Gym to Crag: The Real Deal

For better and worse, many climbers these days are introduced to climbing in a gym. Climbing gyms are excellent places to learn proper belay technique and hone the fundamentals of free climbing. The walls of most gyms are also equipped with fixed quickdraws to practice leading.

Sport climbing areas, as opposed to trad crags, are as close to an indoor gym arena as you get outdoors, though their differences are vast when it comes to the super important stuff like safety, and the other important stuff like etiquette, good behavior, and leaving no trace.

Practice Leave No Trace

It seems obvious to me and many people that you shouldn’t throw garbage where it doesn’t belong, but after seeing this latest ugly story of some college students who trashed a lake, apparently not everyone has that respect.

Obviously, the goal is to leave crags cleaner than when you found them. Stay on trails, don’t leave trash, and properly dispose of your own waste.

The Basics

Gym climbers who venture outdoors must learn how to become completely self-reliant and responsible for their actions. This begins with knowing the basics of how to belay a leader, and extends to knowing how to evaluate the integrity of your own gear as well as any gear that’s fixed on the wall: whether that’s bolts, permadraws, or just manky old slings. Also important is knowing how to avoid loose rock, and respond appropriately to bad weather, especially lightening. Be aware of these crucial points:

Don’t assume any fixed gear you find outdoors is reliable. In a gym, setters and gym owners make sure that their ropes are in top condition, that bolts are properly tightened, and topropes are safely strung. Outdoor crags have no one checking to make sure anything is safe.

Bad bolts may be a legitimate concern in some places. However, at most crags, especially on popular routes, older bolts have been replaced with honker ½-inch five-piece expansion bolts or glue-ins, which are extremely solid. Look at the bolt’s nut: Is it securely threaded on the bolt, or is it about to unscrew itself? Is the hanger loose? Is the bolt heavily rusted? (A little rust can actually be perfectly safe). Is there a gap between the bolt/hanger and the rock itself? These things may indicate a dubious bolt.

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