Gym to Crag – Transition from Indoor to Outdoor Climbing

Climbing in Maple Canyon is a great place to transition from gym to crag

Gym To Crag

I’ve been guiding climbing since 1998 but only in the past few years have I met climbers who have climbed for years, but never outside.

This phenomenon of having climbed for years, but never outside, is new to me and to the climbing world in general.

The popularity of climbing gyms and the almost universal access to indoor climbing have given rise to strong climbers skilled in gym climbing techniques.

Today there are gyms in every state in the nation, giving people exposure to climbing even if there is no local crag within 100 miles.

Indoor climbing gyms helped produce climbers who are stronger than ever!

However, when gym-only climbers finally decide to try real rock, they may find their honed gym-skills don’t immediately translate into rock climbing success.

Particularly, good for the gym to crag transition are our Maple Canyon Climbing and Rifle Climbing programs. Both Rifle and Maple have a particular focus on sport-climbing skills.

Sport climbing is a style of climbing that compliments gym climbing well. The gym to crag transition is a natural first step to crags like Maple and Rifle.

No matter what your gym-climbing grade, we can help you safely transition your gym-climbing skills (like knots and top-roping) to outdoor sport climbing.

Learn best rock climbing practices and principles to

  • Read the rock type and identify holds
  • Lead
  • Perfect your top rope and lead belaying technique
  • Practice falling
  • Project a route at the edge of your ability
  • Equip and clean routes and anchors

Our goal is allways for you to develop the skills and confidence to be an independent climber both indoors and out.

Climbing gym, L’Escalade, in Lexington, KY.

The climbing gym is a great place to learn climbing movement and basic leading skills. However, you may find it difficult to identify holds, route find and read different rock types.

Our all-female guides and an all-female environment helps you focus on your goals. 

Chicks Allum Angela Allen on the sharp end in Rifle, CO.


Gym climbing routes are typically set with the bolts close together. This is to be as safe as possible. Run outs and tricky clips are not a typical gym lead climbing dilemma.

Learning how to lead and  belay run outs is a critical gym to crag skill. It is also important to learn about leading and belaying ledges, bulges and roofs. 

We want you to be an independent climber, both indoors and out. Our biggest success is when you fledge!

Join us for Summer Sport Climbing in Maple Canyon and Rifle. Spend time outside, experiencing two of mother nature’s most beautiful crags.

5 Myths of Alpine Climbing

Alpine Climbing Myth #1:  Alpine Climbing takes a lot of experience.

Sheldon’s truth:  Every alpine climber starts somewhere, often just hiking and having spent time outdoors can give you a great foundation.  The terrain is usually less than vertical, offering routes that are typically lower climbing grades.  Also, when you climb with a guide, the ratios are lower.  Frequently, you can move together through terrain, allowing you to stay close to your guide or more experienced partner so you can watch and emulate their every move.

Alpine Climbing Myth #2:  You have to be a strong climber to venture into the Alpine.

Karen’s truth:  While alpine routes require efficiency and the ability to keep going, the movement relies much more heavily on your lower body.  Being stable and balanced on your feet is key – and easily attained by scrambling non-technical peaks and hiking in rough terrain.  Also, mountain sense, route finding, and reading the weather often play a big role.  I’d say having a 5.10 adventure spirit is more important than rock climbing 5.10.

Alpine Climbing Myth #3:  Being in the Alpine is cold and miserable.

Sheldon’s truth:  It’s all about the layering and being prepared:  A spare pair of gloves and extra hand warmers help to keep you warm and dry.  Often, you’ll be wearing boots and thick socks, which are warmer and more comfortable than tight climbing shoes.  If you keep a keen eye on the sky, you’ll change layers in anticipation of weather moving in.  My favorite tip:  Bring an extra sports bra and underlayer to change into after a strenuous approach.

Alpine Climbing Myth #4:  Alpine Climbers always carry huge packs.

Karen’s truth:  Ha, only if they are German backpackers…  I have seen them with 90L packs stuffed to the brim.  Usually, they don’t make into the alpine, though.  On long alpine climbs, light is right, because speed equals safety.  With some trial and error and help from your guides, you’ll find what exactly you need and what is luxury.  For example, on some routes with bad weather potential, a shelter is necessary whereas a stove is a luxury.  Also, high quality gear has gotten really lightweight these days, shaving pounds off your backpack weight.  We Chicks partner with the best in the industry and can help you get your kit together.

Alpine Climbing Myth #5:  You have to live off energy bars and freeze-dried dinners for days.

Sheldon’s truth:  Well, if you’re Super Woman, you can climb 10,000’ with 3 GU packets, but the rest of us will have to pack a little more.  Real food is often much more loaded with calories and more satisfying to eat.  My friend and fellow guide Lindsay Mann likes to bring fried chicken from the grocery store.  Other good options are cold pizza, or burritos.  For snacks, real food choices include nuts, dried fruit, beef jerky, and of course chocolate.  If you really want to save weight, look for energy drink mixes to add into your water bottle.

If these truths haven’t convinced you that alpine climbing is really fun and rewarding, there is only one way to find out:  Join Chicks on Mt. Baker or the Tetons and try it for yourself!

Sheldon Kerr is an AMGA Certified Ski Guide and Apprentice Rock and Alpine Guide, an Outdoor Research Athlete, has a PO Box in Jackson, and can be found climbing massive glaciated peaks in Alaska, when she’s not ripping up all the powder stashes she can find.  Karen Bockel is her roommate, and co-owner of Chicks.

Alpine Climbing: Tetons vs Baker

It’s all alpine climbing, so what’s the difference?

This Summer Chicks will be offering two alpine climbing clinics. The term alpine climbing is very vague. This can mean anything from walking on snow to vertical rock climbing and everything in between. Let’s explore the difference between the Grand Teton and Mt Baker alpine climbing programs so you can decide which one is best for you.

All of the Chicks Climbing programs are here to help you reach your greater climbing goals. If you want to climb volcanos in far off lands, or big glaciated peaks in the Himalaya, our alpine courses will give you the skills you need to get to the summit. Be sure to join us this summer to become an independent alpine climber. The Mountains are calling you!

alpine climbing tetonsThe Teton Alpine Program is based in Grand Teton National Park just outside of Jackson, Wyoming. The curriculum will focus on the skills one must have to climb the Grand Teton or any other alpine rock objective.

The goal is to learn the skills needed to assess terrain, travel on steep snow an  low angle to steep alpine rock.



mt baker alpine climbingThe Mount Baker Program is based in the North Cascades in Washington State. The curriculum will focus on skills needed to climb glaciated peaks. Mt Baker is the third highest peak in Washington and it’s an active stratovolcano with a summit elevation of 10,781ft.

The goal is to learn how to travel safely on low angle ice, snow and glaciated terrain. Including skills like glacier camping, crampon use, navigation, steep snow climbing and crevasse rescue.




lower saddle grand teton


The Teton Alpine Basecamp will spend a couple of nights in the Exum Hut at the saddle below the Grand Teton. The hut is located at approximately 11,000 ft. The day starts in the valley floor and rises into Garnett Canyon. The hike to this hut is about 7.5 miles long with an altitude gain of 5000 ft. Your pack will be between 30-40 lbs.

The Teton program utilizes the Exum hut, that is stocked with sleeping bags, sleeping pads and all the needed cooking gear.



mt baker basecampThe Mount Baker Basecamp may be on the glacier, depending on the snow levels. The camp is located between 6,500- 7,000 ft. The hike to camp is about 4-5 hours, and your pack will be between 50-60 lbs. You must carry everything you need for the week on your back.

The Mount Baker program is quite different. You carry everything you need in your packs. Everyone must dig camp into the snow, including your kitchen shelter.





If we compare the climbing on the two mountains, we can see that they are very different. Technically, both the Tetons and the North Cascades have glaciers. However, the crevasses (giant cracks on and underneath the surface of the snow) in the Cascades present a different set of skills to navigate safely through the terrain as a member of a roped team.

teton headwallThe Grand Teton requires steep snow climbing skills and the ability to rock climb in mountain boots. The Teton Alpine Climbing Program will have more emphasis on climbing alpine rock which is accessed via shorter stretches of glaciated terrain.







mt baker glacierMount Baker requires steep snow climbing and glacier travel skills to reach the summit. The Baker clinic will focus on glacier travel skills, including navigation, terrain selection and crevasse rescue.

How To Lead Belay With A Gri Gri

Lead belaying with a Gri Gri  is one of the most requested things that we get asked during our Chicks rock clinics. Lead belaying with a Gri Gri (or brake assist device) can be a little tricky at first, but with a little practice you will quickly become proficient at using this valuable tool for all belaying scenarios, both top rope and lead belaying.

There are a couple of key points to keep in mind:

1. The GriGri must be loaded properly in order to function correctly. Thankfully there are diagrams on the unit for you to refer to when you load up the climbers rope. Read the literature that comes with the device.

2. Hold the Gri Gri so you don’t defeat the camming mechanism.
3. Maintain at least 3 fingers on the brake strand at all times. Just because it is brake assisting device does NOT mean it’s a hands free device.
4. Always close the system by tying a stopper knot on the brake hand side of the rope to avoid accidentally lowering your climber off the end of the rope.

Petzl’s website is a great resource for instructional videos and downloads of the owners manual.

Petzl’s Gri Gri Short Video

Petzl gri gri

Need more?  Check out Petzl’s long video for belaying with a Gri Gri.
petzl gri gri

6 Tips For Climbing Steep

How to rock climb steep routes

Elaina Arenz climbing “Mister Fantasy” 11c at the “Endless Wall,” New River Gorge. Photo: Chris Noble.

Overhanging climbs and climbing steep can be intimidating at first, but what I love about them is how I have to adapt my body to move efficiently through steep terrain and get creative with my climbing movement. What I also love about steep sport climbing is that all of the lead falls are clean (well mostly anyway). If you pop off you’ll find yourself cushioned by the air below you if your belayer is giving you a nice soft catch.

You may be asking yourself, what is an overhanging climb? It’s any climb that the angle is greater than 90 degrees vertical and it takes a specific skill set to be able to navigate your way through steeper terrain. Classic climbing areas like the Red River Gorge, Rifle and Maple Canyon are well known for this style of climbing. Follow a few of these pointers below and you will be able to save a little energy and move more quickly through steeper climbs.

1. Climb Fast(er)

The pump clock is ticking when you’re on an overhanging route so you want to move as quickly as possible. There’s no time to dilly dally because you only have so much fuel in the tank to burn. You’ll want to move quickly and efficiently so you can economize your energy. This is going to require some work on your part to get that route dialed so you aren’t doing any unnecessary or extra moves.

2. Conserve Energy

Plan out your route while standing on the ground. Identify the crux sections (the hardest part of the climb) and visualize the beta that you have worked out for that section. Do this for the whole entire climb and have a rough plan before you even leave the ground. Great ways to conserve energy are:
-Hang on straight arms. This will help you use your skeletal system to support you and not your muscles.
-Breathe. The deeper and more audible the better. Your muscles and brain need oxygen to function properly when they are in use.

-Relax your grip. Don’t hold on or squeeze the holds any harder than necessary. Over gripping is a waste of energy.

3. High Feet and Turn Hips In

This is a great way to put more weight onto your feet and allows you to stand up high and maximize your reach on the steeps. Place your big toe on a foothold and turn your hips into the wall by pivoting on that toe into a drop knee or flag. If you are reaching up with your right hand, turn that right hip in. If reaching with your left hand, turn left hip in. This will help you get instantly taller because you will be able to extend your reach by a couple of inches at least. Try this tip at home and you will see what I mean:
-Stand facing the wall with your hips square.
-Lift your right arm over your head and see how far your fingertips touch on the wall.

-Now turn your right hip into the wall and note how much further you can extend that reach. This is a huge advantage on steep climbs.

4. Maximize Rests

Break the climb down into manageable pieces by identifying possible rest stances. Keep in mind that the rest could be a quick spot to get a few shakes before continuing your blast to clipping the anchors. When you’re at a rest get creative:
– Look for knee bar, hand jam or heel hook.
-Relax your grip, lower your heels, alternate shaking out each hand (with your arms straight!)

-Breathe deep. Inhale through your nose and push the air out through pursed lips. Your belayer should hear you exhale. This will help lower your heart rate so you can stay relaxed in the mind and the body.

5. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Rehearse the moves. This will help you to learn which holds to use and which to avoid. Experiment with the movement and pull out every trick in the book and get the whole route dialed.
-Have friend take a video or draw a beta map of your route. Note the sequence of both your hands and feet (RH1, LH2, RF2, RF2 etc…)

-Climb the route at least 3 times per session and refine your beta with each attempt. Be sure your rest 20-30 minutes between attempts to stay productive.

6. Proper Footwear

The best shoe for this type of climbing is one that is downturned in the toe area. Think of it like a talon or hook on your foot that will allow you to pull with your toes as you often need to do on overhanging climbs. My go to shoe for this type of climbing is the La Sportiva Women’s Solution, the profile is radical downturned which gives me more power to pull on my big toe. A flat profile shoe just doesn’t put your foot in as strong of a position, which means you will have to use more energy from the lower half of your body to do the work. You’ve gotta have the right tool for the job. While you can pound a tent stake into the ground with a rock, but a hammer does the job much more efficiently because that’s what it’s designed to do.

Go Alpine! Mt. Baker vs. Tetons

Chicks in Tetons

The Real Deal. Photo by: Angela Hawse

Every time I go into the mountains, I learn something,” said legendary climber Michael Kennedy once, and I find this statement conveys the essence of mountain climbing.  The mountains always provide adventure, and often in unforeseen ways.  May it be figuring out the early morning route finding when the sun is barely cresting the horizon, or hustling to put your waterproof layers on as a squall moves in, or simply rounding the corner of a foot path into a beautiful alpine valley – opportunities for learning are plentiful.

The unpredictability of climbing in the mountains is exiting, but also requires a hardy soul.  The alpine is not a place for the faint of heart.   A spirited sense of adventure, and a learned skill set is required.  At Chicks, we take learning seriously.  We start with the basics, building a foundation of snow and ice movement, rope skills, and travel techniques.  Along with the hard skills comes the less glorious sounding but equally important knowledge of taking care of oneself, while out climbing as well as in camp.  We also incorporate big picture thinking and making decision in the mountains.  Knowing how to read the weather and the conditions, when to push on and when to turn around are keys to a happy-ending adventure.

Intrigued?  You should be.  Mountaineering is hard earned, but more rewarding and fulfilling than anything else.  Check out our alpine programs for summer 2017:

Tetons: We will be climbing in the Tetons June 29 – July 2, using the beautiful rugged mountains of Grand Teton National Park for our training grounds.  This program is focused on snow travel and alpine rock climbing.  Fitness is the main requirement for this program as we climb up several thousand feet into a beautiful alpine canyon to our High Camp at 11,700’.  It’s a great program to refine your alpine skills up high on the mountain or venture into the alpine realm for the first time.

Mt. Baker: If you are interested in heading out onto glaciers, join us for our Mt. Baker Mountaineering Program July 29 -August 3.  This is a comprehensive alpine training camp in the heart of the North Cascades.  We will be camping for 3 nights, working on snow skills and glacier travel.  This program is a great step up from the Tetons, as we will get into more advanced skills such as crevasse rescue.  Good fitness and basic camping and snow hiking experience is a great starting point for this program, as we will be carrying all our gear into camp, but no prior experience on glaciers is required.  The choice is yours!  Take the road less travel and come with Chicks on an alpine adventure.

4-Minute Tape Glove – Step By Step Guide

Sometimes you need hardy a tape glove that last day after day jammed in cracks, but sometimes you arrive at the crag and a crack route just calls to you. No sweat, bust out that roll of tape that’s been bumping around in your pack for the last few months and create this quick and easy tape glove for sending success.

Think it’s impossible?  Think again!

1) Lay vertical tape strips across the back of your hand

2) Create a finger cuff for your pointer and your ring finger

3) Secure the finger cuffs with 2-3 wraps around the palm

4) Secure the bottom of the vertical tape strips with 3-4 wrist wraps

Watch Dawn do it in less than 4 minutes in our latest video.

climbing tape glove

Choosing The Perfect Climbing Shoe

choosing climbing shoeFirst, let’s talk features because that affects the fit of the shoe so much.  Shoes can be divided up into three categories:

Specialized Performance Shoes: These shoes tend to be more for extreme sport climbing.

Performance Shoes: These tend to be for sport climbing as well as technical face climbing.
All-Day Performance Shoes: These are for multi-pitch climbs as well as for crack climbing.

The major features you need to think about are:

  • Rand
  • Stiffness
  • Symmetry
  • Heel-to-toe Profile
The rand is the tensioning system in a shoe, so in a high-performing shoe, like an extreme sport shoe, the rand is going to pull from the forefoot to the heel in such a way that it distributes the power throughout the entire foot.  In a performance shoe, its going to tend to focus the power over the big toe. In the all-day performance shoe, there is little active randing.The stiffness  varies according to personal preference, though you tend to choose a stiffer shoe for technical face climbing.Symmetry has to do with how curved the shoe is.  It is either asymmetrical, symmetric or somewhere in between. So the more asymmetrical it is, the more that shoe is an extreme sport climbing shoe verses the symmetrical shoe, which is the all-day performance shoe and crack climbing shoe.Heel-to-toe profile generally comes in hooked, curved, or flat.  So again the hooked shoe is the most aggressive sport climbing shoe; the flat is the all day performance and crack climbing shoe.

Now let’s talk fit.  A lot of these shoes have a toe box and that is so you can fit the shoe really tight and your toes are crammed up in there.  For crack climbing, you want a thin toe profile so that your toes aren’t jammed up in there.  You can’t always just look at a shoe and tell if it has a thin toe profile or not.  A lot of times you have to try it on ad see if there is a toe box with extra material up there where your toes would be bunched up.The thinner the toe profile the thinner the crack you can jam your foot in to.  This allows you to climb a wider variety of cracks – what you would do is turn your pinky toe down, dig your foot at deep in the crack as you can, and bring your knee up over the toe so that it cams your foot in the crack.
Happy shoe hunting!

Quad Anchor – How to Make a Quad Anchor

Quad Anchor

The quad anchor is a versatile method to equalize any anchor.

First, I’ll explain how to apply one on a 2-bolt anchor for a top rope.

Then, you can watch Angela demonstrate a number of different ways to tie one in the Building Quad Anchors for Rock Climbing video below.

The advantages to using a quad anchor are many:

  • It’s redundant.
  • It self-equalizes
  • It’s quick to tie
  • It’s easy to double check.

Gear You Need:

  • 1 Cordelette (6mm Sterling Power Cord or 7mm nylon cord, at least 15 foot in length). Join the two ends with a double fisherman’s or another knot of your choice.
  • 4 locking carabiners. I recommend 2 smaller locking carabiners like the Petzl Spirit and 2 larger, pear-shaped locking carabiners like the Petzl Attache.

Sterling cord with 4 locking miners


4 Steps to Building a Quad Anchor:

  1. Double your cordelette over so you have 4 even strands. Position the knot that joins the two ends to one end of your loops. 

Sterling cord tied and then folded to make 2 loops2. Tie an overhand knot on either end of the cordelette.  You should now be looking at 4 strands in the middle and two loops on either end. Keep them a little loose so you can slide them closer together or further apart depending on how much lateral movement you need. 

overhand knot makes two loops


tie a second overhand on a bight to the other end of the folded cord to make a quad anchor
3. Clip your SMALL locking carabiners to the loops on either end of the cordelette. You will clip this to each of the two bolts.

4. Separate the 4 center strands, and clip your 1 LARGE locking carabiners to two out of the four strands in the middle, then clip your last locking carabiner to the remaining two center strands. For best practice, make sure you opposite and oppose them. 



quad anchor5. Voila, you now have a perfectly constructed self-equalizing quad anchor rig to set up your top rope.

Learn more about Quad Anchors in our Climbing Clinics. Go to Chicks Programs to find out more. Our climbing clinics are held in many world-class climbing destinations across America.

Chicks Tech Tip: Personal Anchoring Systems

One thing you’ll notice between recreational and professional climbers at the crag or on multi-pitch routes is the pro’s Personal Anchoring Systems (PAS) is nowhere to be seen on their harness. It’s in their pack, used solely for the descent. Recreational climbers have adopted many techniques guides use, such as direct anchor belays and rope management strategies, but the way we use PAS’s has been slow to gain foothold. Instead, many recreational climbers keep their PAS girth hitched to their tie-in’s or belay loop and tucked between their legs or off to the side.

Why don’t professionals do this? Because, the rope is the strongest part of the entire system. Why would we use anything else to attach ourselves to the anchor when we are already tied into the rope when climbing? Arguments in opposition often suggest that the rope attachment isn’t adjustable. Look at how any professional anchors themselves with the rope and you will almost exclusively see the clove hitch, which is undeniably appropriate and fantastically adjustable.

Countless tests and videos have demonstrated the risk of using a PAS as a direct attachment to the anchor. It’s common knowledge that any small fall directly on an anchor with a PAS or sling generates forces significant enough to result in sling failure. In 2007, a climber on the Grand Capucin in Chamonix, France fell less than two feet onto a Dyneema sling attaching him to the anchor. It failed and he fell to his death.

How might this relate to us? Shifting around on an anchor and taking a small slip while pulling ropes, a foothold breaks, making a move that’s a stretch to thread the rap rings or just not paying attention and falling off a small ledge. Shit happens but accidents can be prevented. By keeping the PAS or sling tether fully loaded you have eliminated the risk.

Other reasons pro’s don’t keep their PAS tethered to their harness include; 1) increased wear overtime decreases its integrity when attached to the same points on the harness all the time, 2) it gets in the way of gear and adds clutter to the harness and 3) bottom line, it’s only a tool for transitions and descents.

PAS vs. Slings? Often I use a 48” nylon sling as a tether for descents on long multi-pitch routes because it’s multi-purpose and lightweight. I keep it on my harness and use it for anchors or sling extensions. Why is this okay here and not for a personal tether? Because, while climbing the rope is always part of the system and adds dynamic properties that absorb energy. When I’m not concerned with weight or I have to do many rappels, my Sterling Chain Reactor is always in my pack. It’s more elegant than a nylon sling tether and its full strength loops provide excellent adjustability to prevent me from allowing slack into the system, reducing the risk addressed above.

No mention of Daisy Chains? They have no place here because they are only intended for aid climbing, not personal anchoring systems.