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The top roping problem

I wrote the following on a climbing website. Someone was complaining about all the top ropers, and how he couldn’t get on a climb all day because large groups had showed up early and tied up all the climbing routes with beginners. I am posting it here because it is reasonably good writing…for me…and I have been feeling bad about not updating this “blog”.

Here is my post:

Ah we are back to this. Crowded cliffs. Whether it is one leader, with 6 non leading top ropers, or an organized group tying up an entire cliff for top roping. It’s basically the gym mentality coming outdoors.

I hate starting lines with “Used to be…” or “Back when I…”

What used to be doesn’t matter anymore. These people are here, and they aren’t going away.

There are a couple of solutions:

Always carry a trad rack. Many times I’ve been at Smith Rocks where all the bolt lines are tied up. But right next to the bolt lines is an old trad line…and no one is on it. Have you ever done Old Testament? Or both pitches of Lycopodophyta? Fridays Jinx? Pack animal? Or routes that can’t easily be TR’d like Tammy Bakkers face? How about Bookworm? No one ever does bookworm (except me), and it is right next to Bunny face.

The next time you mentor a new climber, teach them to always lead, never, ever top rope. Have them follow you up a few easy cracks, pulling gear, and examining placements.

Then make them lead. This means you will have to search out the really easy 3rd and 4th class cracks, sometimes even short boulders with cracks. Stuff that is so easy they could free solo it. Have them put in their own gear.

Follow them up and critique the placements. Teach them the value of being a leader from day one.

The Icicle canyon in Leavenworth is a great place for that. It’s how I learned to climb, and how I taught my family, and many friends. If I can’t lead it, I won’t climb it until I can lead it. I don’t even like following routes I can’t lead, but I will do it occasionally for a good partner.

If all you are doing is following or top roping, it’s a sign you have the wrong partner.

I can’t stop the top ropers anymore than I can hold back a river. But I can choose not to participate. And anyone I teach to climb learns to lead from day one. If it’s too hard, skip the top rope, find something you *can* lead. You will be a more competent climber for it.

And don’t be afraid to lead trad routes that are too hard. Hang dogging your way up a route is a tried and true technique for learning the moves, refining your gear placements, and generally wasting huge amounts of time. You will anger people waiting in line, but they should have gotten up earlier. Next time you do it you will know the moves, and it might go clean.

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Visiting my dad

I just noticed that two months have gone by since I’ve written here. I guess I’ve been living my life instead of writing about it. Going back two months, I spent 17 days climbing in Squamish, Smith and Leavenworth. My main partners were Aaron, Kyle, Marty, Ed and James, each of which had a different block of time available. I was lucky to have the entire time to climb straight through. It felt great to get that warmed up. Stuff that used to scare me was easy money.

Since then I’ve been climbing on the weekends, but not as well as during my full time climbing period. Climbing skill is perishable, especially as you get older. It’s like cabbage in the fridge. Beyond two weeks, forget about it, you need to buy new cabbage.

Saturday I climbed at Index with Kyle. I can still cruise 5.8s like Lizard…so my cabbage isn’t completely bad yet.

Sunday Sue and I went down to see dad. He will be 90 this year. He still lives alone, and drives himself around town. He is very sharp. He gave me a bunch of grief about how long it had been since I’d been down to see him (a few months). He lives just 40 minutes south, so I have no excuse not to visit him more often.

We took him down to the farmers market and walked around with him, looking at all the cool stuff for sale. He walks slow because of his bent leg, but his hiking stick helps him balance, and he gets around ok.

Before he got his two hearing aids I used to think he was starting to get foggy, like mom did in her later years. But dad is doing great for 89, he was fun to hang around with. I get so wrapped up in my own life that I forget my oldest and best friend is just one hour away, and always happy to see me.

My sister was there in the morning to cook him breakfast. She had to drive 4 hours to see him, but she left before we got there, heading up further North to see her son in Seattle.

I will post pictures later.