FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

On a mission to serve and grow Chicago's vibrant climbing community.

Before You Climb: 5 Common Mistakes to Look For And Correct

As a staff member at FA, I have the privilege of administering belay checks and being a presence on the floor while members and visitors are climbing. I call this a privilege because I get to help ensure that climbers know how to use their climbing equipment properly and are climbing safely at First Ascent.

I’ve encountered several mistakes climbers make before they even get off the ground, so I thought I would share the 5 most common mistakes to watch out for before you begin your ascent:

Twisted Harness

Your harness is a major safety device that keeps your body safe whether you’re 10 feet off the ground or 1,000 feet off the ground. Making sure your harness is worn properly enables the gear to work the way it was designed to.

WITH A BELAY LOOP TWISTED UP LIKE THAT, THE HARNESS WILL WEAR MORE QUICKLY AND NO WAY IS THIS COMFY.

WITH A BELAY LOOP TWISTED UP LIKE THAT, THE HARNESS WILL WEAR MORE QUICKLY AND NO WAY IS THIS COMFY.

A twisted harness or a harness worn upside down (gear loops facing up instead of down) is one sign that your harness isn’t being worn properly. Twisted harnesses can add unnecessary wear at certain spots, cause discomfort, and ultimately present a safety issue since harnesses are designed to hold weight and handle impact when you fall.

Also making sure the rope is fed through the proper loop and all straps are double backed is just as important. Make sure you and your partner’s harness check out, and if you’re not sure feel free to ask a staff member check your harness too (unless you’re getting tested, because then they can’t help you.)

Unable to Tie a Figure 8 Knot from Scratch

If you’re the climber, the figure-8 knot is the gold standard when it comes to climbing knots, and you want to make sure your knot is properly tied. When walking around the gym, it’s easy to find several ropes that already have the knot started for you, but if you’re taking the belay test, you’ll need to know how to tie that knot from scratch, without assistance. If any point of this knot is not properly tied, your knot won’t be completely safe, and if you’re taking a belay test, you will definitely fail the test.

2, 4, 6, 8... WAIT A MINUTE! THIS GUY CAN'T CLIMB WITHOUT 10 STRANDS OF ROPE IN A KNOT. THIS IS NO FIGURE-8 FOLLOW-THROUGH! RE-DO!!

2, 4, 6, 8… WAIT A MINUTE! THIS GUY CAN’T CLIMB WITHOUT 10 STRANDS OF ROPE IN A KNOT. THIS IS NO FIGURE-8 FOLLOW-THROUGH! RE-DO!!

Rope is improperly fed through the harness

Harnesses generally come in two different styles when it comes to the belay loop. If you are the climber, you will need to make sure the rope is fed through the belay loop or the two hard points correctly, depending on the style of harness you’re using.

HOLD UP! THOSE ARE NOT THE TWO HARD-POINTS ON YOUR HARNESS, BUDDY!

HOLD UP! THOSE ARE NOT THE TWO HARD-POINTS ON YOUR HARNESS, BUDDY!

Most harnesses have two “hard points” that you feed the rope through to tie your knot, while others have one (like the FA rental harnesses). Make sure your rope is fed through the proper hard point(s) on the harness, usually the two points that the belay loop is attached to. If you’re not sure how to properly feed the rope through the harness you are using, don’t hesitate to ask a First Ascent staff member or experienced climber – it’s definitely worth the effort to make sure you are tying in safely.

Twisted Rope

Whether climbing on lead or top rope, checking your rope is very important. If you’re top roping, remember to look up before you climb. If the rope is twisted at the top of the route, untangling yourself and your belayer will help your climb immensely. If you’re a lead climber, make sure your rope isn’t tangled and the best way to do that is to flake the rope before you climb.

A RAT'S NEST IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE AT YOUR BELAYER'S FEET.

A RAT’S NEST IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE AT YOUR BELAYER’S FEET.

Even if you’ve moved climbs and you think your lead rope is OK, it’s always best to flake the rope just in case. It’s no fun when your lead partner is ready to clip, and you’re unable to feed enough rope because you’re fighting a tangled rope at the bottom.

Taking Your Brake Hand Off the Rope while Belaying

These days, modern technology is designed to add safety to your climbing adventures, so that should worst case scenarios happen, the gear has mechanisms that can potentially save your life. While most grigris have locking mechanisms (for the the mechanics of your belay device, go to this post), at the same time, worst case scenarios still call for proper technique.

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE READING A BLOG POST ON HOW TO PROPERLY BELAY... GET THAT RIGHT HAND ON THE BRAKE-END OF THE ROPE, GUY!

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE READING A BLOG POST ON HOW TO PROPERLY BELAY… GET THAT RIGHT HAND ON THE BRAKE-END OF THE ROPE, GUY!

If you’re the belayer, keeping your break hand on the rope at all times is absolutely crucial. No matter how safe you think the belay device is, it’s so important to keep that hand on the break side of the rope. To learn safe proper belay techniques, visit this recent post on belaying, or checking out a class can be a great resource too.

Top 5 Outdoor Climbing Destinations Closest to Chicago

If you’re a resident of Chicago and excited about climbing, you’re probably wondering where all the outdoor climbing is. Chicago has some great climbing and bouldering gyms, but it sure is flat. As climbing season approaches and you get ready to go outside, here is a brief synopsis of the 5 most popular climbing destinations closest to Chicago.

RED RIVER GORGE

Fondly referred to as “the Red” or “RRG”, the Red River Gorge is by far the place Midwest climbers most often go to to get their outdoor climbing on. Located in the Daniel Boon Forest in the eastern part of Kentucky, the Red is about a 6.5 hour drive (lose an hour when you cross the time zone) from Chicago and has a multitudeestablished routes with bolts into the walls. Most people camp or lodge at popular destination spots like Miguels, where there is also pretty great, reasonably-priced pizza, but there is also a plethora of other lodging options nearby. Go at the right times and you’ll even run into pro-climbers working their magic on the routes. The Red is where Sasha DiGulian made a name for herself by becoming the first woman to send Pure Imagination.

Popular types of climbing: Sport/Lead climbing. There is some trad, and top-rope climbing if a lead or trad climber establishes it for you. There is some bouldering as well.

Online Climbing Guide: http://www.redriverclimbing.com/RRCGuide

CLIMBER: PATRICK YU ROUTE NAME: AMARILLO SUNSET (5.11B) RRG AREA: SOUTHERN REGION, NORTH 40 PC: NARI HO

CLIMBER: PATRICK YU
ROUTE NAME: AMARILLO SUNSET (5.11B)
RRG AREA: SOUTHERN REGION, NORTH 40
PC: NARI HO

DEVILS LAKE

Located in the heart of Wisconsin (about a 3+ hour drive from Chicago), Devils Lake consists of beautiful hikes on bouldery rocks, and a huge lake smack dab in the middle. If you know where to go, there are some great places to boulder or top rope on all sides, but you’ll need a resource such as Mountain Project or a friend who’s been there before to show you the way. Look out for boulder landings, as some areas have very flat terrain, and others definitely do not.

Popular types of climbing: Bouldering, Trad climbing and Top Rope (you will need to set up your own top rope anchors).

Helpful Guide: Mountain Project (www.mountainproject.com)

CLIMBER: NARI HO ROUTE NAME: CORNER ROOF, V3 DL AREA: WEST BLUFF SOUTH, JIGGA-BEAUTIFUL SOUP PC: KINGA PECAK

CLIMBER: NARI HO
ROUTE NAME: CORNER ROOF, V3
DL AREA: WEST BLUFF SOUTH, JIGGA-BEAUTIFUL SOUP
PC: KINGA PECAK

JACKSON FALLS

One of the few places to sport climb and boulder in Illinois, Jackson Falls is located in southern Illinois and has on-site camp grounds established. Though not as expansive as the Red, Jackson still contains a great number of well-established routes for climbers of all levels to tackle. It’s also beautiful to check out in the Fall.

Popular types of climbing: Sport/Lead climbing, Top Rope and some bouldering.

CLIMBER: CHARIS LAFORGE ROUTE NAME: WILD AT HEART PC: NARI HO

CLIMBER: CHARIS LAFORGE
ROUTE NAME: WILD AT HEART
PC: NARI HO

HOLY BOULDERS

Also located in Southern Illinois, Holy Boulders is an established place with pretty great sandstone climbing. People mostly come here for bouldering and have a popular bouldering competition held every Fall. Most people drive down to the Holy Boulders, camp outside, and spend the weekend with their crash pads checking out different types of boulder climbs. If you’ve never been here before, the best way to become familiar (aside from going with someone who knows) is to participate or attend their bouldering comp in the Fall. Everything’s labeled and there are signs throughout the place to help you find your way.

Check out this fun video to get a grasp of what climbing at the Holy Boulders will be like:

GOVERNOR DODGE

Located about 45 minutes west of Devils Lake, Governor Dodge is an area that has it all, bouldering as well as some sport climbing in which you can also set up top rope climbing. Governors Dodge, like Devils Lake is a good place to either camp, or make it a day trip.

CLIMBER: RICK ALLEN PC: JOANNA TANG

CLIMBER: RICK ALLEN
PC: JOANNA TANG

If you’ve never climbed outdoors before, or have limited experience, check out First Ascent’s Climbing Workshops such as the Gym to Crag session which will help you maneuver the realm of climbing outside. Happy Climbing!