Mentors | The Climbing Fast Track

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, mentors aspiring female climbers

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, mentors aspiring female climbers.

Which is more important, what, how or why?

I was lucky to have a mentor when I started climbing. His name was Seiji (Say-Gee) and he was a co-worker when I was in college. Seiji took pity on me for not having a life. I worked, I went to school and I partied. Work, study, drink, repeat, is not a life.

Under Seiji’s wing, I learned how to top rope and lead climb my first day out on the rock.

Yes, you read that right.

I led a route the first time I climbed—Meet the Flinstones 5.9, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin, TX.

I was on the fast track and I didn’t know it.

Not knowing what I didn’t know, I’m lucky I survived. There were some close calls and poor decisions, but I lived and I learned and I was fortunate that I had Seiji’s mentorship along the way.

In the mid-90’s this type of mentorship, or informal instruction, was the norm. This is how people got into climbing. More experienced climbers took less experienced climbers out and showed them the ropes. In those days it was easier to find someone who knew more and was willing to teach. They did this so they’d have more climbing partners.

Times have changed. Today there are over 450 climbing gyms across the U.S. Each year, more people are being introduced to climbing and falling in love with it. Consequently, the general experience level in climbing has tipped towards less experienced and beginner. New climbers outnumber experienced climbers. And, in most cases, more “experienced” climbers are only slightly more experienced than total beginners.

So, how do you learn in the absence of experienced mentors?

  • Take a Chicks Clinic
  • Read books. Two of my favorites are Rock Climbing, Mastering Basic Skills and Climbing Anchors, both by Craig Luebben, published by Mountaineers Books.
  • Watch how-to-climb Youtube videos.

But reading books and watching videos will only teach you what and how; and, what and how are only part of the solution. You need to learn Why.

Knowing Why informs your decisions. Knowing Why allows you to be responsible for your own safety as well as the others in your climbing party.

Combine the WHAT and the HOW with WHY and you’ll be the most marketable climbing partner.

To learn the Why of climbing, you need time under a mentor’s watchful eye. That’s where Chicks comes in.

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