New Obsession: Trad Climbing

When I used to think of Trad climbing (traditional climbing) I thought it was way out of my realm of possibilities. It seemed so far away from me since I’m still working through a lot of stuff in sport climbing. I thought it would be at least another year before I’d start even thinking about following trad, and maybe another year after that before I started to lead. Well… looks like that time came way sooner than I thought!

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My friend Meg and I were talking about working this year to get SPI certified (Single Pitch Instructor) so that we can start leading groups of women climbing during the Mountain Girls events. Also strengthen our knowledge and understanding of our craft. Part of getting SPI certified is leading and understanding all types of climbing including trad. So here we go!

I asked my good friend and Mentor Stephen to take me out and show me the ropes. I was pretty nervous to be honest. I had only ever followed trad about 3 times and never placed gear. I couldn’t believe how fast I picked it up and I actually REALLY loved it!

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This was my first Trad lead! I only placed a couple of the pieces but it was a good way to start getting comfortable up there! “Ain’t nothing but a Jtree thing” 5.6

After Stephen ran me through the basics and had me place gear on a couple easy routes, he would follow up behind me and check my gear placements. He said I was ready to start doing harder stuff. He taught me how to build anchors, knots, and repel setups.

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Here I am onsighting “Toe Jam” 5.7 in Joshua Tree. It’s a fun and classic route that I really enjoyed. Also one of my first leads!

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This is me on “Sail away” 5.8 and this one was a bit more tricky! I made the mistake of not taking up any quickdraws so I couldn’t extend my pieces or use the nuts. I ran out of gear 3/4 of the way up and had to downclimb and pull out a couple pieces. Which was nerve wracking cause I had about a 15 run out between my last placement and the top one!

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Stoked to reach the top of “Sail Away” Cleaning gear and coming down. 

Another classic route that I took down was “Double Cross” 5.7 one of the most popular 5.7’s in the whole park. It’s long and the first part is a little tricky but overall so fun!

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The top of Double Cross

After 2 weekends, and my 4th day doing trad EVER I was already pushing 5.8’s but still not successfully sending any. The grades in Joshua Tree are a bit hard and the granite is very unforgiving. So I was pretty proud of my leads so far.

Here is me attempting “Gem” 5.8 where I struggled with gear to hand and foot placements. I did not get the send but I did make it to the top after a hard fight. Even without the full send I’m still learning super valuable tips and information with every route. On this one I learned it’s better to place your gear at waist height or lower so you are not screwing yourself out of the next hand or foot jam.

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This one was by far the hardest yet. “Eff Eight” 5.8 flaring crack. It’s short and low to the ground, it doesn’t seem hard but oh boy is it! Not only does it flare out which makes it hard to place gear but it also bends to the side which spits you out to the left with no feet for leverage. Completely different style than the others which were for the most part Vertical cracks with some horizontal lines.

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I fought my way hard through this one and even took my first fall on gear! Which is pretty scary always. I’m happy my placement was good and I made it through this one with just cuts and bruises.

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Henry, who was also new to trad climbing followed me up and cleaned the gear. We were both pretty stoked to reach the top of this one!

Over a course of 3 weekends, 6 days of trad climbing I ended up leading 12 routes! That makes my leads higher than the number of times I’ve followed now, 4x! I’m so addicted and can’t wait to get more leads in. We are having a wet winter this year so the rain has been putting a hold on a lot of climbing right now. I’m looking at more Jtree, Red Rock, Indian Creek, and Moab as soon as the weather allows. I can’t wait to try sandstone trad climbing!

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All photos by Cody Kaemmerlen and Stephen Le