At-Home Training for Climbers

While we’re always psyched on climbing, the sad reality is you don’t always have enough time to visit the crag, boulders, or even the gym—especially during the work week. Lucky for us, there are numerous ways to stay strong and build climbing fitness without leaving the house. Try some of our basement beta, and you’ll realize that training in the home gym during the work week can translate to sending on the weekend.

Courtesy: Beastmaker
Courtesy: Beastmaker

Hangboard

Hangboards are one of the most popular at-home training aids. While that might be because they’re small, easy to mount, and inexpensive, these devices are also very effective. Climbers literally hang from a variety of different-sized pockets and holds to build finger strength. As a side note, this is why hangboards are also sometimes called fingerboards.

Pull-Up Bar

Although less climbing-specific, a pull-up bar suits anyone who wants to take a break from their fingerboard, rest sore fingers, or simply work larger muscles. In fact, you can use it in all manners to build climbing strength. To start, the classic pull-up is a great exercise for increasing pulling power. Then, Frenchies—pausing to lock off at certain angles through the movement of a pull-up—are a fantastic method for building endurance and simulating the pause climbers take when clipping a bolt or placing gear. Allez!

Courtesy: Sestogrado
Courtesy: Sestogrado

Rock Rings

No room for a hangboard? Don’t have a wall you’re comfortable drilling into? Live a life on the go? If you answered yes to any of these questions, rock rings may be the best solution. Used as a pair, these individually molded grips are suspended using a cord that can be hung from any number of anchors. Think about a basement beam, a backyard tree, or even a swing set at the local park. Although lacking the diversity of a hangboard, rock rings let you move freely. In turn, the motion places less strain on your joints compared to doing pull-ups or Frenchies, which involve a fixed position that may be hard on the elbows.

Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre
Courtesy: Reading Climbing Centre

Campus Board

If you have a bit more room available, consider a campus board. Wolfgang Güllich devised its simple, utilitarian, and effective design to train for sending the world’s first 9A, Action Directe. On a series evenly spaced rungs on a slightly overhanging wall, climbers move up and down without using their feet to primarily build power. Additionally, you can increase finger and core strength and improve accuracy when moving between holds. Because of the physical demands, it’s not recommended for new or young climbers.

Crack Machine

Climbers looking to crush cracks can build a crack machine to practice technique and gain strength. Simple and easy to construct, crack machines feature two stiff wooden boards mounted to resemble a crack. And, while advanced constructors will create adjustable machines, most basement builders will find it easier to create multiple cracks in the sizes they want to train—primarily finger and hand. The best part is, a little goes a long way, and you can climb both up and down when training.

Home Wall

For those with room to spare, a home wall is the way to go. From mild to wild, a home wall can range from a simple mounted piece of plywood to a full build rivaling the rock gym. Whether it’s freestanding or mounted to the wall, the most important components are the holds. Consider a wide variety of shapes and sizes for increased diversity and fun in setting. Overall, the best home walls tend to be the most frequently used ones and ultimately do their job—getting you strong for climbing.

Courtesy: Moon Climbing
Courtesy: Moon Climbing

Moon Board

For pro climbers and those truly dedicated to getting strong, try a Moon Board. Back in the ‘80s, legendary U.K. climber Ben Moon devised the first Moon Board in his basement in Sheffield, England, and by the 2000s, the trend had caught on. Compact and simple in design, Moon Boards have a uniform size and configuration: 8.06 feet wide, 10.40 feet high, and positioned at a 40-degree angle. The holds are placed in fixed locations, creating a wall that is the same, no matter where it’s located. Because of the universal layout, it’s possible to project the same route as your buddy across the country, or your favorite pro climber.

As such, serious climbers can find thousands of established problems posted on moonboard.com and the MoonBoard App. Even better, with the addition of an LED system, you can download and illuminate the problems to make route finding easier.

Books

Strong fingers and abs only get you so far, especially if your training plan is haphazard, your mental game is lacking, or your technical skills are weak. If any of that rings a bell, check out one of these books for training your brain.

  • If you have the hangboard or home wall but are unsure of how to best use them, The Self-Coached Climber offers excellent advice for developing your own training plan. And, for something even more programmed, check out the training plans available from Uphill Athlete and the Mountain Tactical Institute.
  • For climbers truly looking to train their mind, The Rock Warrior’s Way is an insightful read about mental training.
  • The Mountain Guide Manual: The Comprehensive Reference—From Belaying to Rope Systems and Self-Rescue is an incredible technical skills guide that will greatly improve your climbing systems’ efficiency. Practice them at home, and you’ll find that you’ll have a lot more time to spend sending at the crag next weekend.

Have a training technique we didn’t mention? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


Alpha Guide: Mount Monadnock's White Dot & White Cross Trails

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

No American mountain has been climbed by more people than this southern New Hampshire classic, and for good reason. 

Mount Monadnock has many distinctions. It’s the second-most climbed mountain in the world, it’s one of only 13 mountains on the list of National Natural Landmarks, and its summit is the only place where it’s possible to see all six New England states at once. On this miraculous mountain, the most popular route is the four-mile loop via the White Dot and White Cross trails. This absolute classic is a must-do trip for every New Englander.

Quick Facts

Distance: 4 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $5/person, and $2 for children ages 6-12. Children 5 and under are free.
Contact: https://www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/monadnock-state-park.aspx

Download

Turn-By-Turn

People coming to Mount Monadnock from the Boston area will want to follow Route 2 West to its connection with Route 140 North (exit 24B). After roughly nine miles, Route 140 becomes MA 12 North. Continue on MA 12 until its intersection with US 202, and then, follow US 202 over the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line through the town of Rindge and eventually into the quaint town center of Jaffrey. In Jaffrey center, take a left onto Route 124 West. Follow 124 West for about two miles, before taking a right onto Dublin Road. From here, simply follow the signs to the parking lot.

People coming to Monadnock by way of Interstates 93 or 95 can simply exit onto US 101 West and take it to US 202 West, and then, use the directions from above. The only difference will be taking a right turn onto Route 124 West instead of a left.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Mount Monadnock via the White Dot and White Cross trails is quite straightforward. Leave the parking lot in the direction of the Park Store, and continue past the store toward the restrooms. If nature calls, it’s worth taking the opportunity to go here, as the trail can be busy, and privacy may be hard to come by from here on out. Just past the restroom is the well-marked trailhead (42.845619, -72.088699).

The trail starts off wide, allowing enough room for hiking shoulder to shoulder. And, on busy weekends, it gives hikers the chance to disperse before the terrain gets more technical. Although this section is neither wide nor steep, the trail is littered with chunky rocks and roots, so watch your step.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Choices

After roughly a half-mile, hikers will come to the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross trails (42.851715, -72.091652). Although hikers may do the hike in either direction, the preferred and most common way is to hike up the White Dot Trail and descend via the White Cross Trail, as White Dot’s steep, slabby terrain is easier to negotiate going uphill.

To continue on the White Dot Trail, just follow the painted white dots straight ahead. Soon, the trail begins to steepen, and the day’s first challenge, a series of steep, slick ledges, comes into view. Finding traction here requires careful footwork, however. Over the years, many people have climbed this exact route, leaving the stone polished and smooth in places. Concerned about the slabs? Take an extra moment to evaluate where you are going, and often, an easy path will present itself.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

A short while later, you’ll come across the Cascade Link junction (42.853878, -72.092758). Stay straight. From here, the trail weaves through the forest and scrambles up short sections of steep rock slabs. As the slabs open up, make sure to turn around and take in the view. Here, the Wapack Range is quite prominent.

As you get above treeline, the trail stops ascending and begins corkscrewing around the mountain, and you’ll wonder if you’re staring at the summit. You’re not. It’s a false summit, and you’ve still got a little farther to go. Here, you’ll encounter a series of open ledges, which can be a great place to have a snack if your group is so inclined.

After this, there’s some more slab climbing, until you come to a large sign that marks the intersection of the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). You’re not done yet, so continue upward.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

After the junction, the trail steepens, and you’ll be traveling entirely on rock up to the summit. At this point, you’ve surpassed the trail’s most difficult sections, but don’t let your guard down when the summit comes in sight. You’ve still got to get through a few spots requiring fancy footwork. On windy days, it is also a good idea to layer up for this section.

As you work upward, the trail remains well-marked and easy to follow. It does, however, bear sharply right at one point. Fortunately, there’s a large sign (42.860313, -72.107361) there that’s pretty hard to miss.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Sine it’s the tallest peak for miles and unprotected, the winds often rip across Monadnock’s summit (42.861385, -72.108063). Luckily, natural windbreaks abound, offering great places to take a break, pull on a puffy, and have a snack. Once refreshed, stand up and take in the fantastic 360-degree view. In the distance to the north, look for the White Mountains. Much closer to the east is the Wapack Range. To the south, you can see Mount Wachusett. And, Vermont’s ski mountains are visible to the west. While you’re admiring the view, try to identify landmarks in all six New England states.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Return

From the summit, retrace your steps on the White Dot Trail. Below the summit proper, you’ll encounter a few smooth, slabby sections, so watch your footing.

As you descend, look for the sign that indicates the White Dot Trail will take a sharp turn. This time, however, you’ll be turning left. Soon thereafter, you’ll be at the well-marked junction for the White Dot and White Cross Trails (42.859726, -72.104698). Since the footing on the latter is a little easier and the incline more moderate, start following the white crosses down. Before you do so, though, make sure to look back uphill to get one last look at the summit.

From the junction, the White Cross Trail meanders below treeline, working through some easy slabby sections and then into the woods. The trail is pleasant and quite moderate as it approaches the White Dot-White Cross junction (42.851715, -72.091652). At the junction, turn right (downhill) onto the White Dot Trail, and you’ll be in the parking lot in no time.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Diversions

Mount Monadnock is forever linked with the great transcendentalist writers and philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Because of this, many spots are marked to note their connection with the mountain. A diversion from the White Cross Trail takes you across the Smith Connector Trail to the Cliff Walk Trail, where you will find “Emerson’s Seat” and “Thoreau’s Seat” at around 2,350 feet. Both “seats” offer fantastic views and perhaps will inspire you as it did them.


Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • Much of the White Cross and White Dot trails are on exposed rock that has been made smooth and slick by the boots of hundreds of thousands of hikers. With traction a necessity, consider a pair of trail runners, like the Brooks Cascadia 12 (Men’s/Women’s), or hiking shoes, such as the Oboz Sawtooth (Men’s/Women’s).
  • These trails can get especially slippery. If you’re unsure of your footwork, don’t want to roll an ankle, or simply hope to stay upright, pack a pair of trekking poles, such as the Black Diamond Trail Back poles (Men’s/Women’s) for added stability and confidence. Need some convincing? We’ve covered all the benefits of trekking poles here.
  • Loosely translated, “monadnock” is an old Abenaki word meaning “mountain standing alone,” and you’ll definitely notice the isolation with the ridgeline winds. Even on nice summer days, bring a windshirt, like the Outdoor Research Ferrosi (Men’s/Women’s), for blocking the breeze.
  • Pick up the Mount Monadnock Trail Map before you go to get psyched, bring it along just in case you make a wrong turn, and consult it after to start planning your next trip. Pumpelly Trail, perhaps?
  • Although Mount Monadnock is near a lot of places to grab a bite to eat or a beer after your hike, it’s not really close to any of them. Instead, pack a picnic in the Mountainsmith Deluxe Cooler Cube, and après at your leisure. Add a lightweight and packable Helinox Camp Chair for a better seat than you’ll find in any restaurant.
  • As you might suspect, the most popular trail on the world’s second-most climbed mountain can be a busy place. Beat the crowds and get an early start by hitting the trail before sunrise with the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp.

Cairn-with-summit

Tips

  • Before heading up the mountain, stop in the Ranger Station to get the latest on everything from weather to trail conditions.
  • To get excited before your climb, follow the Franklin Pierce University Mount Monadnock webcam.
  • Stay the night at Gilson Pond Campground. With its 35 campsites, plus five remote hike-in sites, why rush home?
  • No dogs are allowed in the park. So, if you were planning on bringing your pooch, you’ll have to make other plans.
  • If you worked up an appetite on the trails, treat yourself to a mountain of ice cream—their portions are best described as “generous”—from Kimball Farm in Jaffrey on your way home.
  • If you’re interested in exploring more of Southwestern New Hampshire, make the short drive to the Peterborough EMS Store and get some local knowledge on Monadnock’s lesser-known trails. Before heading home, stop for a pint at Harlow’s—the unofficial pub of Eastern Mountain Sports.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Monadnock recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


How to Purchase a Stand-Up Paddleboard

Getting the stand-up paddleboard that’s “right” for you can mean the difference between falling in love with the sport and having another expensive piece of equipment gathering dust in the garage. Since SUPs come in a variety of lengths, widths, and shapes, we’ve created this simple guide to demystify the board buying process. Read on for some helpful tips to find the one that’s ideal for you.

EMS-LAKE-PLACID-2711

What are your goals?

Before shopping for an SUP, consider how you intend to use it. Whether you’re using the board for touring, surfing, yoga, whitewater, or just family fun, knowing its intended use simplifies the process, as boards feature designs unique to each activity.

Not sure about your intended use? Consider an all-around board. They’re the perfect choice for someone who wants to do it all. Better yet, if you later decide that you want an activity-specific board, all-arounders are great to have in your quiver, as you can lend one to a paddling partner.

EMS---BIG-SUR---SUP--3895

Size and Shape Matter

Walk through the paddle shop at any EMS, and you’ll notice that some SUPs look very different from others. Some are long with ample deck space, while others are short and have an increased rocker. Here are some basic ways to understand the differences.

First, the longer a board is, the faster it will glide through the water, and the easier it will be to paddle in a straight line. Because of this, touring and racing SUPs tend to be longer. But, these are also less nimble, and for an activity like surfing, you’d want a shorter board.

Second, the wider a board gets, the more stable it becomes. Wider options are therefore popular with new paddlers, who are still building confidence balancing on the board, and with tall paddlers, due to their high center of gravity. Just be forewarned: The wider a board gets, the slower it moves through water.

Third, the larger the volume, the more weight an SUP supports and the more buoyant it is. Almost every manufacturer posts a weight limit for their boards, and it’s important to note. Just be sure to factor in not only paddler weight, but also everything you’ll carry on board. For example, will a child or dog be riding with you? What about gear? If you fail to account for these factors, you could find your SUP sinking below the water.

EMS---BIG-SUR--3562-SUP_Kayak_Paddle

Hull Shape

SUPs also have two different types of hulls: planing and displacement. Those with planing hulls, similar to the Surftech Universal CoreTech, look like a traditional surfboard and ride on top of the water. Planing-hull boards represent the majority stocked at EMS, and handle everything from surfing to all-around use.

Boards featuring displacement hulls, like the BIC Ace-Tec Wing, take their cues from kayaks. Particularly, they’re shaped to push through the water, rather than ride on top of it. Popular with those who want to tour or race, these SUPs are more efficient at moving through the water. Thus, you’ll get a faster speed and cover greater distances. As the main drawback, they are less maneuverable and playful than SUPs with planing hulls.

Some companies blend the two types—for example, the BIC Cross. These hybrids suit recreational paddlers, as they offer the speed and tracking of a displacement hull with the stability and playfulness of a planing board.

Material Matters

Stand-up paddleboards are constructed in three different ways—solid, soft top, and inflatable. Each method has its unique characteristics.

Borrowing from traditional surfboard construction, solid boards feature a foam core wrapped in fiberglass and epoxy resin. As the most common type of SUP, these deliver a fast and smooth ride when compared to other compositions. Because of their popularity, solid boards typically have the widest variety of available shapes and sizes. They even offer more material variations. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see wood and carbon fiber replace fiberglass in higher-end models.

Soft-top paddleboards, like the Perception Jetty, are a popular option for many first-time and recreational paddlers. Much like solid boards, these feature a foam core; however, it’s wrapped in soft fiberglass. Usually less expensive and more durable than solid boards, they provide a more comfortable platform. If you happen to fall, they also give you a better landing.

Inflatables, like the NRS Thrive , are a common alternative to solid boards. Inflatable stand-up paddleboards feel almost as rigid but are far less susceptible to dings and dents. Additionally, the design solves a few other issues posed by traditional boards, including portability and storage. Particularly, you can deflate and stash one in the trunk of your car for transporting, or tuck it into a closet when it’s not in use.

EMS-LAKE-PLACID-2693

Almost Fin-nished

Fin size and alignment also influence a board’s paddling characteristics. Today, a single fin is the most common configuration, and for fin adjustments in relation to performance, two simple rules apply. The first is, longer fins provide more straight-line stability, thus making them popular with newer paddlers. As such, shorter fins generally deliver more speed and better maneuverability. Secondly, the farther back you place the fin on your board, the more stability it will provide. Conversely, the closer the fin is positioned to the nose, the faster the SUP will be.

Many SUPs today are further manufactured with slots for side fins, also called thrusters. Although some paddlers will opt to use side fins for flat-water paddling, they increase your board’s resistance, thus making it slower, and are best left off.

Deck It Out

If the paddleboarding bug bites hard, you could find yourself spending a lot of time standing on your board. Although it’s not essential, a high-quality deck pad can go a long way toward your comfort. Especially for yoga, a full-length deck pad should be considered. In all cases, a deck pad also increases traction on your board, making it easier to stand on.

EMS---BIG-SUR--3722-SUP_Kayak_Paddle

What Else Do I Need?

You’ll need a few additional items before you head out.

Of primary importance, a paddle is essential if you want your SUP to move. In fact, having a good paddle is one of the best ways to increase your board’s performance. A quality adjustable paddle can move with you from board to board, and can be used as a loaner when you decide it’s time to upgrade.

Wearing a PFD isn’t just a good idea—it’s also the law. High-end personal flotation devices are designed to stay out of the way when you paddle, making them infinitely more comfortable than the life jackets of yore. Also gaining in popularity for paddleboarders are inflatable PFDs. These clever devices look like waist packs, deliver a barely-there feel, and can be inflated in the event of an emergency.

Lastly, get yourself a leash, so that you’ll stay connected to your board when you fall off. Nothing screams newbie more than swimming after a rogue paddleboard, and it would be a shame to see your new board float away.

 

Still not sure about what you want? Keep your eyes out for a demo in your area to try a few different boards. Better yet, schedule a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Kayak School to get some paddling pointers as you pick the brain of someone who makes a living on the water.


3 Great Early Season Mountain Bike Rides South of Boston

Spring can be a challenging time for mountain bikers. We’re anxious to resume riding, but unpredictable weather often leaves trails muddy and impassable. Thankfully, some popular destinations dry faster than others. So, if you have the need to ride but your local spot isn’t quite ready yet, check out these locations.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Trail of Tears

With sandy, dry soil and mild winters, Trail of Tears in Cape Cod’s West Barnstable is the perfect place for logging early-season mileage. Offering a 20-plus mile trail network on a large parcel of conservation land, it features fun, mostly fast, and flowing non-technical singletrack, with twists and turns through a classic Cape Cod forest. Riders will also come across occasional boulders to roll over and small rocks to jump off along many of the trails. Just be ready for the occasional short, steep hills, which often leave even the fittest riders gasping for breath at their crests.

As you cruise around Trail of Tears, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and forget you’re even on the Cape. The woods are immersive, and stopping at the observation deck at the top of the North Ridge Trail reinforces this, as no beaches, traffic, or roads are in sight. It’s almost as if you’re in the woods of Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

Of course, if you’re worried about getting lost, you shouldn’t be. NEMBA hosts rides on both Wednesday and Friday nights, allowing you to get a free tour. However, if you can’t make it, here’s a map. And, because Trail of Tears is the home turf of many Cape Cod NEMBA members, the trails are impeccably maintained, so you can let it rip.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Otis

Located a short drive over the Bourne Bridge, Otis is one of New England’s best early-season riding destinations. While nicknamed after its proximity to Otis Air National Guard Base, the spot is actually located within the Town of Falmouth’s conservation lands and the Frances A. Crane Wildlife Management Area, rather than on the base itself. And, if it weren’t for the hordes flocking to the Cape between late May and August, Otis could be a bonafide summer biking destination.

While very similar to Trail of Tears, Otis takes everything up a level. The singletrack is slightly rootier, rockier, and more challenging. More so, in riding up, over, and in between a series of drumlins, you’ll encounter a surprising amount of steep climbing that leaves many rethinking the Cape’s supposed flatness. Throughout the trail network, look for rock gardens, drops, and jumps, some of which add an extra layer of fun and may take a few tries to send cleanly. The cherry on the cake is the Gravity Trail, built in a natural half-pipe reminiscent of some of the classic trails found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Don’t leave without checking it out.

Since space is tight, Otis has a well-deserved reputation as a difficult place to navigate. Indeed, the trails twist and turn, almost on top of each other at times. Fortunately, Otis hugs Route 28, providing an easy landmark and a bailout back to the car. If you ever doubt your location, just head toward the sound of traffic or pedal west, and then, take Route 28 South. Of course, this is easier said than done. Did we mention these trails are twisty?

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Wompatuck

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, Massachusetts, is another great location. Built on land formerly occupied by the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex, it’s a bit closer to Greater Boston than the other two options and home to miles of fantastic mountain biking on single- and double-track.

Wompy has trails for riders of any ability. Ones around Prospect Hill are a must-do for those seeking out singletrack. From the park’s lower left quadrant, riders can take either a moderate (but steep) doubletrack or one of the four singletrack trails to the top. There, they can swoop back down the same fast and flowy terrain as it winds down the hill. Definitely worth checking out, the section between the S4 junction at the top of the hill and the S2 at the bottom offers some of the state’s longest switchback singletrack. Also, consider the descent between the S5, S7, and S10 junctions.

Wompatuck is full of surprises. As such, think about exploring the rest of the park’s trails. Around some corners, you’ll find abandoned military buildings dating back to the 1950s, many of which aspiring artists have spray-painted. Off to the sides, you may spot training sites, with ramps, jumps, and logs to play around on. And, near Wompy’s Visitor Center, you’ll find the Pump Track, an all-ages training course packed with berms, bumps, and jumps.

Although many of Wompatuck’s trail junctions are marked, the many intersecting trails make it easy to get disoriented. To plan a ride that sticks to the area’s singletrack, check out the Friends of Wompatuck’s interactive trail map. Then, keep it open as you ride to ensure you don’t get lost.

Do you have a favorite place to ride early in the season? If so, we’d love to hear about it! Leave your favorite early-season riding destination in the comments, so others can explore.


Why Should I Use Trekking Poles?

Improved efficiency, less wear and tear on joints, and increased safety are just a few of the reasons trekking poles almost always find their way onto gear lists like our “Top to Bottom: Gear to Hike the NH 48” roundup. If you’ve been on the fence about adding them to your kit, or you’re wondering why so many hikers you encounter are using them, here are 10 reasons why you should be reaching for your trekking poles as you head out the door.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Increased Stability

The Northeast is home to notoriously harsh terrain. No matter the season, hikers here encounter conditions ranging from snow to mud to bare rock—not to mention wet rocks and roots. Whether you’re heading up, down, or across, trekking poles allow for two additional points of contact with the ground, greatly increasing stability and traction.

2. Reduced Impact on Your Body

The act of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other in rough terrain while carrying a load (even just a daypack) murders knees, ankles, and feet. Trekking poles shift some of this burden onto a person’s shoulders and arms, reducing the pounding your lower body takes. Furthermore, they can reduce swelling of the hands, a common ailment for many hikers. Incorporating your arms into the activity increases blood flow and reduces fluid pooling in the hands.

3. Give Yourself a Push

Looking to increase your speed? Simply plant your poles and push with your arms. On steep uphills, they’ll take some of the weight off your legs, while on flat terrain, they’ll help propel you along. Even better, use your trekking poles like a metronome for getting your entire body to act in unison for relaxed breathing and a more consistent (and efficient) pace.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4. Safer Stream Crossings

Between snow melt and spring showers, water crossings reach their peak in the spring. Trekking poles are essential for safe crossings on hikes like Owl’s Head, as they allow you to test the water’s depth, get a feel for the strength of the current, and, once you commit, help maintain your balance as you wade or rock hop across. And, if you do slip, those extra points of contact are usually the difference between a wet shoe and total immersion.

5. Test Out Terrain

Much like how you can gauge the depth of a stream crossing with trekking poles, you can also use them to test other types of terrain. From finding out just how deep that snowpack is to how frozen that alpine puddle is or even how deep that muddy section of trail is, trekking poles are perfect for probing into the unknown.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

6. Clear a Path

Whether you’re dealing with thorns growing into the trail, branches from blow-downs blocking it, or those “super-scary” spider webs hanging across it, trekking poles offer a convenient way to clear annoyances from your path.

7. First Aid Essential

When it comes to situations involving twisted ankles or broken bones, trekking poles are a valuable supplement to your first aid kit. Serving as everything from a crutch to a splint, they come in handy when things go wrong.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Trekking Poles and Shelter

Thanks to the desire of backpackers to lighten their loads, many shelters (like the Black Diamond Mega Light Tarp) and tents now offer a fast pitching option that ditches traditional poles and instead uses your trekking poles to save weight.

9. They’re Collapsible, Too

Most trekking poles are collapsible. So, if you encounter some steep, rocky terrain that requires free hands, just break the poles down, and stow them on the side of your pack. Try the same thing if you’re on terrain that’s conducive to running and that you absolutely want to be done with—for example, the flat section on the way out from The Bonds.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

10. Try Just One

If two is too many, try using just one pole. Switch it from hand to hand while hiking to get the same stability, all with less weight and one fewer tool to manage. We especially like the one-pole trick on outings where we’ll also be carrying an ice axe (like the Lion Head Winter Route); on trail runs that are mostly runnable but have a tricky steep descent (like the descent from South Twin to the Galehead Hut); or in situations where we’ll be transitioning from hiking to climbing and then back (like Henderson Ridge).

Do you have another use for trekking poles that we didn’t list? If so, leave your suggestion in the comments.


3 New Hampshire 4,000-Footers That Everyone Avoids

It’s too long, it’s too far out of the way, it’s too flat, and it’s too hard are just a few of the reasons people give when somebody suggests hiking Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, or Mount Cabot. But, hikers putting off these three New Hampshire 4,000-footers are missing out. Here’s what to tell your friends next time they start making excuses for skipping these hidden gems.

Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing a stream en route to Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s too long!

We get it. Owl’s Head and Isolation are long hikes. Indeed, the normal route on Owl’s Head—the Lincoln Woods Trail to the Franconia Falls Trail to the Lincoln Brook Trail and up Owl’s Head Path—is roughly 18 miles long, while Isolation involves an approximately 14.5-mile round trip via the Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, and Davis Path.

But, don’t let the length of these hikes deter you. Isolation’s summit rewards hikers with some of the White Mountains’ best views. Seriously, please forgive us for not including Isolation in this piece. Although the same can’t be said for the tree-enclosed summit of Owl’s Head, the hike itself takes you into the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, one of the coolest places in the White Mountains. Moreover, the majority of the terrain isn’t very challenging, so you’ll barely notice the effort—at least until you begin climbing the Owl’s Head slide.

Looking north from near Cabot's summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland
Looking north from near Cabot’s summit. | Credit: Douglas Martland

It’s too far away!

At approximately 10 miles round trip, the hike up and down Cabot seems “too long.” So, expect your buddy instead to claim that it’s too far out of the way—and they’ll have a good point. Cabot is out of the way, with the normal route beginning at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, about 30 minutes north of Berlin. It’s a long way, especially for out-of-staters.

But, here’s the thing. The drive deters everybody else as well, so you won’t encounter the hordes typically on the Whites’ most popular mountains. Also, Cabot is a great hike, weaving through a hardwood forest to a ridgeline with intermittent views of northern New Hampshire’s mountains.

Nearing Owl Head's mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Nearing Owl Head’s mediocre summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

But, you only get one summit

Since Cabot, Owl’s Head, and Isolation stand alone, they’re difficult to combine with other peaks. So, we totally get it if your Type-A peakbagging buddy throws some shade on your suggestion to hike one of these summits. But, here’s where you need to remind your buddy to look at a map. The Presidential Traverse, Pemi Loop, and Franconia Ridge aren’t the only routes that link multiple peaks.

Seeing that Cabot is a half-day outing for many, you can easily broaden the loop to add two peaks from the New Hampshire Hundred Highest List: the Bulge and the Horn. Another option is a point-to-point hike traversing Cabot and Waumbek, with a car stashed at the end for a quad-busting, 16-mile day with almost 5,000 feet of climbing. For the even more ambitious, there’s the Kilkenny Ridge Traverse, which extends the Cabot-Waumbek traverse another 11 miles north.

Options abound on Isolation and Owl’s Head, too. One interesting combination and big-mileage day can be found by summiting Isolation and then using the Davis Path to link up with the Southern Presidentials near Lake of the Clouds. After Isolation, much of the hike is above treeline with spectacular views. For Owl’s Head, consider making it part of a Pemi Traverse, beginning at Lincoln Woods, climbing Owl’s Head, and then exiting up and over Garfield.

Get creative, and you’ll discover a bunch of other interesting ways to tick these peaks off with other mountains. And, if all that doesn’t work, remind your buddy that hiking all three is essential to finishing all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers and becoming a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Four Thousand Footer Club.

Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck
Mount Washington from Isolation. | Credit: Tim Peck

They’re too flat

If you’re like us, when thoughts turn to peakbagging, images of stout climbs and exposed ridges spring to mind—not long grinds along flat trails through the forest, which is something that both Owl’s Head and Isolation have plenty of.

Of course, if you’re looking for bragging rights, those long, flat sections allow you to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. For example, Owl’s Head is just a few miles shorter than a Presidential Traverse, but can be done in a half-day by a fit hiker. Start early on a summer day, and you can be at an afternoon BBQ later, impressing your friends with the fact that you did an 18-mile hike and summited a 4,000-footer that morning.

Like Owl’s Head, most ascents of Isolation also start on the Rocky Branch Trail, an old logging road. Offering just under four miles of moderately graded terrain, the Rocky Branch Trail connects with the Isolation Trail for another relatively gentle two and a half miles. Unlike Owl’s Head, the terrain is less-conducive to moving fast. However, the climb’s gradualness allows hikers to spend an unusually long amount of time in various zones—you can almost feel the changes as you move up the mountain—and delivers a unique experience not found on many other 4,000-footers.

Franconia Ridge from Owl Head's slide. | Credit: Tim Peck
Franconia Ridge from the Owl Head’s slide. | Credit: Tim Peck

 

They’re just too hard!

Although the common routes to the summits of Owl’s Head, Mount Isolation, and Mount Cabot are far from the Whites’ most challenging, they are not without their difficulties. On Owl’s Head, hikers face a few formidable water crossings that stymie even experienced peakbaggers, and its slide’s reputation for being steep and loose is well deserved.

Likewise, hikers heading to Mount Isolation’s summit will encounter numerous water crossings. If you’re lucky enough to survive them with dry feet, conditions on the Isolation Trail typically vary between wet and muddy. Many hikers are left hoping that summit conditions will allow them to dry their shoes off for a few minutes while they take in the expansive view from the heart of the Dry River Wilderness (ironic, we know).

Finally, although Cabot presents comparatively lesser difficulties, watch for your friends to claim “It’s too hard to do in a day” because the drive is so long. If the drive really is too much to do in a day from where you live, you can turn Cabot into an overnight by staying at Cabot Cabin, 0.4 miles from the summit. And, if glamping is more your style, there’s car camping (free with your White Mountain Pass) right near the Fish Hatchery.

Have you avoided a mountain due to its reputation, only to eventually discover that you loved it? If so, tell us about it in the comments.


10 Post-Ride Rituals to Keep Your Bike Clean

If you’re like us, washing your bike is the last thing you want to do after a mountain bike ride. However, allowing mud to accumulate on the frame, chain, and shocks is a great way to ensure that your bike will spend more days in the shop than on the trail. So, after your next adventure, follow these simple steps to keep your bike clean during mud season and beyond.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Rinse

Begin by rinsing off the worst and most obvious mud. Start from the top and work your way down, using a gentle spray. High pressure may blow dirt into places you don’t want it, or blow grease out of spots that need it. In the process, make sure to hit the usual mud-collecting culprits: the underside of the frame, seat, and steerer tube of the fork.

2. Degrease

After the initial rinse, apply a degreaser like Pedro’s Oranj Peelz Citrus Degreaser to your chainring(s), cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. For the pro look, apply it using a small paintbrush to ensure total coverage.

Pro Tip: Cut an old water bottle in half, and fill it with degreaser. When it’s time to work on your bike, stick it in the bike’s bottle cage, get your brush, and everything you need to clean your drivetrain is right in front of you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Soap

While you let the degreaser soak in, cover the rest of your ride (except the disc brake rotors and pads) in a bike-specific soap, designed for use on all types of bikes. As such, you can scrub away with the confidence that it won’t harm the frame, components, or accessories and, equally important, will wash away grease from critical parts.

4. Scrub

After a few minutes of soaking, dig out a stiff-bristled brush and scrub your drivetrain—specifically, the front chainring(s), rear cassette, chain, and jockey wheels. Next, gently scrub the rest of your bike with a sponge (automotive sponges work great) and warm water, which does a much better job at cutting through grime than cold water. If your bike has a suspension, take special care to wipe any dirt from the fork’s stanchions and the rear shock’s shaft. If you don’t know, dirt can get dragged into the suspension when it moves in travel.

When you’re done with all this, do one more quick rinse to ensure you’ve gotten all the soap off the bike.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Extreme Clean

If you had a particularly muddy ride, skipped a few post-ride baths, or simply want to give your ride a pro-level cleaning, then put it in a bike stand and remove the front and rear wheels. With the wheels off, it’s easier to clean all the hard-to-get places, and you can really scrub the rear cassette when it’s off the bike.

Even better, spend a few dollars on a chain keeper. A chain keeper makes cleaning and lubing your bike’s chain easy, and saves your drivetrain from unnecessary issues caused by back pedaling.

6. Dry It

You towel off when you get out of the shower, right? Give your bike the same courtesy, and wipe it down after its bath. This helps remove any dirt you may have missed, and prevents water from corroding metal parts or leaking into bearings and pivots. To be extra thorough, give your bike a couple of bounces to shake free any water hiding in its nooks and crannies.

Next, grab a rag and wrap it around your bike’s chain while pedaling backward (or pedaling forward, if you’re using a chain keeper). This removes moisture from the chain and helps keep it clean by getting rid of any dirt and debris missed in the initial cleaning.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Lube Up

To prevent rusting and minimize wear on your chainring and cassette, lube the chain. We prefer drip-on-style lubes as opposed to sprays, because they make it easier to get the solution on the chain and keep it off your bike’s frame and disc brake rotors. Drip the lube on the chain just before the lower jockey wheel, spinning the pedals backward (again, forward if using a chain keeper) until the chain is covered. After the chain is lubed, wipe off any excess with a rag, as it can collect dust and dirt and do more harm than good.

While some people lube the chain before their rides, we prefer doing it during the post-ride cleaning. This way, the lubricant has an opportunity to soak into the individual chain links. It also makes it less likely that your chain will collect dust and dirt during the ride.

Pro tip: While you’re lubing up the drivetrain, give your clip-in pedals a few drops of a dry lube, like WD-40 Bike Dry Lube, to keep them clicking and releasing smoothly all season.

8. Look It Over

With your bike clean, give it a quick visual inspection—especially if you’ve crashed—to make sure the frame has no cracks or, in the case of carbon, deep scratches or gouges. If you encounter any cracks in the metal or damage to the carbon, have a pro check it out right away, as failure can be dangerous.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. Gear Up For the Next Ride

To ensure that your next ride has no surprises, finish up by giving everything a once-over. Cycle through the gears to make sure the bike is shifting well and to work in the lube. Check your brakes to make sure they’re functioning, not rubbing. Spin your wheels to make sure they are still true. If you’re concerned about anything your inspection revealed, bring it into one of Eastern Mountain Sports’ bike shops.

10. Start Planning

With your bike put away clean and in working order, there’s nothing left to do but sit back and plan your next ride. Maybe check out the riding around Boston’s South Shore? And, if you haven’t ridden yet this season, make sure to get some additional pre-season tips.

 

Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping your bike clean during spring rides? If so, leave them in the comments section.


Alpha Guide: Mount Mansfield

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Hike up Vermont’s tallest peak, scramble along an alpine ridge, and bask in 360-degree views, all on an ascent of Mount Mansfield via a section of the Long Trail, the U.S.’s oldest long-distance hiking trail.

The Green Mountain State delivers on this must-do hike up one of the state’s five 4,000-footers. A roughly five-mile out-and-back trip along Vermont’s most-famous footpath, the Long Trail, gains 3,000 feet in elevation on the way to the state’s highest peak. The journey begins by wandering through an idyllic hardwood forest, and eventually earns an extraordinary alpine ridge that delivers you to a rocky New England summit—one of only three places in the state to find alpine tundra. As you take in the views of Lake Champlain, mountain ranges in three states (the Greens, the Whites, and the Adirondacks), and, to the north, Canada, you’ll quickly discover what the Von Trapps meant when they sang, “The hills are alive…”

Quick Facts

Distance: 5 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: Half day
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: https://bit.ly/2GxSR87 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

When viewed at a distance, Mansfield’s elongated ridgeline resembles a human head, with the various high points named for facial features: the Forehead, Nose, Chin, and Adam’s Apple. The most straightforward way to get to the true summit, the Chin, follows the Long Trail South’s white rectangular blazes beginning on Mountain Road (Route 108).

From Burlington, take Route 89 south to exit 10 for VT-100 South towards Waterbury US-2. Follow this a short way, before turning on VT-100 North. Continue on VT-100 North for just under 10 miles, and take a left on VT-108 North/Mountain Road. After you drive approximately nine miles, the parking lot will be on your right.

If you’re coming from Stowe, there’s a small parking lot on the left side of Route 108, just after Stowe Mountain Resort. Since the lot is small and easy to miss, pay close attention after the resort. If you begin driving uphill on Route 108 into Smugglers’ Notch, turn around; you’ve gone too far.

Once you’ve geared up, walk on Route 108 back toward Stowe Mountain Resort. The trail starts at a break in the trees (44.537126, -72.790910) about 50 yards down the road. Look for an information board and trail marker a short way into the woods.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Getting Started

The hike begins on relatively smooth trail through a hardwood forest. It is well marked and easy to follow. It also starts climbing almost immediately, which is no surprise, considering the trail gains 3,000 feet in a little over two miles and occasionally crosses some small streams.

Around the one-mile mark, the trail becomes rockier, climbing up short, slabby sections. The footing here is not quite as good, but nothing out of the ordinary for anybody who’s climbed some of the Northeast’s 4,000-footers. Trekking poles are helpful.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Taft Lodge

Just past the 1.5-mile mark is the Taft Lodge (44.542551, -72809568), the oldest hut on Vermont’s Long Trail. For a moderate fee, hikers can stay here overnight either on the way to the summit or as part of a longer outing. The lodge, built in the 1920s and recently renovated, sleeps up to 24 and has outhouses and a water source nearby.

Whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking, Taft Lodge is on Vermont’s Register of Historic Places and worth visiting, even if only to have a snack. And, because the lodge is near treeline, it’s also a great place to assess whether you’ll need to add a layer (or two).

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline Push

From Taft Lodge, stay on the Long Trail South and continue climbing toward the ridgeline. The trail above the lodge remains rocky, offering hikers regular glimpses of Mansfield’s ridgeline through the thinning tree cover. There are also a few spots to turn around and look south, with Stowe in the foreground and the Green Mountains in the distance. If you’re out of breath due to the elevation gain, spend a few moments trying to spot the unmistakable double-bumped alpine ridgeline of Camel’s Hump, another of Vermont’s classic alpine summits.

In one-third of a mile, the Long Trail South reaches the col between the Chin (the true summit) and the Adam’s Apple. Here, the Hell Brook Trail and the Adam’s Apple Trail join the Long Trail. Since the junction (44.545639, -72.811772) is moderately sheltered, it’s a great spot to add an extra layer before popping further above treeline.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Ridgeline

From the junction, the Long Trail South makes a sharp left, climbing the ridge toward Mansfield’s proper summit, the Chin. This section is open and exposed to the elements. If wind is coming from the west, this will be the first time you feel it.

Near the top of the summit cone, there are a few short-but-exposed sections that require scrambling and careful footwork. As you ascend, try to memorize the hand and foot holds for the descent.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Summit

Mansfield’s summit is a large, flat alpine area that offers plenty of room to spread out. So, find a rock, sit back, and enjoy the broad, open summit (44.5430453, -72.815436) and incredible 360-degree views. Looking west, hikers can see Burlington and Lake Champlain, with New York’s Adirondacks in the distance. To the north is Canada! In the distance to the east are New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Finally, the Green Mountains spill out to the south.

Mount Mansfield is home to 200 acres of alpine tundra, and is one of only three places in the state of Vermont where it is found (Camel’s Hump and Mount Abraham being the other two). In addition to its rarity, alpine tundra is also very fragile and susceptible to human impact. Because of this, please stay on the rocks and in the designated paths when traveling above treeline.

Whenever you can pull yourself away from the summit, just retrace your steps to your car, first by taking the Long Trail North to the clearing. Use particular caution on the exposed portions of the ridge, as they can be harder during the descent. Once you’re back at the junction, continue on the Long Trail to Route 108.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Bonus Points

Hikers not ready to return to their car can make a short (five- to 10-minute) detour from the col to the Adam’s Apple (44.546573, -72.810353). The Adam’s Apple Trail offers great views of the Chin and Mansfield’s other features and is usually much less crowded than the Chin. Since it is also slightly less exposed to the weather, it’s a worthwhile objective if conditions put the true summit out of reach.

A longer detour—and one that requires pre-trip car shuttling or a short road march at the end— is to continue on the Long Trail South from the Chin, crossing all of Mansfield’s features. Over 1.5 miles of ridgeline hiking, you’ll pass the Lower Lip, the Upper Lip, the Mount Mansfield Peak Visitor Center, the parking lot for the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, and, finally, the Nose. From the Nose, hikers can head back to the Visitor Center, and then descend a short way on the Toll Road to link up with Haselton Trail, which ends at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort. Alternately, arrange to have somebody pick you up at the top of the Toll Road.

Pro Tip: If you do decide to hike the full ridgeline and the weather turns, the Cliff Trail is an early option for bailing out. Connecting with the Long Trail just before the Lower Lip, it descends to Stowe’s Cliff House, near the top of Stowe’s Gondola SkyRide. From there, hikers can follow a marked access road or ski trails to the base area.


Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

The Kit

  • Traction is at a premium on the exposed sections of Mansfield’s ridgeline. The Asolo Fugitive (Men’s) and Revert (Women’s) are longtime favorites.
  • Lightweight and packable, a windshirt is ideal for any trip above treeline. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s) is perfect for handling the ridgeline’s variable conditions, and much like Vermont’s craft brews, it has developed a cult-like following over the years.
  • A puffy coat is great for cool mornings and cold summits, and is handy to have in case of an emergency. The EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch is a great winter midlayer that’s breathable enough to be worth stuffing in your pack for cool spring and summer days.
  • One minute it’s sunny, and the next, you’re stuck in a downpour. Green Mountain weather can change in a heartbeat, so be ready with the EMS Thunderhead, a reliable and affordable way to ensure you stay dry on your summit bid.
  • In the spirit of the state of Vermont, consider a pair of locally sourced socks from Darn Tough, made in nearby Northfield. Living up to their name, these socks come with a lifetime guarantee.

Credit: Doug Martland
Credit: Doug Martland

Keys to the Trip 

  • Depending on the season, you might encounter a Green Mountain Club caretaker at the Taft Lodge. They’re all super nice and great resources for trail information.
  • Vermont takes sustainability seriously when it comes to its trails, so get out before the snow melts, or wait until Memorial Day weekend to climb this ultra-classic mountain.
  • Celebrate a successful summit day at Doc Ponds in Stowe. The bar is packed with Vermont’s best beers (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Foley Brothers, just to name a few), and the homemade onion dip with housemade BBQ chips is not to be missed.
  • Vermont’s repuation for great beer is well deserved. Since you’re so close, Alchemist Beer’s brewery in Stowe is a must-visit. And, don’t forget to bring your cooler, in case you decide to pick up some souvenirs to bring home!
  • If you’re spending the weekend exploring Vermont, make sure to check out our guides to Exploring Burlington Like a Local and hiking Camel’s Hump.
  • If you’re looking for a great place to camp, the Smugglers’ Notch State Park is just a few minutes away from Stowe Mountain Resort. Sites book well in advance for popular weekends, so make your reservations early.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked Mount Mansfield recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!


9 Tips for Taking Your Climbing from the Gym to the Crag

With ropes hung, routes marked, and a trained staff on hand to ensure safety, the rock gym is a great place to learn how to climb. But, pulling on plastic just isn’t the same as climbing on real rock, and many climbers eventually look to expand their horizons to local crags. If you’re considering taking your climbing outside this year but aren’t quite sure where to start, here are some things you need to know.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Pick Your Discipline, Then Get the Gear

Bouldering and top-roping are the main options for most new-to-the-outdoors climbers. Both styles involve some common gear, namely shoes and chalk, but also require some items specific to the activity. Thus, deciding on a style is an important initial step.

Bouldering is a popular way for gym climbers to transition outdoors, because it doesn’t require knowledge about anchor building or belaying. When bouldering, climbers use a crash pad, rather than a rope, to protect themselves when they fall. Bouldering crash pads come in a variety of sizes and styles, and it’s not uncommon to use multiple ones to protect your climb. Although bouldering requires less technical knowledge, the physical climbing encountered is often more difficult than what’s found on top-rope routes.

Climbers who have been top-roping in the gym can replicate that experience outside if they know how to build anchors and have the gear required to do so. The specific gear will vary between locations, but a static line, a few slings, a cordelette, and a handful of locking carabiners—larger carabiners like the Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate are great—will usually do the trick at areas with first-timer friendly setups. In addition to anchor-building gear, invest in a belay device, your own climbing rope, and a harness, if you’ve been relying on a gym rental. Top-ropers should also add a helmet to their kit, as time spent below a cliff exposes you to the threat of something being knocked down on you.

Some climbers who lead in the gym may also want to take the sharp end their first time climbing outside. For those looking to jump right into sport climbing, check out our sport climbing gear list.

2. Get the Guidebook

Doing some research before picking a destination saves a lot of time and aggravation. For example, does the area you’re planning on visiting have fixed anchors, or will you have to build your own? Guidebooks are a valuable resource for learning about what to expect at a climbing area, and offer up information on everything from where to park to what gear to bring. Although guidebooks are helpful, an internet search lets you broaden your knowledge of an area and get up-to-date information about access and conditions.

Pro Tip: If it’s your first time out, avoid routes that the guidebook says require trad gear (camming units and nuts) for building the top-rope anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Pick the Right Location

Choosing the right location for your first time climbing outside can make the difference between success and frustration. Boulderers will want to find spots with a wide variety of problems and safe landings. A few popular destinations for newer boulderers in the Northeast are Hammond Pond, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts; Lincoln Woods, a short drive from Providence, Rhode Island; and Pawtuckaway State Park, about 30 minutes from Manchester, New Hampshire. Fellow gym climbers can also be a great resource, so don’t hesitate to ask around the gym’s bouldering cave about nearby areas to visit.

New outdoor climbers looking to top-rope should seek out sites with easy setups. Ideally, the location will have a diverse grouping of climbs, easy access to the cliff top, and simple anchoring solutions. Greater Boston has a plethora of excellent crags for first-time top-ropers, including Hammond Pond, Quincy Quarries, Rattlesnake Rocks, College Rock, and Crow Hill. So, too, does Connecticut, with Ragged Mountain being a popular destination.

Pro Tip: A 75- to 100-foot static line is a great solution for when the guidebook recommends bringing “long slings” for top-rope anchors.

_W0A9226

4. Partner Up

No matter if you’re bouldering or top-roping, a good climbing partner is critical. Although bouldering can be a solitary sport, it’s much easier and safer (and more fun!) with a partner. A good bouldering partner spots you when you fall and moves the pads underneath you as you climb. They also are great for helping you decipher moves and keeping the stoke high.

A top-roping partner is essential, as they will literally be holding your life in their hands while belaying. In a perfect world, a new outdoor climber’s partner will have more experience and can serve as a mentor through the transition.

5. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High

Although gym and outdoor climbing have many similarities, the transition may be challenging. For instance, the grades are harder. So, even if you’ve sent all the “hard stuff” indoors, don’t plan on crushing your first day on real rock. You’ll also need to re-train the way you think. Outdoors, the routes aren’t marked with brightly colored tape and may be difficult to follow. In addition, real rock holds may be hidden and may be greatly different from what you’ve encountered at the gym. Along with these points, indoor climbers often start to learn a gym’s holds. While the gym may change specific routes, climbers have likely gotten familiar with approaching particular holds.

6. If You’re Climbing on a Rope, Learn Some Basic Skills

If you’re going to be climbing on a rope, get familiar with some basic skills. Even something that you’ve been doing in the gym, like belaying, can be complicated outside due to hazards like rocks, uneven ground, and roots. Furthermore, if a climber is heavier than the belayer, the use of a ground anchor might be necessary. Speaking of belays, if you had to execute a belay escape, could you? To prepare, spend a few minutes at the end of each gym session to practice these skills before going outside.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

7. Hit the Books (and Not the Guidebook)

Before heading to the crag, take a moment to hit the books, and brush up on the techniques and systems needed for outdoor climbing. A Falcon Guide: Toproping is one of many great books available to new outdoor climbers. For climbers interested in learning to advance their systems, in addition to their skills, to the next level, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills covers everything from basic to advanced topics in all climbing genres.

8. Safety is Critical

Whether you’re climbing inside or outside, the sport is dangerous. But, the outdoors has far more hazards to manage. Here are a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Close your top-rope system by tying a knot at the end of your rope. That way, you can’t lower the climber off the end.
  • Always be mindful about where the cliff edge is, especially when you’re setting up a top-rope anchor. Anchoring yourself in while building your anchor is a great way to stay safe.
  • Rocks break and nearby parties sometimes knock stuff off while they’re setting up. Wear your helmet even when you’re not the one climbing to protect your head.
  • Boulderers should scout the descent and be comfortable with it before committing to the climb.
  • For boulderers, falling is almost as important of a skill as climbing. Practice correctly falling—ideally, with slightly bent legs to absorb impact, and avoid leading with your hands to protect your shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers—and spend some time identifying safe landing zones before you head up.

_Y7A8629

9. Take a Lesson

If you’re interested in getting outside but don’t feel confident doing it yourself, sign up for a lesson with the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. In no time at all, the Climbing School’s AMGA-accredited guides will have you familiar with the fundamentals of building a top-rope anchor and mitigating outdoor climbing hazards.

Can you think of any other gym-to-crag tips? Share them in the comments!


Don't Be a Fool. Stop Doing These 10 Things While Climbing

Every year, we celebrate April 1st with practical jokes and hoaxes. But, if you’re practicing the following climbing habits, the joke’s on you. Here’s a list of 10 safety tips for you to employ this year, so that you’re not climbing like a fool.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. The end is near

It seems every year there’s another story about a climber making the foolish, dangerous, and potentially deadly mistake of rappelling off the end of their rope. Easily avoid this imprudent error by tying stopper knots at the ends or otherwise closing the system before you rappel.

2. Reckless rappelling

In addition to stopper knots, learning the right way to rappel can prevent you from looking like a fool. Start by extending your rappel device and using a third-hand back-up. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Here’s a good video from the AMGA showing the whole process.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Don’t lower your guard

These days, both sport climbs and ropes come in a wide variety of lengths, increasing the odds of making the misguided mistake of lowering your partner off the end. Make sure the joke isn’t on you by tying a stopper knot on the free end before you start climbing.

4. Crack jokes—not your head

Whether it’s falling debris from above or an impact during a fall, your head is exposed to all sorts of danger when you go rock climbing. Considering that helmets have gotten increasingly light and comfortable, in addition to protecting you from a potential head injury, you’d have to be a fool not to wear one at the crag.

Rapping-Lost-in-the-Sun

5. Does the trick every time

Sometimes, the oldest tricks work best. For example, the tried-and-true act of checking to make sure the climber’s knot is tied correctly and the belay is rigged properly before you leave the ground is an excellent way to avoid a joke that falls flat.

6. Aging antics

While some old tricks work great at the crag, old gear certainly doesn’t. We get it—climbing gear is expensive. But, risking serious harm or death over the cost of a sling, harness, or rope is more than foolish; it’s dumb. Learn about your gear’s lifespan and replace it accordingly. Not sure where to start? Check out our goEast article “When Should I Retire My Gear?”  

7. Cleaning anchors is no joke

A potentially catastrophic mistake commonly seen at the crag is climber-belayer miscommunication when cleaning anchors. Before hastily heading up a route, confirm your course of action with your belayer, and stick to the plan. Even better, stop being a clown, and learn the right way to clean an anchor.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Buffoonery at the belay

There’s plenty of time for tomfoolery at the end of the day, and the real trick is getting everyone home safely. Since the belayer literally holds the life of the climber in their hands, all of the attention should be focused on them—not on clowning around at the base of the climb.

9. Don’t be a one-liner

Driving to the crag alone is awesome…April Fools! Don’t do this—it’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and most crag parking lots have a limited capacity. Try carpooling, even if it’s only for part of your drive. While you’re at it, check out these outdoor podcasts to keep the drive from getting monotonous.

10. The price of the put-on

Thinking that access, fixed gear, and keeping the crag clean just happen is the pinnacle of buffoonery. Consider donating to the Access Fund, or a local climbing association, like the Rumney Climbers Association or the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition. Better yet, volunteer for a cleanup day, or perform the ultimate stunt by practicing Leave No Trace.

 

Do you have a good tip to avoid being the crag jester? If so, we want to hear it! Leave it in the comments below.