Climbers often tend to embrace a Nike-like attitude of
Just Do It!
Every guidebook ever published admonishes users that “climbing is an inherently dangerous sport,” and to proceed with caution. Climbers, however, have been only semi-heading these warnings for decades, and for good reason: we are members of a fringe sect of society that throws caution to the wind and laughs in the face of danger.
I first shoved my feet into a smelly pair of velcro rentals six years ago. Since then, I’ve only dabbled in trad and multi-pitch climbing for lack of mentorship. I’m not much of a “balls-to-the-wall” kind of gal, and generally, prefer my adventures to be well-planned out and rooted in knowledge. Stated simply, I’m comfortable doing what I know, and uncomfortable doing what I don’t know.
In November of last year, however, I got fed up with waiting for someone to teach me the basics of trad climbing and tapped into the mindset of my predecessors. Hell, they were climbing El Cap using janky pitons some 2,000 feet in the air. After all, I could solo 5.7 if I had to.
Unsurprisingly, I quickly discovered that climbing on gear is harder in a special variety of ways.
Knowing how to climb 5.7 on sport is nothing like climbing 5.7 on gear. The placements take about three times as long (if you know what you’re doing, ten to fifteen if you don’t), and knowing what piece to place is only half the battle. The other half is your feeble attempt to not over-grip on the massive jug onto which you’re clinging for dear life.
When I topped out on the first pitch of our three-pitch route, I looked for the anchors my partner had promised. However, there were no trees, no rings, and no bolts within sight.
What proceeded was me building my first anchor with absolutely no anchor-building knowledge. I ended up placing six various sized pieces, tying a few overhand knots, and linking them all together with a thin piece of cord that also included a series of knots. I clipped my personal anchor system into two of the overhand knots connected to two cams, set-up my ATC guide, and yelled down to my partner,
Thankfully, my partner, a solid 5.12 climber, had no trouble sending the route, which left only minimal time for me to imagine all the ways my partner could fall to his death.
He topped out on the pitch, looked at my anchor, looked at me, looked at the anchor again …
Hesitantly, he uttered, “Well, it probably would have held.”
As for myself, I wasn’t so certain.
What I learned
Have a conversation.
If you or your partner are experiencing something new, whether it be belaying with a GriGri, leading your first sport pitch, or just roping up for the first time, talk through the experience.
In doing this, it’s easy to come across any obstacle you might face.
For me, I hadn’t even thought about building an anchor on top, and if I did, I was overconfident in my ability to figure it out. Had my partner and I walked through the process, we could have taken a few more moments on the ground going over anchor building. We also assumed there would be a belay station on top of pitch one, in which case building an anchor wouldn’t be necessary (turns out there is an anchor at the end of pitch one, I just hadn’t climbed up far enough to reach it).
Communication on the ground is key.
100 feet up, with wind and rock in the way, it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation with your partner besides the basic climbing commands. Confidence will not save your partner from a 50-foot deck. So know what you’re doing before you head up the wall. Our lives are too important to take chances like that.
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