On the Mountain: Learning the ropes
October 5, 2005
There’s a tendency for new rock climbers to embrace a cliff, clinging to it with their hips close and arms wide. That’s a bad tendency.”If you’re toward the rock, your feet slip out,” guide Bill Dodd said. He reminded three novices that their shoes would stick better with their weight back, balanced directly over their feet.It went well enough, first on an easier slab at King Philips Spring in the eastern Adirondacks that Dodd proposed a harder 100-foot cliff to finish the day.The route had narrow cracks. But at about 80 feet, the obvious handholds ran out, briefly leaving little more than toeholds plus fingertip friction against the nearly vertical slab.The number of climbers continues to rise, reflecting a burst of popularity starting in about 1998 that’s maturing with a core of more than 660,000 enthusiasts, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Its recent survey shows 4.7 million Americans climbed outdoors at least once in 2004, up 100,000 from a year earlier, while the average number of outings rose from eight to 12, spokesman Mike Lee said.That meant some 56 million total outings – second only to the 67 million trips in 2002.Bouldering has made the sport more accessible, Lee said, while technical climbing can require a few thousand dollars of equipment.”I’ve had people go up … and say this isn’t for me,” said Dodd, a climbing guide for two decades in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York.So while guided novices on their second outing probably could climb most of the Diagonal route up Wallface – more than 600 feet on the Adirondacks’ biggest cliff – Dodd recommended trying something with less exposure.At the cliff’s edge, taking down the top ropes he’d set up with redundant anchors, Dodd talked about actual risk versus perceived risk: Driving to the site, he said, actually was more dangerous than climbing the cliff, even though the latter certainly seemed the greater hazard.”Most rock climbers I know are chickens” who take every precaution to minimize risk, he said.