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My Climbing Insight

by Robert Chang, CFAC Founder

In The Beginning

I had the great experience of learning to climb in the late 1980's. Back then, the raging debate was "sport climbing" vs. "trad climbing" and why the "euros" (not the current monetary denomination) where beating all the top US climbers in the newly formed "indoor wall" competitions. Climbing 5.12 to 5.13 was still regarded as difficult and bouldering was still using the B 1-3 system. Certain sporto climbers were having their significant others carry the rack of quick draws and rope to be sure their thighs did not get too big from the short hikes into the crags - of course we had to maintain our ability to slip into those new ultra light weight harnesses. A crash pad back then was your partner and the closest part of terra firma below a boulder problem - or where we would sleep unannounced during road trips.

The state of alpinism and mountaineering was a bit different. There was still a heavy emphasis that if you did participate in this realm, it was a nasty, hard, backbreaking activity that had great rewards with certain prices. I am not sure much has changed other than the lighter gear and the availability of willing guides to take you above 8000 meters. Dick Bass and the seven summits was still in the new, there were still some last "great problems" in the Himalaya, and most still knew who Reinhold Messner was and how he transcended the "climbing through fair means" of high climbs.

My Start

I of course was slinking around at Castle Rock State Park and other locales - eventually with the thankful help of Barry Bates, John Yabo Yablonski, John Piera, Ken Hanley, Jasper Gostisha, Peter McNally, Steve Throne, Stan Higo and a slew of other colorful characters who helped develop my insight, and eventually my passion to climb. I am always thankful for their partnership, their guidance - and sometimes the unanticipated epic-broken ankle, torn tendon - and large headaches the next morning after the post climbing adult beverage consumption activities we partook in.

My mountaineering aspirations took upon its own beast by necessity. After tearing two tendon sheaths on two of my fingers while finally red pointing Hot Lava Lucy - a local 5.13, I found myself not rock climbing for a better of a year. The mountaineers at the store I worked at were happy to oblige my presence on their trips to become their honorary porter. Dan Mazur, Jonathan Pratt, Bob Hoffman, Apa Sherpa all shared in my eventual coming of age to the higher peaks.

The Next Step

Mt. Shasta found my heart and today I've been there over 50 times. Rainier, Popo, Ixta, Ama, Everest, Imja, Pissis, Lassen, Cathedral, Ishinca, all just single words of distant places I've had the opportunity to climb, not always to the top, but to climb with the intention to get to the top and come back home. 2003 finds me with almost 200 days of my life over 17,000 feet. With over 400 days in the field as a guide, and 1600 days out climbing, I consider myself entering the area of being an advanced intermediate.

But my climbing continues. I have found a few things fundamentally important that have worked at least for me. They are mostly common sense, but sometimes, in these times where Americans legislate it, I think its important to hand down some advice that has allowed me to enjoy climbing in my life, and as my work, a big part of my life.

  1. Be SAFE - get good instruction whether from a school, guide, or credible or knowledgeable partner. Practice consistently what you learn, be realistic, and ask a lot of questions. If the people teaching you can't answer them or direct you to where you can find the answers, seek better partners, better instruction. Falling 30 feet in the gym or 1500 feet outside has the same repercussions, gravity treats you the same whether you are a sport climber, mountaineer, or boulderer.
  2. REPEAT #1 throughout your entire climbing career.
  3. Seek new challenges that make climbing fun, enjoyable - and an activity that develops you. Many turn climbing into just a work out or a competitive activity, some make it their job - that's all ok. I always like to say, "everyone has their Everest in life - some of us try for the real one, others make it the 5.6 in the gym - find your Everest and respect everyone else's."
  4. Be a courteous, environmentally aware climber. Treat your partners and all indoor and outdoor adventurers with respect and be a good ambassador to our sport.
  5. Develop a list of things that work for you - and share it with you partners, those who are better than you, and those that are learning from you. It can save your life, their life and make climbing a more positive, bonding activity.
  6. REPEAT #1 through 5 constantly.
  7. Well, off my soapbox and back to the mountains, Be Safe and Climb Hard!