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How to Navigate the Crag, Part 5: Planning A Climbing Trip

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 TracePart 2: Crag EtiquettePart 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:

1: Gear

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.

2: Transportation

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.

3. Weather

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.

4: Food

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.

2018 Holiday Gift Guide for Climbers

The outdoor climbing season here in the Midwest has wrapped up for most people, and almost instantly the holidays have arrived. We asked ourselves what we’d want to receive or give as climbing-related gifts and came up with this list. If you’re the climber in question, share this with your loved ones with a little *wink wink*. If you’re gift-shopping for the climbers (or aspiring climbers) in your life, we have a few suggestions to get you started. Let us know if you receive any of these as a gift, or purchase them for your own friends and family:

Climbing Gear

Our top pick for give-able climbing gear is the Petzl GriGri 2.  As the belay device of choice at First Ascent, it’s very effective if used correctly, and it’s a popular device for a reason. While it takes some practice to learn to lead belay with it, it makes a great stocking stuffer. The GriGri is one size fits all, unlike climbing shoes and harnesses that require a good fit, and it’s the most straightforward and relevant gift for new climbers looking to climb outdoors soon (maybe in the spring…). Some alternatives here are a set of quickdraws or maybe a new rope – but for non-climbers buying gifts, those are more difficult to choose if you don’t know what exactly you’re buying.

Access Fund or American Alpine Club Memberships

It’s hard to know the ratio of rock climbers who have donated in some form to either one of theseorganizations during their climbing careers. But we’d bet it’s high, for good reason: the Access Fund is the primary US organization pushing for the protection of many of our beloved climbing areas, and the American Alpine Club is the main association for the rock climbing community. Gifting memberships to these organizations not only gets your climber great swag and discounts, it also helps protect and support the sport of climbing itself. How could a climber not love that?

Travel/Guide Gift Cards

Most climbers have this in common: they love to travel to new places. Who hasn’t dreamt of looking up at limestone crags in Siurana, or the oceans of granite slab in Yosemite after watching their climbing heroes put up new and exciting lines? The privilege of travel is a great gift to give in general, but doubly so for climbers, who often dream of remote routes and boulders they hope to climb someday. We’d love to get a gift card from Southwest Airlines to get us to new crags – or a Red River Gorgeous cabin rental gift certificate (call to inquire) to book a weekend at the Red.


Guiding Services or Guidebooks

One of the best ways to get immersed in a new climbing area, especially for newer climbers, is to hire a guide. Devil’s Lake Climbing Guidesa guiding service in Baraboo, Wisconsin, offers guiding services and courses at Devil’s Lake State Park. Check out their Adventure Gift Certificates for specific classes, like Anchors or Rope courses for two, as well as general gift certificates for custom amounts if you don’t know which course to buy. You could also buy guidebooks for a safer bet, like the Devil’s Lake Climbing Guidebook by Wolverine Publishing or the combined Minnesota & Wisconsin Bouldering Guidebook by Rock & Snow.

First Ascent Schwag & Gift Cards

Lastly, of course, is our in-house schwag . We offer gift cards to First Ascent for everything from Intro To Climbing classes to 10-Passes, or any amount you’re looking to give. Also, walk into any of our gyms: we offer First Ascent t-shirts, trucker hats, pom beanies (these are new, and turning out to be popular), coffee mugs, and even pint glasses to buy for friends and climbing partners to enjoy a post-send beer. We even just picked up Red River Gorge-themed vegan, hypoallergenic soy candles – perfect for relaxing after a training session (available only at First Ascent Avondale). Come by anytime and take a look!

We hope this list helps you with your holiday shopping. In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, remember: the greatest gifts we have are the people in our lives – friends, family, and loved ones. Keep them close this holiday season. Happy holidays to all!