Find More Climbing Partners – The Art of Being Solid

Find more climbing partners at a Chicks Climbing clinic. 4 Chicks participants lined up to show off their Chicks chalk bags

Find more climbing partners at a Chicks Climbing clinic. Chicks participants line up to show off their Chicks chalk bags!

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, “How do I find more climbing partners?”

My answer, “You don’t have to be a super sender to find climbing partners, you just have to be solid.”

In order to be solid, I have some advice for you:

Be honest, be reliable, be skilled, and, most importantly, be fun.

Find More Climbing Partners

 

Be Honest

We all want to put our best effort forward, but rarely do we climb at our top level.

For example, even though I’ve climbed a 5.13a (once… over 5 years ago!), I don’t tell a prospective climbing partner “I’m a 5.13 climber!” Instead, I say, “I’m comfortable leading 5.12 sport, but I really love to climb 5.11.”

Be Reliable

No one likes it when their climbing partner cancels. Consider that they probably rearranged their life to go climbing with you and are counting on you to do what you said you would do. Be on time, ready to go. Don’t bail.

Be Skilled

Know how to take care of yourself. Know your technical skills forwards and backwards. If you lead, great. If not, be a solid second: learn to remove gear efficiently, climb quickly, belay attentively, give soft catches, clean anchors, pull the rope and stack it. The day will pass smoothly and safely if you are skilled.  As a result, you’ll get more climbing in.

Need skills? Chicks teaches technical skills at all of our clinics. We’ll get you up to speed and confident in no time.

Be Fun

When it comes right down to it, climbing is fun and the most solid climbing partners are the most fun.

Solid Climbing partners say interesting things and they make me laugh. It doesn’t matter how hard they climb. What matters is that they’re positive, funny, and willing to share interesting stories.

Solid partners don’t complain or make excuses. They leave the drama at home and don’t melt down, scream, or throw wobblers.

Lastly, you will find more climbing partners if you make decisions!

Solid partners decide and they don’t say sorry endlessly. Unless, of course an apology is in order, then they own it and get on with it.

Learn more about being solid at How to be The World’s Greatest Climbing Partner.

And for an amusing take on climbing partners in general read Your First 7 Climbing Partners.

Small Steps

Emilie Drinkwater taking small steps on the approach to Dent du Geant, Mont Blanc

Emilie Drinkwater takes small steps on the approach to Dent du Géant, Mont Blanc, European Alps, Summer, 2017. ©Karen Bockel

Small steps can turn big challenges into something quite manageable.

“Kleine Schritte, Kleine Schritte!”

“Small steps.” In German, I heard someone repeat, “small steps” to the group of Swiss climbers in front of us just as pre-dawn light touched the peaks.

My partner, Mary, and I had been climbing by headlamp.

Roped together, we’d steadily gained ground up the steepening glacier.

Surrounded by quiet, all I could hear was the sound of our breaths and the crunch of hard snow under our boots and crampons.

A snow couloir would eventually give us access to the rock ridge and then the summit. But, first, we had to climb over a bergschrund and some rock steps.

In the faint light, the massive abyss below the bergschrund looked dark. The exposure felt like a cold breeze.

I held the coiled rope tightly in my hand and felt Mary behind me through the tension.

Then, I turned to her and said, “kleine Schritte, kleine Schritte!”

In careful unison, we tiptoed around the icy void and then over the rock ledges.

Step-by-small-step, it didn’t take long before we’d reached the couloir and were back to steady upward progress again.

Thinking back,

I’m sure that crossing over the bergshrund would have been harder and potentially more dangerous if we had tried to force our way through or fight the terrain, using big steps. I’m convinced that taking big steps makes climbing harder and less safe.

Taking smaller steps, on the other hand, can turn what looks like a big challenge into something quite manageable.

So, try “small steps” next time you face a seemingly impossible challenge.

And, if you don’t feel confident in your skills and abilities, join me on one of these upcoming Chicks trips: Chicks Alpine Climbing – Chamonix or Chicks Rock Climbing – City of Rocks.

I’ll help you gain climbing experience and get quicker and more dialed with your climbing.

Muscle Memories | Building A Strong Climbing Base

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, building muscle memories on Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne CA 1986

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, having fun with her sister and building muscle memories on Cathedral Peak, Tuolumne CA 1986. ©Angela Hawse Collection

 

Why A Strong Climbing Base Is So Important 

Going into my 37thseason of rock climbing I’ve learned that I can count on my muscle memories to know what to do and how to do it.

All the easy and moderate climbing I did for years built up an invaluable base that’s supported me through many challenging climbs all over the world and back again.

Building a strong climbing base takes time, mileage and training. There’s no quick fix.

Not long ago, rock climbing was considered practice for mountaineering and you had to find a mentor to learn to climb. Experienced climbers mentored less experienced climbers to deepen their pool of potential partners.

Now, sport climbing is its own “sport” and people learn to climb in climbing gyms. But the 10,000-hour rule, Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, still applies. In order to achieve mastery you have to put in the time. There’s no way around it.

If you want to climb harder, steeper, or bigger, if you want to clip bolts, place cams, or breathe thin air, you have to put in the time to build a base.

Like a solidly built foundation supports a house, your base will support you for the rest of your climbing life.

How do you build a climbing base?

You build a climbing base by doing lots of climbing, especially on routes well below your limit.

Lots of mileage on easy and moderate routes teaches you good technique and efficient skills, and it builds your bank of muscle-memories. These muscle memories are called engrams.

Not only can you rely on these engrams forever. Engrams will serve you well as you push your limits.

Seriously, advance your climbing grade by climbing lots of “easy” routes first!

Sounds backwards?

Climbing lots of easy routes lets you build a bank of engrained skills. These engrams allow you to move in balance and without so much as thinking when you are pushing your limits.

And, finally and most awesome is that base building is fun!

We all start somewhere and have to endure the frustration of over-thinking, overcompensating and dealing with our inner voice challenging our every move.

Repetition, steadfast determination and putting the time in are what it takes to get good at anything and rock climbing is no exception.

Alex Lowe said it perfectly, “The best climber is the one having the most fun.”

Don’t miss out on all the fun you can have moving up the grades.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested to read:

Mentors | The Climbing Fast Track | Chicks Climbing

Fun | “It Doesn’t Have to Be Fun to Be Fun.” | Chicks Climbing

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.

Focus On Your Strengths

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. Kitty Calhoun crying into her blood-stained hands

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. ©Krysiek Rychlik

“Focus on your strengths.” I write these words with a heavy heart.

There have been several deaths in our community this year due to avalanche fatalities – most recently with the passing of my friend’s son, Jess Roskelley, along with his climbing partners, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer.

The shock of this monumental loss weighs heavily on me. And, I find myself so tired of our tendency to judge and to pick each other apart.

It makes me wonder, can we change our paradigm to focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses?

The following story is an example of what I mean:

It was around 5 am on an early June morning.

I was near the end of one of the last pitches of the Salathe on El Capitan. There was just enough pre-dawn light to see without a headlamp; my partner was belaying me from her sleeping bag.

Even if her eyes were open, she couldn’t see me, much less hear me. I was out of sight, near the end of the rope when the aid placements ran out. My only choice was to bust a series of free moves onto a run-out slab.

I started trembling. But, what could I do?  Falling would be a big whip. How?  Focus. Focus. Right!

“I have God and sticky rubber,” I said, suddenly knowing with conviction that they’d get me up.

Not only on El Cap, but on many other climbs and instances in my life, I’ve found it helpful to focus on my strengths when I am having a hard time.  It’s my strengths, not my weaknesses that get me through.

However, recently, I’ve noticed that when I am teaching climbing skills or trying to improve my own skills, I tend to focus on weaknesses. I am very critical.

I wonder why, when I’m learning or teaching, my go-to is to be critical?

We improve the quickest when we work on our greatest weakness!

But is that true?

Is it true that we improve the quickest by focusing on our weakness?

Sure, we need to be aware of short-comings, but I wonder what would happen if our go-to attitude was one of recognizing strengths, appreciation, and support rather than “constructive feedback.”

I used to read the AAC Accidents of North American Mountaineering, believing that I could learn to avoid mistakes.

The problem is that hindsight is 20/20 but foresight is blurry.

The problem is also that when it comes to loss and broken hearts we can’t explain accidents. There is more at play, something much bigger than we can understand intellectually.

At any rate, I feel like we should be quicker to encourage than to criticize. Those who helped me see my strengths over the years were the most impactful to my life and my climbing.

With gratitude.

Fun | Or, “It Doesn’t Have to be Fun to be Fun.”

fun in the present moment watching sun-shadow line on approach to chandelle du tacul, chamonix, france

Fun in the present moment — watching the drama of the sun-shadow line play out on the approach to Chandelle du Tacul, Chamonix, France. ©Kitty Calhoun

“It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”

—Mark Twight, alpinist extraordinaire

When it comes to alpine climbing and mountaineering-style climbing objectives, one of the things you’ll learn about yourself is how much you can endure.

Tough conditions

like post-holing to your waist, sleep deprivation (check out Kitty’s Unplanned Bivouac story), heavy packs, and suboptimal weather will all test you.

When you go alpine climbing or mountaineering, you’ll find yourself immersed in the wild, miles away from the trailhead without a choice but to soldier on.

Ladies, you’ve got to put one foot in front of the other and keep marching!

Sound like fun?

To some, it’s not fun while they’re doing it. It only gets fun once they look back on the experience and realize how much they stretched themselves. Fun comes from having gone beyond perceived personal limits. Only in retrospect can some appreciate the amount of personal growth they’ve gained through a climb.

However, in my personal experience even more fun is possible by focusing on being in the moment. Trying to escape my current situation by wishing I were somewhere else, or complaining, just prolongs my personal suffer-fest.

I’ve found a better approach

is to focus on what the present offers: beautiful views, fresh mountain air, and the camaraderie of a shared experience with friends. Sometimes, it also helps to think of all the skills I’m learning that will take me on to bigger goals.

If you’re a rock climber or a blossoming mountaineer and you’re looking for the next step in your personal progression as a climber, consider joining our Mt Baker, Washington trip. Mount Baker is a great introduction to climbing glaciated mountain summits. You’ll also learn the skills you need to camp, climb, and travel on snow.

If you’re more of a multi-pitch rock climber at heart, kick things up a notch on our Chamonix trip. The alpine rock routes in the French Alps are fantastic. Alpine climbing in Chamonix is world class with lift-based access to some of the highest peaks in Europe. Quaint French villages, delicious food and wine every evening and all under the wing of experienced and fully certified AMGA Chick Guides.

Now that sounds like fun!

Elaina

Gigantic – Step from Skiing to Climbing

Where skiing meets climbing. A view of the Matterhorn from the Haute Route.

Where skiing meets climbing. A view of the Matterhorn from the Haute Route.

Hello everyone, it’s Karen here checking in about the gigantic step from skiing to climbing.

This year I’m spending the spring in the Alps guiding the Haute Route. The Haute Route is a week-long, high-alpine ski tour that starts in Chamonix, France and ends in Zermatt, Switzerland. Along the way, we spend the night in mountain huts and traverse across big glaciers and high peaks all day.

On Friday, my friend and co-guide, Caro North and I finished a Haute Route tour late in the evening. The next day we drove back from Zermatt towards Chamonix to start another Haute Route tour. Along the way we stopped at a local climbing crag.

I felt like a beginner.

Basking in the spring sun, warm rock under my fingertips, I felt happy.

I also felt like a beginner climber again.

Slowly and carefully, I explored the rock features. The footholds were so small and hard to see! Yet piecing the sequences together exhilarated me.

After our climbing session (which did not take very long to get to!), we continued to Chamonix.

Changing seasons can be painful.

Driving along, I got to thinking that changing seasons can be painful. I think it has to do with change being hard in general. Change often requires pushing yourself to take a step. It might be a different step, a next step, or a huge step. In this case, it is the step from one activity to another, the step from skiing to climbing.

For me, stepping into rock shoes instead of ski boots always feels like a gigantic step.

And every spring, I try to figure out ways to make that step feel smaller and more manageable.

This time I had an advantage because I had Caro.

Not only did I have a good friend to hang out with. In Caro, I had a super strong rope gun.

Watching Caro lead up the climbs helped me figure out the moves when it was my turn to climb. Somehow mirroring Caro was part of the exhilaration I felt when I finally did the moves for myself, and it made me realize how important it is to have good partners.

So, if stepping from ski boots to rock shoes feels gigantic for you too, then here are my top tips to help this change feel less huge for you this season:

Easy Transition from Skiing to Rock Climbing

  1. Climb with fun partners that you can trust and emulate.
  2. Stick to the easier routes. Seriously! Only do easy routes.
  3. Stop before your arms turn to spaghetti.
  4. Don’t set your expectations too high.
  5. Don’t define success by how hard you climbed.
  6. Define success instead by feelings of fun and exhilaration.

The first day of rock climbing season should leave you with a smile on your face as you crack open the door to rock climbing season just a tiny bit.

POW | Uniting Climbers to Protect 0ur Winters

POW poster of Angela Hawse climbing a 5.10 crack climb in Indian Creek, utah

Jamming with POW! Angela Hawse, Co-Owner Chicks, on just another 5.10 crack climb. Indian Creek, Utah. ©Ace Kvale

Last week I joined POW.

The purpose of POW is to unite the climbing community on climate advocacy. POW has a vision of a carbon-neutral future and is building a platform for climbers to have a voice on climate change.

As the seasons change, so does our dance with gravity from skiing to climbing. The wondrous transition of the seasons always reminds me of our precious planet Earth.

Planet Earth is something we can’t take for granted anymore. Each year I strive to live more consciously and take more responsibility for my carbon footprint.

In 2016, 7.7 million people in the U.S. participated in some form of climbing. As a community, we have the potential to move mountains. Together we can make positive change for future generations to enjoy the outdoors.

POW! Let’s do this! Let’s tie-in and talk about how we can step up our game.

Our Indian Creek Climbing Clinic

is just weeks away and as we’ll be sinking our jams into Indian Creek’s perfect sandstone splitters, we salute the fight for Bears Ears National Monument.

Indian Creek is one of our favorite climbing places because it’s the splitter crack capital of the world. If you want to take your crack climbing and trad climbing skills to a new level, Indian Creek is the place. But the best part of climbing in Indian Creek is its scenic beauty and remoteness.

Spring and rock climbing provide the amplified nature fix that Kitty talked about in her recent Doldrums post. We all need nature to reboot our outlook on life.

Fighting our way up a perfect crack climb gives us untold POWer that translates into everything we do.

So, hurry up already!

Join Chicks for all-women camaraderie, campfires under the stars and learn how to take your crack climbing technique to the next level.

Sign up now because there are only a few spots left on our Indian Creek Climbing Clinic.

Come jam with us and let’s get down to getting fired up!

Doldrums 

Kitty Calhoun navigating the doldrums, skiing at Red Mountain Pass Colorado

Kitty Calhoun, Co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, can’t quit laughing. Chicks Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Spitboarding Hut Trip, Red Mountain Pass, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun Collection

For days, I was in the Doldrums

For no particular reason, I felt listless.

Everything was a chore. I had to force myself to stay on task and be productive.

Yoga and the climbing gym helped, a bit, but I had no motivation to work on the computer.

I wasn’t even excited to go skiing with Angela, but I figured I should.

As we drove up the winding road towards Red Mountain Pass, we craned our necks and mused in awe at the large avalanche crowns on either side of the valley.  We imagined the avalanches starting, collecting speed, growing, and then destroying everything in their path.

Naturally occurring slides are most likely within 24 hours of the last storm.

I’ve witnessed enough to know that within minutes there’s calm and stillness again. It’s as if nothing ever happened.

We donned our skis, checked our beacons, and started skinning up a track through the trees.

I became focused on my breathing. Rhythmic, cold, white breaths formed frost on my hair.

It was snowing, and wind built drifts and further caked the heavy tree branches.

I became mesmerized with the cadence of my breath, the crystal beauty. I lost track of time.

Eventually, we arrived at a bench in a cirque near tree line and prepared for our descent.

Skiing down, I felt weightless in the deep, untracked powder.

We swept over rolling hills and snaked our way through large, evergreen trees.

I heard Angela laughing as she disappeared over a mound.

I followed, yelling,  “Yee-Haaa!”

Today, I feel like I can tackle anything, uplifted by of the power of the outdoors, the majesty of the mountains, and the wonder of snow.

I agree with Florence Williams, author of “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.”

The best prescription for the doldrums yet—go outside!

Two Scoops –  Favorite Spring Climbing Areas 

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, applying just the right amount of pressure in the amazing and surreal, Joshua Tree, California. ©Greg Epperson

Elaina Arenz, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, applying just the right amount of pressure in the amazing and surreal, Joshua Tree, California. ©Greg Epperson

One of the questions I get asked the most is “What’s your favorite climbing area?”

Honestly, “Where’s your favorite place to climb” is akin to asking, “What’s your favorite ice cream?”

It depends.

When it comes to ice cream, I could be in a mint-chocolate-chip mood, a salted-caramel-gelato mood or a strawberry-cheesecake kind-of-mood.

When it comes to climbing, since right now I’m ready to thaw out after winter, I’m in a warm-sunshine kind-of-mood.

My favorite spring climbing areas are Joshua Tree and Indian Creek.

Both Joshua Tree and Indian creek are sunny desert places!

Joshua Tree has 6000 climbs in an amazing and surreal setting. No cell service, deep orange sunsets, stars, friction and traditional climbing.

Friction climbing means many of the handholds and footholds are invisible. But when you carefully apply just the right amount of pressure, you stick. Friction climbing can be humbling and amazing when you discover what you can hold onto.

Joshua Tree is also a favorite because of its traditional climbing history. You have to place gear and build anchors. Placing gear adds a gratifying technical element. Fixed protection, like bolts, are rare but there are many climbs in the easier grade ranges. New trad climbers can work out the physics as they practice placing gear and building anchors.

Indian Creek is my other favorite sunny-desert, spring climbing area. Indian Creek is also a trad climbing Mecca.

However, gear at Indian Creek is easier to sort out.

Indian Creek is the land of the exalted splitter crack that goes on for an eternity.

Often 8-10 of the same-size cam makes up an Indian Creek rack. Then, the (mostly) parallel-sided crack systems tend to have bolted anchors.

Bolted anchors free your attention to focus on the climbing technique itself.

Crack climbing technique requires jamming skills—stick a body part (usually fingers, hands or feet) into a crack in such a way as to gain purchase.

There is nothing like a bomber hand jam!

So pick your favorite flavor and if you can’t decide, go ahead and order up two scoops;)