'Tis the season! Whether your heart is set on Red River Gorge, Indian Creek or Red Rocks, it's officially climbing season somewhere. You've watched the weather, acquired all the gear and downloaded the crags on your app...now what?
Make sure your t's are crossed and i's are dotted by checking out these quick tips for planning your climbing trip.
BRING A GUIDEBOOK
Think guidebooks are archaic? Don’t. On my first visit to the Red River Gorge, we rolled up to the Zoo and immediately pulled out our phones and started finding amazing climbs on our app. We picked a 5.8 that looked like a great warm-up. My cousin, the strongest climber in the group, put up the climb and commented that it didn’t feel like an eight. Interesting...but we just kept rotating through; and when I got on, I fell at half the clips. Granted, I was a newer climber, but was successfully climbing 11’s and trying some 12’s, so I was a little discouraged. It wasn’t until later that day, when we saw another group’s guidebook, that we realized the 5.8 we were warming up on was in fact “One Brick Shy”, a great climb at the Zoo that also happens to be a 5.10c.
We had a great trip and eventually got the right bearing for the multitude of different crags and climbs at the Red, and we learned something very important: don't worry about saving the space. Invest in a physical copy of a guidebook just in case you don't have reception, or you don't want to pump out on your warm up.
Tip: Make sure to mark your book as there will be several others at the crag!
TRY DIRTBAG CAMPING (I.E. FREE)
Most climbers are trying to save as much money as possible to keep their trips lasting longer. When planning your first trip, take a look at camping on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or National Forest land since most of the time it is free and much less crowded.
That being said, there are some places that you may want to splurge. Think Camp 4 in Yosemite. Yosemite is one of those places that every climber wants to go to some day! It was where climbing in America was born, and it calls to climbers all over the world. If you have been there then you know the power of those huge walls and the beautiful scenery, but you have probably noticed the crowds as well. Yosemite is one of the best national parks in the country, and because of that, millions of people go here every year, including climbers. It has always been a dream of mine to stay at Camp 4, where many of the climbing greats made their home while these walls. Unfortunately, it is one of the most crowded and expensive campgrounds around.
Tip: If you choose to visit Camp 4, arrive VERY early in the morning, put on your headlamp, grab your sleeping bag and be prepared to “stand” (sit) in line for hours.
DISCOVER DOWNTIME ACTIVITIES
Ahhhhh, the lure of the rocks! There’s nothing better than seeing the formations in the distance and feeling giddy knowing that you will soon get to explore all the amazing crags you’ve been researching. I have been to places that had more climbing than I could imagine, and I tried my hardest to get on everything I could while I was there, but this only resulted in an early burnout.
Space out your climbing if you are on a long trip so you can enjoy it the entire trip. Do some research and discover what the areas offer besides climbing. Most of these places have amazing trails to hike, beautiful lakes to swim in and plenty of other activities to keep you busy and entertained on rest days!
WHAT ARE WE WITHOUT WATER?
Water is one of the most important things to keep you going on any climbing trip. Do not underestimate how much water you need to keep performing your best. Climbing, as we know, is a very demanding sport and if you are dehydrated you will not be able to climb at your best. No matter what time of the year you are planning your trip, mid-summer heat or dead of winter cold, you need to drink lots of water to keep your body happy.
Tip: Check beforehand if your campground has water, if not, get a backup plan in place and be prepared!
INVEST IN A HELMET
We don’t need to tell you (but we will), that climbing is dangerous and you need to think about safety every time you hop on a climb. As climbers, we are always getting the best gear…the newest, lightest rope, or the shiny new quickdraws. One underappreciated piece of equipment is a helmet. A comfortable helmet is one of the most important pieces of climbing gear you should take every time you go climbing outside. You never know when a kid will knock a rock off a cliff, not knowing there are climbers below, or if the wind will knock over a tree, sending branches raining down from the sky. Both have happened to me and I’m still here writing this piece because I wore a helmet. Invest in a helmet – ‘nough said.
Tip: Do your helmet research (here's a great start) and try several on.
If you've never climbed outside, but would like to learn, check out one of the outdoor courses offered in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. You'll be planning your first trip in no time!
Written by: Ty Baxter, Assistant Director at Earth Treks Timonium, has been climbing for 6 years and sharing his love for climbing as an Earth Treks employee for the past 3 years. Pictured: Joe Stedman at the start of Squawstruck. Provo, Utah is all lit up in the background.