I’ve been a member of ET since it opened a couple of years ago. As their website states: “The 29,000 sq ft purpose-built facility opened in 2013 and boasts over 28,500 sq ft of climbing on walls up to 45 ft high.”
The EarthTreks Golden facility, in my humble opinion, is world class. Two levels, high walls, great route setting for both Bouldering and lead/Top Rope – it’s my first recommendation for a good rock gym in the Denver area. The people who work there are also great – all climbers, all seem genuinely friendly and knowledgable.
ET allows 6 free guest passes a year with their membership that can be used for any guest once per month. Movement only allows their guest passes to be used with people who have never been to Movement before.
Lead rope availability is much higher at ET than at Movement. I’ve never personally had to wait for a lead rope at ET, but have had to multiple times at Movement.
Less crowded at ET. I’ve seen boulderers waiting 4 deep at Movement, and the ropes area is typically a zoo during the prime after work hours of 5:30-7:30.
ET has programmable locks for their lockers, with no lockers marked as “reservable.” Beyond the occasional malfunctioning locker I find this more agreeable than having “reservable” lockers that you have to pay for. I also like the convenience of never having to bring my own lock. Reservable lockers also leave one less for the rest of us.
ET has a kids area on the 2nd floor, whereas Movement does not (as far as I know).
Discount for shoes, clothing, equipment, etc, for members at ET.
There’s a good amount of parking at ET, with overflow parking in the strip mall below the Gym, as well as at the Panoramic Orthopedic Center just above/next to the gym (after 5pm, and weekends). While the main parking lot can get filled up, there are options nearby. Compare this to Movement during peak hours, where you might find yourself walking a few blocks from some shady side streets when the main parking is filled.
What people like about Movement:
Close to Downtown. I have partners that live in Downtown, so Movement is the natural choice.
Long, overhanging lead wall. Steep is good for lead training – gets you strong with the sustained overhang.
Reservable lockers. Some people prefer to have their own lockers using their own locks, and are willing to pay for this convenience.
Some people say that both the staff and the climbers at ET, are much nicer than at Movement. I have met nice climbers at both, but I do think that the staff at ET seem nicer and genuinely enjoy working there. This translates to better customer service at ET in my experience.
The crowding at Movement may also create an “opportunistic” attitude of jumping onto routes without consulting those nearby who may have been lacing up for a go. I find this attitude and action less often at EarthTreks, as there’s usually a route open, even during rush hour.
I think the route setting is different at both, which makes sense given the different route setters, but I have found both to be professional and enjoyable. I do find that Movement Denver grading is harder than at ET, meaning a 5.10a at Movement is in general a tad harder than an equivalent 10a at ET. It could also be because when I climb at Movement I tend to stick mostly to the overhanging lead wall – which is both long as well as overhung the entire length. But, I’ve noticed this tendency to harder grading on the regular top rope area as well.
Boulder route setting is comparable between the two, it just tends to get crowded at Movement during prime hours.
Well, that sums up my feelings between the two gyms. Both are worldclass facilities, and you can get a great rock climbing session at both, yet in comparison I’m just glad that I live closer to EarthTreks. I like the benefits of ET in comparison to Movement, but don’t get me wrong: Movement is great too! ET is just a little bit better in my opinion, so if you are deciding between the two, all else being equal (distance, price, etc) I would tend towards ET.
It’s nice that we have such a great choice of gyms in the Denver area!
After a solid week of climbing in El Potrero Chico (EPC), I can now say with confidence that the Osprey Mutant 28 pack is now my new favorite crag pack!
My old favorite crag pack was the Mammut Neon Gear 45L, and I still have it as a larger backup. I do like that I am able to fit a 70 meter rope, harness, draws, hydration bladder, snacks and other random bits all inside the larger pack. It’s comfortable backplate and straps makes it a solid winner for a pack that swallows everything for a day of cragging.
But in my search for lighter-faster-stronger I find myself reaching increasingly for the Osprey Pack 28. I received this pack as part of the Steph Davis Crack Climbing Clinic, but I haven’t really put it through it’s paces – till my EPC trip.
Osprey Mutant 28 – logo
The pack has thoughtful details, such as a useful top compartment for things you need to reach easily, or easily stuff things into:
Quick to open top pocket – great for headlamps, sandwiches, need to have items.
My pet peeve is a bad zipper that gets stuck repeatedly, or break down. Osprey nails this with solid zipper action:
From what I understand, this pack was built mainly for ice climbing, with ice tool attachment straps, but those straps can also serve a dual purpose such as strapping a windbreaker to the side, or hanging ‘biners or other extra gear on the sides.
What I really like is the straps for hanging the rope off the top of the pack:
The Osprey Mutant’s smaller profile (28 liters vs the Mammut’s 45 liters) makes it lighter, but also requires placing the rope on the outside of the pack. I kind of like this configuration – it leaves the rope available to quickly setup, and then leaves sufficient room inside the pack for the rest of your equipment, such as your harness, draws, belay device, climbing shoes, and jacket – with room to spare.
This size also makes it a reasonable multipitch pack – about as large as I personally would go for multiple pitches, but with compression straps it can have a slimmer profile. There’s even a stretchy gear mesh above the top compartment that can be used for your helmet!
I don’t think you’d have any regrets in purchasing the Osprey Mutant 28 pack as a day crag pack, and it’s size makes it also useful for taking with you up a multipitch as well.
“8 pitches with 3 people? No problem!” Rafael said, a climber Katie and I met who was also staying at a casita at El Chalet. We were contemplating doing Super Nova, a multipitch of mostly easy 5.6-5.9 climbing, except with one hard start.
“You can do the 1st pitch!” Rafael smiled broadly at me. He was a friendly Brazilian, who’s name is pronounced as ‘HAWF-ah-el’.
The Whole Enchilada: A Climbers Guide to Potrero Chico, Mexico
“Yeah, alright,” I responded. What’s the worst that could happen? I get worked over and have to yard on draws – French Free all the way!
Leading Super Nova
The 1st pitch of Super Nova
Yes, I tried to do it all free, without grabbing gear, but well…I couldn’t. I was at my limit – with all the grunting and emoting that I required, and it was either turn around, or keep yarding. I think at one point I found myself sideways. On the third grab of a draw, Raphael sang up to me, “Great styyyyle!” I had to laugh at that one. It took nearly all I had to make it to the anchors.
I set up the top belay, and caterpillared up Katie and Rafael. I then led the much easier 2nd pitch (5.8), before handing the next 2 leads to Rafael. We continued to hopscotch each other 2 pitches at a time.
Hangdoggin’ Super Nova (Photo: Katie Grimes)
Apparently, the late Magic Ed, the iconic EPC bolter-educator-organizer was a fan of long moderate routes, and is listed as the getting the FA on Super Nova, along with Bob Almond.
With Ariel, owner of El Chalet (Photo: Katie Grimes)
For some reason, I thought that the 5.10b and 5.10a were both easier than the 5.8 and 5.9 to their left.
I was puzzled at the ratings, but what else is new? It’s so hard to get accurate ratings since so much depends on variables such as body length, limb length, finger strength and flexibility. The rock at Moto Wall is some of the best in the EPC.
Hacking my way through the Jungle Wall (Photo: Katie Grimes)
We followed that on the second day with a go at the Jungle Wall, warming up just to the right of a couple doing the 11 pitch Space Boyz, called CDC&J(5.8). We followed it with a mystery 3 pitch route just to the left of the 15 pitch Yankee Clipper I found challenging, maybe 5.10ish.
I think this is the first time I had to be careful of cactus while climbing a wall.
Then, Christmas Eve. La Posada, one of the main climber lodging options in EPC, had a $12 USD Christmas dinner that had so many good dishes – turkey, salad, cactus, potatoes – and other stuff I didn’t know the names of.
Raffle time at the La Posada Xmas Eve dinner
This guy across from me kept telling anyone who would listen, “Hey, have you tried Pitch Black? It is soooo good! So good!” I could see how some people could tire of the constant climber talk.
This other girl at the table was saying, “If I hear ONE more person spouting about how they just did Inglourious Bastards I SWEAR to GAWD I’m going to lose my mind! So what if you did 5.12, it’s Not that hard!THOUSANDS of people have done 5.12! Talk to me when you’ve done 5.13!”
This was a good respite for 2 days of climbing, getting used to the new rock and in preparation for the 8 pitch Super Nova we planned for the following day. A 45 minute cab ride we arranged at La Posada and we found ourselves descending a spiral walkway down to the arched catacombs of the hot spring.
8 Pitches? No problem!
The mystery 3 pitch we had done a couple days ago at the Jungle Wall was little prep for the 8 pitch. I think after days of just doing 4-5 single and double pitches, an 8 pitch is something a little different. It’s a bigger day on a bigger wall, and anything of that length and above is appealing to the masses of climbers looking to sample some of the longer moderate multipitch climbs in El Potrero. On our outing we had one team climb past us, with 2 other groups that followed.
Super Nova, venga venga!
It’s the dramatic line at the end of the Las Estrellas (The Stars) canyon. Our intention was to try our hand at Estrillita, a 12 pitch 10d, but since there was a party in front of us (at 7:30am) we made a go of Super Nova.
Partway up Super Nova
Katie on Super Nova
I liked that Raphael’s Brazilian pronunciation of the letter “R” sounded like an “H”. Especially before he tossed the rope for rappel, it sounded like he was yelling “Hooooope!”
For the remainder of the trip I would yell “Hoooope!” prior to tossing the rappel rope.
Because of the popularity of the route, we had 2 other parties behind us backed up because we were rapping with 3 rather than the usual 2 party climbers of a typical multipitch team. A young party of 2 just above us tried to rap past us on a single line.
I couldn’t quite figure out his setup. Like, how was he descending on a single line? The only thing I could think of is that they secured the line on one end with his partner at the top – but how did they intend to retrieve it? How was the person on top to descend? The only other way I could think of it is that the other person would have another rope to connect the 2 ropes. (I’ve since learned about single rope rappels, and the ability to retrieve the rope with a cord) In any case their 70 meter rope was not long enough. The rapeller went in direct with his PAS at a bolt below our rappel station. We offered our rope for him to descend, but he declined. But when we got to the next belay station I heard one of them yell above us the dreaded “Rocks!”
Potrero Select: Selected Climbs at El Potero Chico Mexico
The 3 of us hugged the wall, but not before I glanced up and saw a shower of rocks come down. Some looked about the size of a fist and smaller, any one of which could break a skull, fracture a shoulder. We lowered our heads and waited for the impact that never came.
Apparently, the 2nd guy above the stuck rappeler swung into the ledge for the belay station, and inadvertently kicked rocks lying there.
Katie in the upper reaches of Super Nova
Later, at La Posada, we described the rockfall, and one of the climbers said, “Oh, was that you? We heard the rocks come down. That was scary!”
That person wasn’t even in the same canyon. The acoustics of the canyons make even ordinary conversations audible from far away. And the yelling of commands reverberates off the numerous walls.
View from El Chalet of the Moto Wall
The EPC can get rainy and overcast in December, but we enjoyed mostly sunny days the majority of the days.
Another view from the top of El Chalet
Frankly, just the length (and the hard first pitch) of Super Nova tired us out for the rest of our trip, We followed with an easier training day on One Dead Teardrop at the Wonder Wall, and doing Libertad, an interesting 5.7 that ends with an exposed arete to teach Katie the finer aspects of multipitch on this cool 2 pitch spire.
Our last day we just did a few pitches at Canon de Los Lobos. Rafael met with us after we did The Blacksmith. He looked up and said, “This type of rock is my least favorite. See how broken up it is?” I followed his gaze at the large jumbled blocks stacked on other blocks. I did feel that it was a tad chossy, but looking at it through his eyes I felt it might be a less desirable area to climb. Looking down, you could see large fallen blocks, some as big as a VW, lying on the path up.
We ended the day with the Anvil, a climb with a nice crux that I overcame with a short series of sidepulls.
We called it a day. The next day we had to catch our taxi at 1:30, and so we had an afternoon of organizing, with a final evening at La Posada to talk with our new climber friends.
A couple of our days we took the hike in to Hidalgo, to sample the best tamales I’ve ever had. I asked a street vendor where I could find tamales
Painted wall at Cafe El Buho
Top floor balcony at El Chalet
Top floor Casita at El Chalet
¿Dónde puedo encontrar tamales
This is what I heard:
Blah blah blah take a left then blah blahh blahdedly blah then a right blahhblahhblahhh
Well, that got us there.
El Buho, and the Game Where No One Wins
We then hung out at El Buho with the other climbers. These 2 guys were talking about how one of them was trying to convince his partner to have a go at Timewave Zero, one of the resident hard man climbs. A 23 pitch 2,300′ route ranging from 5.7 to 5.12a.
“Just tell him, ‘Don’t worry brah, ’cause where we’re going we’re not going to land on land'”
The other responded cryptically:
“This is a game where no one wins.”
They stared at each other straight-faced, then both broke up laughing.
A game where no one wins. That could be about climbing.
A horse, of course
Quick Guide: 8 Day Moderate Climbing trip in the EPC
Day One, arrive in El Potrero and settle in at El Chalet
The last couple years in Colorado I’ve been able to climb every month of the year – including the coldest months of January and February. Colorado, for those not from here, actually has a fairly mild winter in comparison to our more northern neighbors, such as Minnesota and Illinois.
I remember walking down the street on a frigid Chicago February, and I thought I was freezing until I turned the corner on Wacker drive, and felt the bitter cold wind coming off the Chicago River. I saw people bundled up in what looked like the Chicago version of space suits, never seeing such thick coats on the ski areas of Colorado!
In Colorado, sunny days of 45-55 (and above!) can be quite common, giving us a needed break with several Indian Summers. And with the sun reflecting off the rocks it can feel 10-15 degrees warmer!
Now, 45 degrees Fahrenheit may seem cold, and it can be, once you factor in wind chill and when you are in shade, but when I see 45 degrees and sunny on the forecast – I start looking to where to climb!
A little further are the Northern New Mexico climbs. I haven’t been to the Santa Fe and Taos area climbs, but I’ve heard they are pretty good.
I have climbed near Los Alamos, in the Jemez Valley and El Rito for conglomerate rock. Those are little higher in elevation, so may not be as suitable for Winter climbing.
But a fine Summer destination is the Overlook, a Southern facing cliff that overlooks the Rio Grande river. Gets good sun all year, which makes it particularly good for the Winter.
Rock Climbing New Mexico
I’ve been eyeing Las Cruces, NM. 10 hour drive from Denver, near the Texas, Mexico border. Everything from multi-pitch trad, bolted sport and bouldering here. Haven’t been – looking for beta if you have some!
Rap cliffs, not gifts! (Other Critters, December 10, 2016)
This December, I will be traveling to Old Mexico – El Potrero Chico in the North Central area of Mexico. Hundreds of limestone bolted sport routes with easy approaches and friendly locals with good Mexican food. How can that be beat?
The Whole Enchilada
Asia climbing is on my radar, but will have to wait a bit for funds, but the Vietnam and Thailand climbing are things I want to explore – and soon!
Ha Long Bay Climbing
Thailand – A climbing Guide
Let me know in the comments below where your favorite Winter climbing is located!
When I was first getting started in rock climbing, I was lucky enough to have a few good mentors. I also took what technique classes I could from different rock gyms in and around Denver. Both were helpful.
But, when learning from fellow climbers, much of it can be considered ‘Bro-learning’, which most of the time is what works well, and is the standard. Later I’ve found that some of the bro-tips and way of doing things were more specific to that particular climber, but sometimes was even an out-dated method, or even downright wrong.
Another thing is that when you go out climbing with someone, they may not be suited to teach – perhaps they have difficulty explaining how to do something, or just saying, “Just go up!” I’ve encountered that more times than I can remember, sometimes said jokingly, sometimes with frustration.
Your partner may also just want to climb. Teaching climbing can be a drag, and I’ve heard more than one person avoid newbies, limited to leading easy pitches, and supervising the newbies safety called ‘babysitting.’
I get it.
After learning how to climb with partners, classes and YouTube, one of the best ways I’ve found is through a good video training course. And the climbing techniques DVD I like the best is:
The Masterclass comes in two parts, with the main sport techniques taught in Part 1, and more advanced concepts taught in Part 2.
The reason I like this set is that Neil very lucidly explains the route problem and the technique that solves it, and then demonstrates both the right and wrong way of doing overcoming the problem.
The other thing I like about this series is that explains certain techniques in a way that I’ve never encountered before – even in one-on-one training. You can tell he’s thought through the concepts, as well as the best way to explain the how’s and why’s of doing the technique a certain way.
For example, I really didn’t understand the reason for using a front-flag – seemed more trouble than what it was worth. But the way he discusses balance, moving the leg in opposition to the hand and how it extended the body length – was where the lightbulb went off!
With a live class, you can only ask classes in the moment – as it occurs to you. But you don’t have anything on hand to review the lessons learned. With a DVD you can just pop it in and watch it again – to remind and reinforce the situations where one would use a particular technique.
Part 2 gets into more advanced concepts such as deadpointing, roofs and trad techniques. Also a very good DVD climbing techniques series to have on hand.
I pop both of these DVDs in to watch, or reinforce a particular technique. I find that I can get sloppy after climbing on my own, overcoming routes with strength rather than technique. But technique can make the impossible possible. More routes can be climbed at strength because climbing with good technique is climbing efficiently.
Style, as Neil says, is important in climbing, as it helps a person climb more easily, and with grace. In Part 2, for example, he shows an example of himself climbing a roof which to untrained eyes may look correct – hey he made it to the top, right?
Compare his sloppy technique with another climber, Gabby, who demonstrates how to climb a roof in an energy efficient manner that harbors your energy by using straight arms, squatting at rest, heel hooks and making the turn of the roof without an unnecessary dyno.
I recommend adding both DVDs to your climbing videos collection. They are both worth the price you pay in explaining and demonstrating rock climbing tips and techniques in an easy to understand manner. Highly recommended!
You’ll notice that in this list of 5 books there are no books on technique, gear or conditioning. These are books about the climber’s life that I have found to be personally affecting, even transformative. It was like I discovered that I was not the only one to have felt that climbing was my life.
1. Pete’s Wicked Book, Tales of Climbing Madness
Pete’s Wicked Book
This is the funniest book on climbing I’ve ever read! Pete Takeda is now the Senior Contributing Editor for Rock & Ice, a very respectable position for a person who has led such a wild early climbing life that is contained in this book, from taking drugs and climbing in Idaho, to Yosemite, Everest and beyond!
I just thought it was a rollicking good read, and I could compare some of my early dumb decisions with Pete’s and realize that mine were (mostly) minor in comparison!
Out of print, but you can still find used copies in good condition.
2. Tilting at Mountains
Tilting at Mountains
Although Edurne is more of an alpinist than a rock climber, I still count this among the transformative climbing books I have read. The love and obsession with mountaineering is similar to rock climbing.
Edurne is famous for being the first woman to have climbed to the summit of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 meters. The book displays a somewhat tortured soul looking for the cleansing absolution in pursuit of high altitude climbing. This is all in the midst of her experiences with depression and grief.
Really great read from one of the best climbers in the world! I enjoyed reading about her life in Yosemite and the Camp 4 scene, her love affairs, being the first to free the Nose, and of course the other major defining event – surviving her fall from the top of a pitch.
4. High Infatuation
Steph’s book reminded me in some ways of the Edurne Pasaban book – her relationships both to the mountains and rock climbing, as well as with the men in her life. Also her single-minded pursuit of certain peaks – nearly to the detriment of her partners!
There’s a thin line in making dangerous decisions – to stay and conquer, or leave to live to climb another day, that is not always so clear when you become obsessed with the objective. On some of her Patagonian climbs for example, there were many weather-related failures, and when the opening came for a clear shot at the summit you could tell it was difficult for her to turn back, sometimes over the objections of her partners! Made for a really good read.
5. Trad Climber’s Bible
The Trad Climber’s Bible
You might think this is a how-to book on how to climb trad, and by the title I could see how you thought that. But if you are looking for more of a manual then you should probably look elsewhere. It’s written more in the form of anecdotes and stories that illustrate the history and the experience of trad climbing, with boxes that go over tips that the narrative illustrates.
It’s full of memoirs and the experiences of the climbers. It’s not heavy on the skills department, but more on the inspiring stories and photos department.
So many good books on climbing, but if I had to point someone to transformative books, the list would include these 5 books. I find books like these more life changing than skills teaching, and that’s what these books all have in common.
Reading about how they navigated their lives while continually taking up the reins of climbing is inspirational in a way a user guide on the technical aspects of climbing will never be.
just in time for Christmahanakwanzika, is the GripandClip gift giving guide for the climber in your life! The items displayed here (except for the Panda Chalk Bag) are items I use when I rope up, and can attest to how great they are!
1. Bulletprufe Denim
Bulletprufe denim, $97.95 Amazon
When I want to wear something Jeans-like for climbing, but need some stretch, I reach for one of my trusty pairs of Bulletprufe denim. Did I happen to mention they are also constructed from ballistic nylon? Perfect for the scratchy crag!
After trying on both the “Slim” and “Adventure” fit, I prefer the Adventure fit for climbing. For how tough they are, they are amazingly soft. And every crag coffee stain comes off in the wash. They have a great hassle free return policy, and free shipping!
2. Funny Climbing T-Shirt
$27-32.95 Depending on Design. Addicted to Crack T-Shirt
Funny climbing t-shirts make for a great gift!
Shop the GripandClip Spreadshirt T-Shirt store, with t-shirts with sayings like “Free Belay Jobs!”, “Crack Addict”, and “My other Car is a Rope!” among other quips to declare your love of climbing! And if you’d like something a bit different, Spreadshirt even let’s you change the text!
3. Panda Bear Chalk Bag
Panda Chalk Bag, $12.99, Amazon
Everyone else has a boring ol’ REI-Arcteryx-Mammut fill-in-the-blank generic chalk bag. Why not show some individuality and style with a Panda chalk bag?
4. The Rock Warrior’s Way (Book)
The Rock Warrior’s Way, $17.99 Amazon
I have to say, during a period of time where I was wrestling with some inner lead climbing demons, this book helped me sort some of those out. I recommend this book to anyone who rock climbs to set their head back on straight!
The sheath, not just the core, is dry-treated to keep both moisture, as well as dirt and grime, from destroying your rope.
And, after missing the halfway markings on partner’s ropes one too many times, one can see the benefit of having a nice visual change that a bicolor rope gives.
6. Metolius Ropemaster Rope Bag
Metolius Rope Bag, with integrated tarp, $140.25 Amazon
This is the bag I use. I’ve tried my partner’s bag, as well as experimented with tarps and the one integrated with backpacks, but I like to have a separate bag just for my rope. It has an integrated tarp, as well as straps for tightening the bag down into a size that can fit in your crag pag, or hang off the top straps of your pack. It also has a comfortable shoulder strap for carrying on it’s own.
7. Armaid Arm Roller
Armaid, $110 Amazon
This device totally cured my recurring elbow pain. A lot of the issue was the tightness of my forearm muscles pulling on the tendons of my elbows. With a short session with the Armaid rollers I stopped having the debilitating pain, and could climb the next day on a climbing trip in Rifle.
Looking back at my beginner days, I shudder at the mistakes I used to make as a beginner. But, that’s kind of what being a beginner is all about: not knowing what the heck you are doing! And sometimes you only realize later the things you did were, maybe not wrong exactly, but not exactly recommended.
Mistake #1: Being an inattentive belayer.
When I was a beginner climber, I remember being overly concerned with belaying the leader, making sure I gave enough slack, as well as not too much. But after doing it over and over I became less concerned, and even lax about belaying. Especially when I graduated to using a GriGri instead of an ATC, with the sort of understanding and confidence that a GriGri gave me with its assisted braking it seemed as if the worse case scenario was a tad more distance dropped, but nothing catastrophic as a deck.
So, looking around bored as the leader gets stuck on a problem, having an in-depth conversation with the person at the next belay station, checking FB, and other distracting activities, seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
Later, though, after a few unexpected catching of falls over less than ideal conditions (near the first or second bolts, a low angled cheese-grater wall, leader backstepping the rope…) you get to understand how it becomes your responsibility, and even your fault, if something bad happens during a fall. Being and having an attentive belayer becomes a must.
Mistake #2 Spiking the leader
Here’s another Beginner mistake: spiking the leader. This happened in the gym where the lead climber was on a roof route and fell. Instead of letting the rope lift me up I sunk down in the mistaken belief to keep the leader from falling further. But since the leader just progressed from the wall to the roof, by sinking down instead of going with the pull of the rope as he fell, I violently pulled, or “spiked” the leader into the wall. If I just did a little hop as the rope went taut then the leader would have just softly dropped down instead of sideways into the wall.
Classic beginner mistake!
Mistake #3: No gloves while belaying
In my early climbing days, I was taught by a sort of old school climber, who seemed to believe that unnecessary suffering was a part of climbing. And while I now appreciate cold weather climbing, lugging a bag of heavy trad gear, and long approaches, some of his ideas were not just “get tough” guy climbing – it was outdated and somewhat unnecessarily dangerous.
2 things that cause the most accidents and deaths are belaying and rappelling. And one of the problems is when something goes wrong while belaying with an ATC.
Black Diamond ATC
If you are inattentively belaying (see Mistake #1above), while using an ATC or tube style device with a loose brake hand, or worse if your hand is not on the brake hand at all, if the leader falls and you make a grab for the swiftly reeling brake side of the rope you can feel the rope is suddenly a serpent that can bite!
My partner at the time said, “Ahh, it’s not that bad, I would be able to stop it!” Yeah, that’s what we ALL think: that our goodwill towards our fellow climber would extend to a super-strong death grip – burning and cutting rope be damned!
The truth is that our biological reaction to a hot rope cutting a burning path through our palm is the feeling of extreme pain which makes us – let go.
Black Diamond Rappel Gloves
It’s called an autonomic reaction because it bypasses human thought. Pain doesn’t just happen, and we think about it awhile to decide the correct sort of reaction. The autonomic reaction is to immediately retreat from the source of the pain.
It’s not a thought, it’s a reaction.
Now, I almost always wear leather belay gloves, and like for my belayers to wear them, especially if they are using a tube style belay device rather than a GriGri.
Mistake #4: Cheap shoes
I can understand wearing rental shoes for the first couple of times you climb, but after the first few times if you discover, like I, how great climbing is, do yourself a favor and get a good pair of climbing shoes. I’ve noticed that oftentimes the REI folks in the climbing section tend to direct beginners to the cheaper, less aggressively downturned shoes. Perhaps because they assume that the person may not continue with climbing.
La Sportiva Solutions
Now, technique can compensate for less than ideal gear, but as a beginner, once I got a decent pair of shoes I felt ten times more confident in going for higher grades. In fact, I climbed a grade (or two) harder in appropriately sized, and slightly more aggressive downturned shoes. And the sharp edge on supremely sticky rubber of a more expensive shoe didn’t hurt either.
And, as a beginner, confidence in your footing is important to climbing better.
Mistake #5: Backstepping the rope on lead
When I just started to sport lead, I remember being fairly gripped, thinking of only getting to the next bolt to clip. I paid zero attention to how the rope trailed behind me. But after seeing a lead climber flip backwards after a fall on lead (with no helmet!) I make sure both on lead and when belaying to make note of backstepping, and either clear my foot on lead, or tell the leader what they are doing wrong.
Sterling Evolution BiColor dry rope – My Favorite!
Mistake #6: Not wearing a helmet while belaying
Not to be the helmet police, but frankly I think it’s more important now to wear a helmet while on belay. I think it’s more important than wearing while when on lead – at least you are keeping yourself protected enough to lower an unconscious leader in that nightmare scenario.
Here’s the thing: most climbers don’t wear a helmet on belay until a rock explodes on the ground next to them. This happened to me while belaying at the Canal Zone, and a fist-sized rock landed next to me. It sounded like a grenade going off!
And it was then, not before, when I started wearing a helmet.
Mistake #7: Not wearing a helmet while on lead
I admit, when I am on a single pitch sport route, with no additional pitches above with no walk-off and little chances of a person walking by and kicking down debris – I may decide not to wear a helmet.
I sorta feel that way on the more well-travelled single pitch routes at Shelf Road, where there is not a walkoff at the top, and most of the choss has been trundled off – I may decide not to wear a helmet.
But, I am fully aware it’s a rookie mistake.
Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet
I ask myself: how often do I encounter that scenario of perfect no-helmet conditions? And, can there still be rockfall in those conditions? The answer is “yes”, but, as can be seen by all the photos of the pros climbing without a lid on extremely difficult routes – the wearing of helmets is still not a consistent standard.
But, while listening to some members of Rocky Mountain Rescue talk about the importance of wearing helmets, accident statistics and fatality reports – it started to penetrate the reptilian depths of my tough-guy hindbrain, that maybe, just maybe, wearing a helmet may be a small price to pay to ensure a long and lustrous climbing career.
I was told a story once, where my friend was climbing with an old-school climber, and she asked him to turn around so she could check his knot. His response?
‘We’re all adults here,’ he said, and started climbing.
Which was a dumb response. It would take all of 2 seconds to check that his knot was correct, and for him to check that her belay device had the ‘biner locked and that the device was fed correctly.
In his case, he was not a beginner, but what he was making was a rookie mistake. Every activity that involves an element of risk, whether that be scuba diving, or sky diving, or what have you, involves safety checks. I would never descend into the ocean for scuba without making safety checks with my partner.
I think this might be more related to how people feel about helmets, where it seems like marginally safer but also a hassle. But letting go of the brake hand while on rappel has also been speculated as a cause of accidents and fatalities while climbing.
Sure, putting on a prussik backup on rappel can be a little of a hassle, but this is something I do diligently. I know the statistics, and rapping also just feels more dangerous of an activity in the universe of dangerous activities done while climbing.
But, the no-hands aspect of having a prussik or autoblock has other benefits than just increased safety. You can stop and retrieve gear, take a photo, untangle the ropes below – with both hands!
And the rule is: we do what we do repeatedly. We are creatures of habit, and most of the time while not climbing we use both hands. Having a backup on rappel on the off chance we get into a situation where we let go of the brake hand is, in my opinion, small insurance.
Mistake #10 Not communicating about the lower
This is a classic beginner mistake, and one in which I am sometimes still guilty: Not communicating with the leader or belayer what the lowering intention is: lower, or rappel. I think we can get into the habit of figuring it out when we get to the top – and just call down our intentions. But, what if you are not within earshot?
I remember one time in my early climbing career when I was belaying my partner. He nearly always rapped. It was at a long route at Highwire, where he was at the top, but out of site. If you took my sworn testimony after I would have sworn to you he shouted “Off belay!”
He didn’t, he said “Give me slack!”
So, I unhooked him, yelled “off belay!” and “on you!” and walked off to go drink some water, unbeknownst to me he was rigging the anchors and was effectively unroped. Luckily he looked down and saw me sitting on a rock before unhooking his safety, and leaning back for a nonexistent catch.
Rookie mistake! Which could have been alleviated with a simple conversation prior to the leader climbing.
Climbing, as with any activity, has a learning curve. The key for climbing is to survive the learning curve. Being a rookie, we often don’t even realize what we are doing is dangerous until we see the danger in action. That happened to me several times, such as a rock falling while on belay duty making me more aware of wearing a helmet.
And climbing with rookies carries it’s own dangers – like when we didn’t communicate about the lower before the lead went up. As the mentor, the lead should have been more diligent about telling me what he intended at the top of the climb. But that would be pale comfort to me if he would have fallen while I was his belayer.
The key is to learn by paying attention to simply learning the proper safety protocols, without needing to see the consequences of the trial and error method, where an error can not only be a learning experience, but fatal as well.
I’ve heard rock climbing compared to an obsession, to an addiction, and I think there’s some truth in that, but I prefer to refer to rock climbing in more positive terms.
I compare it to a love affair.
Love affairs have the same sort of qualities of obsession, even addiction, but at the end of the day I do it because I love it. I love it so much that if I didn’t have to think about recovery and rest I would climb every day.
But I love to climb so much I will take care of myself so that I can climb as well as I can for as long as I can.
It’s about longevity.
I was talking to Katie at fireside after the sun went down, saying, “I just want to have fun – ALL the time.” And by “fun” I meant going to cool climbing places like Red Rock Canyon, Shelf Road, and now Los Alamos, NM – and climb my brains out!
So, I arrived back home from Vegas on a Thursday evening, contemplating what I would need for a 3 night camping trip, and how to fit both myself and all my gear in my 2002 Suburu WRX – along with Katie, her 11 year old son Sawyer, and terrier Charley.
Charley at the Overlook
And their gear. I was about to cancel, but Katie said, “All we need is the space in the backseat next to Sawyer.”
I took her at her word, reduced my things to what would fit in the cargo area, leaving the space in the half of the backseat that Sawyer would not be using.
When they came down with only 2 backpacks I knew we’d be fine.
Some things I look for in a partner: say what you are going to do. Be on time. Be ready. Stay positive. Don’t be a grump.
She had her game on, which was great.
And off we went!
Our first stop after driving 6 hours was camping at the Juniper campground, a campground just outside the Bandelier National Monument. I think it’s funny that I’ve never visited the park, as I’ve always been so one-minded about climbing that I never thought to visit there. I recommend this campground for visiting the area as it’s equidistant between the Overlook and Los Conchas, and only an hour away from El Rito.
The Overlook is in a sort of smallish town in Los Alamos called White Rock. You drive through a suburb, past a school with a jungle gym, past tidy 3 bedroom/2 bath houses, to a viewing area with a guard rail that overlooks the cliffside of the Overlook to the winding Rio Grande river below.
Box overhang right, 5.8
I threw the rope onto Box Overhang Right, a 5.8 warmup that escapes the overhanging roof via a crack running on the right side.
After that one I hung the rope on Box Overhang Left, but it was a little wet, and I read on Mountain Project that the “…presence of feces makes this crack hard and disgusting. What might have once been a great line if now offensive.”
We decided to do a combination of Box Left and Len’s Roof.
Katie gettin’ it!
Sawyer on Box Right
Sawyer taking a swing off Box Left
The test piece for me, though, was the 3 star 5.11b Way Beyond Zebra that Scott Hunt lead when we were here back in 2014.
Way Beyond Zebra
Way Beyond Zebra is vertical crimp climbing at it’s finest. I didn’t feel up to leading it, but I did feel stronger this time than last time, which speaks to my improvement as a climber. I’ll lead it next time.
Charley keeping watch
A friendly climber next to us
Because we only had 2 climbing days, I thought we’d take a break after 3 climbs at the Overlook, and then go and visit Las Conchas, in the Jemez Valley area.
Dog Party at Las Conchas
The Cattle Call Wall area of Las Conchas is more of a group climbing area, full of moderate climbs, sunny and sportish, if you know what I mean. The group next to us kindly asked if we minded if they played music.
“Well, is it good music?” I joked. They said something about death metal, and I agreed. Some Dave Matthews song came on, and I knew we’d be fine.
I’ve since relaxed my stance on no music playing while rock climbing outdoors. Unlike the interior area of Las Conchas, within the confines of the canyon with the bucolic river winding through it, this area seemed more suited for a little pop music, sunlit meadow and all. Most places I still disagree with playing music while climbing, but that day, in the warming sun, I was more than fine with it, digging the sport climbing with friendly neighbors.
I ended with the 2.5 star 5.10b route, Eat Mor Chikin. I thought it was excellent, pumpy, vertical, slightly overhung at spots – played to my strengths. Halfway up I exclaimed, “This is soooo good!”
6 climbs, 2 New Mexico climbing areas.
After cold 29 degree Fahrenheit night that had me wearing my winter puffy and down ski pants with my 20 degree bag we went on to El Rito, one of my favorite places to climb.
Sawyer on Herbie Goes Bananas
I love El Rito
El Rito is cobblestone climbing, with the stones embedded in a matrix, or as the Proj describes it:
Fun, vertical to overhanging conglomerate matrix of metamorphosed sand and mud with inclusions of smooth, rounded cobbles of all sizes. The cobbles, and the holes they leave when they fall out of the matrix, form excellent holds that allow relatively moderate climbing for such steep rock
Sawyer climbs the tree
After our warmup, we moved tothe Balcony, which was around the corner and up a short slope. All the names of the routes had an Austin Powers connection.