Utah has a staggering 1,300+ ski runs between our 15 resorts. That is a lot. It’s also a lot less than the number of climbing routes in those same borders. Utah holds 16,431 established climbs, well over a lifetime's worth of climbing with new routes still being established. Each of these thousands of climbs located in hundreds of zones filters down to one unique experience. The sounds, textures, dances and struggles will each tell a different story wherever you decide to rope up or put down your crash pad.
Not so different from world-class skiing in Utah, the climbing is just as likely to end up on bucket lists for vertical enthusiasts. Climbs like Zion National Park’s Moonlight Buttress 5.12c only garnished more notoriety after Alex Honnold showed everyone he was ready to become the world’s leading free soloist. Ancient Art, one of the most popular sandstone towers, has made appearances in a number of commercials. Adding to its allure is the possibility of losing it in our lifetime. Cobra Tower once stood in the same zone as Ancient Art only to succumb to server weather. The climbing zone Indian Creek can casually be mentioned in the same breath as Yosemite Valley and Smith Rock attracting high level climbers every year.
Accessibility is always a talking point during our snowy months of the year, and climbing is no different. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve passed climbers on your drive up to both Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons as you head towards Alta Ski Area, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude Mountain Resort. Watching them scurry across the road with crash pads attached to their backs like square-shaped turtles, or latched to rock faces in the distance in the spring and fall. In the heart of winter, ice axes and crampons make upward movement possible. The drive to the nearest climbs is 20 minutes from the airport or a decent leg stretcher from the heart of downtown. This makes Salt Lake City International Airport a gateway to one of the best climbing scenes in the United States.
This article is not a how-to for climbing outside, as I believe text can only go so far in preparation for the great outdoors. Your greatest resource will be classes at your local gym and adventuring out with experienced climbers (though experience should not be mistaken for expertise and expertise should not be mistaken for wisdom). My hope is that this article is crossing your path as you’re transitioning to the outdoors; your mind full of inspiration and your essence full of psych. I want to provide you with a few reminders to help provide a seamless transition as your trade plastic for stone.
Know Before You Go
There is absolutely no excuse for not knowing the make-or-break facts on a route. At one point, the only way to obtain beta for a route was through word of mouth or climbing books. Now, much is crowd sourced through amazing online resources. One of the strongest is; mountainproject.com. On this site, you’ll find everything ranging from the times of day climbs are in shade or sun, sections that maybe closed due to vegetation reintroduction or mating seasons and specific information on quality holds on routes. I believe the most inexcusable mistake is not knowing if your rope is long enough for a climb. If there is any doubt, tie a knot in the end of your rope (always good practice anyway). Which brings us to the next point:
Double Check Your Knots
A few years into climbing, I was roped up with a friend who I had climbed with since I’d started. Tongue in cheek, we checked each other, our egos telling us we’d done this too many times for this to be a necessity. We caught a flaw. On autopilot, I’d tied my end to a single contact point instead of two. Truth be told, the chances of me surviving a fall with a single contact point tied are pretty solid, but that’s not the point. Climbing's safety is built on redundancy. Tying a rope to two points of a harness; redundancy. Tying your knot then having your partner check it; redundancy. Equalizing an anchor; redundancy. Complacency kills, double check those knots.
As your trips to the outdoors increase, so will your climbing circle. Each climber comes to the crag with different knowledge, experiences and technique. Take a beat to ensure you’re on the same page, especially when it comes to the end of the climb. Are you being lowered or repelling? Will you be coming off belay or just asking for slack? Recently a climber recounted a horror story of climbing outside with someone they’d met at the gym for the first time. In essence, the belayer took him off belay because he heard someone else yell, “off belay!” Sadly, climbing is haunted with stories like this, many without the happy ending. Be honest and direct in your communication. If something feels sketchy or out of your skillset, its better to critically hurt an ego than a body.
Many of us find joy in the sports we do because they force us to be present. The present moment is where reality happens, and where reality happens is where joy can be felt. If our minds wander to the past or future during our adventuring we might catch an edge or come off a route. As you dip into your chalk bag, look around at the sites. Maybe they’re cool and alpine, like Stash Wall near Alta, or bold desert conditions like the surroundings of Wall Street near Grand County. Belay is on, be present, feel the joy, climb on.
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