Rope drag, run outs, and route finding are a few aspects of climbing that I have had little to no experience with until about three weeks ago- when I began trad climbing. Before I delve into my experience learning and practicing the art of trad I will briefly explain what trad climbing entails:
*Climbers, please skip ahead…
Trad, short for traditional, climbing is a form of climbing that leaves no trace of the climber. All protective gear that is placed by the climber is removed before leaving the rock. Really this is the ideal form of the genre. It is relatively common to find a bolt here and there for protection through blank sections, permanent anchors on popular routes, and rappel stations. For the most part, though, the gear placed by a party is removed by that party.
Trad climbing involves carrying a rack of protective gear up the climb and placing this gear in cracks, pockets, and other features in the rock face. By clipping the rope into this pro (protective) gear the climber is then safe from a fall. The details go on forever, but as I said this is just a brief explanation.
*Climbers, continue here.
A few weeks ago we left Rumney, NH knowing that the rest of New England had few bolts waiting for us. To prepare for the New England traditional crags we enlisted a new friend, Amy Bannon, to show us some basics at the local Portsmouth, NH crag named Pawtuckaway.
Then, our good friend James met us in Acadia to continue the Trad 101 lesson that Amy had started. When James left we were on our own to hone in our trad skills in order to keep up with New England rock. I remember a piece of advice my cousin, Brian, gave me when we were discussing my plan to essentially teach myself how to trad climb. He very eloquently said “You’ll be fine. Just… don’t fall. Yeah, don’t fall for a little while.”
For the next few weeks Austin and I attempted to fully embrace the trad climbing of the Northeast. We climbed classics in Acadia National Park, then moseyed over to North Conway, NH. We tested our skills on some multi-pitch routes on Cathedral Ledge and ended our tenure in NH with the epic Whitney Gilman Ridge.
Whitney Gilman is a six pitch alpine climb on Cannon Mountain. The dodgy approach through 1000 feet of talus field looks up at the ominous ridge. Just as we got close to the base of the climb the boulders wobbled and shot out from our feet as if they were warning us to turn back. Pitch by pitch we plugged and cleaned gear while straddling the ridge, exposed on both sides.
As I belayed Austin over the top of the ridge, more than 600 feet from the unstable talus field, he looks back at what we had just accomplished and said “man, our parents have no idea what we are doing.” As we laughed we came to the consensus that Whitney Gilman was our favorite climb of the Odyssey so far.
From Cannon Mountain we rolled on over to the Shawagunks in New Paltz, NY where we climbed classics like Frogs Head, Sixish, and High Exposure.
Our weeks of exclusive trad ended at Seneca Rocks, WV where sandbagged routes, runouts, and loose rock kept the climbing interesting for sure. Now, as we enter the New River Gorge I am looking forward to pushing my technical grades on some bolts while mixing in some great trad in order to simultaneously enhance those skills.
After essentially teaching ourselves many of the skills of trad climbing and putting those skills to the test throughout New England I have found that traditional climbing calls for mental stability throughout each climb. Often I find myself stuck worrying about plugging gear rather than simply climbing. I found it is easy to get caught up working through your rack when there is a great rest just a few moves further. I have A LOT of room to improve my trad climbing, but needless to say…
Trad is Rad.