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Seven Solutions to Fast Track Success : Traditional Climbing’s Big Come-Back by Walker Emerson

 Belmont, Beta, Blog, Portland, San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Trip Report  Comments Off on Seven Solutions to Fast Track Success : Traditional Climbing’s Big Come-Back by Walker Emerson
Mar 252015
 

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Lucho Rivera 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, jugs out the final pitch of the Muir on El Capitan, after a long day.

There is nothing I can say that will fast track you to climbing El Cap this season. I hate to give the game away right here at the beginning, but nothing can make up for experience.There is a lot I could say to complicate matters, but, instead of adding to the mystery of trad climbing, I will try to make a few of the basics clear. I have put together seven tips that will get you on the right track to learning how to trad climb and hopefully expedite the process of becoming a seasoned monkey.

 

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Planet Granite route setter, Danny Harris, following one of the many spectacular pitches of the North East Buttress on Higher Cathedral 5.9+. Be wary of the older climbs; the 50’s thru 70’s were rough times to be a climber. 

Find a Mentor

By far, the best way to become a trad climber is to find a mentor, someone who will take you outside with them and teach you everything they know. Troubleshooting on your own is like hammering steel into a square and then trying to roll it down the street. Offer beer in exchange! Ask yourself, how hard can I climb? Then aim for a route about three or four number grades easier. Top-roping behind a friend will eliminate part of the challenge of learning trad climbing. The added stress of placing gear that must hold in the event of a fall while learning to move on a different style of rock is truly a daunting proposition. After a few outings with a knowledgeable partner and, if you feel comfortable with protection placements, route finding, and anchor building, it’s time to find a partner with similar or slightly more advanced know-how of this whole trad climbing business. The enjoyment of succeeding together and epicing together is the most rewarding experience to be had. But be very careful, there is a lot you don’t know, and the learning curve is steep.

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Matthes Crest viewed from Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne Meadows, during an early spring day. Both excellent beginner routes.

Comfortable Shoes

Purchase a comfortable pair of climbing shoes, stiff rubber and not downturned. Make sure they are a loose fit. Muiras, TC Pros, 5.10 Blancos or Pinks, and Mythos, are popular for trad climbing. You will be wearing them all day, and you will need them to retain their rigidness. Easier climbs generally follow larger crack systems. The importance of a shoe that covers your ankles will become apparent quickly. Take off your shoes at the belay. Let your feet breath; they and you will be much happier. 

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Planet Granite’s Amy Verret enjoys her 5.10 Pinks on the Squamish Chief. 

Lose the weight

You are going to bring too much stuff. Ditch the sunscreen, jackets, lip balm, ipod, camera, wallet, thermos, etc. Bring only the essentials. Weight is very important. Everything you bring adds up. Try picking up the rack with one hand. Pretty heavy, no? Combined with a water bottle, a few bars, and a rope out-stretched below you, climbing becomes difficult quickly. A small backpack for the follower can be useful, but being able to use your entire body is essential. Distributing yourself on the rock, pressing your back into the wall behind you, or scumming your hip into a corner for support, all becomes much more awkward with extra things like a backpack. For a lighter option, equip a disposable water bottle (not a Nalgene) with cordelette, duct tape, and a small carabiner, and clip it to your harness. For food, use a mesh bag – the one your harness came with will be perfect – and clip that to your harness as well. That being said, I do recommend you bring a light synthetic layer, temperatures and wind will fluctuate throughout the day.
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Water bottles ready for action, with code names to boot!

Back to Basics

You have a partner, you have shoes, you have a water bottle and food, on your harness, you are ready! Well not quite. You really have no idea what you’re getting into. Trad climbing will be like starting all over again. You might as well be learning how to surf. Accept that it will take time, nothing can make up for experience. Get out every weekend, and keeping pushing it, a little bit. Climb something bigger, harder, less familiar, keep with it. Soon you will be surprised with the amount of pleasure you get from not necessarily sending, but just getting to the top of a huge rock. We are creatures who love to explore, and nothing will engage you more than an adventure into the unknown.

IMG_6324Planet Granite route setters, Mark Heal and Josh Horsley, hang tight while we finish up the Tuolumne classic OZ 5.10d.

Communication is Key

Out of the many things that can make or break a climbing experience, your behavior trumps all. Make sure you are communicating with fellow climbers. Chances are, they will be more than happy to comply. Be frank with your intentions, but be willing to back down if they clearly are in the right. A civil conversation goes a long way. The harder the climb, the more likely the other climbers have had experience with passing parties. The stress of being beginner in an unfamiliar environment can be too much, and then having a party want to pass, can be overwhelming. Be respectful and be direct.
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Ethan Pringle enjoying a crowded anchor. With some well orchestrated maneuvers, we were on our way. 

Climb and Place Gear on Durable Surfaces

One of the main considerations when climbing cracks and large exposed faces is these large rocks are constantly exposed to the elements. Freezing and thawing, rain, and wind, exfoliates the faces of the climbs. Once solid rock can become loose and a hazard to you and your partner as well as the parties below. Make sure to pull down, not out, on suspect rock. Do not place gear in loose rock. Look to see if the structure of the rock, on a larger scale is sound. A quick rap on the rock with the bottom of your fist will tell you if the rock is solid or not. If you hear a hollow sound or reverberation, find another placement. Sometimes it’s best to just keep moving.
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Exfoliated rock due to freeze thaw, wind, and rain, at Shuteye Ridge. 

 The Brain Game

There are many things to learn before you are a seasoned monkey. Climbing is an ever evolving process, from placing gear to reading sequences. The technique takes time. Walk around your apartment with your harness and rack on, and try and find gear placements. Being able to grab the correct piece the first time will keep you moving. Be aware of what is ahead on the pitch. You must constantly analyze the situation. Think to yourself, does the crack get wider? How many cams do I have left? Do I need to save a certain size? Can I afford to place more gear? Do I need to extend this piece? You will find great joy in having these systems dialed.
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Walker Emerson taking it all in on the Squamish classic Flight of the Challenger 5.12c. Photo by James Lucas

Hopefully I have encouraged you to call up that old trad-climbing friend and ask them to take you up a few routes this spring. California has some of the best traditional climbing in the world, get after it!

 


walker bio photo
Walker Emerson is a contributing writer for the Planet Granite Blog. He also sets routes at Planet Granite under the alias ‘Smash’. When he’s not plugging grips and jugging lines, he can be found on weekends clipping bolts at Jailhouse or sailing the granite seas of Yosemite.

To keep up with Walker’s adventures, follow him on the PG Blog, join him on InstagramVimeo and Facebook.

TEAM OF 2 – January Camp + Private Sessions

 Beta, Events  Comments Off on TEAM OF 2 – January Camp + Private Sessions
Jan 072015
 
TEAM OF 2 - January Camp + Private Sessions

The Coach and The Trainer return to PG! Offering TWO Training Camps PLUS One-on-one Private Sessions! Justen & Kris each bring a unique style of training and coaching to their programs. They can effectively target your individual needs, catering to your specific goals for climbing. Team of 2 is back and ready to push YOU harder! Read more…

6 Tips for Your Hangboard Session – Guest post by Neely Quinn

 Beta, Community  Comments Off on 6 Tips for Your Hangboard Session – Guest post by Neely Quinn
Nov 202014
 
6 Tips for Your Hangboard Session - Guest post by Neely Quinn

This article was written by Neely Quinn, the founder of TrainingBeta.com, a complete resource for training programs, articles, videos, and podcasts. In this article she talks about how she’s made her fingerboarding sessions way more entertaining and bearable! Training finger strength is one of the most important aspects of becoming a stronger climber.  TrainingBeta recently Read more…

Get the Beta on Training – Guest post by Neely Quinn

 Beta, Community  Comments Off on Get the Beta on Training – Guest post by Neely Quinn
Oct 272014
 
Get the Beta on Training - Guest post by Neely Quinn

“How can I properly train for climbing?” That’s usually the hot question for most climbers. And then even finding the right training program for your body (and your lifestyle) can be really challenging! This was the same question on Colorado climbers Neely Quinn and her husband Seth Lytton minds’ when they created TrainingBeta.com.  Their site Read more…

Steck Salathe – Squeezing in Another Classic

 Beta, Community, Trip Report  Comments Off on Steck Salathe – Squeezing in Another Classic
Oct 212014
 
Steck Salathe - Squeezing in Another Classic

Squeezing in Another Classic A Route Description of the Steck Salathe by Walker Emerson  — (A WORD OF CAUTION: Before you embark on this adventure, please do your research! Review both online sources and printed guidebooks. This route is notoriously challenging and should not be taken lightly. Be both confident and comfortable climbing 5.10 cracks Read more…