Considerations in Making the Transition From Indoor to Outdoor Climbing

Kitty Calhoun placing solid protection

Kitty Calhoun reaching to place a great piece of pro.

Recent beautiful weather calls a lot of climbers outdoors.  Kitty Calhoun offers great insight into making the transition from gym climbing to outdoor climbing.

Times have changed. Rock and ice climbing are growing exponentially. This wave of new climbers outdoors is primarily due to the ease of getting into climbing in a rock gym – there is  relatively little expense, instruction is readily available, and all peripheral concerns are taken away indoors so you can just focus on the movement and basic mechanics of belaying, top-roping, and leading.

In making the transition to climbing outside, there are safety, ethics, and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles which should be observed so that you have fun and others around you have fun as well.

Safety issues include the following:

*Be aware that some rock is loose.  Test suspicious rock before pulling on it.  Yell “rock” if you pull off a rock, or drop a carabiner or any other hard object.  If belaying, do not be anchored in the fall-line. Consider a helmet.

*Do not climb below other parties or too close to other parties so that if you do pull off a rock or drop an object, it will not hit the other party.  Do not pass another party unless you ask and they give permission.

*Do not lower your partner off the end of the rope.  Either tie in, tie a knot in the end, or pay attention.

*If you are trad climbing, learn how to place gear from someone experienced first.

*Do not automatically trust someone else’s anchors without inspecting them first, unless you know the experience level of the person who built the anchor.

*Do not assume that a climbing partner you do not know is a good belayer or a safe outdoor climber.

*Inspect your equipment, especially ropes and webbing.  There are stories of accidents in which ropes or webbing were weakened as a result of exposure to chemicals and an accident in which a draw failed because a biner was clipped into the rubber gasket rather than the webbing.

*Learn how to back off a route (you can’t lower off webbing without the rope first going through a biner).  Learn basic self-rescue skills in the back country.

Ethics issues include the following:

*Do not chip or modify any routes.  Do not add bolts unless you have permission from the first-ascent party.

*Observe local ethics and management policies as pertains to putting up new routes.

*Do not take others gear off a route.

*Avoid top-roping directly off the chains so as to prolong the life of the chains.

*Do not project a route if there are parties waiting for your route.

*Limit the size of your party.  Spread out.  Go to different cliffs if you have to.  Social engagement can take place bouldering or in the evening.

*Do not leave your barking dog tied up at the base of a cliff while you go do a multi-pitch climb.

*Leave the ghetto blaster at home.  If you need music, plug into your iPod.

Leave No Trace issues particularly pertinent to outdoor climbing include:

*Do not leave micro-trash such as bits of climbing tape.

*Do not build new trails without permission of land managers.

*When taking a dump, dig a 6-8” hole at least 200 yards from the climbing site, trail, or water.

*If you bring a dog, bring a bag and pick up after your dog.

If we all observe appropriate safety, ethical, and LNT principles, then the exploding numbers of climbers transitioning into the outdoors will ultimately be a good thing.  After all, I think climbing brings meaning and happiness to our lives and a world full of happy people would be a good thing.

By Kitty Calhoun