Looking forward to many years of climbing

Previous entries include Part 2 on Running and Part 1 on Winter Activities.

Cathedral Peak delighted us. We climbed the granite gem of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite 650 feet as the divine views improved by the minute. My first big rock climb always marked me, including the last 50 feet where I got stuck.

My partner has already reached the top and I had to follow a vertical crack in the rock. How to do it, I had no idea. There were no outlets or outlets like I had used before. Eventually I realized I had to get into the crack, which felt painful. It was so, but I did it anyway.

At the top, an even grander view of the mountainous horizon rewarded my boyfriend and me. The challenges we overcame to see him made the victory especially sweet. This moment of joy made me a lifelong climber.

At least that’s the plan. Although I recently turned 50, I still enjoy the outdoors and share 50 lessons I learned along the way. This column, the third of the five, focuses on climbing.

1. Safety first. Secure your harness securely. Check your partner’s knot and yours. To wear a helmet. These simple measures go a long way in ensuring safety. Yet climbers who fail to do so suffer injuries and deaths every year. Even Lynn Hill failed to complete her knot once, resulting in a bad fall. Observe the safety measures and insist that your partner do the same. Use extreme caution when rappelling; most accidents occur during this descent technique.

2. Use indoor gyms to climb more and better. Nothing beats the beauty and fun of climbing outdoors at places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree, but indoor gyms allow for year-round and night-time activity. Those of us who have jobs appreciate the obvious benefits. Additionally, gyms offer classes for beginners and potential partners, including those with experience and equipment that novices lack. So while outdoor rock climbing fulfills your dreams, indoor rock climbing can help make them come true. This of course depends on improving pandemic conditions.

3. Pick a good partner. I usually climb with people I know well and trust, such as friends or relatives. But it’s also good to climb with new people who can help you improve and discover new destinations. When I climbed the eastern buttress of El Capitan (the easiest route on The Captain but a landmark climb for me), I benefited greatly from the association with a partner I met at Camp 4. I have only had good experiences when I have “dated” partners that I have met online.

4. “Five fun” is the best skill level. Climbing doesn’t have to be too difficult to enjoy. I started in Yosemite on moderate classics like Snake Dike, Nutcracker, and Bishop’s Terrace, which are between 5.6 and 5.8 on difficulty. I hit 5.10 on occasion, but still enjoy moderate climbs the most, like The Eye and Double Cross at Joshua Tree and Corrugation Corner at Lovers Leap. Let Alex Honnold handle the cutting edge. No one needs to prove anything to have a good time on the rock.

5. For those who don’t climb every day, don’t panic. General physical condition will help you enjoy rock climbing when you can go. Running, cycling, and other forms of aerobic exercise will keep you in shape, which is definitely helpful. Upper body muscles help, of course, too. Pull-ups are the easiest way to improve your abilities.

6. Plan your outings to avoid the crowds. Rock climbing has become more and more popular over the years. Showing up at a popular rock at noon on a Saturday will likely result in a long wait to climb. Try to go in the middle of the week or during shoulder seasons. If you have to leave on busy days, get there early.

7. If you think rock climbing gives you an adrenaline rush, try leading. This means taking the pointed end of the rope, as they say, and climbing over the established protection, placing the equipment as you go. A leader assumes a much greater risk of a large fall and more responsibility for the success of the climb than the follower or second climber. Not everyone is suitable for this, and there are many outdoor climbs that must first be followed. But when you’re ready, successfully taking a tough route can make you feel like a rock climbing rock star. If you feel motivated to give it a try, do your homework. Take a class, read a book, or learn from an experienced partner how to place guards and build anchors.

8. Buy good equipment, even if it is expensive. Cams, which are reusable spring-loaded guards, cost up to $ 100 each, and a leader may need a dozen or more to protect a single step. They are worth every penny when you run out of water on top of your anchor and need to quickly ram one into a crack. Don’t go cheap on the rope, either. Get one 60 meters long, not 50 meters, as many climbs require extra length between anchors.

9. If you manage and protect a climb well, accept the fall as part of the sport. To improve, a climber must push his or her limits, which means risking a fall. A climber on a top rope (in a gym, for example) should have nothing to worry about. Head climbers have to accept a greater risk, but should still fall safe if they prepare and react correctly. This is an area where I have a mountain-sized room for improvement, as I run into a leader every five years on average. In contrast, Tommy Caldwell has fallen hundreds of times during his six-year quest to scale El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. Better to separate these two extremes.

ten. Everyone likes to climb more if we are considerate of each other. It means reducing your noise, picking up your trash, and helping those in need. It also makes it easy to climb popular routes quickly so others can enjoy the route once you’re done. This has the added benefit of allowing someone to climb more, as my friend Hans Florine advocates and has trained countless times on his numerous record-speed climbs.

Yosemite's Cathedral Peak offers both moderate climbing and spectacular scenery.  (Courtesy photo)

Yosemite Cathedral Peak offers both moderate climbing and spectacular scenery. (Courtesy photo)

Cathedral Peak keeps reminding me. After I turned 50, I teamed up with my cousin to climb it for the seventh time. After the pandemic restricted the park all summer, we enjoyed a glorious fall day.

When I reached the granite crack that had blocked me 26 years earlier, this time I knew how to place my hands and feet to climb it. But I also saw a ramp which allowed me to completely avoid the obstacle! Then we climbed nearby Eichorn Pinnacle (5.4) as a bonus.

I look forward to spending many more years on the rocks, and every time I see Cathedral Peak I am grateful to the majestic mountain for teaching me how to climb and how enjoyable climbing is.

Matt Johanson is the author of “Yosemite Adventures: 50 Spectacular Hikes, Climbs and Winter Treks” and “Sierra Summits: A Guide to 50 Peak Experiences in California’s Range of Light”.