PORTLAND – No longer is Cam Greely merely a social climber.

The 15-year-old freshman at South Portland High is part of a competitive climbing team based out of the Maine Rock Gym. He will compete Saturday at a regional competition in New Bedford, Mass., with an eye toward advancing to a divisional and possibly even a national competition later this season.

“I took a field trip here in fourth grade,” said Greely, a harness around his waist and thighs, as he gazed around the sloping walls of the Marginal Way facility after regular business hours Sunday night. “I just fell in love and kept coming back.”

The increasingly popular sport of competitive climbing encompasses three distinct disciplines: bouldering, sport and speed climbing. Bouldering involves short climbs without ropes and over a thick crash mat. Speed climbing is a race to the top. Sport climbing, which is what Greely will be doing Saturday, involves ropes, belayers and precise routes marked with strips of colored tape, as if the old Twister game became a vertical point-to-point challenge.

The sport climbing season runs from March to July. Fifteen regional championships across the country are scheduled for this weekend, with approximately 1,500 kids competing, according to USA Climbing operations manager Kynan Waggoner, who is based, naturally, in Boulder, Colo.

The top seven climbers from each age group advance to one of the five divisional championships in early June. Maine belongs to New England East, whose winners join those from New England West and Capitol, whose competition will be held in Philadelphia. Only the top seven climbers from the divisional championships, to be held in Hadley, Mass., will advance to the national finals in Atlanta in early July.

The higher you climb, the higher your score. Each competitor attempts three routes, and must begin moments after seeing the route.

“They put you in an isolation room,” Greely said, “and you wait until they call.”

Greely is one of the 10 climbers on the Maine Rock Gym team, the only one of its kind in the state. They hail from seven communities — Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Norway, Scarborough, South Portland and Windham — and are as young as 11 (Falmouth fifth grader Emma Harrington) and as old as 16 (Windham High junior Zoe Hall). There are four boys and six girls. Most are in high school.

Gwen Wolf, 15, of Scarborough, opted against competing in the New England East regional, to be held at an indoor climbing center called Carabiner’s.

“You have one chance to get it right or else you have to get in line again,” said Wolf, moments after wiping blood from a ripped scab on her knee — while 20 feet aloft — at a recent practice. “I tend to do a lot worse in (competitions) than I can actually climb because it’s so stressful.”

Saturday will mark Greely’s third visit to the regionals. Last year he was joined by Marisa Agger of Scarborough, and siblings Noah and Zoe Hall of Windham. This year, Zoe is resting an overuse injury, Agger is concentrating on track and Noah missed the registration deadline.

That leaves Greely and 13-year-old Emily Cormier of Norway as the only two Mainers Saturday in New Bedford. “Competitive climbing is not for everyone,” said the team’s assistant coach, Amanda Butcher. “Climbing is an enjoyable sport and a lot of people do it just for the pure love of the sport. But the competing is really exciting.”

Greely certainly thinks so. Formerly a baseball catcher, he found more pleasure in climbing walls than swatting (and blocking) pitched balls.

“It’s way more physically demanding,” he said. “I feel way more tired when I go home from this than from baseball. You get more out of it. There’s more exercise.”

Sport climbing recently made a list of eight sports under consideration for possible addition to the 2020 Olympics. The IOC is scheduled to include only one of the eight. The others are baseball, softball, karate, squash, wakeboard, wushu and roller sports.

“Climbing outside presents several different variables,” said Chuck Curry, head coach of the Maine Rock Gym team. “But climbing inside on plastic (holds) is one of the most controlled environments you’re going to get. It’s easy to turn it into a competition.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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