Climbing 101: Go climb a rock!

Thinking about rock climbing? REI’s James Hedges lends some expert opinion on the subject in this Q&A session.

I have a fear of heights.

“If climbers did not have a healthy respect for heights, there’s something that would not be right. The fear of heights and falling needs to be listened to and respected. When it comes to climbing, if it’s done safely, you’re given a venue to push your barriers. But it has to be done safely. It’s about trust. Trusting the people you’re climbing with, the gear and yourself. [Fear is] a self-preservation mechanism. I’ve taught climbing for years and when someone comes to me, the most important thing they do is admit they have a fear of heights and that they’re willing to push their boundaries just a little bit beyond their comfort level. As long as somebody does that - and it’s safe - they have just received one of the biggest benefits. A fear of heights is healthy.”

What about injuries? Are beginners more prone to them?

“You’re looking at different kinds of injuries within different environments they’re occuring in and it’s important to know the difference. In rock climbing, for example, I think there have been only one or two deaths associated with indoor climbing out of the millions who participate. Sprained ankles, strained ligaments, hitting heads on the wall? Sure. Those are things that happen when you’re engaging in that sort of activity. Playing, that is. But when you go into Alpine mountaineering and when you’re on El Capitan and a freak storm hits and you’ve got freezing water running over the top of you and you freeze to death due to exposure…is it the climbing that killed you or is it the exposure? That’s the challenge we have, to look at what medium these accidents are these occurring in. The American Alpine Club puts out a great, great learning tool, ‘Accidents in North American Mountaineering’ which documents a variety of accidents that we can learn from. Rappelling is the number one activity that gets people injured. It’s not the going up, it’s the coming down. Weather and fatigue can affect anybody. Most accidents are operator error and are managable.”

What do the terms “YDS” and “Grade” mean?

“YDS, or the Yosemite Decimal System, is basically the rating system that’s in place to characterize the difficulty or grade of a climb. Grade, on the other hand, is about level of commitment. Something that’s high-Alpine with minimal avenue of rescue, significant approach with high risk involved, for example. Time, resources and energy are all factors with Grade. There are different grading systems, for example in bouldering and also in different countries. When you get a guide book, it’ll talk about inherent risks. The book, ‘Freedom of the Hills’ is one of the bibles we use as a grade book. If you’re going to own one book about climbing, this is it.”

How much does it cost to get into climbing?

“For the primary gear you’re going to want to get, like a harness, climbing shoes and a chalk bag, it’s about $150. Plus a helmet. Beyond that, it’s more equipment, books and lessons, but you can get into it for about $150. After that, you can spend hundreds as with any sport. Qualified instruction is really important and a priceless resource.”

How long does it take to become a decent climber?

“I think we’re all decent climbers. We just haven’t ‘found it’ yet. There are people who can do it right off the bat. For most people, if you went two times a week to the [climbing] gym for a month and listen, watch and learn, you can do it in about a month. Fitness, strength, technique are all factors. In the outdoors it takes longer to become a better climber. There’s exposure, environment, so it takes longer. But outdoors is where people become truly inspired.”

What are some of your favorite places for climbing within the Sierra Nevada?

“I lived in Yosemite and there’s no place like it. There’s also Tuolomne. It’s hard to choose. Lover’s Leap, Owens River Gorge, The Buttermilks. We have some of the most accessible areas of Alpine style climbing at higher elevations than most places, with some of the best one-day climbs.”

What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in getting into climbing?

“[Climbing] is one of the best all around activities to truly expand yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually that I’ve ever come across. It’s not for everybody, but give it a try. Do it safely, be well educated and buy the right gear the first time.”

James Hedges is an avid climber and Assistant Store Manager of Action Sports at R.E.I., Reno

Here are a few places to try out your skills:

River Rock

YDS: 5.5 - 5.13+ · Grade: III · Difficulty: Intermediate
Description: Like many of the climbing areas around Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Gardnerville, River Rock isn’t a major grade IV-VI climbing destination but is fantastic for half-day excursions and day hikes. A granite formation halfway between Truckee and Reno with moderate climbs, River Rock is good for winter climbs when conditions in Tahoe aren’t as favorable.

Directions: Take I-80 West out of Reno. River Rock is located about 2.5 miles east of the Farad exit. Approach from the pullout/parking area takes around 20 minutes. From the gate, walk the road downhill and cross the railroad tracks. Then walk downstream parallel to the railroad tracks and cross the suspension bridge. Once across the bridge, stay to the left of the levee until you can cross the channel and hike to the rock.

Lodging: Stateline, Incline Village/Crystal Bay, Reno, Sparks and Carson City

Phone No.: 775-882-2766

Dinosaur Rock

YDS: 5.5 - 5.10+ • Grade: III-IV • Difficulty: Intermediate

Description: Dinosaur Rock is a 140-foot-high crag south of Carson City. The rock is eroded and decomposed in many spots, but the climbing is nonetheless challenging. Due to the northern exposure, Dinosaur is sunny in the mornings, shady during those hot afternoons, and oftentimes too cold to climb in the winter.

Directions: Turn right on Clear Creek Rd. off U.S. Highway 395. Drive 1.5 miles and park on the small pullout to the left of Dinosaur Rock. Cross the creek to the right of the crag.

Lodging: Carson City

Phone No.: 775-882-2766

The East Shore Crags

YDS: 5.8 - 5.12+ · Grade: III, IV · Difficulty: Intermediate
Description: The East Shore Crags, like most of the developed crags around Tahoe, are mostly granite, but andesite, rhyolite, and tuff rock are also prevalent. This side of the lake is oftentimes referred to as the Banana Belt due to its sunny, eastern exposure. The East Shore Crags include multi-face rocks like Trippy Rock, Spooner Crag and Shakespeare Rock.

Directions: Trippy Rock is located 5 miles north of Incline Village on State Route 431. Spooner Crag is located about halfway down the road that links the west edge of State Route 28 to U.S. 50. Shakespeare Rock can be seen towering 400’ above U.S. 50 above Glenbrook. Topos and detailed directions can be found in the Falcon Guide to Rock Climbing Lake Tahoe by Mike Carville.

Lodging: Stateline, Incline Village/Crystal Bay, Reno, Sparks and Carson City

Phone No.: 775-882-2766

Information courtesy and the U.S. Forest Service