Saturday was our second field day for Basic Mountaineering School, First Rock Day. This field day kept us a bit closer to home as we met in Boulder at the Chautauqua Park parking lot at 5:50 a.m.
The parking lot sits at the base of the Flatirons, a very iconic view and well known view in Colorado; it was really neat to see it quiet, in the dark. Even in the pre-dawn darkness, we saw headlamps of people already hiking up the Flatirons trail and we waved to 5 other non-mountaineering-school cars as they parked to begin hiking before the sun had risen.
Our destination was a mile hike in to Crown Rock. Crown Rock is accessible by road (there’s a parking lot right next to it) but what’s mountaineering class if we don’t approach hike in?!
Because Crown Rock is a super popular boulder and hiking trail, our instructors decided to set us up a few hundred yards away from Crown Rock. I’m not sure if this rock has a name but we situated ourselves here:
On our agenda? Practice climbing and belaying on a real rock (my first time!), practice escaping the belay and to practice rappelling.
First up, escaping the belay! We practiced how to escape the belay (removing ourselves from the rope system without affecting/dropping the climber we were belaying) and were required to demonstrate to our instructors that we could effectively complete the procedure, unprompted.
Escaping the belay practice.
Pretty sure we all enjoyed creating fictional stories as to why our belayer need to come attend to us – needed a beer, didn’t have enough ‘stoke’, taking a nap. But in all seriousness, I hope to never be in a situation where I’d need to escape the belay to help an unconscious or unresponsive climber.
While half of us practice escaping, the other half of us roped up and gave outdoor climbing a try. It was my first time climbing outside on a real rock (and climbing in mountaineering boots) and HOLY COW was it different than climbing in a gym! The mountaineering boots made it even more challenging but it was a lot more fun!
We had two different routes set up to climb – each pair climbed each route twice.
After a quick lunch break, we moved on to rappelling. To be completely honest, rappelling was (is?) the task I was most nervous about. In our reading, the chapter about rappelling makes it quite clear that this is serious business. One wrong move or careless mistake and you’re life is toast, basically. (I think the words in the book are ‘certain death.’)
We had 3 stations set up – low, medium and steep angled routes. I started on the (very) low angled route to get myself comfortable with the system and process. (The low angle is that little ditch area in the photo above.)
Lucas on the steep rappel.
One I understood how rappelling worked and how I could control my speed, I was a lot less intimidated and I tried the medium and steep rappels.
That’s not to say my heart didn’t pound the whole time, just that I was more comfortable with the heart pounding!
After we finished practicing, we learned how to build anchors, what different pieces of climbing protection are used for and what happens in a multi-pitch climb (a climb that requires more than one belay station). We finished the field day by flaking and coiling ropes (checking for knots/damage and then wrapping in a coil for carrying and storage). Holy arm workout! Flaking and coiling ropes is no joke – my arms are still sore!
We then packed up and hiked our mile back out to the Chautauqua parking lot to call field day a wrap.
Per BMS tradition, after our official field day ended, we hit a dive bar in Boulder, the Dark Horse, for post-field day refueling. I’ve been to the Dark Horse before and have to say that my favorite part of the bar is the bathrooms.
Do you go in the door your gender is pointing to? Or the door with your gender painted on it?! The answer is to go where the door is pointing but, without fail, people get it wrong and I can’t help but giggle watching an embarrassed man walk out of the women’s bathroom.
A tasty sandwich and beer later, the post-field-day/post-mealtime sleepies hit hard and I was thankful not to be responsible for driving back to Denver (thanks, Lucas!).
First Rock Day was far more exciting than Navigation Day – Alex and I came home from Saturday’s exercise really excited about outdoor rock climbing, ropes and mountaineering. Starting on a smaller rock really helped me get a feel for what these techniques will feel like and I’m excited to keep practicing and continue to feel more comfortable in high, exposed places.