Rock climbers are already getting out in Canada, and with the increase in the popularity of climbing, there will be more climbers than ever at the crags. If you’re new to the sport, there are some things that you need to know about, from loose rock to old fixed gear. Not to mention ticks and bears. Below are some helpful reminders and tips to make your spring season as enjoyable as it can be.
Ticks and Bears
Ticks are gross little insects that love to hide at the base of warm crags. Their goal is to crawl onto you, find somewhere warm (arm pit or head) and to bury their head and suck your blood. Try your hardest to avoid these critters and do a thorough tick check every day until tick season is over. Bring the bug spray as the mosquitoes will be out in full force. Remember its bear season and most of our climbs are in bear habitat. Educate yourself about where you’re climbing and take the necessary precautions such as bear spray and groups of four.
The freeze/thaw process set into motion by cold temperatures is one of the main contributors to loosening rock from the earth. It’s especially dangerous on vertical rock faces. If you’re climbing a notoriously loose route, check every hold with a little tap before trusting it. Even places like Squamish and Skaha have had known rock falls. Wear a helmet and beware of loose rock. If you find one, shout to everyone that you are dropping it or to be awarded as you carry it down. Yell “Rock!” if you knock one off the wall.
Most of us have been climbing indoors for that past six months. Don’t let the excitement of being outside cloud your judgment. Good communication with your belayer is key. Know your calls, from “On belay” to “Secure.” When you’re at the top and threading the rope to be lowered, make sure your belayer knows to take in the slack. On rappels, make sure the ropes reach the next anchor or ground, keep knots in the end and DO NOT simul-rappel. There have been many deaths in the last two years because of inexperienced climbers trying to save time. Take your time, bring a headlamp. If you’re climbing with someone more experienced, and they want to simul-rappel and say, “Trust me, I’ve done it lots,” go with your gut. Simul-rappelling takes practice and time to perfect.
Bolts and Anchors
Protection bolts and anchors are not permanent. Someone was nice enough to put them there, but that doesn’t someone else didn’t take them or the weather didn’t loosen them. Be safe and carry a wrench that can tighten loose nuts on bolts and anchors. Every spring, climbers are surprised when bolts come off so go prepared. If you find loose bolts (the part drilled into the wall, not the removable hanger) report them to an access group immediately.
Pitons: The freeze/thaw also pushes pitons out of cracks. If you’re climbing a route with pitons, bring a hammer and bash them it to be sure it’s solid. If you don’t know how to do that, avoid the piton routes.
Booty: Booty is gear you find at the crag, in the alpine or on a route. If you come across quickdraws this spring, leave them. Chances are someone left them for a project. Never take quickdraws from a crag or route. Likewise, never take fixed ropes or buckets full of bolts either, those are someone’s property.
However! If there’s one draw or biner on a bolt or a piece of gear in a crack, chances are it’s from bailing, and we call that booty. If you can wiggle that fixed cam out, it’s all yours. But we suggest doing some research and returning it to its rightful owner, nothing feels better than getting an old piece of gear back.
Bolting: Many keen climbers want to add to the growing list of routes, but this could be dangerous. Before you bolt, learn about bolting. Ask around and practice with someone who knows their stuff. There’s more to it than just drilling a hole and smashing in a bolt. Here are some access societies across Canada that can help you out.
Clothing and Weather
It’s spring so be prepared for sudden rainstorms and cold weather depending on where you are. Wear appropriate clothing climbing. If you’re cragging wear light pants or stretchy jeans and if you’re doing long routes bring layers, gloves, shells and headlamps. At high altitudes be prepared for sudden snow storms, it’s been known to snow every month of the year in the Rockies.
You’re keen, it’s been a long winter. But don’t go getting on your project from last year without warming up on the stone first. Get a feel for it again. Save those tendons and joints, it’s going to be a long summer. Also, keep the local search and rescue phone numbers in your phone. If you’re heading somewhere without reception consider bringing something like a SPOT or InReach.
Access and Common Courtesy
Remember access issues impact your local climbing. Check the local access situations before heading to that crag you’re not sure about. Respect wildlife and seasonal closures in parks, no access signs and the ethics of your local crag. If you can’t anchor off trees then don’t anchor off trees. Park where you’re supposed to, pack out your garbage, keep the dogs behaving and let’s work together to ensure access for everyone.
What to pack
You’re not going gym climbing so pack for the conditions. Is there still snow at the crag? Bring a tarp and rope bag. Pack scrub brushes as lichen might have grown over some holds. Bring flagging tape if visiting a remote crag to re-flag the trail. Bring food, water, headlamps and a cell phone in case of an emergency. It’s always smart to pack a first aid kit with some painkillers in case someone in your group or another group gets injured. Many crags require stick clips so be sure you do or don’t need one.
Plan B and Guidebooks
Climbing is very popular and this year there will be thousands of new climbers who head to your favourite crag. Be prepared. Show up early, know the quiet zones and if you’re crag is busy, have an alternative. There’s only so much rock so be nice and share. If it’s a busy weekend, don’t hog a route. If you’re on it and someone wants a go, leave you’re draws and anchor and they can go for a lap. Guidebooks are always updated, find the most updated one for the area you’re climbing at. Even if you know the sector you’re visiting, bring the guidebook, you never know when it will come in hand.
For multi-pitch routes, it’s best not to climb under another party because if anything falls (rock or gear) you’ll end up with it on your lap. It’s really first come, first serve, so show up first or have an alternative route. If someone does join your route from below and are climbing much faster, let them catch up and pass if you think the rock ahead is safe. Sometimes very fast climbers will climb routes easy for them to get back into the flow. One day that might be you, and you’ll want to pass so use your best judgment. Try your hardest to avoid jamming too many people onto a route because it can be dangerous. Imagine rappelling through five parties going up while you’re going down, there are many things that can go wrong so best to avoid those situations. Remember it’s spring, so north facing routes will still be cold and some access might be hard until summer. Do some research. Climb safe this spring and remember the classic Alex Lowe quote, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” And don’t forget to watch for birds and other life that might call those cracks and pockets home. Keep yourself and everyone around safe this spring.