From Plastic to Sandstone

By Carolyn Dean

The reality of the rock
Now is the time, your standing at the base of a sandstone crack line that swiftly curves up 200 feet to an anchor that is barley visible. The base of the route is situated on a 75-degree angle that has left you feeling unstable since you hiked off the main trail. The chalk you have just applied has already been soaked into your pores that are pumping fight or flight adrenaline through every vein in your body.  The earth has slowed down and your only sense of time is the rhythm of your heart that’s pounding deep in your ears. And like the crack of a gun, your belayer calls “climb on” and you are quickly ripped from your emotions to the reality of the rock in front of you.”  You reach back into your mind to uncover all of your experience and gumption to overcome your biggest obstacle of all, your own self-doubt.

Pulling on plastic
In recent years interest in rock climbing has soared thanks to the increase technology in building rock walls and rock climbing gyms.  Indoor rock climbing has given the everyday adventurist the chance to try something new and extreme while insuring a safe atmosphere where handholds and routes are clearly marked. Indoor rock climbing may be a great workout that will continue to push your personal limits, but it is not comparable to the reality of climbing outside on real rock with real danger.

Finding a guru
Once you begin to take the steps to climbing outside, the sport of rock climbing truly begins. Most of the time routes that you are looking to climb are on sides of mountains or in deep canyons that require you to hike with all of your equipment. While climbing your first couple times outside it is truly necessary to have someone with you who knows exactly they are doing.  These people are your lifeline and they have the equipment, knowledge and experience to make sure accidents don’t happen.

Guts and gumption
Make a list of all of the things you will need: Rope, quick draws, harness, chalkbag, camalots, webbing, carabineers, belay device, climbing shoes, and most importantly your guts and your gumption. The biggest change that new outdoor climbers will experience is the “holy crap” factor. In contrast to indoor climbing where people are typically top roping from a fixed anchor, most outdoor climbing is referred to as trad-climbing and requires for an experienced climber to “lead the route” using equipment such as camalots or bolts that are wedged into the rock.  While a climber is leading a route they will usually have someone lead belay them from below.  If the climber were to fall, they would fall to their last placed device and would hopefully be caught. Often times falls will end up ripping out two or three cams before the climber is caught so it is important to place several cams as your leading. This real fear factor of falling taxes the body and pushes real human limits unlike the façade of top roping in a gym.   The transition from climbing on plastic to climbing a sandstone crack line is a very different experience that gives climbers a true passion and respect for the world we live in.