Lately, I have been very busy traveling all over for work and I have decided to do a weekly reflections post. So here I go….
I remember when I started climbing, like many, I was hooked! I knew that climbing had dangers associated to it, but I just trusted anyone and everyone and just was happy to have a party at the crag. I climbed sport because it was easier to get started quick (and truthfully, as much as I am balancing bouldering, trad and sport, sport has a special place in my heart, it does!). Although I loved all the fun I had at the crag and the sweetest friends ever, I realized something so important after witnessing my dear friend have a climbing accident. I realized I had no real knowledge about climbing. I made a promise to myself that the following season I would make learning systems and safety my priority over sport climbing and sending.
That following season I did less sport and a whole lot more trad. Why? In order to do trad successfully and safely, you have to learn about systems, knots, and more! I decided to partner with a couple and their baby (my crag nephew I love dearly!). This couple truly are some of my closest friends, but also known for being super conservative, super safe and super knowledgeable. They obtained a lot of their mentoring in the well-respected North East trad-climbing arena. On my first trip, I learned how to set up a basic belay anchor, how to belay from above, how to tie various knots (e.g., bow line, clove hitch, munter hitch, etc.), how to rig rappels, and more. Yes this seems simple, but 1+ year sport climbing outdoors and I knew nothing about these very basic systems, this was all like learning a totally new language. I realized, these very basic systems are critical to safe climbing.
I also climbed back country in Spain and yet learned more from my mentor Silvia and also had a wonderful opportunity to climb with an awesome friend who has a basic instructor certification, and well versed in trad climbing, she was critical in planning our adventure to get us through El Camino Del Rey safely.
After learning so much from so many friends, I decided to take a formal anchor class. I learned I knew a lot already, but also that I had some habits that needed refining, and learned new things, like setting safe and solid natural anchors off trees, boulders and more.
So with only ~3 years in of climbing, what are my words of wisdom? I have many, but I think the below 3 are something my traddie friends shared with me and I think are worth sharing especially to newbie climbers.
(1) Take an anchor building class! Learning is only a powerful gift and with knowledge, even if you never plan on building your own anchors, you can always help your leaders by checking behind them. You can also climb and know how to assess anchors each time.
(2) Quick Draws, the new revolutionary anchors, or not! Sorry for any that disagree with me…but here I go…always use gear for what it was intended to be used. That means, quick draws were not made to be anchor systems. If you are in a big group top roping a route, take the time to build a basic 2-point anchor. I will only now climb on a quick draws if I am the 2nd to follow and clean. Anything more, you really should get into the habit climbing with an anchor system. Agree or not, quick draws can hold anyone hanging on the rope, but they were not made to be anchor systems. If for some reason you have to climb on quick draws as anchors, please make sure the draws are opposing (I have climbed many times behind super strong climbers and have had to correct this, more times than I want to say).
Bottom line, many of us really enjoy climbing, it is the activity that ‘fixes’ everything, at least that is what I say! Take a stand and make it a point to learn safety and systems in climbing, even if you do not plan on being a leader. A follower needs to be able to jump in and rescue in an emergency situation.
Have fun with peace of mind doing that thing that fixes everything, that is CLIMBING!
For those in North Carolina, I highly recommend taking the Top Rope Climbing course with the Appalachian Mountain Institute, we took our class with our dear friend Danny McCraken, one of the handful amazing instructors with this group (http://appalachianmountaininstitute.com/ami-instruction-2/ami-courses/top-rope-climbing-course/).