Route-setting

About a week ago I set my first route in the gym.  It all started when I was talking with a girlfriend about how most of the routes are set by taller guys which can make certain moves a lot more challenging for me.  She suggested that we ask the manager if we could set a route.  Turns out the he was more than happy to have us come to the gym on a weekend and teach us.

Ready to get started!

We both showed up at the gym on Sunday morning at 10am.  The first thing we had to do was take down all the holds on the wall.  The wall had several routes and bouldering problems on it so it took a while to get all the holds & tape down.  The way we did this was by tying into the rope and then setting a gri-gri up to belay ourselves.  Then you attach your tools – a bucket for the holds, allen keys holstered in an ATC, and a drill to take out screws.  This was by far the most tiring and physical part of the day.  We had to get creative in helping each other out when we needed to remove holds that were way off to one side or another.  It was hard to trust the system at first, but by the end we were quite efficient at getting up and down the wall as well as raising & lowering buckets of holds.

Wall is almost cleared.

Beginning of the route

Once the wall was cleared, Simon (the manager) gave us a crash course on choosing holds & bolts, when to use a drill to secure holds, and setting routes that would be appropriate for a majority of people. Then off we went!  For the lower half of the wall (up to the bouldering line) it was fairly easy to reach things or use a ladder. We laid holds out on the floor and went back and forth between picking holds, bolting them, and trying the resulting move.  Once we got too high for the ladders it became exponentially harder.  We had to visualize the moves we wanted from the ground, choose all the holds & matching bolts in advance, get up the wall, haul up the bucket of holds, and then put them up in our sequence.  Well, that was what was supposed to happen.  Part of the problem is that it’s not easy visualizing moves and corresponding holds.  Also, once you’re up the wall with a full bucket hanging off your belay loop, it’s hard to try a move or look through the bucket for a specific hold.  It doesn’t help matters if you keep forgetting things on the ground!

Rating TBD

In total, it took about 7 hrs to take everything down and put up our routes.  This also included a lot of time for instruction.  Now that I know what I’m doing, I think I’d be a lot faster especially if I was working on a wall that was already cleared.  For the most part I’m really happy with my route!  Some of the feedback Simon gave me was that the route became less interesting at the end.  By the end of the route I was pretty tired and wasn’t putting as much thought into things as I had earlier.  I also learned how to force a sequence of moves through the position of each hold.  Now when I climb, I’m much more aware of the position of each hold and how this reveals the intended moves.

Over it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to trying this out again minus the marathon time commitment!

Advertisements

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!

Rock rescue course

This summer I’d really like to try multi-pitch climbing.  I’ve never done it before and there is one cliff face in particular that I’m really psyched to get on – Yamnuska.  Every time I drive out to the mountains, it’s the first mountain I see and it’s always asking to be climbed.  I’ve hiked it several times but now I feel I’m ready to try climbing it.  Anyways, I digress …  The point was that since I’m planning on getting outside more, I thought it would be a good idea to learn some rock rescue skills so I could be more self-sufficient while climbing.

Yamnuska's cliffs on the upper left

Cliffs up close - they're a lot higher and more imposing than they look in this picture

I decided to take a girl’s rock rescue course with Sarah Hueniken through the Alpine Club of Canada.  We met at Yam Bluffs and starting with discussing what everyone hoped to get out of the course.  We were all beginner leaders and multi-pitchers so Sarah decided to teach us some basic rescue skills and also go over efficient climbing practices so we could hopefully avoid using said skills.  In case anyone else is thinking of taking a similar course, here’s a brief overview of what the day was like.

Escaping the belay

Escaping the belay is probably one of the most practical things we went over. To do this, you tie a hitch/knot combo that allows you to take your hands off the rope for say, a picture or a snack (I kid!!).  The next part is removing yourself from the belay by attaching it to something else – i.e. a tree or rock.  It really helped that Sarah explained why we were doing each step as there were a quite a few steps involved.  I’m not great at memorizing but if I know why I’m doing something, I can usually figure the process out.  I knew this was something I’d need to practice to remember, so this past week I had a mini rock rescue lesson after work with a girlfriend.  We got a few odd looks from people passing by – guess you don’t see two girls with crazy rope setups at your local playground everyday!  I wish I had thought to take a picture of us … I’m sure it looked pretty funny.

Getting some feedback from Sarah on my belay escaping skills

Multi-pitch efficiency

Sarah pointed out that as beginners, it would be good for us to learn how NOT to get into a situation that requires rescue techniques.  I’d seen a multi-pitch system once before while ice climbing but I really had no clue what was going on so I was excited to learn.  Assuming our anchors would be off bolts, we covered what you do when you arrive at a belay as a lead or second, then how you would leave the belay if you were switching leads or if only one person was doing all the leading.  Even if I don’t lead multi-pitches this summer, I’ll feel more comfortable now that I understand the systems. One thing that was interesting (that I didn’t realize) was that you can’t lower your second easily when you belay with a reverso.  It’s actually a bit of a process so it was good to learn how to do that.

The setup for belaying my leader up very, very (read: flat) low angled slab

Pulley system for reversing the reverso (aka lowering a second)

Improvised rappel devices

I’ll admit it, I’ve dropped an ATC.  I felt awful about it and it made me realize I had no clue what I’d do if that happened when I didn’t have friends around to bail me out.  Turns out there are two basic ways to deal with this other than just carrying a second ATC.  You can either rappel off a munter hitch or create a ‘device’ with 4 non-locking carabiners – presumably these would be off your quickdraws.  Both methods have a downside: using the munter hitch kinks your rope and using the carabiner device means you need extra biners. Lesson learned? Really avoid dropping anything!

Rappelling down on a munter hitch

Practice, practice, practice …

Lastly we put it all together: rapping down a cliff with an improvised device, setting up a belay to escape, then learning to ascend the rope with prusiks.  Our final ‘test’ was to get in groups and figure out how to connect two ropes and pass the resulting knot through a belay device.  It was a good wrap-up activity because I able to see how far we had all come since the morning!

If you head out to Yam Bluffs, remember spring is tick season! I speak from experience because I found one in my hair.

Back in the days

I had a good laugh over this old-school magazine advertisement.  Hard to believe that this used to be the prevalent attitude towards women.  I don’t think I would have lasted long checking out men’s climbing sweaters.  I probably would have swiped the sweater and rope and organized my own climbing trip.  Wonder what the boys back then would have thought about girls today who are climbing hard and kicking ass like Sasha DiGiulian?

 

Lessons learned leading

And so ends my first “real” season of outdoor leading and climbing.  In actuality the season ended over a month ago but I’ve been keeping my gear stashed near my front door in the (faint) hope that it might be nice enough to go climb.  With this week’s ongoing blizzard I think it’s safe to say that I need to pack up my gear up for the season.

Skaha

This is the third year that I’ve been climbing but I only started leading about 6 months ago.  I’ll be honest – I had a really rough go at it.  I went from being able to confidently top rope some very difficult climbs to being irrationally terrified over the easiest leads.  The most frustrating thing was that I knew I had the ability, I just couldn’t wrap my head around climbing without my top rope security blanket.  But somewhere along the line, between September and October, something changed.  Every time I went to the gym I was a little less scared.  I started looking forward to going outside and being the leader.  I don’t think it was one thing in particular that changed my perspective, more so it was an accumulation of experiences that helped me learn to let go of the fear.  So in no specific order here are a few things I’ve learned along the way …

1.  There is great value to be found in community.  Nothing is worse than feeling alone.  I mean hey, don’t we all know the saying “misery loves company?”.  Not knowing a lot of more experienced climbers, I decided to join twitter and looking back, I’m so glad I did.  It was really therapeutic to articulate what I was feeling and to know that others either understood how I felt or could give advice (thank you to the ladies who commented on my posts – it meant a lot!).

2.  Learn to be content.  This was a big one for me and it had an effect on more than just my climbing.  It dawned on me one day that I needed to quit fretting about whether I could/should have been pushing myself harder and instead start enjoying what I was capable of climbing.  I climbed 5.5’s and 5.6’s like they were going out of style and loved it.  If I was feeling a climb, I lead it – if not, I didn’t.  I stopped comparing myself to who I thought I should be and started being content with where I was and what I was doing.  Because in the end what you define as “hard” climbing is really subjective.  I don’t think I have any less fun leading 5.7’s outdoors than say, a person doing 5.12’s.  But that was a really hard lesson to take in – something I’m still working on.  There is a quote I really like that is to this effect:

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude” ~ G.K. Chesterton

3. Focus. I think this is one of the reasons why I fell in love with climbing in the first place – it focuses my attention so singularly on the task at hand that everything else dissolves into the background.  I can have the most miserable day/week at work and somehow when I get to the gym and get on a challenging route, I forget everything because it’s just about where I am in the moment and what my next move is.  Cliche, maybe, but it’s true.  Keeping that focus when you’re scared is not always the easiest and I’ll admit I let it get the best of me sometimes but I’m finally learning to keep it under control.  I found that the key was practice.  If you practice confronting your fears it becomes easier each time to push past them.

Mostly though, I’m just really grateful that somehow this whole climbing thing landed in my lap.  A while back I was talking with a good friend and he told me to  be careful with getting into climbing – that it would change my life.  At the time I blew the comment off but looking back, he was dead on.  I’ve changed a lot – but all in good ways.  Climbing has been such an enriching experience and I’ve met so many great people and had such awesome adventures that I can’t imagine going back.

Anyways, enough contemplation – time to enjoy the last day of the weekend!