The Climbing Journey Journal - Vol.1

June 15, 2015
The Climbing Journey Journal - Vol.1

Climb # 1

Like many kids, I would spend hours climbing through the trees at the back of the house or down the side of the field at school, making challenges for myself and racing friends to the top of the tree line to look out over the neighbourhood.

I’ve even fallen out of my fair few leading to some stern words from Mum and my teachers. But that just made us want to climb even higher.

Climbing is something instinctual; perhaps there is something genetic left over from our early development as a species: perhaps not. What I know for a fact is that whenever I have the opportunity to go climbing, I always challenge myself and I always have fun. But those opportunities sometimes seem few and far between, so I plan on creating more of them and recording my journey here in this journal of sorts.

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It’s been a while since I’ve gone climbing, so I’ve called on a buddy of mine Dave Hynes to join me at the local climbing gym to provide some much needed advice, and quality banter.

Dave Hynes Climbing 1

Dave’s a big kid too, so I figured he would be great fun to climb some trees/scale artificial indoor walls with.

For this first entry, I figured it might be handy to outline some of the basics of ‘top-rope’ climbing, which is what you end up doing as any first-time climber in an indoor climbing gym. You and your buddy will take turns climbing and belaying each other using pre-rigged ropes. One of the most important things to focus on when you first start out is learning how to belay someone safely and smoothly (something Dave can attest to after I jigged him like a fish all the way down to the ground on my first attempt).

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But before we even get to that, let’s look at some of the gear you will be using and how it works.

When you first arrive at the gym (unless you have your own gear) you will need to hire shoes and a harness. Make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing that you can move around easily in: you might just need to get your leg right up to your ears at some stage.

Next you will participate in an induction course. An instructor will show you how to use your shoes and harness, how to tie into the belay system, and how to safely tie the top rope to your harness if you are climbing.

The best advice we can give you is to do the induction, even if you’ve done it in the past. I did a quick refresher just to be sure I hadn’t forgotten anything crucial. It would take ages to outline the whole lesson here, but a couple of snaps we took will help you to remember the key connection points.

Top Rope Loop

This is the loop end that – as the climber – you will hook your carabiner into.

Locking carabiners feature a sleeve that you wind down until it locks over the gate stopping it from opening. They are mostly used for key connection points such as to the top rope or the belay system. We were using thread-lock carabiners at this gym, although some will use twist-lock carabiners that lock using a spring loaded mechanism.

Yep, they close for you, but you should still always double check your belayer’s connection and your own to be sure!

Connection to Top Rope

See if you can spot what's wrong with this image...

Check out the other section of rope that has a knot in it that looks like an 8 (called a figure 8). That’s your safety line, and needs to be tied and checked by your buddy every time you climb. It’s easy to attach: the knot is already tied for you. You just need to follow the path of the line back on itself through the 8 and pull it tight. This will all make a lot more sense when you do it.

Fig. 8

This is what your fig. 8 should look like. Count the five pairs!

While you are tying your safety, your buddy needs to clip into the belay device. Belay devices can work for both left and right handed people. The way to work out which loop you need to secure your carabiner to is simple. Just hold the free rope end in your dominant hand and the top-rope in your other hand. Pull the two rope ends apart and the loop you need to hook into will turn to face you.

Belay Device 2

Locked in and good to go!

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Key things to remember when checking your connection:

  1. Count 5 pairs of rope on your safety: 1 pair leading from your harness loop, 3 making up the eight, and 1 pair leading away from you.

  2. Check your carabiner is locked tight before climbing – both the climber's and the belayer's!

  3. When you finish a climb and move on to another route, make sure you disconnect the rope and hang on to your carabiner. There are few things more embarrassing than sheepishly asking your neighbor if you can grab your carabiner because you left it on a previous line…. (Dave proved himself to be an excellent buddy grabbing mine when I left it behind).

Having gone through my refresher course, I was ready to get on the wall. We started off with a level 14 climb to warm up and kick off the training wheels (note: the grading system used at this gym may be completely different from those used in your area/country and are only listed here to give you an idea of our progression over time).

The 14 wasn’t too bad. Dave let me borrow his chalk bag and while it wasn’t necessary to grab a second handful on this route, during later climbs I would be thankful I had it hanging from my waist. Chalk helps you to maintain grip when the going gets tough and your palms get sweaty like a 13 year old at the school dance.

We challenged ourselves throughout the next 3 hours, trying climbs up to a level 20 which Dave managed, but which I fell on a couple of times before continuing to the top. As our hands and forearms started to fail, we moved to some easier climbs to practice our technique, calling out advice to each other that we had read about or that our climber friends had share with us.

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Some of the things that really helped us:

  1. Hug the wall: experienced climbers can attest to this and we found it to be true that using our hands to hold ourselves close to the wall and trying to keep our centre of gravity above our feet greatly increased the amount of time we could spend on the wall.

  2. Slow down: the more we took our time and planned our next move with fluid controlled motions, the easier it was to reach those distant holds.

  3. Use your legs: they say you should never look down, but if you watch your feet and find solid foot holds you’ll take the weight off your arms and won’t burn out so fast. Use your legs whenever you can to push yourself up the wall. Pulling with your arms should be reserved for those moves that force you to do so.

  4. Observe: watch the guys who are 'lead climbing', ask them questions. Climbers love to talk about climbing.

  5. Take breaks: Your entry fee usually doesn’t come with a time limit so make the most of it. Do a couple of climbs, chill out, stretch, drink some water. Do an easier climb, challenge yourself on a harder climb, have some food, drink some water, chill out. Rinse and repeat. Make a day of it! Just make sure you know when you are done. If you are failing over and over, it might be time to rest those muscles and come back next time to conquer that 20.

Check out our 9 tips for new climbers here!

Dave conquering the wall

The Race

Dave suggested we finish up with a race. We found a wall with two auto-belays side by side and kicked off the first of what I hope will become a regular feature of each entry.

Auto belays are great if you want to practice but your mates are busy that day. The machine keeps the slack out of your line as you climb and lowers you back down to the ground when you reach the top. It can be a bit unnerving at first because they lower you quite quickly. Make sure you are careful not to let go of the line when you unhook your carabiner or it will go flying up to the ceiling giving you a good thwack on the nose along the way (embarrassing…and probably quite painful).

We both climbed a 13, and to cut a long story short, I won this one! Better luck next time Dave… Ha! (I’m skiting you see, because it’s not likely I will ever win again…and he can’t exactly defend himself here).

Head to our blog for more great outdoor reads, and be sure to check out the next instalment!