10 Obvious Mistakes Every New Climber Makes

Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Ever new climber makes some simple, avoidable mistakes when they begin their climbing career. Whether you’re tackling head-high boulders or massive multi-pitch routes, keep reading so that you can avoid these all-too-common issues.

1. Not breathing

Breathing should come naturally to climbers—after all, we spend our lives doing it. However, it’s common for climbers to hold their breath on challenging moves. Failure to breathe inhibits clear thinking, resulting in poor decision making and route finding. Additionally, shallow breathing or holding your breath increases the dreaded “pump,” allowing lactic acid to accumulate in your muscles. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution: Practice smooth, easy breathing while climbing casual routes and take care to continue it when climbing more difficult moves.

2. Just Looking Up

The vast majority of climbs start at the bottom and end at the top, so it makes sense that climbers are inclined to look up. However, it’s important when deciphering a route to look all around for holds, not simply up for the next handhold. Climbers who don’t look down may miss key footholds, important rests, and can overstrain their fingers and arms. The legs contain your largest muscles, put them to work!

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3. Climbing with bent arms

Bent arms and engaged muscles make holds feel larger and grips more powerful to climbers, which is why so many climbers grab holds this way. Unfortunately, climbing with bent arms puts additional strain on a climber’s muscles, leading to faster fatigue and failure on a route. Practice climbing with straight arms to distribute the effort of climbing from your muscles to your skeleton. An added bonus of climbing with straight arms is that it makes climbers engage their legs (and the big muscles found there) more often.

4. Not checking knots

Thanks in part to rock gyms and sport crags, it’s easy to fit a lot of climbing into a condensed time which has led to complacency in the basic tenets of climbing safety. Before leaving the ground, you and your partner should check to ensure the climber is tied into the rope correctly and the belayer has properly rigged their device (and has their device secured with a locked carabiner). Additionally, tying a knot in the other end of the rope can ensure that a climber isn’t lowered off the end, an increasingly common accident.

5. Not paying attention to your surroundings

From walking under boulderers to belaying in rock fall zones to wandering over the rope of a person belaying, climbers can be careless—especially considering the ever-present dangers presented by the sport. Think about where you’re going and what you’re doing and be aware of the potential hazards surrounding you, whether it’s a cliff edge or another climber.

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6. Not wearing a helmet

Why are so many rope climbers going helmetless? As helmets continue to get lighter, more comfortable, and better looking, there is no excuse not to wear one. Top-ropers are among the worst offenders, even though they’re vulnerable to rocks and debris knocked down by the rope and anchor located above them, as well as by other climbers. So too are sport climbers, who often claim the steepness of the routes negates the risk of rockfall. But the fact is that most mortals aren’t climbing walls that steep and sport climbers are still in danger of being flipped upside down during a fall and banging their head against the wall.

7. Putting the the rope over your shoulder before the first clip

There’s no logical reason for this pervasive trend. For one thing, there’s no tension in the system so pulling up the rope should be easy. And if you think the rope interferes with your footwork, you’re in big trouble on the rest of the climb. Finally, hanging the rope over your shoulder increases the odds of backclipping, meaning your “solution” just created a real problem. If you’re really concerned about clipping the first bolt quickly, get a stick clip.

8. Standing on the back of your shoes while belaying

This is an all-too-common mistake. Rock shoes are inherently uncomfortable, so it’s understandable that climbers seek relief from them by freeing their heels. However, standing on the heels of your climbing shoes deforms the heel cups and negatively impacts the fit of your shoes. If your shoes get uncomfortable, take them all the way off your feet and give them a chance to relax and to allow the shoes—and your feet—a chance to dry out between burns. It’s really not that hard to take them off and switch over to your approach shoes. (Need some help getting the right fit? Check out our guide on How to Choose Climbing Shoes.)

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9. Carrying too much stuff

We see this common mistake everywhere from the climber bouldering with a harness to the traddie with a laminated belay card mixed into their rack. A good rule of thumb is to assess what gear you need before leaving the ground—making sure you bring only the necessities and leave everything else behind.

10. Not communicating early

Too many climbers communicate their intentions at inopportune moments. Think about it—how many times have you seen a new climber and an even newer belayer “discussing” a plan with a full pitch between them? Did you understand what they were saying? The easiest and best place to talk is when you’re standing on the ground next to each other. Before getting on a climb, communicate with your climbing partner what you need from them—whether it’s a spot or how you’re planning on approaching an anchor.

Got another tip for newer climbers? Share it in the comments.


Video: Deep Water Trailer

No ropes. No belay. Just water.


13 Things to Think About When Buying a Trad Rack

Building your first trad rack can feel overwhelming. There are so many choices, it’s a big cash outlay to buy all at once, and it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll need. If you’re in the market for a trad rack right now, here are some things to keep in mind.

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1. Know What You Need

The specific gear you’ll need to protect yourself on a route—the “rack”— varies from climb to climb. That said, a basic trad rack starts with three general components: stoppers, cams, and draws.

2. You Don’t Have to Buy Everything at Once

It’s fine to build your trad rack a few pieces at a time. Several nuts here, some discounted cams there and the expense bar won’t seem as high. Moreover, if you watch for when manufacturers introduce an updated model—like Black Diamond just did for its C4 cams—you can often find the older, perfectly good model on deep discount.

3. Try a Variety of Brands

While many established trad climbers are particular about the brand of their gear, what works best for them may not suit your needs. Before you commit to buying a full size run of cams or nuts, try out a variety of brands to find out what you like best.

4. Borrow

One way to get a feel for the various brands is to experiment with someone else’s gear. Next time you’re at the crag, grab pieces from friends’ racks and place a few of them. Are some easier for you to place than others? Even better, find someone you trust whose gear you can use regularly before committing to buying a rack yourself. This is one of the biggest advantages to finding a mentor.

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5. Where Are You Going?

Think about where you’ll use your rack. A standard desert rack is different than a standard rack for sending a classic like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. Do a little research (a few Google searches or prowling Mountain Project forums will suffice) about what is required for your area or desired climbing destinations.

6. Approach Secondhand Gear Cautiously

Don’t skimp. Avoid secondhand gear unless you know exactly how it was used and by whom—and even then, you should carefully inspect it (actually, you should inspect all gear, even newly purchased). While gear is expensive, if you intend to trad climb, pay your dues. Climbers get in trouble when they try to be cheap. Nothing is more valuable than your life.

7. Think About How Your Gear Overlaps

Understanding how various types of pieces cover overlapping sizes will allow you to build a more versatile and cost-effective rack. Tri-cams are key here. They can be placed passively like a nut or actively like a cam, allowing them to do double duty as your larger nuts and smaller cams. For this reason, Camp’s 0.5 Tri-Cam Evo is a staple of many a Northeast climber’s rack.

8. Get Good at Placing Nuts

Nuts are much less expensive than cams, which means you can purchase 4 to 5 of them for every cam. They also weigh a lot less, so you can carry 3 to 4 for every mid-sized cam, giving you a lot more options for placing gear and building anchors. Additionally, you won’t feel as bad if you have to leave a couple nuts as part of a bail anchor if you end up on a route that’s too hard for you.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

9. The Necessity of a Nut Tool

Yes, nuts are cheaper than cams—but leaving them behind on a climb because they got stuck can add up fast (and is poor form). Add a Black Diamond Nut Tool to the end of your rack for freeing passive protection, grabbing triggers on cams placed too deep, and popping celebratory beers at the end of the day. It won’t take long for the nut tool to start paying for itself.

10. Don’t Forget the Alpine Draws

A trad rack is more than just nuts and cams. The third critical component is the draws you’ll use to attach the gear to the rope. Sure, you can probably “get by” with your sport draws, but the first time you climb a wandering route, you’ll really appreciate how the extra extension of an alpine draw really helps cut down on rope drag.

11. What Goes Up Must Come Down

The shiny cams and nuts used to protect climbers as they move up the rock draw the majority the attention when building a trad rack; however, many traditional climbs in the Northeast require a climber to rappel. The addition of a simple autoblock to your rack is a great way to back up rappels and protect yourself on the descent.

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12. Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s natural to dream of owning a massive Yosemite rack and to have a gear room overflowing with cams, but seasoned trad climbers will tell you that the art of trad climbing is doing more with less. Trad gear is heavy and awkward to carry—learning how your gear works and being proficient at placing it allows climbers to carry less and climb more. The best way to do this is to find a rock (you don’t even need to be able to climb it) and begin placing as much gear as possible.

13. Check Your Head

Helmets (the Petzl Sirocco is a long-time favorite) might be passé for the bouldering, sport climbing, and top roping crowds (even if it shouldn’t be), but the potential for dropped gear and loose rock make it essential for trad climbers. After all, a climber’s best tool is their head (okay, and strong fingers).

 

Do you have a gear tip for new trad climbers that we missed? If so, leave it in the comments!


5 Big Projects That Could Improve Northeast Climbing

The Northeast is home to some of the best trad and sport climbing in the country, and the options continue to grow with new areas being developed. With this great privilege comes great responsibility, for all climbers, as our love for the sport can actually play a role in bringing about its demise. As the sport increases in popularity, it is becoming more likely that crags will face access issues due to landowner concerns or environmental deterioration. Luckily, there are dedicated organizations working to maintain our beloved crags, fighting to re-open long-lost places, and educate new climbers about how to climb in a sustainable way so we can all enjoy the rock for years to come. Here are some of the biggest projects improving Northeast climbing right now:

Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography
Credit: Anne Skidmore Photography

A Cooperative Climbing Gym in the Mount Washington Valley

New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley community has grumbled about the lack of a climbing gym in the area for years. During rainy days or over the long winter months, a local indoor climbing spot is a way to stay in shape and connected with friends. Instead, resident climbers have resigned themselves to driving 1.5 hours (and cussing all the way, one might imagine) to the nearest facility.

Eventually, Chelsea Kendrick and Jimmy Baxendell-Young had enough, and they’re now organizing their own cooperative gym in North Conway—the Mount Washington Valley Climbers’ Cooperative, or MWVCC. The local market is too small for a typical commercial operation, with a cumulative population of 20,000 people between the eight towns of Conway, Bartlett, Jackson, Madison, Eaton, Ossipee, Tamworth, and Fryeburg. They decided to engage the climbing community in creating a coop, to great success; The yet-to-exist gym already has over 75 paying members, well on its way to covering the cost of operations once it opens. The 2,000 square feet will provide bouldering and training, as well as a community gathering space. And because it is a cooperative, all members have a say into the direction of the project. If, say, enough people want to offer dry-tooling, it is in the cards for the future.

If you frequent the MWV for ice climbing or skiing in the winter, or hiking in the summer, and want to support the effort, consider becoming a member, donating, or joining their upcoming fundraising event on May 21.

Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist
Courtesy: Jeremy Gilchrist

Reopening Vermont’s Hardest Crag

Bolton Dome, just 30 minutes from Burlington, was once one of the most popular cliffs in Vermont, until it was closed in 1990 due to concerns from the private landowner. For decades, access was closed off to dozens of high-quality crack and sport climbs, including the region’s only 5.13 trad route and the state’s highest concentration of 5.12-s. Through it all, the Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT) maintained good standing with the land owners, and early last year the organization was able to purchase the area with help from the Access Fund, in what constitutes Access Fund’s largest Climbing Conservation Loan to date. There is plenty of work to be done: The loan must be paid back, a parking lot needs to be built, and various legal fees to be covered.

CRAG-VT had previously secured 5 other crags in Bolton, making the Dome the newest and most significant addition. Overall, the organization works to protect Vermont’s vulnerable climbing areas, build long-term relationships with landowners, and develop the areas with responsible stewardship. Now that Bolton is protected, there is a cornucopia of potential for new routes for climbers to enjoy for generations. You can support their effort by becoming a member, donating, or joining the Bolton Dome Launch Party! on May 18.

Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski
Courtesy: Brad Wenskoski

A Sport Crag for New York’s Capital Region

Opened in July of 2017, the Helderberg Escarpment at New York’s John Boyd Thacher State Park is the newest sport climbing haven in the Northeast, and only the third New York State Park to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others). Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the ‘Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north, and is much closer than Rumney, New Hampshire, for New Yorkers. The area services the massive population in New York’s Capital Region who were once stuck with long drives in many directions in order to climb.. There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′.

What makes the Thatcher Climbing Coalition’s approach special is that they spent 5 years negotiating a climbing management plan with the state in order to demonstrate commitment to success and long-term cooperation. So far, it’s been a rousing success and may serve as a model for partnerships between climbers and parks around New York, and the country. If you want to help make the Helderberg Escarpment into a premiere rock and ice climbing destination in the Northeast, you can become a member, buy a t-shirt, or volunteer to help establish new trails.

Credit: Robbie Shade
Credit: Robbie Shade

Keep the Northeast’s Premier Crag Pristine

Rumney’s wild popularity is also a cause of environmental damage, a common narrative for highly-trafficked climbing areas. The Rumney Climbers’ Association aims to prevent the high usage from diminishing the experience of the 38 cliffs by getting ahead of the issues, which include soil erosion, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsafe climbing conditions. “We are tackling the problem before it’s too big, because there is a tipping point [in these situations],” says Travis Rubury, a board member with the organization. This year, RCA and the Access Fund are performing stewardship projects at three of the most popular areas: Orange Crush, Meadows Crag, and the uber-accessible Parking Lot Wall. They will construct retaining walls, install stairs, and further secure the trails to assure they are sustainable for the long term.

Rumney has become an international draw, attracting the likes of Alex Megos in 2017 when he remarkably sent Jaws II in only three attempts. The route is one of only four 5.15s in the U.S., and the only one of its grade east of the Rocky Mountains. This world class area came about through a lot of hard work, much of it performed by the RCA since the early 90s. If you’d like to support their efforts, you can become a member, donate to the restoration efforts, volunteer, or join the American Alpine Club Rumney’ Craggin’ Classic later this year.

Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers' Coalition
Courtesy: Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition

Fixing the Parking Situation in Western Massachusetts

Farley Ledge has experienced its share of contestations over the decades, from being closed four times in the early 2000s to notorious bolt chopping. The situation remains precarious as most of the routes are on private land. “Climbing is unique in that it is resource-dependent. We need this cliff, we can’t [easily] have another. Not a lot of sports are so tied to topography,” notes Wayne Burleson, President of WMCC. While tensions have been soothed over the years, access is not assured. These days, the primary challenge is parking (be warned: Do not park on Route 2). The Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition purchased roadside land (with the help of Access Fund) in 2008 and opened a 20-space parking lot. They are exploring options for additional parking areas.

Farley has a certain mystique for two reasons: One, trad and sport routes are delightfully interspersed on the cliffs as the original developers maintained an ethic to not bolt what could be climbed traditionally. And two, you won’t find any information about the routes (and no guidebook, of course), the result of a policy agreement set up with landowners back in 2007. While this offers intrigue, it also makes it harder for the WMCC to educate climbers about local ethics and share the history, while eliminating a potential revenue stream to help fund future efforts. The coalition has been hard at work since 2000 and is one of the few areas where you don’t have to pay for access. If you want to support this important crag, become a member, donate, volunteer, and definitely don’t park on Route 2.


Video: The Lifer

Russ Clune is a cornerstone of Black Diamond history and an integral part of climbing’s humble beginnings in America in the Guks.


Newsflash: Dreaming of Adventure in 2019? The AAC Live Your Dream Grant Will Fund It

Who says climbing grants are only for first ascents or professionals? If you have a mountain goal to accomplish this year, the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream Grant could help you accomplish it, regardless of scale.

Founded in 2012, The Live Your Dream grant “was born from the idea that “the most important climbs out there are our own.” The program is designed to help every-day adventurers achieve personal progression and to support unforgettable experiences. In other words, the AAC wants you to pursue your goals, to be psyched to get out into the mountains, to grow, and to inspire yourself and others. There is no dream too big or too small.

Last year, the AAC awarded $72,150 to 158 individuals with a wide-range of objectives.

Grants are open to mountain folk of all ages, ability levels and climbing disciplines. Whether you’re looking to sport climb 5.11 by the end of the year, learn the trade of trad, attempt your first multi-pitch, summit mountains close to home or abroad, or attempt a trail running ultra, it’s all on the table as long as it pushes your abilities to the next level, whatever that may be.

To apply, submit your application online by March 31st. Submissions are reviewed at the regional level (Northeast, Southeast, Central, Rocky Mountain, Western, Northwestern, and a Ski/Snowboard Mountaineering focus) and winners will be announced in May.

When applying, make sure to hone in on the specificity of your goal: “The project must accurately demonstrate a progression in skills and experience and outline a specific obtainable yet personally difficult goal. The objective should be at the edge of your physical and technical ability level. However, your individual experience level should be appropriate for the proposed objective.”

For further advice on writing your application, 2015 winners, Ben Beck-Coon and Anthony Nguyen, have outlined tips on crafting a great proposal.

Courtesy: The American Alpine Club
Courtesy: The American Alpine Club

If you’re looking for inspiration, the following award winners have shared their epic experiences:

Established in 1902, the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) mission is to “support our shared passion for climbing and respect for the places we climb.” For years the AAC funded cutting-edge and highly technical ascents with the aim of advancing the possibilities of the sport. Yet these expeditions are at the fringe and often seem unrelatable. With the growth of climbing, the AAC (in partnership with The North Face) wanted to help more people enjoy the varied disciplines of the vertical world.

Sure, the pros get the limelight, but we all experience the same joy and exaltation that comes from personal growth and achieving our mountain dreams. I for one, a 5.10 climber, will certainly be applying with the goal of climbing 5.11 by the end of the year. 


Video: Sasha DiGiulian Goes Ice Climbing in New Hampshire

What happens when a pro rock climber gets a taste of Northeast ice?


Gear Guide: What Your Loved One Needs to Rock Climb The Pinnacle

Winters in the Northeast are usually difficult for the climber on your holiday shopping list. With temperatures too cold for cragging and snow often blanketing the best boulders, many get their sending fix from the climbing gym’s warm confines. Although this provides temporary relief, the fluorescent lights, urethane holds, and chalk-filled air are no replacement for the freedom and fresh air found on an iconic alpine route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Just the thought of sending the route’s money pitch, the Fairy Tale Traverse, should be enough to get your beloved climber through a winter of dreary days battling the “pink problem” in the gym. However, if this individual needs more than inspiration, consider picking them up a key piece of gear to help make this dream line a reality.

Alpha Guides

1. The Beta

Moderately rated climbing and incredible exposure should be enough to put the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle on every Northeastern climber’s tick list. However, it’s the route’s location on the iconic Mount Washington that makes it a must-do. Considering Mount Washington’s fearful reputation, make sure the climber on your list knows what to expect with goEast’s “Alpha Guide: Climbing the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle”.

2. Best Foot Forward

For training for the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, downturned and tight-fitting climbing shoes are a recipe for success in the gym—just not on the route itself. As a tip, read about choosing the right climbing shoes to understand the difference.

Sending an alpine route like this one means spending a lot of time in your shoes, so kicks that prioritize comfort and performance are a must. For a couple of options, Tommy Caldwell put the “TC” in the La Sportiva TC Pros, and used these shoes on his monumental climb of the Dawn Wall. For classic routes, the 5.10 Anasazi MoccAsym has been a staple for two decades.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

3. Protect Their Head

Alpine routes, even ones as well-traveled as the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, have some loose rock. And, considering the climb’s classic nature, odds are the climber on your list won’t be the only party on the route—thus making a helmet mandatory. The Black Diamond Vector delivers an ideal blend of low weight and protection. Of course, if you really love the person on your list, consider trading up to the super-lightweight Black Diamond Vapor. After all, every ounce counts when you’re making the long approach up Huntington Ravine and the equally long descent down the Lion Head.

4. Weight Weenie

Unless your climber takes the “Euro Approach” (i.e., drives up the Auto Road), rock climbing only accounts for a third of the time climbers spend on this trip. The rest involves hiking up to and down from the climb, carrying a pack filled with layers, climbing gear, and food. In our Alpha Guide, we suggest bringing eight to 10 alpine draws on the trip, which you can help lighten up with ultra-light Black Diamond runners and super-light Camp Photons.

On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck
On top of the first pitch. | Credit: Tim Peck

5. Pro Passive Protection

Modern climbers love cams for their ease of use. However, that comes at a cost—with that being weight. So, consider snagging the climber on your list some of Black Diamond’s Ultralight Cams (.5, .75, #1, #2, #3), which are considerably lighter than other modern options.

As another easy way to lighten your favorite climber’s load, supplement their rack with passive protection. Camp Tricams (.25, .5, 1.0, 1.5) are a lightweight and simple way to leave a few cams behind in the car. Stoppers also help keep pack weight down. As one example, this Black Diamond Stopper Set covers all of the sizes recommended in the Alpha Guide.

6. Wind Break

The exposed nature of the Pinnacle itself—along with the considerable amount of time climbers will spend hiking above treeline while crossing the Alpine Garden and descending the Lion Head—subjects them to the full force of Mount Washington’s record-setting winds. A quality wind shirt, such as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi Hoodie (men’s/women’s), is tough enough to fight off these extreme gusts and stand up to the route’s coarse granite.

7. Fancy Pants

The normal monthly average temperature on Mount Washington’s summit never exceeds 50 degrees. In fact, the record-high summit temperature is just 72 degrees. Because of this, a good pair of tough, wicking climbing pants is recommended. We love the prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Pant for its mobility and breathability. Our wives, meanwhile, love the Women’s Halle Pant for these reasons. Plus, their roll-up leg snaps are great for both warm approaches low on the mountain and cooler temps up high. As an added bonus, these pants are perfect for winter training sessions in the gym.

The Fairytale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Fairy Tale Traverse. | Credit: Tim Peck

8. Hit the Bottle

It’s quite a trick to fit essentials like a rope, climbing gear, climbing shoes, a helmet, and multiple layers into a pack that is also comfortable to climb with. For this reason, we love HydraPak’s Stash Water Bottles. Providing the same capacity as a traditional Nalgene, these bottles collapse when empty, freeing up pack space. Even better, the Stash Bottle is significantly lighter than its hard-plastic competitors.

9. Celebrate the Send

Climbing an iconic route like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is worthy of celebration. As well, Pinkham Notch—the jumping-off point for the Pinnacle—is one of the Northeast’s great outdoor hubs. Once back in the parking lot, the climber on your list is sure to appreciate putting a cold one in the Yeti Rambler Colster to toast their ascent. The Rambler Colster is perfect for keeping drinks discrete and cold while you’re savoring success and watching other climbers and hikers amble into the parking lot from Mount Washington.

10. Send Them to School

If a trip up a dreamy line like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle is something that the climber on your list would love to do but it seems a little over their head, consider contacting the EMS Climbing School. As the oldest climbing school on the East Coast, EMS has been guiding climbs and teaching skills for the past 50 years and offers everything from privately guided climbs to classes—such as learning to lead—that will give the climber in your life the skills they need to go at it alone.

Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck
Crossing the Alpine Garden. | Credit: Tim Peck

Video: Discomfort in Antarctica

“I think I’m still figuring out where my line of comfort and discomfort is with climbing.”