If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been taking a beginner mountaineering class with the Colorado Mountain Club called Basic Mountaineering School. You can find all posts about Basic Mountaineering School here.
Our fourth field day brought us to Castlewood Canyon State Park for ‘Second Rock Day’. We’d practiced basic outdoor climbing and rappelling on First Rock Day and spend 2 nights on an indoor wall between First and Second Rock Days.
Second Rock Day was dedicated to passing a knot in the rope while on belay and ascending the rope with Prusiks, both with and without our packs on.
Field days are invaluable experience because we put our book and classroom learning into real life situations. While we focus on only a couple main objectives each field day, we learn SO much more than that while we’re out. For example, building anchors. Basic Mountaineering School teaches the basics of anchors because the Colorado Mountain Club has other schools dedicated to anchor building. So we read about anchors in our book and get an overview of how/what do to – but our instructors have taken the time to show us a bit more than the basics. For a girl who is very new to rock climbing, it’s so helpful to see the practical application of these techniques in different situations.
using natural anchors
With the ropes set up, we split into teams of two and started on our first task, rappelling and then ascending the rope with our waist and foot Prusiks. The rock was maybe 50+ feet so still a baby wall, compared to what experienced rock climbers climb, but was big enough to get the adrenaline running for us newbie mountaineers.
Alex and I partnered up and he rappelled and ascended first, no problem. As we switched roles, I felt butterflies jump from my stomach to my throat; the initial start of a rappel still rattles my nerves! I know with repeated exposure this will dissipate and I do trust the rappel system (and in Basic Mountaineering School, we are always on a backup safety belay), it just takes time to get comfortable with the idea of walking backwards off a cliff.
I rappelled myself down and started ascending the rope.
A Prusik knot is a friction knot which means as you load it with weight, it tightens its hold. To ascend the climbing rope with a Prusik, you attach your waist Prusik to the rope and your belay loop on your harness and your foot Prusik to the rope and put your foot in the loop. You then stand up on your foot Prusik to release the weight on your waist Prusik and move it up the rope. Then you sit to unload the weight in your foot Prusik and move it up the rope. Over and over.
It took longer and more energy than I expected and I can’t imagine ascending a rope much longer using only Prusiks.
Next, we moved on to passing the knot. In real life, if we were rappelling and came upon a knot in our rope, we’d need to figure out how to get past the knot – getting out of and then back in to our belay devices – safely. We’d practiced this during a wall night but this was the real deal. Alex and I chose to change ropes and moved to a station with a 10 foot rock lip followed by 40 feet of free rappelling.
It took me about 10-15 minutes to pass the knot – not the most comfortably seated 10 minutes of my life, that’s for sure! Hanging on a rope in a harness is about as comfortable as you imagine it to be.
Once we all passed our knots, we then rappelled and ascended the rope with our packs on for a ‘real life’ flavor.
If I thought ascending the rope without a pack was tiring, adding the pack made it exhausting. These ascents took a bit more time and we were all relieved to hear that it was our last ‘hard work’ task of the day. The rest of the afternoon would be taught from the ground so we rappelled, once more, down to the ground with our packs on.
Before we moved onto our last lesson of the day, our instructors invited us to do some climbing before they dropped the ropes. We’d all brought our rock shoes, hoping for this moment, and excitedly jumped on the rock.
As I called down to Alex to ‘take’ and ‘lower’ when I’d finished the route, I took a moment to notice how confident I felt to sit back in my harness and be lowered down. Well, I guess I actually noticed that I didn’t think anything at all. I’m not a huge fan of heights or exposure and usually, I feel very nervous and my heart beats faster as I near the top of a route in the climbing gym but after 4 big-to-me rappels that Saturday, my exposure/heights threshold definitely increased. It felt good to notice that progress!
I often forget that I’m still so new to climbing that it’s OKAY to have these feelings! Evolution has taught us to avoid walking off cliffs or climbing up steep things – and here I am doing exactly that! Yes, I’m protected but absolutely my mind going to ask me what the heck I’m doing until it begins to understand that it’s all good.
After climbing, we wrapped up with a discussion of lead climbing, using ‘pro’ (protection, like cams and pitons) and multi-pitch climbing. Our next and final rock climbing field day is on the Boulder Flatirons where we’ll be exposed all three of those things.
Our field day ended with burgers and beers at The Stagecoach in Franktown. Our group of 12 definitely stood out in the biker bar but DAMN did that food taste delicious!
By the time Alex and I got home that night, we were awake just long enough to gulp some Gatorade, rinse off in the shower and climb into bed. After a long, tiring but awesome day, I was happy to be snuggled in bed by 8 p.m. Early to rise, early to bed!