Gym to Crag Transition Clinics Take Off in san diego
Jonathan G. Wachtel, Chairman of the SD Chapter, shared his report of the educational event with us.
"Hello from sunny San Diego! We’re stoked to share some of the educational opportunities from our “Gym to Crag Transition Clinic” series. Members taught members (and a couple future members) in an outdoor setting under a curriculum that we created, blessed by the AAC’s own Education Manager, Mr. Ron Funderburke.
Our curriculum topics consisted of equipment, proper packing, trail/wall ethics, toprope anchoring, belay techniques, rappelling, hazards and most importantly having a good, safe time while at the crag. The last clinic we held was at a sport crag in Descanso, CA about 35 minutes outside downtown San Diego. It consisted of 10 participants and 5 instructors for a sweet 2:1 ratio (not factoring in our crag dog, Briggs). We try to keep the instructor/student ratios low to gain a more hands-on, intimate approach and ensure the participants really understand the material, because the person you’re mentoring could very possibly be your next belayer.
We charged a $10 donation for members and a $20 donation for non-members. That’s right – one dollar and twenty-five cents per hour of personalized outdoor instruction. That money went back into the Chapter to buy raffle prizes for our annual Holiday Party.
For this clinic, we broke up into four stations: Ground-Up, Natural From-The-Top, Bolted From-The-Top, and Rappelling. When transitioning from the gym to outdoors, climbers need to understand that while some crags are accessible from the top, others certainly aren’t. So, we wanted to ensure our participants were comfortable with or at least understood both options. Bolted From-The-Top focused on managing bolted toprope setups from a top-accessible crag. We equalized and opposite-and-opposed, then equalized some more. At Natural From-The-Top, participants used static line and cordelettes to assemble anchors, further pushing the fundamental “NERDSS” anchoring principles of No Extension, Redundancy, Distribution, Strength, and Simplicity. Ground-Up is pretty self-explanatory. The climbs here were 5.5 to 5.7, so we had folks mock-lead or lead to a top station where an instructor observed a “ground-up” anchoring setup. Once each climber set up an anchor and lowered, their belayer would come clean the anchor. Over and over and over again, we’d go through the motions of cleaning a bolted anchor because it reinforces the concept that is so often the natural progression for gym climbers when moving outdoors.
Last but not least, what goes up must come down – so, we learned how to rappel. We used fireman belays, autoblocks, personal-anchoring-systems and questioning attitudes. We tied knots in the end in order to “close the system” despite being on a relatively short crag. We weighted the rappel before coming off anchor. Throughout the clinic, we discussed objective and subjective hazards, the importance of Leave No Trace ethics and shared personal stories. Our instructors had an average of ten years of climbing experience, so we certainly shared some “what not to do” scenarios and discussed how we each manage risk. It’s worth mentioning that we always have a couple “firsts” with these clinics. This one included two first outdoor climbs, three first rappels and one first ever lead!
The purpose behind the clinic was to mentor less experienced climbers, which brings me back to why we asked to set up a San Diego Chapter in the first place – because that mentorship wasn’t there for me. Whether your expertise is hard sport, easy trad, ice or alpine, we all have something with which to help educate our fellow climbers. So, put out that helping hand. We did.
We usually go to a brewery afterwards, too. Especially, if they serve nachos. Cheers!"
-Jonathan G. Wachtel, Chairman, San Diego Chapter
Find opportunities like this clinic by getting involved with your regional chapter of the AAC!