For people like us, the Holiday season is a marker for something special
climbing weather + time off work
It’s a glorious combination that almost seems too good to be true.
If you live even remotely nearish to the west coast, chances are, you might have ended up in Bishop for thanksgiving.
High concentrations of iconic rocks, little to no approach time, and convenient geothermal activity that happens to dapple the landscape with hot springs, there is certainly a reason why climbers flock to the little town.
^ Literal droves.
I’m a relatively new climber. I’ve only been getting out into this specific area to climb for the last 6 years. Even in that short span of time I’ve seen the buttermilks alone transformed from a modest destination with narrow trails, limited parking spaces, and probably few enough visitors daily that you could count on one hand, to present day, hosting a hot bed of climbers packed in like sardines waiting in lines to take a chance at the classics and even a “proper” restroom to boot.
There’s no doubt about it, opting outside is trending.
Now with climbing gyms popping up like daisies, the sport is growing indoors at an exponential rate and we thought we should talk about how to make a smooth transition from gym climber to outdoor aficionado extraordinaire!
13 tips for climbing outdoors, safely and ethically.
- Check your gear – whether you’re on ropes, or bouldering, eyeing over your gear to be certain it’s all good to go is only smart. Make sure the foam in your pads is still up to the task, look over your carabiners, rope, and webbing (really anything you plan on hanging from) for wear before you pack it.
At the crag, don’t get cocky. All of that redundancy stuff they teach you at the gym is taught for a reason. Check your own and your partner’s harness, knot, and belay device.
- Pad properly – the gym is nice because they’ve taken the liberty of making sure your fall area is cleared for your landing, but outside, that job is yours.
Countless ankles are rolled because pads weren’t laid out properly. Just like tying a knot, neat is safe. Lay out pads to ensure the fall zone is as level as possible, cover the dead space between nestled pads with thin gap pads. It takes a moment to rearrange pads and a few weeks, to a few months, to heal a busted ankle.
- The Golden Bouldering Rule – Rule #1, KNOW YOUR DOWN CLIMB. Before you start any problem, make sure you know how to get back down post succesend! Getting up a boulder is, literally, only half of the battle. Down climbing can feel sketchy if you aren’t familiar with climbing in reverse, especially if you don’t know where you’re going. When you get to a new boulder, scope out the down climb. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, give yourself a confidence boost and get yourself acquainted by climbing up your down climb first. If it feels too heady, maybe move on to a different boulder.
- Roping up? Wear a helmet – Let me preface. I HATE HELMETS. I have hated helmets since the first time I sat on a bike. That being said, I don’t hate helmets more than I think getting a concussion from a tiny bit of fallen rock is stupid. If you can come up with a good reason why wearing a helmet is a bad idea, please do share, but odds are, you won’t. In the gym, your gear is as safe as can be and, chances are, you’re not going to experience any rock fall, but outside is a different experience. Real rock can crumble, dusting your belayer with rocks. You can fall and take a head first whipper into a ledge. A bird can land at the top of the wall and kick loose that one tiny pebble that decks you square in the head. Long story short, the only reason not to wear a helmet is ego, and that’s a silly reason to get hurt.
- Spot! – This one goes for both on ropes (fyi belayers pre-first clip, you’d better be spotting) and boulders. If you’re spotting, someone is relying on you. The goal of spotting is to keep the climber as safe as possible, so your job will change depending on the situation. The goal is to direct your climber to the landing zone and make sure they don’t hit their head. The best way to do this is by grabbing the climber by their torso and trying to keep them upright as they land. The more overhanging the wall, the more vigilant you’ll have to be.
- Be Prepared – Bring food, water, a headlamp, and if there’s a chance you might need it once the sun goes down, a warm outer layer. Being within close proximity to town can give you a false sense of security. Hydration is important, always. Eating while you’re out exercising for a full day is integral to good decision making. If you get caught in the crag on the edge of sunset, it doesn’t matter how short your approach is if you can’t see where you’re going.
- Take your trash – From the tag you pulled off your new beanie, to the peel off your tangerine, if it came with you, leave with it. Bottles and tape are a no-brainer. Organic trash, like peels and paper, can seem like no big deal but leaving something that doesn’t belong is not good stewardship, and does affect the area.
Pro Beta : Eco dog bags, they are a great way to sanitarily and discretely pack your baby wipe or tampon back out with you.
- Stay on trails – Trails are there for a reason. It may seem insignificant, but foot traffic affects plant life, affects insects, affects birds, affects… you get the idea. It might not seem like it, but your presence can impact an area. In the same thread, parking respectfully and not smashing plants is part of your responsibility as well.
- Sprayeth Not Unto Others – Beta |bey•tah| the information about a climb Spray |sprei| to spew in all direction without regard for others
It’s hard to contain enthusiasm sometimes and it’s a natural response to want to help people out when they’re having a hard time, but climbing is one of those the rare instances when the struggle can be as good as the win. To beta spray is sharing the secrets of the puzzle that is the climb without the consent of the people working on it, and it’s lame. Most people want a chance to figure things out themselves! If you’re bursting at the seams watching someone struggle, you may ask if they would like any help with the sequence, but if the answer isn’t “oh my gosh, please” or some variance of that, then put a lid on it and let them figure it out on their own.
- Brush your ticks – That crimp is hard to find, we know, but when you decided to add that little chalk line to help you find it on your next go that was your choice. When you pack up and leave the climb, it should too. There are a ton of different reasons why people hate the left behind tick, aesthetics, unwanted problem solving, but all you need to worry about is that it’s just bad climber ethics.
- Share the crag – The outdoors can feel like home, buuut like it or not, it’s not your home. Sharing space and being respectful of other people wanting to enjoy the outdoors is the decent thing to do. What’s enjoyable to you may not be enjoyable to everyone else. Unabashedly blasting your favorite jams or generally making an environment uncomfortable for others to enjoy alongside you is just plain mean, and in a world where you could be anything, why would you want to be mean?
- Respect Closures – This is a less common obstacle you may come across but some areas are closed for seasons, I.E. Clarke Canyon is subject to specific wall closures seasonally to allow Peregrin Falcons to nest. Undoubtedly, there will be signs alerting you to closures, so when you see them, know they aren’t trivial and certainly apply to you too.
These ethical concerns may seem petty to some. If your heart doesn’t automatically bleed for The Great Mother Nature then you can read ethics as a guideline for keeping areas open to climbing. Organizations like the Access Fund are constantly working behind the scenes with local land owners and governments to ensure we can climb on and if we (climbers) become more trouble than we’re worth, we may not be allowed to come out and play.