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How to Start Climbing, Part Three: Finding Climbing Partners

This is Part Three of our “How to Start Climbing” series. If you haven’t yet, check out Part One: Get Started at a Climbing Gym and Part Two: Your First Visit.

Ask any climber: one of the best parts of climbing is the people you meet along the way. Sure, you’ll need a partner if you’re going to top rope or lead climb, but having climbing partners is just as important if you’re bouldering – it’s your partner that will help you see what you can’t see and ultimately unlock the “beta” (the movement sequence required to get through a tough sequence) on a boulder problem you’re working on. And it’s our climbing partners that make climbing more fun, filling the down time between climbs with stories and laughs.

But if you’re just getting into this sport, how do you find people to climb with? Read on for some ideas on finding climbing partners:

Plug into your gym community

If it’s your first time at the gym and you don’t know anybody, try asking a staff member at your gym for help. They’ll know who’s new and who might be there alone and in need of a partner. Staff are usually be happy to help people get more connected at the gym.

At First Ascent, we try to give you an easy way to meet a bunch of new potential climbing partners by putting on New Member Meetups every month. These meetups are a perfect way to meet fellow FA climbers, both new and experienced, as well as some of the key staff members at that location.

At our roped climbing locations, we also use a whiteboard where climbers can put out a call for partners while they’re at the gym. You can write your name, what you’re climbing, and what you’re wearing so people can find you. Anybody also looking for a partner can check the board and go find a solo climbers in the ballpark of their ability and skill. We also offer harness tags that announce you’re looking for climbing partners (“Climb With Me!”) so belayers don’t even need to check the board. It’s an easy, low-pressure way to get introduced to new climbing friends, without having to approach climbing partners in cold-call fashion.

Go to climbing events

Another surefire way to find climbing friends and new belay partners is to attend community events. For example, last month we hosted FA Fest (our fourth anniversary party), where we held our “New Sends With New Friends” competition. Climbers who completed five routes or boulder problems with five people they’d never met before and got their names entered in a raffle to win prizes like Edelrid Crag Packs. No better way to incentivize you to climb socially! We also host the CrossTown Bouldering league, where you can sign up and get placed on a team to climb against the competition.

We’ve heard countless stories of people registering as an indy and getting placed on a team of climbers that ended up becoming their core group of friends – the crew they climb with, travel with, and even live with.

Find climbing partners on social media

Here in Chicago, the Greater Chicago Rock Climbing Community Facebook group is an excellent resource for finding climbing partners. In addition to all of the community building and sharing that happens there, it’s also a forum for finding a partner. They’ve even created a form for people to find climbing friends and belay partners. Just join up, follow the template pinned to the top of the Facebook group. Post that completed form to the group’s wall, and you’ll usually get at least a few responses from other climbers looking for partners within a few hours. Give it a try!

Create new climbers!

If you don’t already have climbing friends, why not create new climbers out of the friends you already have? You and your besties or even a sig o could have a whole new way of hanging out – no pun intended. All you’d need to do is text, call, bug them when you’re hanging out, at work, at your apartment, just to give it a try with you. At First Ascent, all members can bring in first time visitors for FREE, and they even earn some FA Bonus points for their effort. Side bonus: you’ll all be pretty close in skill level if you’re new as well, and you can all progress and go on adventures together.

Finding climbing friends and belay partners is one of the tougher things to do for many new climbers, but we promise it’s worth it — you’ll enjoy your climbing more, and you’ll have access to so much more if you make those connections, from outdoor sport climbing trips to a buddy to head to a restaurant with after you session. Of course, we always recommend checking a new belay partners’ skills as a safe belayer and climber (knots, double-backed harness, proper belay technique, etc.) when you’re just getting started. Once you’re past those checks, get out there and climb on!

Three Great Post-Climb Recovery Meals

How often do you consider your nutrition after a good climb session? What if I told you that eating nutritious foods post-climbing could help you climb better next time?

Climbing causes your muscles to fatigue quickly and your muscle energy stores to deplete rapidly. If you’ve ever left your climbing session feeling “pumped” and mentally exhausted then you know what I’m talking about. Refueling your fatigued and exhausted body post-climbing will help you recover appropriately, so next time you can finally send that problem you’ve been working on.

A healthy mix of carbohydrate and protein-rich foods will give your body the fuel it needs to recover from your climbing session. Carbohydrates help replenish your liver and muscle glycogen stores, which give you energy to get through the rest of your day and set you up for a well-fueled workout the next day. You want to aim to get roughly 45-60 grams of carbohydrates in your post-climb meal. Choose wholesome carbohydrate-rich foods like whole grains (rice, quinoa, barley, oats, whole grain bread and pasta), fruits, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, peas and corn.

Eating adequate amounts of good quality protein supports the growth and repair of your muscles, which helps climbers increase and maintain strength. Unless you are an ultra-endurance athlete or a bodybuilder, you don’t need excessive amounts of protein. On average, the human body can only use 25-30 grams of protein at a time; any protein consumed in excess of that is stored as fat. You can get adequate amounts of protein from 4 ounces of chicken, beef, pork or fish, 1 1⁄2 cups of tofu, or 3⁄4 cup of beans. Nuts, seeds, cheese, and whole grains also have protein, so be creative and add variety to your protein regimen.

And let’s not forget that vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables can aid in recovery, help you maintain a healthy weight, and reduce your risk for chronic disease. Round out your recovery meal with some kind of colorful non-starchy vegetable like kale, spinach, peppers, onions, carrots, beets, etc. There are so many to choose from.

Ready to put your post-climbing recovery meal into action? Here are three excellent post-climbing meals that contain a healthy mix of proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins/minerals required for optimal recovery and health.

Chicken & Sweet Potato Stir Fry

Stir fries are an easy way to hit all the food groups for a tasty and nutritious recovery meal. Choose a protein (chicken, beef, pork, fish, tofu, beans), a carbohydrate (rice, sweet potatoes, noodles) and add some veggies with sauce and you’re good to go. Pictured above is chopped sweet potato cooked with chicken and broccoli and seasoned with a mixture of sesame oil, soy sauce and red chili sauce for spice. Click here for the full recipe.

One Pan Greek Salmon Bowls

Salmon is a lean source of protein packed with omega-3 fats that help reduce inflammation in the body, especially post-climbing. Sautéed zucchini, corn and tomatoes are topped with marinated salmon and sprinkled with feta cheese for a flavor-packed and hugely satisfying meal. Serve with crusty multigrain bread to soak up the remaining juices. Click here for the full recipe.

Oatmeal with Peanut Butter, Berries and Nuts

Perfect for after a morning workout, though I’m guilty of eating a loaded oatmeal bowl like this for lunch on the regular. This bowl is packed with plant-based protein and wholesome carbohydrates that will help you recover from your workout and give you sustained energy for the rest of your day. If you’re a texture person and you can’t stand rolled or instant oats, you might like steel cut oats better. They take a bit longer to cook, but have a firmer texture. Give them a try. Click here for the full recipe.

By Ashley Thomas, FA Peoria Member and Registered Dietitian. Ashley is a regular host on cookwithme.tv – check out her recipes and videos!

Transitioning to an Assisted Braking Belay Device

Looking to make the switch to an assisted braking belay device for lead belaying, but not sure what device to choose or how to make the transition? 

The most important thing as you consider making the switch is technique – there’s no replacement for good technique and attentive belaying, and there’s always a slight learning curve when switching to a device that’s new to you. It takes a little bit of practice and sensitivity to feed slack quickly with good technique, so you’ll want to account for that for a session or two.

We dug up videos on the proper usage of the most popular assisted braking belay devices on the market, and we’ve included them below to help you decide which device is best for you. If you’re making a switch, look closely at the instructional video for the device you’re considering and ask yourself: will I feel comfortable with the technique required for this device?

 

Petzl GriGri

 

ATC Pilot

 

Edelrid Jul

 

Mammut Smart

 

Click UP

 

Wild Country Revo

 

Mad Rock Lifeguard

 

CAMP Matik

 

Trango Vergo

 

You can also check out the reviews below as you consider the device that might work best for you:

As far as our preferences go, the Petzl GriGri is the device we teach with at First Ascent. The GriGri is a great choice, and probably the most widely used assisted braking belay device around. If you’re used to belaying with an ATC, and still will outdoors, then the Edelrid Jul or the Black Diamond ATC Pilot offer the most similar slack feeding technique, but use assisted braking tech.

For those looking to get their new device through First Ascent, we’re building in the following initiatives through January 31st, 2019 to help you make the transition:

  • 30% off all belay devices we carry in the FA Pro Shop (GriGri, Jul, and ATC Pilot)
  • Free belay device rentals (GriGri, Jul, and ATC Pilot)
  • Clincis to introduce you to your options for assisted braking belay device options: click here to view the clinic schedule on Facebook.

Let us know which one you’re looking into – we’re here to help you get used to it. And if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out to us at info@firstascentclimbing.com

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!

 

 

How to Navigate the Crag, Part 4: What to Climb

This is part 4 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 Etiquette, and Part 3: Learning Local Issues, so you’re up to speed.

Before you go to the climbing gym, you don’t plan your routes. Outside, you have to.

One of the first things you’ll think about when you first start planning to climb outside in a new area is what routes you’ll do. You have limited time, after all – maybe a couple days, at most, before you pile back into the car to make it back in time for work the next day. Maybe you’re paging through a fresh new guidebook, combing through hundreds of routes based on a couple of lines of description and rating alone. How do you pick what to climb when you’re new to climbing outdoors? Nothing’s labeled, of course, but routes are often far apart enough to merit careful choice in selecting where to go for a day.

The simple, first answer is this: If you’re a new climber, thumb through the back of the guidebook, where you’ll likely find an index of routes sorted by grade. Pick a grade perhaps one below your gym level (gym routes rarely feel as difficult as the equivalent grade outdoors for a number of reasons), and look up the best rated routes of that grade. In many cases, because difficulty occurs naturally outside based on the rock itself, you’ll find a number of similarly graded routes near each other, with a couple routes considered high quality “classics.” Head there. Keep in mind, though, that these crags are likely to be the most popular areas around, so plan (and time) your visit accordingly. They’re well-trafficked for a reason – fun movement, non-chossy routes – so there will be tons of beta for new outdoor climbers getting used to movement on real rock.

Once you’ve knocked out some classics over a few trips, though, you might feel the urge to pick an exciting and challenging project to work over the course of a weekend. That creates some strategic necessities you’ll want to consider before you head out:

1: Avoid burnout and injury: have more than one project at first

Here’s a personal anecdote: A few years ago, I was climbing at Smith Rock in Bend, Oregon, and found myself fixated on a 5.12a with one move that required pulling on a one finger pocket – maybe two fingers at most. With few breaks between attempts, I tried and tried on that route, for probably 90 minutes. I never sent it. Want to guess what stopped me?

I strained a tendon from that pocket. I could have prevented that in part by taking my time, trying other routes with different, complementary movements periodically, and just generally being more strategic about my approach to sending a route I really wanted to finish. My point is this: Keep a few different routes in mind, in case your “single project” turns out to be too much, too fast for your skill level. You’ll get your project done eventually – probably much faster if you try a few different routes than if you single-mindedly punish yourself on a single climb. That leads to the next point:

2: Don’t stretch yourself too far in one push

Ultimately, it’s no fun to throw yourself repeatedly at a route that spits you off over and over. Plus, like I did at Smith Rock, you run the risk of injury. Stay modest if you’re new to outdoor climbing. It’s more fun in the long run to grow in wisdom, experience, and great stories, rather than pure strength and a steady uptick in redpoint grades (i.e. the grade you can typically complete not on the first try but after multiple attempts working the moves). This sport is a lifelong journey anyway, where youthful strength is only going to be an arrow in your quiver for a few years. Choosing the right routes for your body and skill will keep you in the game for longer.

Remember that gym grades are not equal to outdoor grades. You might have heard the term “sandbagging” – grading a climb with a lower, easier grade than what it actually deserves. Well, compared to indoor climbing, a lot of outdoor grades feel sandbagged, at least from a gym climber’s perspective. One reason outside routes feel harder: you will spend a significant amount of time route finding outside. Because the holds aren’t marked for you, you’ll need to search for the holds and the best way to hold them, figure out whether the route goes left or right, etc. Route finding takes time and energy, so your on-sight grade (i.e. the grade you can typically complete the first time you try it) will inevitably be lower.

3: Seek fun climbing, not fun sending

Especially in the beginning, as you’re getting used to outdoor climbing, it’s important to pay attention to the routes that are the most fun to climb in the moment, rather than fun to talk about later when you’re telling your friends. There’s a place in the world for Type II fun – after all, those kinds of experiences often enrich the soul most – but in the beginning of your climbing career, climb for fun in the moment rather than fun talking about the achievement. It’s okay to decide at a certain point that you really want to push your skills even if it takes difficult and concerted effort, but for now, make sure you’re having enough fun on your projects to come back out and do more! After all, the more partners we can find at First Ascent, the better.

In the next (and final) installment of the series, we’re covering climbing trip logistics: How To Navigate The Crag, Part 5: Planning A Climbing Trip.

By Chris Rooney, FA member and writer.

Photos courtesy of Ed Yu and Chris Rooney.

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