Campus Rock Star

EMS professor Seth Blumsack discovered rock climbing during his gap year. 

Seth Blumsack hanging off of a rock climbing wall, courtesy

He grew up by a lake in the Boston suburbs, but as a kid, Seth Blumsack was not into the outdoors at all. In fact, he didn’t learn to swim until the age of 18. Everything changed in 1993, when he spent part of a gap year between high school and college with the National Outdoor Leadership School—a nonprofit that teaches wilderness skills—in the mountains of the American Southwest, and discovered rock climbing.

“I was immediately hooked,” says Blumsack, a professor of energy policy and economics and international affairs and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Energy Law and Policy. “Climbing is like solving a puzzle, figuring out how you want to navigate this vertical terrain with incredible focus so that you don’t fall off. That really appealed to me.”

Since then, Blumsack has been climbing anytime he can. He attended college in Oregon, where he climbed often in the famous Smith Rock State Park, and he’s climbed in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire—“There are a lot of technical cliffs there that make for good climbs,” he says—and on West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks. He has made several attempts at the Chief, a giant cliff in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, but has been driven off by severe weather every single time.

“I realized, when I started climbing, that I was interested in very long routes where you’re climbing thousands and thousands of feet, and you’re up there all day, if not longer, so I’ve tended to gravitate toward places where you could do that,” Blumsack says. “I’m also not the kind of guy you’re going to see solo climbing El Capitan with no ropes: I’m a little more of a self-preservationist, and I like to climb with others.”

His steadiest partner is his wife, whom Blumsack met climbing when he was a graduate student in Pittsburgh. They’ve introduced their two children to the sport: The family climbs on the rocks close to their home in Millheim, Pa., and in their garage on a climbing wall that Blumsack built as soon as he came to Penn State in 2007.