Ask an Editor: What Guidance Do You Have For New Climbers During COVID-19?

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What is your advice for a new climber that wants to get out there but needs a little guidance?

When I turned 30, I decided I would start seeing the world by doing. I’m currently 31, and I live in Michigan. Last fall, I parted with the idea that I’d pursue law school after taking the LSAT a few times. I still work in big law, but it’s just not that fulfilling. I know there’s more—I sit at my desk day dreaming about trips, climbing, leaving for the gym and just being on the road. The problem is—I’m a total introvert. Most of my friends would describe me as an extrovert, but I am, only when I need to be.

I started climbing when I told someone three things on my bucket list (Bali, climbing, and a van trip along the PNW), he said "Let’s go climbing!" After that, I found myself at REI with a new pair of La Sportivas and Googling “how to find a partner” almost simultaneously. Six months later, I sent my first 5.10 in the Red and afterwards reminisced about it at Miguel’s Pizza. Then COVID happened.

What I really crave is that real connection with climbing, with myself, and the wall. I started to really feel that connection—until COVID. Now things seem so far away from achieving (traveling, climbing, goals) and the picture of a new normal seems very unpredictable. Trust once seemed like the most daunting task, but has now fallen to the bottom of the list for me; it’s safety concerns with revisiting gyms, finding new partners, and mitigating travel risk.

So, really I’m just trying to find a way to break out of my shell without being goofy and wandering up to a crag by myself. I’m most inspired by Steph Davis and Brittany Griffith—they’re raw and totally out there! They challenge my ideas about what women should be, how women should travel, and what we can achieve.

—Megan M., via email

Hi Megan, You have my sympathy. It must be frustrating to begin your journey into this new and exciting sport, only to be derailed as you were starting to build momentum. I think we're all struggling to figure out the best way to continue climbing amid the pandemic, but being newer would add an additional challenge. There's a lot to respond to in your story above, so I'm going to break it down into separate answers relating to climbing during COVID, finding partners, and culture.

Climbing During COVID-19

First and foremost, it's a personal choice whether or not you want to climb at all right now. Based on the current evidence, climbing outside doesn't seem like too much of a risk. Check out these guidelines from the Access Fund for more information. But basically, stay six feet away from others outside and wear a mask when you're not on the wall. I'm a fairly cautious person, and I've resumed climbing outdoors myself. All of the information I've seen suggests that the risk of transmission outdoors is low. 

You mentioned that you're based in Michigan. That does make outdoor access difficult. There is good climbing in Michigan. Our contributor Bennett Slavsky recently wrote about the cliffs at Silver Mountain. Unfortunately, I realize the U.P. is pretty far from most of the state. You could check out Grand Ledge for toproping and bouldering. Beyond that, The Red and Devil's Lake in Wisconsin may be your best bets for destination climbing areas. You might be able to find some smaller, closer spots by browsing Mountain Project's map feature. Of course, you'll need to do your research in terms of local travel restrictions due to COVID-19. If you do decide to go anywhere, I'd suggest stocking up on supplies close to home so you can minimize interactions at your destination. 

The gym is another story (if your local gym is even open). We have differing opinions here at the magazine. I don't think it's worth the risk. Editor Matt Samet has resumed going to gyms. You'll have to decide for yourself where you stand. If you go, wear a mask.

Finding Partners During COVID-19

I can relate to you here. My primary climbing partner moved out of state in May. Pursuing a career in medicine was more important to him than going climbing with me. What a jerk, right? Jokes aside, I have had to make an effort to expand my circle of partners, something I've always found difficult. Now, due to COVID-19, it's a greater challenge. Here are some things to try:

Friends of Friends

This is my preferred method. I find it a little nerve wracking to start climbing with new people. You don't know their technical skillset, and you don't know how well they handle safety protocol. By climbing with someone that climbs with someone I know, I feel like I'm starting a step further into the vetting process. Also, it's more likely that I'll get along with the person. If you have the option to absorb a friend's circle into your own circle, I'd start there. In my experience, most people need more climbing partners than they have, so most people are keen to get out if you ask.

Local Climbing Groups

Most areas have their own climbing Facebook groups or mountain clubs that are full of people like yourself looking to get outside. These groups tend to cater people that are in search of partners, and will usually organize regular meetup events. You could try attending a meetup, or post in the group stating what you're looking for in a partner. Just get on Facebook and search "[Your state or closest major city] climbing" then filter by groups. Also check Meetup.com. You can also search for groups at the climbing destination you'd like to visit, if there are no good local options.

Mountain Project Partner Finder

Mountain Project has two options for finding partners. You can post in the relevant region of their partner finder forum (scroll down to find it), or use their partner finder tool. I personally prefer posting in the forum. Just say what you're looking to climb, who you're looking to climb with, and when you'd like to get out.

Bouldering

I took up bouldering this summer to cope with my lack of a consistent partner. When I can't find a partner, I go bouldering. Bouldering is great because it's the best way to get stronger, and you don't need friends to do it (though on some problems a spotter is nice). It's also a more casual atmosphere. If you're working the same problem as someone else, it's easier to strike up a conversation than at a sport crag.

Culture

Even when you're stuck at home, you can still engage with climbing culture. There's a near-infinite amount of climbing media to consume at this point: films, books, magazines (hi), etc.

If you already pay for a streaming service, that's a great place to start. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I compiled a list of all the climbing films I could find on the major streaming services (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu). Amazon had the most options. Oh, and don't forget that your Summit membership gives you access to Film Festival Flix's Vertical Life channel.

Another great option is to check out the annual Reel Rock Film tours, which are all available for digital download. The Reel Rock collections cover a lot of the biggest stories in climbing each year. I remember watching Reel Rock 6 when I was new to climbing. It blew my mind blown.

You might also enjoy Pretty Strong, which features short films about strong female climbers (and was filmed, in part, by former Climbing editor Julie Ellison). I loved it.

You mentioned being inspired by Steph Davis and Brittany Griffith. There are tons of incredible women in the climbing community. This list is by no means exhaustive, but just to get you started, check out:

Give them a follow, and check out the Climbing stories I've linked to their names. And speaking of Steph Davis, have you read her book? You might also enjoy Women Who Dare: North America's Most Inspiring Women Climbers, by Chris Noble and Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World, by Lynn Hill.

I hope that's enough to keep you busy and engaged. I'll also mention that time stuck at home is a great opportunity to practice your technical skills. Set up a quickdraw and practice clipping. Get all your knots dialed. Work on anchor building and cleaning. If you get those things down now, you'll be better prepared to focus on the fun part—the rock climbing—next time you're outside.

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