This is part 5 in our 5-part series How To Navigate The Crag. If you missed them, be sure to read Part 1: Leave No Trace, Part 2: Crag Etiquette, Part 3: Learning Local Issues, and Part 4: Choosing Routes, so you’re up to speed.
If you’ve read this far in our How to Navigate the Crag series, you’re now up to speed on how to play outdoors ethically, how to follow the local style effectively, how to be a good climbing citizen, and how to pick a few routes you want to try. The final step is to plan your trip and, most importantly, go! Plan carefully: If you show up unprepared, or with a partner who in unprepared, it’ll be tough to climb what you want to climb. If you’re not using the right vehicle, it might be difficult even to access the routes you want to try. Beyond the basic camping gear (or whatever you need for your lodgings), here’s how to plan your first trips to a new crag:
Pro tip: create and follow a checklist of gear while packing for your next trip. You can even create a different checklist for each destination you frequent. When you decide to go to the Red, you can pull your list out of your phone or wherever you keep it, and run through that list to pack.
This is also your opportunity for a classic Instagram post: the ubiquitous overhead gear shot we see all our heroes post. This is the perfect moment to both ensure you’ve got all your climbing gear, and make your debut as a social media influencer.
One common mistake newer sport climbers often make: showing up to the crag with too few quickdraws. You’ll want to make sure to scope out the beta for the projects you want to climb so you can bring at least enough draws for your longest route’s bolts, plus the anchors.
Make sure to think through the means of transportation available to you on your climbing trip. Certain areas can be too hard to access in low-clearance cars – think of Bald Rock or PMRP at the Red. Without four wheel drive or AWD and a touch of ground clearance, those trailheads can be very difficult to access – especially if the area’s seen any recent precipitation. A Civic probably isn’t going to cut it.
The best solution for low ground clearance: set up a carpool or finding a new partner (perhaps with a Jeep or SUV) in the Greater Chicago Rock Climbing Community on Facebook, or make appropriate vehicle plans with friends at FA. If you’re really lucky, a friend or family member might be convinced to lend you a capable vehicle – just make sure to fill it up the tank and run it through a car wash afterwards. There’s no worse way to say thank you than to return a car that needs to have mud cracked off the door handle and scrubbed out of the carpets.
Unchecked weather can completely shut down an otherwise great trip. Heat and humidity can kill your excitement for a climb, particularly if you’re in the sun the entire route. Colder is often better for climbing, as humidity is decreased, which will improve skin and shoe rubber friction and make it easier to stick to the holds.
If it rained recently, it’s ill advised to try to climb at some climbing areas, even if you drove all the way out. It can even be destructive. On certain types of sandstone, for example, rain weakens the rock such that climbing on it can accelerate its erosion. Don’t be the person who ignores those ethics. In other places, like the Red, it’s possible to climb in the rain, on certain overhanging routes. You’ll find no shortage of climbable routes in Kentucky during a light rain, but don’t forget to consider whether or not the muddy road is passable.
Sometimes, planning food is easy – Miguel’s Pizza at the Red will set you up with everything you need, and at least for this writer, eating anything but pizza at the Red is not easy to accomplish. For weekend warriors, food is critical – you won’t generally climb enough to not be fairly sore and tired after your first day, so eating right plays an outsized role in making sure you last longer than a day working your projects or ticking off classics. Climbing Magazine put out a great, simple guide to cragging food for most climbers.
5: Take care of yourself
If you really want to stay fresh, you’ll have to lay off the campfire whiskey. But let’s be realistic – something about sleeping outside after a hard day of climbing makes a person want to sit around a fire or picnic table and pass around a flask a couple of times. We’re not here to judge, since that can be fun – and for some, that’s just how you unwind at a campsite or in the outdoors generally. Just make sure you’re smart about it, drink plenty of water, and try to get at least 7 hours of unbroken sleep before a big climbing day. That goes doubly for weekend climbers – who wants to feel hungover in a tent? Take care of yourself before you climb and you’ll notice the difference.
By Chris Rooney, FA member and writer.