It’s late morning and one of the shortest days of the year when you and your five-deep crew pull up to the crags. One by one they lift packs, cams, rope bags– everything out of the car. Gear is divvied up amongst the team. In 15 minutes the march to the crags begins.
Once everyone’s at the base of the wall the next setbacks occur: First, moving people’s gear away from the start of the climb which often acts like a magnet for their junk. Next, piecemealing the rack together from different team members — “I need more hand sized pieces, who’s got an extra Red and Gold Camalot?” says one leader. After that, the rope is rolled out of its bag and flaked, or not flaked. The latter often results in a time-sucking rat’s nest. Lastly, everyone starts taping their hands.
Combining the late-morning arrival, racking/taping time, borrowing people’s stuff, and general stalling means it’s now early afternoon by the time you’ve started up the first pitch. A few leads later, the sun is setting and the precious climbing day is over. Essentially, you’ve completed a half a day’s or less climbing in a full day’s time. If you think of climbing as a casual outing — great — but you may want to go about it a different way if you ever want to double or triple your pitch count.
Below are 14 steps to a more efficient climbing day for those of us who’ve had enough dilly-dallying around and actually want to log mileage.
1. Plan ahead. If you’re going to climb with a group, break off into teams of two and decide in advance who’s planning to lead which pitches. Study the guide to dial in the approach, get the draws/cams ready, and decide how many ropes you’ll need for the day. Leave extra stuff in the car or back home.
2. Have your gear totally ready. If you can get out of the car, put your pack on and be walking to the crags in under two minutes, then you’re doing it right.
3. Landing Zone. I always carry a foam pad when cragging. This is an ice climbing trick used for as a seat, but it works great for putting cams, draws, and clothes onto. Resting on the pad, versus coarse granite, keeps my clothes from shredding as quickly. Sitting directly on the ground wears you out.
4. Go in comfort. I carry a light camp chair so I can re-organize the kit while sitting above it, thus saving energy. The camp chair also improves morale.
5. Do things once. When the cleaner reaches the ground they should never just drop all cams onto your ‘fancy foam pad,’ or worse, clip them all together and drop them in a pile. Re-rack draws directly on your partner’s harness, when practical, and put cams in order back on the gear sling.
6. Gear awareness. When sharing the crags, don’t drop your stuff too close to other teams’ gear because it adds confusion which slows things down.
7. Be proactive. If bouldering, don’t be the guy or gal to carry a crash pad to the rocks only to make it a seat rest — have it open and directly beneath the problem with shoes, chalk bags and other items entirely removed (this means all people, too; no shoeing up at the base when others are ready to start climbing).
When roped climbing, anticipate what the leader may need. Does the next pitch take those extra finger-sized cams stashed in the bottom of your pack? Well, get them out then.
8. Get up early. If the deal is to meet at 7am, then be there at 6:45am, and don’t be coerced into pancakes, bacon, coffee and the heater inside of your buddy’s basement apartment. This is a trap to sabotage your climbing. Or, meet someplace like a coffee shop that is convenient for both of you. Remember, every 20-30 minute delay equals a lost pitch.
9. Going solo. Even if you don’t have a partner that day, go to the crags prepared to go climbing anyway. This is a place climbers congregate so you’ll likely meet someone and exchange a few belays. Obviously you have to be selective whom you rope up with.
10. Stash it right. Be sure to have the guidebook and water handy during a complicated approach so you don’t have to stop and unpack each time you need to check the book or hydrate.
Zip your keys into a place where you can quickly access them to unlock your car at the end of the day. Make sure your headlamp is also easy to access. This way, later, you aren’t fumbling in the dark trying to open the trunk while everyone stands around with their packs on shivering.
11. Energy savers. If you’re out for a full day, the sun will deplete you of energy. Cover your neck by wearing a collared shirt, scarf, or even carry an umbrella to the base of a short route. Climb in the shade whenever practical. Climbing during the heat of the day generally results in poor climbing performance, fewer pitches and early exhaustion.
12. Dirtbag style. During fair-weather climbing trips, I crawl out of the sleeping bag (I generally don’t use a tent) and stuff it and the pads in my car. This takes almost no time.
13. Big Routes. The morning of a long climb and/or arduous approach, I forgo cooking breakfast entirely and carry a healthy supply of bars/jerky, fruit, pre-packaged caffeine drinks; items I can consume while hiking. This cuts out the hour it takes to cook a proper meal, eat and clean.
14. Prep for the next day. At the end of the day, get all the cams and biners prepped for the next outing. Don’t just cram a mess back in your pack. That night, refill water bottles and get food ready to save time the next morning. Take note of items you forgot that day, like extra water or an extra summer sausage roll, and get them ready for next time.