Running for the heights: Teacher raises money for Charles City rock wall

By Kate Hayden,

When high school teacher Robert Pittman took his Charles City expeditions class to Backbone State Park last spring, he left impressed.

“This last year I really saw what rock climbing can do for a kid. There’s the physical part, there’s the mental part,” Pittman said. “Our star athletes struggled a little bit, and some of the other kids that weren’t seen as ‘athletic’ or could accomplish something physically, just blew it out of the water.”

“I want those kids to have that more times than the once, when I can take them rock climbing.”

After discussing it with Principal Josh Johnson, Pittman dedicated himself to writing grants and fundraising an indoor rock wall for the Charles City High School — building a wall 30 feet high and 15 feet wide. Pittman put his project on GoFundMe, where he is requesting $1,000, and began writing grant applications for about $15,000 or more to cover the project’s cost. The project is already past its halfway point on GoFundMe, with 13 people raising $590 of the goal in a week.

“As I’ve been learning this summer and during the school year, a rock climbing wall has so many different aspects,” Pittman said. “We’re going to buy pre-made panels, but inside that you have the architectural structure to hold up all the panels.”

A structural engineer will have to approve a final design for the school, but the pre-made panels will allow most of the structure to be moved and re-installed if the high school is renovated or re-built, Pittman said. The school will also need to purchase ropes, harnesses, crash pad mats, handholds and more.

“Any idea I can come up with to raise money, I’m going to do,” Pittman said.

That’s how he found himself signed up for the Rugged Maniac — a 5K obstacle course, which Pittman is dubbing his “Run for the Wall.”

He’s seeking $1,000 in sponsorships for the school rock climbing wall, which would cover one crash mat and some of the 16 harnesses the school would need.

“This will probably kill me or at the least I will pull a hamstring,” Pittman notes at the end of his GoFundMe entry.

“I am seeking anybody’s sponsorship that I can,” Pittman told the Press. “I’ve had people donate from California, to here in Charles City — people who have kids in the community or who have graduated school and fell in love with rock climbing.”

“It is the most physically, mentally challenging activity you can do. There’s nothing like holding yourself up and trying to figure out, what is the next step I have to do?”

Pittman is already taking REI classes on how to set rock climbing anchors out in nature — which would allow him to teach his students the same technique in the future, he said.

“I don’t know if people realize that in northeast Iowa, we’re actually three hours or less away … from 12 of the best midwest climbing spots,” Pittman said.

In three years, he wants to have a club organized to take students to those spots on the weekends. Pittman also mentors in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and his family is involved in Girl Scouts — two more organizations Pittman says can benefit from having a rock wall available after school.

“I firmly believe that our high school is one of the best in the state … and one of the most unique in the state. This is just another thing we can do to get as many of our students involved in something as we possibly can,” Pittman said.

Donations for the rock wall are accepted at