On a winter’s day when the conditions are right and the schedule allows, you’re likely to find Taylor Hennum, a 17-year-old Keene resident, on the slopes at Mount Snow in Vermont.
He’ll be telemark skiing, using the technique that combines elements of downhill and cross-country.
But at other times of the year when the weather’s warm, he’s more commonly on elevations of a different sort, such as several hundred feet up a rock face with rope in hand.
Hennum, a senior at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, is a rock climber — and an enthusiastic one, too, according to climbing Coach Nate Williams.
Earlier this year Williams accompanied Hennum up White Horse Ledge in North Conway, a 1,000-foot high granite structure. Hennum planned the four-hour climb and led the way. “A massive accomplishment,” said Williams.
That Hennum is fully into the sport is evident from the way he talks about it, for example by including the words “adrenaline” and “relaxing” in the same sentence. He explained: “It’s all about letting go of worry.” He clarifies: “It’s a scary sport, but it’s also safe.”
He said that he also likes that that rock climbing allows him to stretch himself by taking on new challenges. He currently has his eye on two more advanced climbing spots in Erving, Mass., called Cuttlefish and The Beach. “You’re always setting new goals,” he said. “There’s always another one waiting.”
Hennum was introduced to climbing his sophomore year on a 25-foot high climbing wall in the school gym that’s now used by up to 12 students in a standalone sport. In the spring, the students get outdoors and travel to various climbing spots in the region.
In the grading system of rock climbing, Hennum is a 5.11-climber, which means that he can handle moderately difficult climbs that might have overhangs.
He got to this skill level after a lot of practice, which in addition to actual climbing has included using a wood contraption of his own making at home to build up his hand and finger strength for climbing up cracks in rock faces.
But the technical dimension is only part of the experience. There’s also the attitude part, which Hennum expressed in his college application essay that described a climb that came with some unexpected complications.
He wrote, “Personally, I believe even the worst situations can be turned around depending on your outlook.”
Said Williams, who’s the director of outdoor programs and is on the science faculty at the 200-student school: “The gifts that Taylor brings to his pursuit of rock climbing come in the form of positivity and dedication. There is little ego in it for him. He simply wants to experience the challenge that every climb offers, and the reward for him lies in what he learns about himself from the climb.”
He added that Hennum “finds peace and joy through his climbing, allowing it to have a positive ripple in all aspects of his life.”
Hennum’s academic interests include environmental science and outdoor biology, which, in addition to his athletic pursuits, help explain his choice of colleges: The University of Utah, Montana State University and the University of Montana.
Those parts of the country seem suited to Hennum for their topography, geology and weather patterns. He said, “It works out quite well that I can do one thing in the winter and switch to the other in the summer.”