Archive for the ‘Guide’ Category

How to Get Started in Rock Climbing – 10 Year Anniversary Series Post

Friday, August 31st, 2012

I recently realized that not only is 10 years old this year, but I started climbing over 20 years ago! It made me think back on when and how I started and how it might have changed since then.

On top of Balance Rock

On top of Balance Rock

I started asking climbers how they got started. “A friend asked me to go bouldering in a gym and I said, ‘Sure!’” this was from a climber who started climbing recently. Another climber said he started by getting into mountaineering, then going rock climbing with a friend and eventually taking a class. He started in the early 90s. Other answers from climbers who had been climbing five years or less included taking classes, scrambling around on one’s own and seeing if they could do it, having a boyfriend take them out, having a lover take them out, and having a girlfriend teach them.

My own rock climbing story began with a slight fear of heights and a class I took at a university which was held at a rock formation I had wondered about for years. I took the beginning class, got hooked, took another class, made friends… and the rest is history as the saying goes.

So what are your choices today?

  • 1. You can take a class indoors or out
  • 2. You can hire a guide
  • 3. You can have a mentor / friend teach you
  • 4. You can teach yourself

For many folks just starting out I would recommend the first two options. Taking a class is a great way to just see if climbing is for you. Classes or guided instruction also usually offer equipment rental which is better than buying gear before you know if you’ll love climbing or what kind of equipment is best for you. Formal instruction is offered in a variety of ways: through a climbing gym, through outdoor equipment stores, through schools, and through climbing or adventure guiding companies. Instruction can be held indoors or out, as single or multiday outings. While a class in a gym is convenient, I think learning outdoors in nature is still a great way to learn.

When researching your options, find out if instructors are accredited with the American Mountain Guides Assocation (AMGA) This association certifies guides and climbing instructors and is the United States’ representative to the 21-member International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA), the international governing body responsible for guiding standards and education around the world. If an instructor is certified with the AMGA I’d personally give that class priority, especially for higher level classes.

There are a number of books available about rock climbing and mountaineering, and on the internet these days you can gain not only information about rock climbing in general but also find local recommendations for classes, guides or mentors in your area. One warning though, if you do read about climbing before taking your class, don’t take the information in the books (and especially on the internet) as the final word. Climbing has evolved over the years and is continuously evolving and your instructor may have more up to date information.

If you are lucky enough to have a friend or find a mentor who is willing to teach you, keep in mind the above information. Also, realize that you are putting your life in your friend’s hands and what that kind of responsibility could mean to your friendship.

As far as option 4 goes, for the brand new climber, I would advise against it. I think it’s a fine thing to research climbing on one’s own but when it comes to actual practice, it’s best to first do it with someone who knows what he or she is doing and who can advise you on what gear to rent or borrow.

With so many options for a beginner climber these days, I think It’d be hard to beat a class or guided experience for the best and safest introduction to the sport.

Still interested in giving climbing a try? Go forth and research your local options (or take a plunge and book a vacation with an accredited and well reviewed guide). But remember, climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. It’s not always like how TV specials or Citibank commercials show you, but it should be something that you try with an eye towards fun AND awareness.

A Girl’s Gotta Pee – FUDs Review – Freshette and GoGirl

Friday, August 13th, 2010

FUD. Feminine Urinary Director. Lovely sounding isn’t it? Squeamish guys and any male relative of mine, you can stop reading now.

So what does it do? Well it’s a way girls can stand up to pee. Writing your name in snow? Inconclusive.

Before my Indian Creek / Desert Climbing Road trip I decided to try out the whole standing up to pee concept. I did a lot of research on what was out there and read Jenn Field’s “non-review” of sorts (she ended up not taking it outdoors so she called it a non-review). Eventually I just thought,”What the heck”, and first ordered one of the cheaper FUDs out there, a GoGirl and then also ordered a Sani Fem Freshette when I belatedly read about issues with the GoGirl and using it without removing one’s pants. I even ordered  some wax coated cardboard type disposable ones. Overkill? Yes, but having never been to Indian Creek before or driven out to the Utah desert I feared long stretches of road with no rest areas, bathrooms or trees. Plus I also had a review in mind. What can I say, I’ll take one for the team!

In terms of the long drives, it turns out I didn’t have to worry, the rest stops were nicely spaced and in decent condition and there was rolling terrain enough for a gal to be able to otherwise drop her pants if she had to.

Where I did try out the FUDs was on climbing days. Sometimes that led to interesting circumstances. I was trying out the GoGirl near a climb several feet up from but still near the road in Zion, when to my horror a bus load of tourists pulled over to watch my friend climbing a single pitch route just on the other side of an arete from me. I was faced away from them but I feared they had binoculars. I couldn’t help but still look for a bush to hide behind.

On to my review. The directions on any FUD suggests you practice in the shower. I did that and had no issues. But, having read Jenn’s review I was afraid I might get performance anxiety. Turns out I had no issues with either device.  The difference in the two non disposable models I used is that the GoGirl is flexible silicon, and the Freshette is hard plastic with a pull out tube. This sturdier model was better for using more discretely (I didn’t have to lower my shorts). With the GoGirl I wasn’t confident to do that so it was a little pointless in the convenience area, however it worked in the “don’t have to balance squat” way. Since the GoGirl can stow smaller I can see how it might be useful in areas where it isn’t so much standing up is a convenience but a way to get away from unsanitary positions (portapotties or unkempt bathrooms) or to put distance between you and poison oak / ivy, bugs, etc.

Bottom line, if you’re thinking of peeing on the go without pants removal grab the Freshette. Otherwise the GoGirl is fine. The disposables I’d pass on or just keep in my car if I didn’t have either of the other two.

And oh yeah, ladies, don’t pee into the wind or try to pee uphill. Fortunately I didn’t do either of those things since I read those tips on Amazon reviews. However, these devices are so freeing that I can see how some girls might try to do either one. I haven’t tried the snow trick either, if you have let me know 😉

PS If you’d like to share your experience with these devices in a private forum or ask for more detail from me, feel free to join the Rockgrrl Discussion Forums and then ask me to flag you for admittance to the Female’s Only forum. Click here to register for the forums.

Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping – Part 3 – Detailed Packing List

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

climbercampingpacklist-2In Part 1 I shared my detailed & annotated Google Map, Part 2 I highlighted tips on what to bring. Now I bring you my promised, Climber’s Joshua Tree Camping Pack List. I created it using PackWhiz, a handy online app which lets you create, modify and share packing lists. My list began as a template PackWhiz’s creator, George Sudarkoff, made for his own JTreeTweetup needs [yep, he’ll be attending!].

If you want a quick and dirty list without modifying it for your own use, you can just go to the PDF version here.

This concludes my Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping (for now). I know I’ve left out a lot of information but if you have any questions feel free to ask them and I’ll answer in the comments or with another installment.

For those going to the JTreeTweetup, see you in a few days!

Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping – Part 2

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

A campsite and Chimney Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, CaliforniaIn Part 1 of my Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping I shared a map I created, I’ve since updated it with a free wifi access coffee shop,  a convenient gas station and a place to rent camping equipment so be sure to check it out again.

Now I’ll get to the Packing Question. What to bring?

I’ve been camping in Joshua Tree in Fall, Winter, Spring, and yes, even the Summer. What I brought depended a lot on the weather. “But it’s the desert,” a voice from the back cries, “That means it’s hot!”

Au contraire mon ami. Joshua Tree is in the High Desert. That means it can be hot in the daytime and cold at night (like most deserts) but also that it’s generally cooler than other desert areas relatively close by (like Palm Springs for example). That also means that in the Winter it can get darn cold, even cold enough to snow (rare, since snow needs not only cold but moisture as well, but it HAS happened).

So first off here’s a site I check for the weather: Weather Underground for Joshua Tree, California. When I look at the forecast I keep a few things in mind: 1. this is for the town of Joshua Tree, not the entire National Park, elevations within the park vary and so can the temperatures, generally it will be a tiny bit cooler than the town temperatures, maybe 2 or 3 degrees cooler but sometimes more. This will of course vary if you are in the shade or not 2. I look not only at the predicted highs and lows but also for any wind. The wind can get tent-tossing-fierce in Joshua Tree. I’ve experienced it more than once and had a tent blown away and have also had climbing plans change due to crazy winds.

Once I’ve got the weather checked I usually pack for either of two situations: one, it’s going to be mainly cold or two, it’s mainly going to be hot. The cold or not bit just determines how many short vs long pants I bring & if I bring my down jacket or not.

Otherwise Joshua Tree is both cold and hot, you can, on the same day, bake while doing a climb in the sun and get chilled by belaying in the shade. Breezes also almost always kick up in the afternoon. Think layers.

I’ll be making a comprehensive list you can check off and copy and modify as your own but I’ll highlight a few items in this post first.


  1. A windproof jacket you can climb in – with my wardrobe that means I bring my favorite jacket, a stretch Windstopper jacket that even has zip vents. This type of jacket comes with me on every Jtree trip due to the hot in the sun but cold in the shade Jtree factor.
  2. A long sleeve shirt – If I’ve determined it’s a “mainly hot” trip then I’ll bring a shirt geared mainly for sun protection. If it’s a “mainly cold” trip then I’ll select one for warmth and I’ll bring more than one.
  3. A fleece hat – You’ll always use this on a trip. It might be just used at night or the in the morning but you’ll use it.
  4. Sunglasses & A hat with a brim – It’s a bright sunshiney day in Joshua Tree pretty much year round.


  1. Sunscreen – Hey, I’ve got genetics helping me but the first time in my entire life that I ever got sunburned was at Joshua Tree (sadly I’ve seen been sunburned a fair amount of times since then).
  2. Lip balm – I get chapped lips in any season in Jtree. It’s that dry air.

Food / Critters
Joshua Tree camping is basically “car camping” so you can bring whatever you’d usually pack in that situation. I’ll instead highlight a few do’s and don’ts:

  1. No need to bring a bear canister – there aren’t any bears here. The largest predators you might see are coyotes and though they might skirt close to a campsite or two, they’ve never bothered any hardcase cooler I’ve left in camp (latched closed of course).
  2. Soft sided coolers – There are small rodents and lagomorphs around so if you have a soft sided cooler you might want to stack it on the hard one to keep it out of nibbling animal reach. I’ve had a cooler nibbled right into and my oatmeal and trail mix completely eaten.
  3. Food storage – You CAN keep food in your car, however keep in mind that the inside of your car is bound to get very, very hot. Most campers try to stow coolers in the shade of a boulder instead.
  4. Trash – each campsite has trash and recycling dumpsters within walking distance of campsites so it’s pretty easy to just dump trash each night.
  5. Other critters – I’ve seen one rattlesnake in Jtree in all the years I’ve gone. It rattled & we warned off some tourists who were about to come across it (it was on a trail in Hidden Valley). Tarantulas – I’ve seen a few of them. They are not venomous, though their bite can hurt. First one I saw I just brushed to the side before laying down egg foam crate to sleep on the rock face it had been exploring. Scorpions – Haven’t seen ’em, and I don’t worry about them (though I habitually check my camp shoes before putting them on anyway).
  6. Water / Food – I already highlighted this in Part 1 but I just want to make sure you pay attention. You must bring in Water and Food into the Park. Bring lots of water. Remember it’s for drinking, cooking, and washing.

Climbing Gear

  1. Long webbing, cordelette or static rope – If you have any of these consider bringing them if you want to set up anchors for top rope. JTree rock is very sharp so you can save your climbing rope a lot of wear and tear by extending your anchor so it has less rock to rub on.
  2. A back up pair of climbing shoes – As I mentioned in Part 1, the rock  can chew up your shoes.
  3. Climbing Tape – Yes, I know there are some who decry tape usage under any circumstance but if you plan on spending a few days in JTree and want to climb for more than two of them, I suggest bringing tape and making tape gloves.
  4. Guide books – There are so many climbs in the park that it can fill three books worth and then some. Here’s a link to the Rockgrrl Book shop, California Guide Book section, I recommend you get the 1st and 3rd in the list or the 1st and 4th (and then the other two in that set when the updated versions come out). Having a guide book will help you narrow down where you want to climb, if you’re short on time you might want to seek out starred climbs rather than just any one you see. Guide books also come with handy area maps which will help you when hiking around.
  5. Nut tool – Jtree has many gear swallowing cracks. A nut tool can help you get them out [that reminds me, I wanted to make a post about how to use a nut tool effectively, someone nudge me about that sometime after the trip?].

More Climbing Tips in General

  1. Decents – The number one question I ask of a climb (even before it’s rating most times) is, “What’s the descent like?” I’ve had my share of “epic downclimbs” in this park let me tell you. Many wouldn’t have been so bad if I had known what to expect though.
  2. Beware of 5.7 and 5.9 ratings – Read my blog post entitled, “When is a 5.7 not a 5.7?” Basically think “Old School” or “sandbagged” or “They’re kidding, right!?!” and you’ll get the idea.
  3. Beware of R, X and Starred climbs – R and X are self explanatory. Starred climbs can be trusted to be memorable, though you can take that as you will.
  4. Bolted routes – Many old bolted routes are by today’s standards, very run out (even though they may not be marked that way). If you have a route that you think you might be able to place gear, go ahead and bring a few pieces in case you want to make it a mixed route.

Well this is a long post, looks like I’ll have to make a Part 3 of my guide. I’ll also make the promised detailed, checkable, modifiable packing list. Hang in there folks, soon you’ll be a happy camper / climber in Joshua Tree National Park!

Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping – Part 1

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Now that the JTreeTweetup is just around the corner I’ve been getting a few questions about Joshua Tree and what camping there will be like.

I thought I’d do a series of posts on this.

While you can find a lot of information online about Joshua Tree National Park, my posts will highlight a few key things as well as be tailored specifically for climbers.

Top Most Important Things to Know About Joshua Tree in General:

  1. You must bring your own water.
  2. You must bring your own food.
  3. You must bring your own firewood/fuel.

Joshua Tree is a National Park, fuel gathering or collecting items to remove from the park is prohibited.

And though Joshua Tree is a National Park, it’s a bit of a newer one so there are no souvenir / food stores in the park itself and at the major campgrounds there aren’t even restrooms with running water. There are, however, pit toilets with toilet paper. These are much nicer than the PortaPotties that used to be there (trust me).

Now say you’re flying in to Joshua Tree (like a bunch are for the JTreeTweetup!) and you don’t want to pack a bunch of stuff. Don’t worry, just one or two towns over from West Gate (the recommended entrance into the park from most destinations) you can find restaurants, grocery and drugstores, and even camping and climbing equipment stores.

Top Things Climbers Should Know About Joshua Tree:

  1. Joshua Tree generally has Old School ratings.
  2. Joshua Tree has many more trad climbs than sport or top rope climbs (but there are thousands of climbs total so there are still a lot of all three types of climbs).
  3. Bouldering can be found all over the park.
  4. Quartzite Monzonite (the rock of JTree) is SHARP stuff. You will stick to it like crazy but it can chew up your skin and shoes.


The majority of campground space within the park itself is First Come, First Serve.

For most all-climber groups the number one preferred campground is Hidden Valley Campground. This is in large part due to its proximity to classic climbs and boulder problems (many are within walking distance, a few end or start in campsites themselves, and many others are a short drive and approach hike away). Hidden Valley is also preferred for social reasons as well, you can find pick up partners or just chat with other climbers and there’s even the Climber’s Coffee sponsored by the Rangers and Friends of Joshua Tree which is held on weekend mornings during peak climbing season.

My Map

“Now hang on!” you say, “You’re throwing too much at me! Where is all this stuff?”

Well funny you should ask. I just spent a few hours making a highly detailed Google Map with my notes about road turn offs, campgrounds, stores, and even a rough cell phone signal marker.

Here it is for your enjoyment!

View Climber’s Guide to Joshua Tree Camping in a larger map

Click the link to the bigger version to get a better overview of the area, especially since I’ve included several spots outside of the Park itself. It’s best for most of the notes if you zoom as close as possible and use satellite view (for the main park this gets you closer than Terrain view does).

I’ll be adding more information to the map as I see fit so be sure to bookmark this post!

In Part 2 of my Guide I’ll include information about the weather, what to pack and critters to watch out for.