Rock Climbing in Pinnacles National Park
April was a month of a completely new sport for me: rock climbing! And not even climbing in a gym, but climbing outdoors! I’ve had “Learn to rock climb” on my New Year’s Resolution list since 2017, and this year finally was the year! I honestly never thought I’d climb outdoors, especially only after climbing in a gym twice! I’ve got my job to thank for all of my rock climbing experiences so far. For giving me supportive friends to take me climbing and for sending me to gain more experience and training with climbing gear. And who knew that I’d go to Pinnacles National Park twice in the month of April for climbing?! If you told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be doing that, I wouldn’t have believed you.
My first trip was totally spur-of-the-moment: I quickly secured coverage for a work shift and head off to the park for my friend Laura’s rock climbing birthday. The first day in the park we set off from the Bear Gulch area to try to find some routes to climb. There were so many people climbing on Sunday afternoon, but we eventually found a spot near the Bear Gulch Reservoir after striking out at a couple of other places. I geared up with my rental shoes from REI and borrowed gear from Laura’s boyfriend and tried climbing! It went pretty poorly - I got maybe 4 ft off the ground, and I fell a couple of times. The route was rated at 5.8 (I think) so I wasn’t expecting much.
After watching everyone else be amazing and do the climb, we moved to an easier area for me, to Teaching Rock. Here is where I sent my first outdoor climb! I was pretty shaky the whole way up - my legs were dying. Teaching Right was the route, and it was rated at a 5.4. It was “easy” but it was my first climb and I thought it was challenging enough for me! I was so proud of myself for trying. There were so many times going up where I didn’t know what to do next, and I just had to try to trust my feet and the rock and get up. It felt so different from the gym. Naively, maybe, I feel pretty safe in the gym with the holds: there’s a colored route and the holds are secure, so it’s pretty easy to look around and see what you’re supposed to do next. Outside is a little scarier because there’s no set route and there’s always the risk of the rock breaking off! It’s also cool though, that there is no set route. You just do what you think looks best. It’s simultaneously easier and harder, I think, for beginners. On one hand, do whatever you want to get up! On the other hand, when you’re stuck, it’s harder to figure out what to do.
After finishing up on Teaching Rock, we hiked back down to the car and drove back to camp, enjoying the night under the stars, and ringing in Laura’s birthday at midnight!
The next day, we went straight to Discovery Wall for us all to try Portent, a 5.6 climb. Laura gave us a few lessons on trad gear and placing protection, and I learned how to read a climbing guide book. I watched as my friends got up the first pitch and placed a top rope for me to try to get up to the top of the first pitch. It was sooo hard, and I was sore from the day before. And unfortunately, the very beginning of the climb was the crux, or hard part. I couldn’t get up. In fact, I barely made it 3 ft off the ground, and I fell a couple of times trying. There’s so much trust involved with climbing. Thankfully, I know my friends pretty well, and know how safety oriented they are, and I could trust them to belay me. Taking falls is all part of climbing, and I think its good to fall and learn to trust your partners and gear. After my failed attempts, I watched my friends take turns leading the rest of the climb, cheered them on, and photographed them being awesome.
I actually really enjoyed the time watching them. It was so cool to see them being up that high, and even though I was just hanging out, I had fun relaxing and chilling at the crag, enjoying this beautiful park.
My second time at Pinnacles was at the end of the month, for a work training trip. REI sends employees to Experiential Training Experiences to learn more about product and how to educate members about it. In March, I got to go to the camping focused one, and this month I got to go to the climbing one. These trips are focused on learning about the newest gear from the leading companies in the climbing world, and getting the chance to have hands-on experience with the gear. I learned so much over these 2 days. The difference between different belay devices, different harnesses and climbing shoes and helmets, rope bags, ropes, carabiners, quick-draws, and more. I was thankful to have climbed outdoors before this event because it helped me understand terminology and gear a little bit more.
Over the course of the two days, I climbed on three different routes, including Teaching Right again, which I sent again! I tried four different shoes: La Sportiva Finale, and TC Pro, Black Diamond Aspect, and Scarpa Instinct V. I demoed 2 different harnesses: the Petzl Luna and Edelrid Jayne III. I got to belay with a Petzl Grigri and Grigri +, and the Petzl Reverso. I used the Petzl Boreo and Black Diamond Half Dome helmets. I tried on even more gear than what I ended up using. It was such a cool experience, and I already wish I had another day to try even more gear.
I was so thankful for everyone in the REI family for being so supportive and safe and encouraging to newbies. So many people were new to climbing, including myself, and everyone was super friendly and didn’t come in with any superiority complexes about the sport and abilities. The outdoor school instructors were so amazing, setting up all of the top ropes for us, and offering tips while climbing, and the vendors also climbed with us and were so nice and helpful. Special shout-outs to Scott from Petzl and Chris from Edelrid who made the crag so much fun and helped out with the gear while using it.
I was so thankful to have these opportunities to climb outside, and I already can’t wait to go again. I finally bought all of my own personal gear after this event - funnily enough, I didn’t demo anything that I ended up getting, but I did know what to look for when choosing the right gear for me. I felt so much more confident in my purchases after the training, and can’t wait to help customers make purchasing decisions too. If you’re curious, I ended up going with the La Sportiva Mythos for shoes, the Petzl Selena for a harness, and I picked up a super cute Kavu chalk bag. I didn’t buy a helmet yet, but will eventually pick one up after this current blow to my wallet softens a bit.
Gear talk aside, and on a more serious note: I am super proud of myself for going way outside of my comfort zone in climbing. Even though I’ve had “learn to climb” on my to-do list for a couple of years, I’ve been unnerved to try it at the same time. I don’t know if climbing will become a staple in my life, but I am looking forward to trying it out. I’m excited for the improvement potential with climbing, and I’m also looking forward to new challenges. I feel like there are very few sports that require the same kind of mental and physical stamina and precise technique that climbing requires. I’m also excited for the possibilities that climbing opens up: mountaineering and glacier travel, new landscapes, and more opportunities to get outside. If you’ve made it this far in my post, I hope this inspires you to get outside of your comfort zone and try something that scares you. Because I’m still terrified of climbing, but I’ve found that doing things that scare you and test your limits - whether mentally or physically - can be a really good thing.