Moja Gear recommends using a stick clip to hang a quickdraw on the first bolt every time. Stay safe, and use a spotter, climbers!
There’s more than one thing that makes climbing in Moab, Utah terrifying.
It’s more than the odd introduction to sandstone climbing, where you’re required to establish immediate trust with a seemingly untrustworthy kind of rock. It’s more than getting used to your new slab shoes which are completely insensitive already, and also make your toes numb in the crisp December air. And it’s a lot more than the challenging heady experience of slab climbing in general.
We all know and dread the inevitable cheese grating that occurs when the Elvis Presley leg comes on hard. Moab is the most challenging place to keep the thoughts of slipping at bay, and none of these things even compare to the crux of it all.
IT’S THE DAMN RUN OUTS.
I have been to Smith Rock, Spearfish Canyon, Rifle, Squamish, and Reimers Ranch. And even though Moab is just as popular as these incredible locations, the run out is enough for me to question whether I even know how to climb. Standing at the foot of a warm-up slab on Wall Street and gazing up at the gentle slope – a sport climb that could almost surely be done without hands at all – becomes one of the most intimidating routes I’ve ever done.
Trango Beta Evo Stick Clip
Superclip Stick Clip Attachment
Sure, the winter conditions weren’t amazing. Wall Street in the winter has sun exposure from 11am to 3pm, but the unbreakable cloud cover prevented any sort of heat retention in the rock. Every finger and toe completely numb, it probably took me a good 22 minutes to finish the climb (and that is excluding the 14 minute mental breakdown I had once I could comfortably stand on a ledge and contemplate the situation I was in). A generous 12 feet away, my brain was zeroing in on the distance of fall, rather than the distance left in the route, making it feel next to impossible to move on from the safety of my ledge. I was frozen, and resigned to the thought: I WILL DIE ON THIS LEDGE.
Lowering back to the ground, in defeat, I had to laugh at myself. The streaks of drying tears still cold on my face, I reflected back on the person I was only a few short moments ago, and didn’t recognize that person. Up at the anchors I was so ashamed of myself for getting so scared–I had completely ignored the fact that I had the physical capability to finish that climb with ease, several times in a row. That day, I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to feel comfortable. Down on the ground, I laughed it off. There’s no place for shame in climbing, right? I mentally repeated:
You are a STRONG and CAPABLE WOMAN. NOW GET YOUR SHIT IN ORDER.
I am very lucky in that I have a climbing partner who manages his fear excellently. He manages it almost to the point of making me nervous, because at times we disagree on a risk assessment. After my warm up, he went to try a climb at the base of a tree. A hilarious choice in my opinion, because the first bolt was a solid 25 feet from the ground. Which brings us to the burning question:
To Stick Clip, or Not to Stick Clip?
The answer to that is always yes for me. My risk assessment involves bee stings, bird attacks, lightning strikes, spontaneous diarrhea, etc., etc. For my partner, his risk assessment purely involves what he knows his physical capability to be. This is a wonderful thing because it forces him to try his hardest, and more often than not, he manages to stick that crimp or land that dyno. Being witness to that, as someone who is more cautious, results in some nervous belaying.
He tells me he is sure he doesn’t need to stick clip, and I voice my concern as I always do, knowing it will not alter his decision. He precariously makes his way up a wide crack, me spotting with my arms out, ready to completely be flattened if he slips, my vision obscured by the tree branches grazing the rock face.
I hear the erratic pace in his breath and know that he’s experiencing the terrifying phenomena of climbing sandstone for the first time. He’s only about halfway to the first bolt when he reaches a comfortable resting area and says: “Yeah I think you should go get the stick clip,” and I feel adrenaline fill my body. Is he about to take a ground fall right now? I look around my belaying area and don’t see it anywhere when he finishes “I think it’s in the car.” I don’t want to leave the route because I don’t want to leave him without a spotter, but I also don’t want to encourage him to make it to the bolt if he doesn’t feel safe. I remove the GRIGRI from my belay loop and sprint (the fastest I’ve probably ever sprinted) to the car. It’s rather precious looking back at the comedy of me running on the spot, waiting for the stupid automatic trunk door to take its sweet ass time opening. Beep……..Beep…….Beep…… I don’t even close the trunk, and sprint back to where my partner is climbing. I had to extend the stick clip to its full length for him to even reach it. From there, he clipped the first bolt, and I relaxed only slightly.
At the end of the day (and during it), it can be kind of frustrating trying to keep the what ifs at bay. It’s my brain’s way of trying to protect me: keep me on edge. But being on edge is the exact thing that prevents me from fully experiencing the marvellousness of a situation! It turns every single snapping twig on the forest floor into a bear that has come to make me into a snack. It turns every approaching three foot wave into the force that will end my life (it isn’t). It tries to qualify my physical capability, when I know that more often than not, I am able to surprise myself by how strong I can be. It can get the best of me, if I let it. But that day in Moab proved the opposite, too. The what if of my beloved climber taking a ground fall because of an insultingly high first bolt was the proper risk assessment for the situation. So, if we learned anything, it should be that someone might consider adding to the Wall Street guidebook:
Climb tree to the right of Puppy Love and clip first bolt.