With a greater understanding of your abilities and the types of rock climbing, your next step in preparing for a climb is choosing the right spot. Selecting the right rock-climbing location and the appropriate routes is crucial to having a fun and safe experience. This section will examine criteria for selecting climbing routes and locations, along with a discussion of safe approaches to climbing sites (i.e., the nuts and bolts of actually getting to your chosen spot).
Several factors should be considered when you are deciding where to go rock climbing. First, you must determine if your abilities and preferences will enable you to have an enjoyable experience at a specific location. While some climbing locations offer various types of climbing, other locations are limited to just one. Choose a location based on your preferred type of climbing and your own climbing ability. If you are primarily a top-rope climber, you should determine if the rock-climbing location has suitable anchors at the top and is short enough for one rope to be used when halved in length. Remember, most climbing ropes are 60 meters (197 ft) in length, though some may be shorter. If you prefer to lead climb, you must ensure that the rock is suited to the protection you use and your skill level. When heading out to a new location to climb, you should always confirm the type of anchors at the top of a climb. You can do this by visual inspection, by asking experienced or knowledgeable climbers in the area, or by consulting a guidebook that covers that particular crag.
Critical Questions to Ask When Selecting a Location
- Will your belayer have to follow you up the climb?
- Can you walk to the base of the climb from the top?
- Will it be easier and safer to rappel instead of walk from the top to the base of the climb?
- Will you need two ropes to safely descend?
- Are there anchors at the top of the climbs? If so, what kind? Does this location allow the use of trees as anchors? How will you protect the tree from being harmed by the rope?
- Will you be able to lower off a climb at any given point without running out of rope?
Being able to answer these questions before you go climbing is essential to your safety. Many of these questions will be answered in guidebooks written for your selected climbing area. A guidebook will also specify which style of climbing is available in a given area. Guidebooks are a vital tool in determining what type of rock and what type of climbing are present at various locations. Climbing guidebooks can be purchased at local outdoor retailers and online retailers (see the list of Web resources at the end of this chapter). Figure 4.1 identifies symbols often used in guidebooks to describe the important features of particular rock-climbing routes.
Another factor in determining where to climb relates back to your assessment of your abilities (see Skills Checklist below). Say you feel confident lead climbing using traditional protection on 5.7 cracks at your local crag. Is the new location you are considering slabby rock with 40-foot (12.2 m) run-outs (sections of rock that are unprotectable and can result in very long falls)? At a new location, you should start out by climbing routes that are well below your ability level. This enables you to (a) build your confidence on the new type of rock, (b) determine the quality and frequency of protection and anchors, and (c) give yourself the opportunity to downclimb anything you feel uncomfortable on. Climbing below your ability level in a new location will also let you determine if the ratings coincide with the ratings on previous climbs. Rating a climb is a subjective judgment made by the first ascentionist; therefore, you can expect a 5.9 to mean different things at different locations. Guidebooks may note that a climbing area is easier or more difficult than the recorded ratings, but you should let your experience determine what grades you are able to climb at specific locations.
When selecting a location for rock climbing, you should also take into account the anticipated number of people in your group. Climbing with a party of more than six people can have a negative impact on the generally positive vibe that exists at most climbing areas. Also, if you are climbing with an organization, your behavior with a group may affect your organization’s reputation and future access to rock-climbing areas. When climbing in a large group, think about choosing a location that provides plenty of climbs for your party to spread out on. This will help ensure that your group doesn’t inhibit the activities of other climbers. Climbing in a large group will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter (see Climbing Etiquette on page 92).
In summary, before you select a location, you should do the following:
- Define your style (i.e., top-rope climbing, sport climbing, or traditional climbing).
- Realistically assess your abilities.
- Locate an appropriate climbing area-that is, one that will accommodate your style and ability-based on information gathered from guidebooks or a knowledgeable salesperson from the local climbing shop.
Skills Checklist: Every Skill Is Important
The following is a list of skills or areas of knowledge you should be comfortable and proficient with before you go climbing. Some of these skills will be covered in this chapter, and the others will be addressed in other chapters.
- Climbing terminology
- Climbing rating system
- Route ratings and other guidebook symbols
- Site appropriateness
- Industry standards and ratings for all climbing equipment
- How to plan a rock-climbing trip
- Purchase, care, and handling of a rope
- How to belay
- How to properly wear and secure a harness
- Functions of the harness
- Knots used for rock climbing
- Climbing commands
- Climbing hardware and its uses
- How to build anchors appropriate for the terrain where you will be climbing
- How to plan for and handle an emergency or self-rescue
- Rock-climbing etiquette and environmental responsibility (i.e., Leave No Trace principles)