The last few months have been insane, I have traveled more days for work than days resting at home. I think for once being on a plane and running research projects while mobile depleted my energy and brain cells to write (haha). But in all this time, a lot has happened so more posts to come!
Imagine….I walked in a climbing gym, got the rental shoes, funky rental harness and looked around, observed, and thought what the hell, can I really do this? And then there I was, learning to tie a figure eight and getting belay certified. I had never been so nervous in my life. Then I proceeded to work hard all night trying to get above a small bulge (then to me a massive roof) on a super easy climb. How was your first time climbing? That was mine, and I am sure everyone has had that moment of being a newbie.
And aren’t we all so gracious to have had mentors teach us all those simple things that are easy to us, like my friend taught me to ‘tap the wall with my feet, up up up” which was really smear that damn wall! I will never forget when I heard the word ‘crux’, I thought it was maybe a drug or something. And ‘gaston’ sounded so French and fancy, ‘pincher’ sounded like a something you did to a kid with chubby cheeks, ‘sloaper’ sounded like a fighting word, ‘back step’ and ‘in step’ sounded like a dance move, ‘crag’ sounded like a inner street slang we would use back in the day in Brooklyn, ‘overhung’ sounded like….well you get my drift….it was a new language to me and I had no earthling idea how I was going to go from the gym to the real mountains and be like the movie Cliffhanger (yes I actually thought Cliffhanger was real and cool until I got some climbing sense).
Almost 3 years later, I feel like I still have a long way to go, but been so fortunate to climb all over the world and also learn from so many safe, conservative, and experienced climbers. I made it a promise to achieve in mentoring and coaching friends as much as I did in climbing.
Just recently (during my blog hiatus, writers block, not really block but just too stressed with work), I accompanied two friends to share in their first real outdoor overnight climbing trip.
On our checklist:
- Teach them how to plan a fun yet safe climbing trip (pick a crag, reserve campground, packing, figure out what gear is needed, what to expect, and so on)
- Get in a 1st sport lead
- Clean an anchor
- Have lots of fun!
We accomplished that and then some. However, part of any mentoring can be dangerous. You are teaching someone to be independent in their climbing and help contribute to their climbing journey. Why can it be dangerous? I have been destination climbing everywhere and I see so many decisions that are not ideal and practicing unsafe techniques. When we get ‘good’, we take the simplest things for granted. For instance, do you check and thoroughly inspect your partner’s figure eight every time before they climb? I do, and make sure anyone I climb with gets into that habit. Do you communicate plans before leaving the ground? I do and make sure anyone I climb with gets into that habit. And the reason I treat many of these simple routines with caution and attention is because my mentors over and over emphasized it with me. If you plan on giving back by mentoring folks it is vital to emphasize the safest, most conservative habits.
For example, the two friends I took out, I climbed with them indoors for a bit so we could get used to each other’s styles, confirm belay techniques are strong and frankly to teach ground school. Yup not at the crag, but at the gym as we train together. About 4-6 weeks prior to our trip, I went to my friend’s house and I showed them some basic gear that are must haves and some that are really nice to haves. We rehearsed how to clean an anchor and I reviewed how to set up various basic anchor systems and knots (example, eight on a bite). By the time we made our trip, the couple had cleaning an anchor down and understood really well the why’s and the what’s. The couple understood how to approach a climb and determine if they could set it up or if it was not within their ability. They were able to examine their environment, figure out the best spot for the rope, flake the rope and so on. They learned how to use a stick clip and learned how to study a crag prior to a trip, pick out climbs, figure out approaches and so on.
The couple had an amazing day getting leads and climbs in, cleaning anchors, and moreover, making good, safe and smart choices.
Giving back is the best thing we can do, but how we give back is vital. Just like if we use foul language around a kid, they are likely to repeat it. If we use bad habits and teach others, they are starting with a not so great foundation. A solid foundation from the beginning ensures we are sharing for some serious caring of our newbie climbing friends. My two friends have been carefully planning a trip to Colorado and I am confident they are on track to planning an amazing climbing trip and are embarking a safe, yet fun climbing journey!