Trip Report: Climb The Carew / Fight For Air Stairclimb

Carew Tower

Cincinnat, OH

February 28, 2010

"And now for something totally different, or, What is it like to do a Stair Climb"

Prologue: What in the world has gotten into you now?!?

It's true I let my weight and girth get away from me, as readers of my trip reports know. November 1, 2009 was closing day for the amusement park season, and I also stepped on a scale, saw a milestone number, screamed, and resolved I needed to do something. I started by making serious changes to my diet, then one day a co-worker asked me if I would like to join the daily stair climb. I thought, why not I'll try it out. Our office building is 9 floors, and truth be told it wasn't that awful. So, I started doing stairs once a day, then we started doing it twice a day.

All was going well until we got wind of the Climb the Carew event. It was one of those things we instantly took a liking to. By January we were registered, then our group got fanatical, going from two stair climbs a day to doing the stairs twice, or more, each time. Truth be told, by mid-Ferburary, we had reached stair burn out, but our commitment to the Carew Tower climb kept us going.

Pre-Climb Activities

The people who run Climb the Carew are very good with emails. You get a welcome email as soon as you reigster, quickly followed by a packet full of fundraising materials in the mail. Event registration is on a sliding scale, the earlier you register the less you pay, then each climber is expected to raise at least $100 over and above the registration fee. So I hit up the family and friends and wound up exceeding my $100 goal. Periodic emails came with fundraising advice, and then the notice about packet pick up. We decided to do the Friday pick up Carew Tower. Each packet contains the typical materials: an event t-shirt, bib number, last minute instructions, a discount parking coupon, as well as some promotional materials from event sponsors. Like several teams, we decided to replace the official event shirt with our own team shirt.

Day of Climb

According to our packets, we had been assigned a 11:43 start time, and were instructed to be checked in by 10:43. SO, I was up by 9, dressed but took as little as I could so as not to be weighted down by too much. We made our way down to Tower Place, which is a shopping mall inside the Carew Tower. We deicded to park in the official parking garage, which was the Tower Place garage, and here the event organizers had posted a lot of signs leading you practically all the way from your parking space to the check in tables. I did get a chuckle when I saw the sign in the garage that said basically: "Carew Tower Stair Climb - Take elevator to 2nd floor"

The signs led us through Tower Place which is a shopping mall built inside what was one one of those giant old time downtown department stores. From Tower Place it was a short flight of stairs down to the Hilton's lobby, then a longer flight down to the Carew Tower Arcade, a grand art deco masterpiece of a foyer in the center of the first floor of the building. For the uninitiated, the Carew tower is 49 flights of stairs to the roof, of which the climb only involved the first 45, owing partly due to the fact that is where main elevator service in the building ends, and only one tiny stairwell continues up from that point.

I enter the grand foyer and head right to the registration table. It's a real simple affiar, they check your name off a list, collect your pledge packet, and have you sign the typical event liability waiver. The whole check in process took about 60 seconds. Then I walked around the foyer where booths were set up, the typical event stuff: radio station booth, which was providing music, a booth from some juice drink company, an education booth on the American Lung Association, a political action booth for the charity, a banner to be signed by all the climbers, and a booth where you can preregister today for next years event, for only $10. On the other side of the lobby they had a team photo area, as well as the first water station, so you can make sure you are hydrated before starting the climb. The water station had signage telling you what types of race services you can expect along the way up the tower. Branching out from the lobby, one end had an area for chair massages, and the other had the official starting area. Down underneath the lobby (yes more stairs) climbers had access to the towers gym for any warm up/ cool down needs, as well as areas for gear check, restrooms, and a banquet room for the post climb reception.

It wasn't too much later I spotted Mark and Teri from our group. Teri's husband Dave was there and became the official coat and bag holder for the group. Some time later we saw Brett, Christa and her son Chris check in and they joined us. While waiting to climb, we had lots of time to mingle in the lobby where we met a large group of firefighters who had just done the climb in full gear. Their time? 22 minutes, and they remarked that was slow. Another group, though not as large, were some military types with backpacks. Don't worry there were plenty of normal people there too, and it looked like even some families getting in on the act. Of course you get to see a fair number of people who are in top physical shape that remind you how out of shape you are.

Around 11:30 we stop past the water station, then find a place to wait. Feelings in the mood ranged from aprehension about what we had gotten our selves into, some fear over poential embarassment and can we do it, to slap happy giddyness, to high level energy. As I mentioned, they use a stager start, where they send one person in about every 10 seconds. To make sure they keep interval, they have two rope lanes leading from the door to the stairs, that way they can have one chute filled with the climbers the starter is proessing and have the next group in the other chute waiting to go. When they call the 11:43 group we are over there like we were shot out of a cannon. Once the group is in the chute, a race official comes down the line writing your official start time on the tear off portion of your bib. I was first in our chute so they wrote 11:43:00 on mine, 11:43:10 on the person behind me, and so on. Right before you go through the door they have another photographer. The starter is guarding the door into the stairs, and has both a hand held stop watch along with the big time display. When your official time cycles around on the display, he sends you into the stairwell as he punches your bib number into the race timing system.

The Climb Begins!!!

At the Carew, the stairwell is entirely done in battleship gray, the walls and the stairs themselves. The doors on the landings are mostly black but there a few minor variations there. Remember the stairs aren't usually a visual focal point of a building. All along the stairs they have signs with trivia related to the ALA, signs that tell you how far you are from the next water station, but most clever of all signs that look to have been done by school children and others offering encouragement as you make the clinb. In the Carew you exit the lobby through an art deco door, and are immediately trust into the no nonsense industrial looks of the stairs. I briefly consider going up a floor or two then letting the rest of our team catch up, but thought whats the fun in that, besides knowing my own abilities and that of the group, we'd probably bunch up naturally anyway.

I noted no door for the second floor, and thought, I wonder just how many flights comprise the climb to the second floor given the unusually high ceilings in the lobby. The first door I spot is labeled "3". I think we all got a chuckle when just after passing Door #3 we see the sign "You're Almost There!" The first 7 flights are your standard switchback flights of stairs common in most public buildings. The next point of interest is the 4th floor, here the landing door is open and here you pass the first First Aid station. I have to think this is the planned escape hatch for those who got peer pressured into this, or thought "That sounds really neat" until you actually start to do it. I know I have heard from several people who have said they wanted to climb the Carew when they were young, then again it could be there for the unfortunate case when you get started and something cramps up and its just not going to happen. It was reassuring while we were waiting that the EMT crews on stand by in the elevator lobby did not have to respond to any calls while we had been waiting.

Things get unusual on 7, here instead of the double switchback, you go up one or two steps then a long flat section, then turn around and do one long solid flight of stairs up to 8. Here the wierdness continues as you come out of the first stairwell, go down a short hall and into another stairwell. Not like you had a choice as one ends and the other begins. Not a real long hall more like possibly wrapping around an elevator shaft or support column.

These are the stairs you will be taking from 8 to 21. Again the usual double switchback, odd for us in that it travels in the opposite direction as the ones at work. The next point of interest is the 10th floor, here the door out of the stairwell is open, a volunteer stands at the door handing out water, and behind the volunteer is the second first aid station as well as a building security guard who is there to escort anybody that wishes to quit to the elevators. It's not a written rule, but I would hope moral code commands that if you were to see somebody down or struggling that you would alert the volunteers at the next service area. This all worked out well for us since our own building is 9 floors, and its 9 flights ot stairs from 1-10. Thus right when we would usually be ending our climb, we are getting handed a cup of water. We don't get that kind of service at work. We take a couple moments to rest and then start what we dubbed the second rep.

Okay, the first 10 floors were a novelty, it's a new building, and all, the second set of ten floors is where you have to start to bear down and work. The next point of interest is floor 18, again the door off the landing is open, this time there is the volunteer passing out water, and they also have an oxygen tank, in case anyody needs that from doing exercise at a higher altitude than they are used to, not to mention stair climbing is no joke, it will take it out of you. 18thfloor is just one floor short of a "double climb" in our building, and look there is another friendly volunteer handing us another cup of water. At least we don't have to do the 9 flghts back down... Don't laugh, once you've been going up enough flights, down is actually harder!

The wierdness resumes on the 21st floor. The 21st floor is like halftime, okay its not really halftime, ita's a few floors short of half but on this floor, the stiarwell you are in ends. You enter the 21st floor and walk down a long hallway on the 21st floor. Here you get a service area deluxe - they have just about anything you would want: water, oxygen, gatorade, first aid, restrooms, and it's an authoirzed exit point for those that need that. After your halftime stop on 21, it is into a different stairwell to resume the climb up Mt. Carew. I was glad for this rest stop because I was starting to really feel it.

Here the stairs go up in a much more confined space, and start going in something like sets of 6-3-6. Call me nuts, maybe it was the halftime on 21, but the trip up to the next part of the climb, up to the next service area on 30 was easier than the first 21. Besides 21-30 is 9 flights, that makes rep 3. Again just we would normally be finishing a set of nine flights, a friendly volunteer is there with more water. 30 is your next chance at a security escort out if you need it. At this floor, I took advantage of the restrooms provided before continuing on.

From here the interval between rest stops keeps getting shorter. The next one is 36, at 36 while I was getting my water, I noticed Christa sitting down to rest a bit. We stayed a minute or so to make sure she would be okay before continuing our ascent up Mt. Carew. We also noted somebody not in our group taking advanage of the oxygen tank provided on 36.

From here on out the water stations become every three flooors, we totally skipped the ones at 39 and 42, The water stop at 36 made 45 the final 9 floor rep. From here the thrill of finishing kicked in and you may say we caught our second wind.

Somone evil designed the stairs for the 44th and 45th floors, I swear they got a lot steeperand the stairwell widens back out again for some reason. One of the last things they tell you before you enter the stiars back down on 1 is NOT to stop as soon as you get to the top of the 45th floor. Continue to walk until you are out of the stairwell, down the hall and have passed the finish line taped on the carpet. When you come out of the stairs on 45 they have used yellow caution tape to block the stairs up to 46 as well as the small auxilliary elevator that leads to the observation deck, lest you be confused about where to stop climbing and which elevators to use to return to the lobby. You continue along the hallway on 45 and cross the finsih line just as you enter the elevator waiting area. Here a race official tears off the stub on your bib, notes the time, and spikes the stub while another official punches your bib number into another console for the race timing system. Round one more corner and its into the cheering of the finish line crew congratulating you. Here they have one last first aid and oxygen station, then the finish line crew hands out medals as you enter the elevator waiting area. While you wait for the elevator they have a hospitality table with water and gatorade setup.

The Summit of Mt. Carew!

When we first started talking about doing this stair climb, we had no idea how long it would take us. We were half joking about it taking an hour, we though 30 minutes would be way too ambitious, and were guessing about 45 minutes. Imagine our shock when we found out we finished right around the 15 minute mark. Okay, my time was 16:55, and if we knew we could actually be that good for time, we wouldn't have rested so long at the rest stops. Our best climber, Mark did it in 12:20.

The elevator waiting area is not large and they have signs posted to enjoy the moment, but please make it only a moment up top and to use the next available elevator to return to the main lobby. Of course we waited up top for our entire group to finish, yes even Christa who arrived only a few moments later. We snapped a group photo of us up top, then headed into the elevator. In an effort to maintain building access control, they were using elevator operators to ensure everybody went to the lobby, and voluteers went to their assigned floors and everything.

Let me tell you, the ride down in the elevator was a LOT faster than the climb up. When you exit the elevators, you see the EMT crews on standby, as well as more volunteers congratulating you and pointing the way to the lobby, where you come out of the elevator area right across from the doors to the stairs where you started. Here you can offer encouragement to those who are just about to begin their climb.

Post Climb

Then it was down to the banquet hall in the basement. The reception had all kinds of breakfast foods mostly sponosred by First Watch, so they had fruit cups, siesta Key cocktails (think a mix of fruit, yogurt and granola), muffins, OJ, coffee. Vitamin Water had a table passing out free bottles. Did I mention the climb down from the lobby to the basement was atually worse on the muscles at first than the climb up. Muscle memory, they tell me is to blame for that.

After celebrating, we returned to the lobby for a team photo, and then all headed our separate ways proud of a job well done.


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