Back to Beginner Land: Part 2
Climbing is a humbling sport. The rock frequently spits me off, makes me bleed, and pounds my ego. While I might like the idea of displaying strength and finesse, more often than not I’m sitting on the end of the rope, trying to figure out what went wrong. But the required humility in our obscure world of rock climbing reaches beyond the physical beat down and into the world of safety.I’ve called myself a climber for the last 15 years, so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about the sport. I can pull on credit card crimps and execute fancy foot maneuvers. But am I really up to speed on the safety techniques I should know like the back of my hand?
My incompetency became clear when I began trad climbing this past summer. The safety systems required for clipping bolts are fairly straight forward, but traditional placements and anchor building are an entirely new game. Even simple practices like racking up required me to admit that I was out of my comfort zone and unfamiliar with the basics. I had a lot of learning to do, but applied my strength and motivation from sport climbing to this new world of traditional climbing, and jumped right in.
Repeatedly I heard from friends and peers, “uhhh…can I give you some tips/criticisms/suggestions before you head up that route?” I realized my best learning tool was my willingness to set aside my ego and say “yes, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’d love some help”.So I began collecting tidbits of information. In Trout Creek, Oregon, I learned not to place cams too deep into a crack, otherwise you can’t reach the trigger to remove them. 2 pitches up The Grand Wall on Squamish’s Chief, a stranger taught me the Double Alpine Butterfly to make belaying at an anchor more comfortable. A friend at Chattanooga’s Sunset Wall reminded me that girth hitching a sling to cam webbing was an unwise habit, and suggested racking slings with carabiners to easily extend placements. I learned that a simple clove hitch could significantly simplify my system. In casual conversation at a party one evening, I absorbed the information that, when climbing off widths, interior limbs act as anchors while exterior limbs make movements. The list goes on.
While it’s crucial to begin with a baseline of knowledge before throwing yourself into the world of traditional climbing, or any type of climbing for that matter, we all have to start as beginners somewhere. Perhaps you’ll gasp and shake your head at my ignorance, but my hope is that we can learn to assist each other in our journeys.
Next time you see a fellow climber struggling, consider offering a kind word of advice rather than passing judgment. Whether standing on the ground below an onsite, hanging part way up a multipitch, or sitting around the campfire, as climbers there is always something new we can learn. The question is, are we willing to set aside egos to accept advice, or set aside judgment to offer it? The answer to both should be yes.
This is Part 2 of a series I wrote for Metolius Climbing. Over the last few seasons I’ve spent at Smith Rock, I’ve gotten to know the folks at Metolius, since the brand is located in nearby Bend, Oregon. When I decided I wanted to learn to trad climb this past summer, they said, “here are the tools you need, go for it”. And I went for it. Thanks for the encouragement guys!