When I was 17, I started “climbing” my first 5.13. It was my first day in Boulder, Colorado where I stopped to pick up my friend Mark en route to City of Rocks, Idaho. It was 1989, and Boulder was already a rock climbing center thanks to Eldorado Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and the first-generation sport climbs in the Flatirons, with their slabs of dark sandstone and bright green lichen, and which appeared in the magazine. articles and announcements of La Sportiva shoes sent by famous and sponsored climbers. An overworked child of New Mexico backwater, I was ready to throw myself down these iconic roads in hopes of becoming a lithic demigod too.
The reality: I only had two years of climbing experience; I could barely get up 5:12 on a good day; my footwork was shit and I often climbed around a corner, with no plan for self-extraction other than keep fighting upwards and hoping; and that was mid-July on the Front Range, when daytime highs are in the 90s and the rock is oozing with sweat and desperation.
Never mind all that: I was going to send Eldo rainbow wall, Colorado’s first 5.13. That’s how Mark and I set off, at noon, in the depths of July. Buzzing with impatience, I ran straight for rainbow wall, a flat orange face of river-washed sandstone blazing in the sun above South Boulder Creek. I expected to find professional climbers there, photographers, maybe a talent agent waiting to sign up this “promising” kid from New Mexico for lucrative sponsorship deals. But there was nobody ; just the heat hitting the rock and the insects buzzing in the undergrowth.
“rainbow wall is so sick! I talked about it to Mark who, being a few years older than me, did not share my puppy enthusiasm. “I can’t wait to jump on it.”
“Don’t you want to warm up first?” He asked.
“Warm up? What?! Surely not! It takes too long.
“It’s also in the sun,” he said. “You might want to wait and try later.”
“Why should I do it?” I asked. “Sounds good to me.”
Marc sighed. “OK. I’ll assure you. And he assured me, although of course it was no use. I pulled up the unprotected 5.9 opening slab, popped a cam in a flake (luckily one of the three cams I had matched the placement) I clipped the first two ring bolts protecting the opening knot and immediately slipped sloping, greasy underclings from the smears, my swollen feet throbbing in my tight, plank-soled rock shoes as sweat stung my eyes. I half-heartedly tried the moves a few more times before dropping a bail carabiner and lowering, my hopes unrealistic revealing themselves for what they had always been.
“You might want to plan better next time,” Mark said when I returned to the field. “You may have had a shot.” He was nice, but I knew deep down that I had nothing to do rainbow wall That day. And I knew that if I ever wanted to get better at climbing, I needed a strategy.
It’s a lesson I had to continually learn, and something we are all working on. But with more climbers out there than ever, and so many coming out of the gym pipeline, I’m seeing more of this inconsiderate rock behavior. For example: climbers attempting routes in obviously poor conditions when they could easily time their efforts to synchronize with sun/shade; climbers drawing on pliers near the ground, pulling up the rope and releasing it again and again, until they take giant, uncontrollable whips; climbers monopolize the routes, individually or in groups, while climbers in red dot mode lose their warm-up and shoot a send; climbers don’t brush off chalk or tick marks; etc Fair, bad (or no) planning and no situational or self-awareness.
I’m sure you’ve seen it all too. Whenever we are not aware of ourselves or in tune with what is going on around us, we become part of the problem. Along those lines, here are the four biggest logistical mistakes I see climbers make, along with ideas on how to fix them.
1) No plan for the day or the cliff. Too often climbers show up without a real plan for how the day’s climb will unfold, having not researched the options for warming up, observing, projecting, maximizing conditions, etc. whenever.” This works well in a gym where you can switch between routes and have the same clean experience. But at rock, there are more variables.
I look at it this way: You made a plan to get to the cliff, so what did you think – or hope – would happen today? Instead of going blind, do some research. If I’m on a new crag, I’ll check a guide, the Mountain Project, and notes on specific climbs on 8a.nu to get an idea of quality and consensus difficulty. And if I have a project, I damn sure make sure to time my efforts for perfect conditions, checking the forecast until D-Day and even until D-Day. Yes, my behavior is corny and obsessive, but it usually gets results, or at least minimizes frustration.
2) Lack of basic security awareness. There are the fundamentals – harness correctly put on, knot correctly tied, belay device correctly rigged –we all have to be right all the time. But there are other second-level security considerations that are overlooked. These include belay box awareness – are there any dangers you could have if you were suddenly pulled off by a falling climber? – and the safety of an ascent, even a sporty route.
One thing I’ve seen climbers jump on are the clips near the ground, especially the third bolt, which is high enough to injure or even kill you if you were to lob with a clip release. No matter what, always have a plan for cutting, especially the third bolt. If you think you’re too pumped, grab the draw by the dog’s bone and shove the rope; if that doesn’t work, go down as far as you can, tell your belayer and jump. And never be afraid to stick, whether it’s on a high bolt to help you through a difficult opening or on a route in situations where you’re not comfortable falling; or, in traditional climbs, to double or even triple the protection before cruxes. Don’t let the naysayers, or even the little voice in your head, challenge you. It is better to be sure and smart than undoubtedly, macho, stupidly “daring”.
3) Lack of humility. This manifests in the form of spraying and arrogant statements about what you will be climbing that day or what you have recently climbed. But the thing to remember is that whatever path you take, whether it’s your project or someone else’s, someone else’s could see it. So while you might feel like a big dog with all the bragging rights to climb that famous 5.13 at the rock, Alex Megos or Margo Hayes might come along and see it as a warm up, barely remembering the climb and moving on. before you I even blinked. Better to be quiet and humble and focus on the escalation process than to be ostentatious and loud about your goals.
4). Lack of social awareness, ie no sharing. Permanent draws and the mentality of gyms have changed the landscape, and I regularly see climbers “doing project purchases” and/or checking routes that are more difficult than their hardest send, as fixed draws allow them to jump without commitment. If no one is waiting for directions, go ahead, knock yourself out; head held high and the scourge. You will only get an idea of what hard climbing is and your limits by seeing what these routes are all about. But on the other hand, climbs are a share resource, especially the classics. You have to weigh your own personal agenda against what your situational awareness is telling you, invoking the social etiquette of understanding, are you going to spend 1.5 hours working on the moves, and if so, is it worth -it’s worth asking around to see if anyone else is waiting, especially climbers in red dot mode whose efforts will take way less time than yours?
As for me, I’m still figuring it all out – I’m far from perfect and I’ve certainly been guilty of the behaviors listed above. We all have. And for the record, I went back and carried on rainbow wall again, a few years ago. It happened much like 1989, except this time it was too cold. The bolts were also the same ones I had cut 30 years earlier, which did not inspire confidence. So I bailed out. Maybe I’ll be back in three decades, and I’ll finally have done the damn thing. Maybe …
Matt Samet is a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado.