Some via ferrata back in the day when I just turned 12 years old.I have been hiking mountains and backpacking for as long as I can remember. My first exposure to “climbing” was in the Tatra Mountains. However this was still pretty much Via Ferrata just without clipping into the metal supports. I have also scrambled class 3 and short class 4 terrain like Old rag Mountain, Longs Peak, and Sunlight Peak. However, I have never truly been technical climbing on a real rock until this past weekend.
I don’t know if the thick plastic rock walls in Outdoor World; or climbing up a rock wall at the YMC at 3 a.m. count as actually climbing. I guess so, but what I mean is I have never been climbing out on an actual mountain. I was ecstatic to be finally doing it, and the week beforehand in which I played Wii Fit for hours at a time could not end any sooner!
My dad and I took a whole day rock climbing course with a private instructor from OWLS. His name was Grant Price, and for over 9 hours I learned how to rock climb. From tying knots to belaying to actually climbing, it was one of the best experiences of my life. And I believe it was gateway and epiphany to what I will do in the future; to where my path truly lies, in a vertical world!
Packing up to climb at the Blackrock Park parking lot in Wintergreen.
The day starts out at the Blackrocks parking lot in Wintergreen. We pack our gear and work our way down the rough terrain. Our guide leads us off the trail to the right to the part known as the Beginner Slab. We leave our packs near the edge of the rock because there is a small cliff just two yards after the rock starts where stuff and people could fall off.
Grant takes me through the whole process on how to belay. After learning everything, I belay him up while he leads up the slab to set up toprope system. After I lower him back down, I tell my dad that he was climbing first. We are all extremely excited for our first time ever climbing!
Having fun belaying for the first time while Grant leads up the route.
How do I tie this?
My dad did a great job for his first time ever rock climbing. I must say, he started pretty late. But better late then never!
My dad keeps on complaining about how old he is and how he will never be able to ascend such a rock face. He says this before each route, and somehow, he manages to climb up to the top of all of them. Such modesty.
Soon after he descends, it is my turn. I know that this is the path my life is destined for, I am supposed to be a rock climber; I just have never been given the proper opportunity to fulfill that dream. Whenever my family and I went on hiking vacations I would be out somewhere trying to climb whatever boulder I could. I always wanted to go up, and to conquer whatever rock lay in my path, even when I was 11 years old.
Beginner Slab. 50-70 feet. 5.3, 1 pitch
The first route that I climb went off to the right on the Beginner Slab. It is about 50-70 feet in length. After I climb back down, Grant tells me that I now need to climb the tiny crack system that was a little bit more to the left (facing the rock). When I was up their previously it looked quite difficult to me. Anyway, I climb back up the rock and veer left to the tiny crack. I can pretty much only hold on with fingers, and I use the tiny indents in the rock to place my feet in. I somehow manage to get up to the top of the rock, and I feel so accomplished.
Soon afterwards, I have to climb another route. This one is even further to the left and is just a series of wide cracks up the rock and a ledge. The first part (which ironically starts below Grant belaying me) was quite messy and this is the area where I scratch up my legs the most. When my dad finally climbs this route, pine needles are flying the whole time and it looks as if he is going to tear his skin off slipping and trying to jam into the crack. He did not manage to escape without major scratches, or what we call “battle wounds.” He will continue to make fun of me for not having any major battle wounds as the entire week progresses…
Climbing up the Beginner Slab
Nearing the top of the first slab.
East Walls, 100 ft. 5.7, 1 pitch.
After gathering up our equipment, we move back down the trail again and then turn left into some bushes. This bush-whacking and scrambling through rocks and dry leaves places us up in another part of Blackrock Park where there is a much longer slab. This slab is about 100 feet in length, and when having an anchor on the top, uses up our whole rope. This part of the rock is known as the East Walls. The route that we do is the Guides Route which is at a 5.7 rating. Afterwards, Grant teaches us all about the different ropes, carabineers, and cams.
This route starts off nice and simple and ends up at a small tree in a cleft about ¼ of the way up the route. Next is a section to the right where there is a small car-sized boulder that is quite loose, and not recommended to hold on to. Previously, my dad had gone up the route to the right where there is a small crack that veers slightly left and is an easier climb. However, I had watched Grant go straight up the middle of the face climbing up on what he called “chicken heads.”
Grant belaying my dad on the Guides Route.
Grant leading the route up the 100 foot Guides Route.
I finally notice why this area is called Blackrock Park. There are some sections where the rock gets very dark, this is also where the hand holds are. I put my hands down and am quickly startled by how hot it is. I have to move on faster than I expect to prevent from burning my hands, my finger are still a little red on the top from that though.
The East Walls
I get up to where the rock flattens out and there are just the chicken heads poking up from it. I see the white chalk on them from Grant’s previous climb and use this to help guide my path up. I doubt my ability to climb up such tiny features, yet after putting my weight onto it, I feel quite stable. I slowly make my way up the rock face, putting one hand in front of the other searching for the best place to grab the rock with just my fingertips, and smearing the rock with my shoes. Just like at the end of the other slab, when I reached the top I felt so accomplished. I had thought that I could not climb up such a barren face, and yet I did!
The Cracks. 5.8-5.13a
Happy Cracks. 5.8, 1 pitch.
Next, we have to decide what we want to do with the rest of our day. It was either learn how to put in our own cams and lead, climb more, or learn how to rappel. I decide that we should just climb another route, something more vertical. So we hike down a little more and facing away from the rock, turn right to The Cracks.
The Cracks has many routes of which include from a 5.8 to a 5.13a project route which has not yet been ascended. The route that we climb is known as Happy Cracks. It is a double crack system, and a very fun classic climb. On this route are two more difficult sections that give it the ranking it has. The first two yards which is a more-than-vertical overhang, and then about 3/4 of the way there where it is hard to find a place to hoist yourself up to the next good handhold.
Grant leads up first to set up the toprope on a stout pine tree at the top of the route. I am up next. The first part proves quite difficult for me but I get past after trying out some handjams that Grant recommends. Everything is going well until I reach the second difficult part. I stand there for about 3 minutes wondering where to place my hands and feet, and trying to devise a plan. I don’t really trust the move that I make, but somehow, I stay balanced and continue on up the rock to the top.
I am climbing the Happy Cracks route.
Searching for a handhold.
Working my way up the double crack system.
The End of a Fantastic Day
Once I get back down, I am too tired to really talk. It has been a long day. I just tell my dad how fun and difficult it was to climb up this and that it is his turn. My dad does a great job too but does not quite make it past the 2nd more difficult part. We had already climbed several routes and it has been a long day so I cannot blame him.
My dad doing great work climbing up the crack system.
After he comes back down, we eat some of the homemade trail-mix that I mixed up together back at home. We discuss the route, and improvements that we could have made in our climbing. Once we hike up back to our car, we discuss climbing some more and then bid each other farewell. Right as he is about to pull away in his car though, we realize that we still have all of the harnesses, helmets, and shoes in our own backpacks. We quickly give them back and he drives away. I get back into our own car and think about what an amazing day has been. So much has changed, and I am on my way to becoming a real climber.
It had been an amazing day, and the trail up had some overlooks that contain gorgeous views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountains.
Thank you for reading, any comments and tips to help improve my writing are much appreciated!
No comments posted yet.