoor and outdoor climbers.

"There's something about this camp that brings together every kind of climber from every corner of Missoula," said UM climbing wall manager Neil Moore. "Everyone climbs harder when we have this vibe."

It took the climbing staff three days to set the routes and they were feeling it on Sunday, comparing sore muscles and fingertips before the competition got going.

Some routes took about an hour to set, Moore said, but the more difficult the route, the longer it took, some up to three or four hours. One night, Moore was at the Rec until 2 a.m. setting routes for the competition.

UM senior Peter Breigenzer said he came to the university gym a couple of years ago and met a rock climber who mentored him as he got started. He never stopped.

"I like it because it requires extreme concentration," he said. "You have to trust yourself and problem-solve."

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