The zen art of multi-pitch climbing

I finally completed my first multi-pitch climb!  It’s been a long time coming. Specifically a year, which is when I added it to my list of things I want to do.  The past year has been a big learning curve for me in climbing – and in life I suppose. And aren’t they both a little intertwined?  Last spring I decided I wanted to climb outdoors on my own and started with leading in the gym. That progressed to more climbing outside, learning to set/clean anchors and finally going climbing and being the girl in charge. It’s a long way to come in one year and I’m really proud of myself. I’m especially proud of the fact that it’s all happened because it’s something *I* wanted to do.  I didn’t have anyone I was tagging along with or trying to keep up with. It’s just something I really wanted to prove to myself I could do.

I spent a lot of time this winter thinking about different climbs I’d like to get on.  I love sport climbing but I wanted to try multi-pitch climbing because it’s such a different experience.  Different skill set and challenges.  Fortunately I was able to enlist a friend to take me out and show me the ropes (haha) when it comes to multi-pitches.

So, a few details on “the climb”:

The approximate route up. Might be a little off!

Place

Mother’s Day Buttress, Cascade Mtn, Banff National Park

Grade

5.7, Trad w/bolted belays

Pitches

 ~8? I’ll be honest – I had way too much fun to count.  I know there are a few variations and pitches that can be combined so it was probably between 7 & 8 but I’m going to go with 8 because it makes me feel like more of a rock star (pun intended)!

Descent

The descent is not particularly straightforward.  I was glad I was with someone who knew the way down well.  There’s a good description in the topo.

Thoughts  

I loved this climb!  For a first outing it was great because you definitely feel like you’re out there climbing a real multi-pitch route but it’s never so intimidating that it takes away from the fun.  All of the belays were in great locations where I didn’t feel too exposed.  There are a few spots on the route where it’s very exposed climbing but from what I remember that wasn’t the case for most of the climb.  However, you get great views of Mt Rundle and the Bow Valley all the way up which gives a good sense of how high up you are.

Overlooking the Bow Valley, Trans-Can and Mt Rundle

Things I learned

  • Bring a backpack that is actually designed to be worn while climbing.  I borrowed a friend’s 18L pack and while the size was good, it was meant for biking so the hip belts got in the way of my harness.
  • On the backpack topic – think about how you’re going to pack it before you head out.  18L is really not a lot of space when you need food, water, shoes and extra layers to fit.  Next time I’d be a bit more strategic about what I brought to save weight & space.
  • Camera + case + sling = stress free pictures! I’m a bit paranoid about dropping things so this system really helped.  I girth-hitched my camera wrist-strap to a 60cm sling which I put over my shoulder (thanks for the tip Eileen!).  I also attached my camera case to the sling – it had a velcro attachment.
  • Higher up on the climb, it gets windy and it becomes impossible to hear your partner.  You’re also likely to be out of sight as well.  Being clear about how you’ll handle communication is key.  Also, this means that while you’re climbing, it’s not possible to ask your partner to “take” or pull up any slack.  And there will be some slack.  Single-pitch sport climbing this is not.  I hadn’t realized this so it was nice that the climbing wasn’t terribly challenging and I knew it was very unlikely I would fall.

Looking down

Really I just had an amazing day out.  There is something very zen-like about being alone, climbing on a wall – it’s so quiet and peaceful.  It forces you to be in control of your thoughts and emotions because there’s nowhere to go but up and often no one that can hear you.  It also helped that it was the nicest, sunny day we had in almost 3 weeks of rain.  Climbing is definitely far more enjoyable when the weather cooperates!

ps – thanks so much Pat for taking me out!

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