Why You Should Learn to Lead Climb

As with any sport, climbing follows a natural progression.

First you learn to boulder. Then you try out top-roping. Eventually you muster up the courage to try lead climbing. And once the fear from lead climbing subsides, you test your luck on gear. Generally. I know people who have done this in reverse, or skipped an element all together. It’s all in the eyes of the climber.

For about four years I was content letting someone (usually my boyfriend or another really strong male friend), lead the climb and set up the top rope for me. Then I’d willfully flail around on the thing for however long, maybe make it to the chains, maybe not, be lowered, maybe get grouchy for being such a terrible climber, rinse, repeat.

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Let me say, there is nothing wrong with top-roping. In fact, top-roping is an essential and useful aspect in learning how to climb. The falls are more protected, you can hone in on your technique, and it requires little know-how. Top-roping plays a vital role in climbing.

This is sticky, so bear with me.

Before I learned how to lead climb I was always dependent on someone else. I needed someone with a higher skillset than my own to hang draws and set-up the rope for me. Climbing wasn’t my own. I couldn’t call up just anyone to go climbing, I had to call someone who would be willing to take me out and do the work for me.

The more I went out and lacked the skills to set-up my own climb, the less empowered I felt.

In fact, I started to feel everything but empowered.

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I understand teamwork and collaboration. I value the power of we. And climbing is far from a solo endeavor. You need a partner. You need a catch. You need a spotter.

Like every good partnership, however, it can easily become exhausting when one partner is doing all the work. I noticed this in my relationship with my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time of these revelations). I wanted to be this strong, independent woman, but I was unable to own my climbing. And it was so easy to use him as a sort of crutch. I started thinking, if he hadn’t come into my life, would I be climbing at all?

I needed climbing to be a thing for me. I needed it to be something I did because I could. At that point, I couldn’t just go out and climb because I lacked the skills.

So, I learned to lead climb.

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And yeah, lead climbing is terrifying. While it gets less terrifying over time (and then ups the terrifying levels when you least expect it), learning to lead climb is scary and uncomfortable and if you’re anything like me, can be downright paralyzing at times.

When you’re first starting out, it’s type II fun, for sure.

But once you start hitting that flow on lead, and you realize that every fall won’t be your last, you tap into a part of yourself that believes you can.

For the first time in my climbing career, I’ve been able to go out and project 5.12 with some incredible, crusher, badass ladies. I’ve introduced women to the sport. I’ve been able to setup top-ropes for beginner climbers on routes they wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise.

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I love this circle.

So to all of you out there, who want to try lead climbing, but are maybe scared (or, like I was, downright terrified), I encourage you to try it. Take a class. I know the gyms in Salt Lake offer lead climbing classes on a regular basis. There are also dozens, maybe hundreds of people in climbing communities who are more than willing to mentor and encourage new climbers.

So get out there, and get scared.

 



 

**All pictures courtesy of my dashing, and incredibly talented husband, Coby Walsh. You can follow him on Instagram @icoby24

 

Weekly Round-Up #7

In this week’s news:

Agnes Vianzon worked with the California Conservation Corps for over a decade where she learned the basics of trail work, backcountry ethics, and the importance of LNT. These experiences lead her to create the Eastern Sierra Conservation Core, a non-profit dedicated to “building a stronger and more inclusive community,” who aims to “provide opportunities to experience and better understand wilderness and natural resources by providing a transformational backcountry experience.” This summer they have multiple all-female trail crews, and Women in the Wilderness backcountry experiences. You can listen to the podcast on the She-Explores site.

Feel like you’re using your phone too much? You probably are. In this tech-ridden era, it’s hard to find the fine (and quickly disappearing) line between our phones and our independence. It seems the two are so intertwined to be nearly inseparable. Brad Stulberg thinks it’s high-time we start monitoring and limiting our techno-use. Here are some tips on how to do that.

She Moves Mountains gives me chills. These two women, Lizzy Van Patten and Carey DeVictoria-Michel, are concretely pursuing a dream that’s been in the works for a while: teaching women to climb. Last year, the duo partnered with a local climbing company in Smith Rock to provide all-women climbing clinics. With the help of a recent crowd-funding event, they’re now able to kick off their own guiding company. In Lizzy’s words: “I began guiding in hopes of showing people, especially women, how powerful they are.”

Legendary mountaineer, Katie Bono, set the women’s speed record on Denali on June 14th. She had a round-trip time of 21 hours, 6 minutes, and reportedly “crawled into basecamp on Alaska’s Mount Denali, frostbitten and exhausted.” Hell yeah, Katie!

Review: Scarpa Boostic

My first pair of climbing shoes were Scarpa’s, and after my La Sportiva Solutions took their last route, I decided to go back to my climbing roots.

When I tried on the Boostic’s, Scarpa’s “premier weapon for everything past the vertical,”  they reminded me of the La Sportiva Miura’s I had a few years back. The fit is similar, maybe a bit wider, with about the same downturn in the toe, giving it the aggressive feel for steeper routes.

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And true to Scarpa’s claims, the Boostic’s are a powerhouse. I’ve climbed nearly every type of route in them. Sandstone, granite, limestone, multi-pitch, traditional, sport, and bouldering. Disclaimers: I would not recommend these shoes on sandstone, multi-pitch, or trad! At the time I didn’t have another pair of shoes that would fit the bill.

The Boostic is a stiff shoe. I’ve been climbing in these since last November and they still have barely any give. This is my main issue with the shoe. After climbing in the Solutions and getting used to a softer rubber, using a stiff shoe feels uncomfortable and unstable to me.

Honestly, I’ve been waiting for these to blow out so I can go back to the Solutions or the Miura’s. This is also because for me and my feet, La Sportiva’s provide the best fit.

With that being said, I do enjoy wearing these shoes indoors. They are true to size, and when I’m climbing in the gym, I can usually keep them on for multiple routes before I need to give my feet a breather. Because they’re not as downturned as other aggressive shoes like the Instinct, or 5.10’s Hiangle, it’s much easier to smear in these shoes. However, I wouldn’t trust them too much. I tested them out on granite and it didn’t go very well.

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If you’re looking for a stiffer shoe with a good edge, the Boostic is a great shoe. I’d definitely recommend these shoes to someone who’s looking for their first aggressive shoe. It’s the perfect amount of downturn to feel like you’re one with the rock.

Retail for $180, but you can find them on sale for around $110.

A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Climbing

Disclaimer: I am not a professional climber or a professional instructor. However, I taught introductory rock climbing classes for a year and a half and have six years of climbing experience.

 

Have you ever been on a hike and glanced up to find someone scaling the cliffs surrounding you? If you’re anything like me seven years ago, you probably thought, “Those people are crazy!” And you’re not too far off. Climber’s are a breed I have come to know and love through their eccentricities, boldness, and passion.

If you’re crazy too, your next thought might have been, “I kind of want to try that…”

You’re not alone! I would guess that the majority of people who started climbing had that exact thought before they dove head in to the sport. In the word’s of Alice in Wonderland, “We’re all mad here.”

So how do you go from dirt to granite? Fortunately climbing access has been made infinitely easier in the last few years with the rise and expansion of climbing gyms across America and the world. Rock and Ice has an indoor climbing gym directory. You just plug in your state and go from there.

Once you find the gym closest to you, I suggest you wrangle in one of your closest, or most curious friends, and ask them to tag along. While climbing is unique and wonderful in that you can boulder on your own, I’m under the school of thought that everything is better with friends.

Before you set out to the world of indoor plastic, take a quick look on Groupon to see if the gym you’re interested in is peddling offers on climbing sessions or classes. The gym in Spokane where I began climbing, Wild Walls, regularly offered discounted multi-day passes through Groupon.

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Okay. So you’ve got your friend, you’ve looked for some sweet deals, and you’re in the car feeling stoked. Once you rock up to the front desk, the staff will ask you to sign a waiver, and if you need to rent gear.

There are three types of climbing you can do in a gym: bouldering, top-roping, or lead climbing. Most people progress through each discipline in that order.

Bouldering is the best route for beginners. In the gym, you only need a pair of shoes to start. It’s a great introduction to the muscle groups, style, and overall feel of working your way up foreign plastic holds. And with most boulder walls topping out around 15 feet, it’s easy to bail if the height makes you dizzy.

Top-roping and lead climbing require more technical skills like how to belay. If a climbing gym has ropes and walls that are 30+ feet high, they probably offer belay classes. Typically these classes last anywhere from 1-2 hours and you learn the basics of rope management. If you decide climbing is something you’d like to stick with, I definitely recommend learning how to belay and testing your endurance on longer routes.

Lead-climbing requires more in-depth knowledge and skills, and requires more detail than this intro post offers.

Once you’ve signed the waiver, and rented the shoes, the next logical step is to climb!

Here are a few techniques that helped me when I learned to climb, and helped a lot of my students when they were learning.

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Focus on your toes

Remember that Spongebob episode where he stuck his big toe out of his shoe to depress the gas pedal? I like to think about that. One of the most common ways to begin climbing is to place the middle of your foot on the foot hold. I highly, highly, highly, recommend NOT doing this. Think about how we walk. Think about how we climb ladders. We walk with our toes forward, not the middle of our feet! Climbing is no different. Try to get as much surface area near the front of your shoes on the hold as possible.

Use your legs

Would you rather do 100 squats or 100 pull-ups? Down the road of climbing and training, there is a time and place for using only your arms, but now’s not the time! Our legs are our powerhouses and carry our entire body weight every day. Our arms? Not so much. Try to do a handstand push-up and you’ll see. Think about how you can use your legs to your advantage. Sometimes moving your foot an inch higher is the difference in being able to grab the next hold, or peeling off the route.

Don’t get crazy

Oftentimes in the gym I see people working on these really hard problems and routes and they make it look so easy. So easy in fact, that it tricks me into believing that I too can climb that hard. I jump on, all eager and full of belief, only to get shut down on the third move. It’s good to push yourself in climbing, otherwise your progression and strength will move at a snails pace (which is okay too, if that’s what you’re after). But going from a V0 climber to a V6 climber won’t happen overnight. It takes time and dedication, but trust me. It more than pays off.

Climbing can be rewarding, fun, and a great way to be part of a like-minded community. If you’ve been on the fence, or itching to try, I say go for it. All you have to lose is space in your closet where your future gear will have to go.

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Questions? Let me know in the comments below!

El Potrero Chico: A Sport Climber’s Paradise

For years, Potrero has been at the top of my list. It’s home to the second longest sport route in North America, Time Wave Zero, and the notorious El Sendero Luminoso that Alex Honnold free soloed in January of 2014. It’s the sport climber’s Yosemite, with more multi-pitch sport routes than a climb-cation could ever have time for.

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Thankfully, if you want to make the most of your climbing time at EPC, it’s easy and doable to climb in the morning and in the evening at different crags. We were there in April, which is not the best time to go, so we were continuously battling the heat of the day. That meant 6am alarms, mid-afternoon naps, and evening climbing sessions. With the pool at La Posada’s Campground, I couldn’t complain about downtime and lounging in the hammock above the pool. It. Was. Glorious.

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Getting to and from EPC is fairly easy. My husband and I flew to San Antonio, and hailed a greyhound from there to Monterrey. Since the ride went through the night, and there weren’t a lot of people on board, we were able to sleep pretty well. Once at the station in Monterrey there were taxis outside, and with a little bit of google translate help, we were soon on our way. Friends of ours flew into Monterrey International Airport, and the drivers there immediately knew where to take them. The ride is about 500 pesos, or $26.

I can’t speak about the other campgrounds, but there are quite a few you can stay at. We chose La Posada because everywhere else was pretty slow due to the off season. The staff were friendly and hard workers, and the pool was amazing. We were there two weekends and it picked up with quite a few locals coming to camp. We found the ideal camping spot for our two tents and three hammocks. Their website is a bit confusing about pricing, we ended up paying 130 pesos/night ($7) which included everything from showers to pool use.

While my eyes were set on climbing Time Wave Zero, I quickly realized it was out of reach for me right now. My husband and I spent a day climbing Space Boyz (5.10d) on the Jungle wall. This eleven-pitch, 1100-foot climb, demanded every ounce of courage and strength I could muster. It didn’t help that my shoes were half a size too small, either. I grunted my way up, and wasn’t able to carry my own weight. Coby ended up leading most of the pitches, and being the best sport about it. The top-out was the most I’ve felt accomplished in a long time.

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A few days later we went up a six pitch 5.10b, Dope Ninja, which included the coolest 5.6 traverse I’ve ever led in my life! I’d highly recommend this route to anyone headed down to Potrero. It’s also a great introduction to the type of climbing in the area.

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In terms of food, the market, La Mexicana, is a 45-minute walk from the campgrounds. The food (and alcohol) is super cheap. We bought a bottle of tequila for five dollars. We also bought 17 avocados for about six dollars. Each time we went down to the market we were either picked up by a passerby without trying, or stuck out our thumbs far enough to hitch a ride. The locals are incredibly friendly, often honking their horns and waving as they drove by. There is a restaurant at La Posada with a variety of Mexican food and dollar beer and tequila shots.

You can also check out (I highly recommend it) the Tuesday market. Someone described it as a “WalMart on wheels,” because there are so many things for sale. From milky fruity drinks, to usb chargers, to shoes, to produce, you can find nearly anything you’re looking for here. We had the opportunity to meet Raul Reyes who had us come behind his tables and take copious amounts of photos holding deep frier spoons, tostadas, and spices. Raul sold some of the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted.

There’s definitely enough in Potrero to keep you occupied for a lifetime; in our two weeks we barely touched the surface. It left us wanting badly enough that we’re already planning a return trip for next year.

Quick and “Easy” Ab Workouts

It goes without saying, your abdominal muscles are some of the most important in your body. They help stabilize and reduce the incidence of injury. They’re also probably the most photographed muscle in all of Instagram history. As with any muscle group, the beginning steps to definition are hard. I’ve been known to feel defeated if after one workout my abs aren’t debuting they’re presence in the world. C’est la vie.

Professional climber and athlete, Paige Claussen, commits to ten-minute abs after every climbing session. She picks ten different exercises and does each one for a minute without stopping.

My go-to ab exercises are either five minutes of leg lifts or circuits. My husband has been doing five minutes of leg raises for quite a while and has begun modifying to include scissor kicks, butterflies, and raising/lowering at different paces. They’re easily adaptable. If you’re unable to complete five full minutes of leg lifts, start with one minute, rest 10-30 seconds, do another minute, rest 10-30 seconds, and so on. Do what’s best for you, but I also encourage you to push yourself.

When I have more time or brain power I like to do ab circuits. Choose 3-4 ab exercises and repeat 2-3 times. Generally, if I’m doing an ab circuit I like to throw in an arm or leg exercise, like squats or push-ups, to mix it up.

Favorite ab exercises for circuits:

V-Up:

Start laying flat on the mat. In one motion raise your upper body and straight legs up to form a “V.” For a modified version, you can keep your legs bent at whatever angle is doable.

Russian Twists:

Start sitting. Lower your upper body slightly, so that it’s at a 45-degree angle from the mat. Bend your knees slightly, with your heels just grazing the mat. With hands clasped above your stomach, lower them down to your right side, and then over to your left. Repeat. Add weights/medicine ball if it feels too easy.

Planks:

Good old fashioned fun! Planks are my definite go-to because I know exactly what to expect and there are so many modifications. Start laying face down on your mat. Place forearms on mat and lift body so your only points of contact are forearms and toes. Take extra caution to not rise up in your shoulders, or sink your lower back and hips. Think stiff as a board!

Lie-Down-Sit-Up:

Start lying down on your back. With arms across chest, right hand touching left shoulder, left hand touching right shoulder, roll up, and reach to touch your toes. Re-cross arms and lie flat. Repeat.

Hanging Leg Raises:

I confess, these are tough and I fight my will to complain whenever I incorporate them. Using a pull-up bar, extend your legs straight below you. Engaging your core, in an effort to remain still, bend your legs at the knees and raise to your chest. Lower, and repeat. The real trick with this one is to keep your body from swinging and using the inertia to bring your knees to your chest. Go slow, and be precise.

There are so many ab exercises out there that this list isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Climbing Magazine did a great article on ab exercises for climber’s that you can find here.

Happy exercising and may your abs soon be defined!

Book Review: Arlene Blum “Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life”

If you want to read the chronicles of a true lady badass, look no further than Breaking Trail. Blum, who grew up in a poor Jewish family in Chicago, relives her years in the mountains in this climbing memoir.

The book jumps back and forth between her childhood self, trying to respect and defy her grandparents wishes to find a good Jewish doctor to marry, and the adventurous woman who treks across the Himalaya and organizes expeditions to remote mountain ranges.

After being told women were only allowed to Denali base camp for “cooking chores,” but not allowed to summit, she persisted in gathering a team of women to make the first all female summit. Despite comments like, “No way dames could ever make it up that bitch,” and that they’d “need men to carry the loads,” Arlene found a group of six women, and they dubbed themselves the Denali Damsels. She successfully pioneered the first all female ascent of Denali and commandeered one of the most impressive rescues of her teammate in Denali history.

Blum repeatedly fought gender-based negativity. After applying for an expedition to summit Koh-i-Marchech, a 21,000-foot peak in Afghanistan, she received an apologetic letter saying, “In spite of [your] excellent qualifications, [we’ve] decided that having a woman on the team might adversely affect the camaraderie of the heights and cause a problem in excretory situations high on the open ice.”

When she joined a group of men on an expedition to Mt. Waddington, the highest peak in British Columbia, she was continuously defending herself against derogatory comments:

“As we alighted from the plane, Bill, one of our guides, told us that this was the wrong lake and we’d have to bushwhack around a few ridges to meet up with the rest of the group.

‘And worse luck, we have a woman with us,’ Bill said to the other guide so loudly everyone heard him.

‘What’s the matter with that?’ I asked quietly, feeling I had to say something—especially since everyone was looking at me.

‘There are no real women climbers,’ Bill said.

‘No real women climbers?’ I repeated. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means that women either aren’t good climbers or they aren’t real women.’”

Dubbed “The Queen of Tenacity,” Arlene Blum took the constant sexism and scrutiny and turned it into fuel. She managed to get herself onto expeditions even if she was denied the first time. She lead the first all female ascent of Annapurna 1. She lost friends, lovers, and teammates to the mountains and was resilient enough to keep going back.

After watching “The Endless Summer,” Blum created her own mountaineering version with “The Endless Winter.” She climbed peaks in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Nepal over the course of 14 months, with Toby Wheeler and Joel Bown intermittently joining the expeditions.

With the loss of her teammates on Annapurna, Blum decided to take a break from high-risk mountaineering and planned a 3,000-mile trek across the Himalaya. She was joined by Hugh Swift on the east-west traverse. Once finished, she went down to the Great Barrier Reef where she met Rob Gomersall, almost immediately fell in love, and soon after became pregnant with her first and only child, Annalise.

Breaking Trail is full of exciting and tragic stories and is told in a way that will keep every armchair mountaineer engaged and entertained. Arlene Blum left me inspired. Despite constant sexism, often being the only woman on a team of men, and pursuing expeditions no other woman had attempted, she persisted and is one of the OG’s of women’s mountaineering.

You can purchase her book here, as well as the iconic t-shirt used to raise funds for the Annapurna I expedition, which reads, “Annapurna: A Women’s Place is on Top.”