Basic Rock Climbing Class

Last month I took a two-week course on rock climbing, offered by the Arizona Mountaineering Club, which covered everything from basic knots to self-rescue techniques. It was an experience that, after some initially doubts, was something I ultimately enjoyed and would recommend. And yes, this was my first time climbing either outside or in a gym setting.

The first two days were spent in a classroom in northern Phoenix where we went through introductions, discussed climbing ethics, practiced knots, and even did some walk-throughs of commands. True, we practiced belaying and rappelling on the flat parking lot, which gave us the general format of how to do safety checks and handle communication. There was even time for socializing and I got to meet an older man named Tim, who was intimately familiar with the Mazatzals, and Yuming, who frequently hikes Flatiron and even did a rim-to-rim-to-rim on the Grand Canyon.

When the weekend rolled around I was quite apprehensive. It was my first time wearing uncomfortable climbing shoes, let alone trying to climb anything, and we didn't really talk about actual rock climbing, just safety and ropes. Plus we had a full weekend. Saturday would be spent at the Sven Slab area of the McDowells and Sunday at Magma Gardens out by Superior, two full days of challenges. I wasn't sure what to expect.

Saturday was a nice intro. They had fifteen or sixteen stations set up, everything from a practice area for smearing (aka hope your feet stick via friction) to rappel drops to top-belay climbs. Yuming and I paired up and started easy and worked our way up to the harder stuff. We rotated between climbing and belaying (oh, and each station was manned by a volunteer to assist with the belay). Beyond the McDowell granite acting like a meat grinder for my multiple falls this was a fun day.

Sunday stepped things up with some more challenging options in a remote area. Magma Gardens is basically a bunch of pillars of smooth-ish rock, with a few tiny crags and cracks for purchase, and Tim and I rotated around and tried different things. He's a better climber than I and made it up several that I bailed early on. In fact, I think I only finished two climbs all day. By the end of the day my forearms were cramping and I was wondering what the appeal of rock climbing actually was.

The second week had two more weekday sessions in the afternoon, this time at a rock gym, where we practiced self-rescue on a rope. Like, if you got stuck on a rope mid-way through a climb or rappel, how to move around safely. We used prusiks (friction knots) and inchwormed up and down suspended ropes, working around knot obstacles and attaching/detaching rappels. It was valuable knowledge, especially for canyoneers, who spend a lot of time sliding down ropes in unknown conditions.

Finally, the last weekend, a one-day grad climb. I had been hoping for something in the Superstitions (they offered two climbs out there) and ended up with Praying Monk on Camelback, a much tamer challenge. It was still a ton of fun. The leads for the hike were super friendly and both Yuming and Tim were there too, giving us plenty to chat about. Only froze twice on the not-challenging, yet definitely exposed, route up. And it did give me some confidence about climbing after the previous weekend's shakes.

I'm not sure what the next step is now. There is another class on anchors that the club offers, though I can't make it this year due to family schedules, so I'll have to wait a good six months to take it. I can't climb solo either, not without a ton more experience and learning about lead climbing (another class they offer). Right now I only know how to climb a route after someone else has done it and dangled a rope down for me to clip in, which means I need to latch onto a group. Might try to find one this year, or at least early next year, just to refresh somethings, and beyond that it's pretty murky.