Upward Bound
March 15, 2014 4:01 PM   Subscribe

[rock climbing filter] Each year I make it a goal that this will be the year that I start climbing outdoors. It hasn't happened yet. Now that spring seems finally to be here, outdoor climbing season is upon us. How can I hook up with a group of friendly local climbers that will take me under their wing and show me the ropes (no pun intended).

The details: I live in NYC. There are climbable boulders in Central Park, but beyond that the nearest climbing location is the Gunks which is about 2 hours away by car. I've heard of some NYC climbers doing short trips up to New Hampshire. Other than that I don't know where you'd go.

Me: gym bred and self taught. Exclusively boulder but interested in top roping outside. I can climb most problems through V4. I guess that would translate me to a 5.12 top roper? Other than shoes and chalk, I own no gear. I don't have a car. No one in my social network, to the best of my knowledge, climbs outdoors nor is interested in doing so.

I've experimented with ClimbFind before and haven't had any real success with it. I've also looked into Meetup.com. There seems to be only one climbing related group that coordinates outdoor trips, Rock & Ice. This might be my best shot as they do offer carpooling and partnering, but I get the sense that I wouldn't meet my partner(s) until the day of, which makes me somewhat uneasy. I want to feel comfortable ahead of time with whoever is going to belay for me.

So anyway, I'm hoping you guys might be able to provide some additional resources to check out. Bonus points if anyone in the area climbs and has an extra spot in their car.
posted by prunes to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not super active in the rock climbing community at the moment, and when I was I rock climbed in Boston but maybe this will help.

Check out the AMC. I took an outdoor climbing series with them last year. It was a group of 100 people, and we met 5 consecutive weekends in a local climbing area near Boston. We had like 30 different instructors. They taught us how to set up stations, knots (beyond the basic knots you use at the gym), safety, and other really important things. It was awesome. And I met a ton of climbing people from the Boston community, and many people formed groups and then went climbing together after the series was over.

The other thing to check out is local gyms that offer outdoor introductory programs or organized outdoor trips, or even (physical) message boards in the local gyms, to see if groups of people are looking for people to join them/rides/etc. It's fairly common in the gym's I've visited. Once you get out to the gunks and other places you'll meet groups of people that you can stay in touch with and join next time they go. It might be a little harder if you're in the city and have no car, I'm not sure. Have fun! And wear a helmet!
posted by carmel at 4:14 PM on March 15, 2014

You need to start top roping inside! I've had great luck meeting people through the gym without even trying, and my gym offers a lot of opportunity to meet people if you ARE trying (via a Facebook page where people look for gym partners, or gym socials, or classes – including one for outdoor climbing). If you're female, believe me, climbing partners (both male and female) will find YOU with very little effort on your part.

Also if you make the switch from bouldering to top roping outside without working on your endurance inside, you are going to have a rough day. Translating bouldering grades to top rope grades is pretty meaningless – maybe V4 translates to the crux moves of a 5.12 (probably not in reality), but that doesn't mean much if you wear yourself out on a long stretch of 5.10+ moves before you even get up to the crux. Also the switch from gym grades to outdoor grades – Gunks grades, at that! – will be a pretty rude awakening for you as it is. (If you go straight from bouldering to cleanly climbing 5.12 outdoors this spring I will fly to NYC myself to buy you a beer.) I climb V4s in the bouldering gym, I top rope 5.11a/b reliably in the gym, and I am still nervous about a 5.9 I want to lead outside tomorrow.

Climbing clubs are a good way to meet people too, like carmel says... But I still think you're going to enjoy climbing outdoors a lot more if you start top roping indoors for at least a little while first. Bouldering has definitely helped me get a lot stronger (and a lot more injured), but it has done very little for my outdoor climbing game, honestly. Top roping indoors is the way to go, and the taller the walls you can get on before going outdoors, the better.
posted by adiabat at 4:38 PM on March 15, 2014

Join the AMC, as carmel says. They are really really good about carpooling and picking people up from public transit-accessible locations.

You will want to take their intro class. It's a multi-weekend series, and will cover the fundamentals of top-roping with a strong emphasis on safety and I think multi-pitch climbing. Be aware though - there is a STRONG emphasis on learning to lead climb, and it is reportedly rather frosty if you don't want to learn to lead and get your own rack. It seems kinda harsh, but the leaders & teachers put a lot of effort into teaching people how to climb (mostly in the Gunks, which is AMAZING climbing) and don't want people who are going to remain pretty passive and just want to follow forever. Source: my dad, who has been climbing with AMC for 30+ years now, and a lot of AMC climbing friends. I am also a lapsed AMC member, but not a climber. Once you've shown you're committed it gets a lot friendlier. There is also a LOT of top-roping in the Gunks, far more than I believe is typical for most climbing locales.

Once you're in with the AMC there are a lot of trips, and even more off-the-record 'bootleg' trips (not AMC official trips, but they will have a lot of AMC people there.) You can climb just about every weekend, if you want to. If you want to climb a lot, it is also seriously worth getting a Mohonk preserve pass, as daily access adds up quick.

Have fun!
posted by foodmapper at 5:19 PM on March 15, 2014

Response by poster: The AMC sounds promising. I'm having trouble finding the Intro course you guys are referring to on their website. Can anyone help?
posted by prunes at 5:43 PM on March 15, 2014

The link is here, but it seems broken:


Email the leader, it may be full. I think the folks a Brooklyn Boulders get out side sometimes, if the AMC course isn't an option. No direct knowledge, though.
posted by foodmapper at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

afaik, the AMC rock climbing course that carmel refers to is specific to the Boston chapter. It does look like the NY AMC chapter has their own training series that's a bit shorter than the Boston one (foodmapper's link seems to work for me, but it doesn't have an active registration page, the background link to the NY climbing committee might give you someone to email)

I have signed up for the 2014 Boston course (and am totally looking for it), but have done a bit of toproping outdoors. I will definitely agree that converting bouldering competency to toprope grades doesn't work cleanly (for reasons of endurance mainly), and toproping in the gym is not certainly not at all like toproping outside. Holds aren't marked. Lines aren't as obvious. Climate control? What climate control? ;)

Also, you don't mention whether or not you've toproped indoors at all and just chosen to gone exclusively bouldering or not; but assuming that you haven't toproped at all, you will want to get yourself a climbing harness and at least get belay certified in the gym. Everybody takes turns, right? So if you're going to get belayed on your climb, expect that you'll have to belay your partner on their turn. In the same way that you want to trust your partner to belay you safely, you want them to trust you too.
posted by bl1nk at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2014

Does BkB organize trips to the gunks? From what I hear from my friends, people at BkB are very friendly. So if you want to top rope outdoors, make some top roping friends at a gym, and ask if they climb outdoors. And get some gear. People are much more willing to invite you if they know you'll be contributing some gear to the trip, or a ride, instead of just mooching.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 7:51 PM on March 15, 2014

If you only boulder in the gym and only own shoes and chalk, then your first step is to buy a harness, a locking caribiner and a simple belay device (don't start with the auto-locking ones) and learn to use those. In the process of doing that, whether it's a class at the gym or a class up at the Gunks, you'll meet people. Let them know that you're interested in building your skillset, and hopefully this will be the year!
posted by Dashy at 6:52 AM on March 16, 2014

I'm nowhere near NYC, but I just wanted to add encouraging noises. I've found: intro classes get people introduced to each other, so they recognise each other. Climbing walls (ropes, rather than bouldering centres) I go to often have 'find a partner' notice boards / pinboards up (yep, old school technological solutions), sometimes with specifics (age / gender / experience / types of rock they're up for driving to) and oftentimes without. This is a better way of organising it than an online board, I've noticed, since it suggests that you really do climb (you went to the wall).

I started going to a 'yoga for climbers' class and met more people there, which has been really useful. Universities have student climbing clubs, and non-students are often allowed affiliate-membership status, which means you get to go along when they're heading out.

In the UK, the BMC (a climbers' umbrella-group who advocate on behalf of the climbing community) organise 'meets' at crags at various times in the year, sometimes to draw more attention to under-explored rocks and to get people away from directing all the heavy traffic on the same classic routes, and sometimes just to launch a new initiative (a new guide book, a newly settled piece of access-negotiation with a landowner). The meets attract a lot of people, camping, climbing, hanging out, and it's possible to show up without a partner and get on someone else's rope. So if there's a similar organisation in the US then it's worth finding out about.

There are ten or 11 good 'rock climbing basics' videos here on UKC, they're all short (they don't need to be any longer, this stuff isn't that hard to grasp, it just takes a while to get comfortable doing it, and that's learnt by doing not by watching), they range from tying into a rope (episode 1: figure of 8), to belaying a partner, threading into the top of a sport climb, and abseiling (rappelling) down. These are things that you should have some idea about before you turn up at a piece of rock, even if you haven't tried them all (few people do any rappelling indoors, for example – most people learn that outdoors). Other stuff, like knowing how to place gear safely, or to equalise anchors, are things you pick up through doing them (and redoing them, and undoing your partner's anchors and removing their gear as you second up the route they've just lead). I think in general there's a lot of informal learning that goes on when you head to some real rock, and every climber I know learnt rope skills and placing protection this way. I did too (although I practiced tying clove hitch, double-fisherman, and italian hitch knots at home).
posted by Joeruckus at 5:18 AM on March 17, 2014

I've generally found that the folks on the forums at mountainproject are pretty friendly and helpful. I've never climbed in the northeast, though, so it may be a regional thing.
posted by hootenatty at 11:44 AM on March 17, 2014

Personally, I'd start by trying to connect with climbers in the gym you think you might be compatible with. If you're on nodding terms with anyone, strike up conversations with them about their plans. In my experience, you'll land an invite pretty quickly (this, of course, probably depends on the gym). And if your goal is just to climb outside, I'd recommend trying bouldering first since that's what you're familiar with (and bonus points for no additional gear to buy).

Side note: 5.12 can be very, very different than V4. Depending on the crag, a 5.12 could just be like 7 V1s stacked on top of each other (endurance or "resistance" style), or a bunch of V0 climbing up to one hard move ("cruxy"). You may well already know this. I bring it up to point out that going from exclusively bouldering to trying longer stuff on a rope can be a challenging transition. Super fun, though, so get psyched and go do it!
posted by that's candlepin at 12:52 PM on March 21, 2014

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