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Halfway up Comfortable Numb, I gained a new appreciation for the art of trad climbing. It was at the point where the off-width crack had angled outward and widened, where my right leg was jammed inside the crack and my right hand was desperately holding on – this is where I tried to find a piece of gear to place and realized that I’d already used all of my large cams.
“This one here is a character builder”, Martin had warned me before I roped up.
Luckily this was early on the second day of our two-day trad climbing course and I was still protected with a top rope. The mock gear placement was just part of an exercise to learn which gear to place, and where, and – maybe most importantly -- strategizing about how to use your gear on a climb so that you didn’t run out before reaching the top.
This is the second year that the ACC Vancouver section has offered the trad climbing course, which was taught by long-time club members Martin Siegert and Dave Henwood, and eight of us had signed up to take part.
Day one began with a 7:30 meeting at the church parking lot in West Vancouver and car pooling up to the Smoke Bluffs, where we set up our ropes on a small bluff beside Neat and Cool. On the first morning, Martin and Dave explained the basics of trad climbing – how to place nuts and cams, where the best spots are to place them, and how to tell if the gear is solid. “You could hang a car off that one,” meant that it was a good one, whereas “this one is interesting” meant, well, that it was an interesting placement but not necessarily one that you’d want to trust your life on.
Once we got through the on-the-ground training, we moved onto the top ropes and did some mock-leads, placing gear as we climbed and then lowering back down with either Martin or Dave to critique our placements. Martin shared some of his most valued gear, including a nut that pre-dated cams (“This nut would probably be worth at least $800 on Ebay!”), while Dave showed us some tricks to place hexes. It was a great exercise to get a feel for trad climbing and learn which pieces of protection worked and which ones didn’t. The day wrapped up with Martin showing us how to build an anchor station with just gear – first static and then self-equalizing -- and having us build one ourselves.
Day two was more good weather (despite a rainy forecast!) and more practice placing gear, this time on the longer crack climbs at Octopus’s Garden. We were lucky enough to have the bluff to ourselves for most of the day and once again Martin and Dave worked with each of us, rapelling down our climbs to review our protection.
After half a day of practice, it was time for real deal – an actual lead climb. We moved to the small bluff Call it a Day, home to four blocky 5.6 routes that are ideal for a firsttime trad lead. My climbing partner for the weekend, Iwona, stepped up to lead first (impressive!) and, with a bit of support from Martin, proceeded to zip up the route with gear and top out with her arms raised (after tying into the anchoring of course).
Darn, now it was my turn! The bottom half went well. In fact, the first two-thirds went well. It wasn’t until I placed a nut the size of my pinky fingernail that I got nervous. That’s when Martin happened to swing over and point out a good placement for a second nut – a much bigger nut – that calmed my nerves. A couple steps later and I was at the top, my first official trad climb.
By 5:00 the group of us had all gotten our first trad climbs and it was time to celebrate with beer and dinner at the brew pub. A big thanks to Martin and Dave for sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience – it was an awesome weekend and I’m looking forward to practicing more trad climbing this summer.
Submitted by Brad Badelt
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