Climbing is largely about progression, and one of the most significant progressions many climbers will make is taking their climbing from indoor gyms to outside cliffs. Gyms are often closer to would be new climbers. They’re more accessible and offer a safe, easy to access learning environment to experience the thrills of climbing in a digestible format. Folks who catch the bug in the gym eventually want to take their passions to outdoor playgrounds. This is a serious step. It is a less controlled environment, requiring a greater level of knowledge to climb safely, and a corresponding increase in the required personal responsibility. New techniques, ethics and systems must be learned, and trusted. The best way to do this is to ease into it with a guide/ teacher, showing you the ways, being their to reassure, and helping you wade through the ethics of climbing at outside cliffs.

In the past couple of days I had two opportunities to help groups begin this progression. This post is to demonstrate some of the ways to take your gym skills to outdoor cliffs in a safe controlled manner, as well as to highlight what these folks did.

First up were David and Caitlin Lewis. They started climbing this winter at Evolution Rock Gym and quickly progressed through the grades and into leading on the sport walls at the gym.

David on Blustery Day

David on Blustery Day

David On Blustery Day

Having the full day, David, Caitlin and I started by hiking up to Upper Darth Vader crag. This location is fairly shaded and cool on summer mornings, and offers a handful of fun moderates to warm up on. One of the bigger cruxes of the gym to crag progression is learning to look for holds in the rock, as opposed to fluorescent colored shapes on a wall. This can be a serious challenge as holds outside often don’t look like holds at first. The presence of climbing chalk can help out times to identify a hold, but how to use it, and whether it is a good one or not, still needs to be determined. Additionally, it is a new environment, and climbing outside for the first time can often be a little scary because of the new unknowns. This area provided us an opportunity to get use to this new environment, and start reading the rock for how to climb it.

Caitlin on Dirtigo

Caitlin on Dirtigo

Caitlin on Dirtigo

For the afternoon we moved to the now shaded Dirtigo area. This part of main cliff offers some very safely bolted easy climbs. When learning a new system, usb as leading, it is good to strip away all other challenges in order to focus on the one that you are trying to learn. There are three easy climbs here that are great for learning to lead, as the main challenge becomes leading, instead of the difficulty of the climbing. Caitlin had lead regularly in the gym prior to this, but never outside. We went over how to clip the draws to the rock, and then the rope to the draws, and how to manage the lead rope so that it was in a safe location. Caitlin then put this new knowledge to use rope gunning to great climbs for her Dad!

If you’re coming to the outdoor realm with no indoor leading skills, then a great way to learn is by mock leading. This is were you are on top rope, for safety, but clipping bolts and managing a lead rope for practice. A group of four friends from Windham High joined me for a half day of learning to lead at Rumney, and this is the approach we took.

Mock Leading

Mock Leading

Mock Leading

These guys were coming from Vertical Dreams with varying degrees of experience and skill. We worked through out our day to get them all on a climb where they were able to practice leading skills safely, as well as a climb or two where they could challenge themselves on real rock, as this was all of their first times outside.

Going for the clip

Going for the clip

Going for the clip

As a guide, my best days are when my guests are able to progress. Both of these groups were genuinely excited to improve their game and learn new skills, and form my perspective they were able to do both. Thanks to all for two great days, and I hope to see you out on the cliffs soon!

MMG Guide

Erik Thatcher