Hello everyone. It’s almost that time of year again when The Columns at Skinner’s Butte stay reliably dry enough for consistent climbing. With the change of weather comes the crowds and all the great people climbing at Skinner’s Butte for their first time. With this in mind, I’ve been talking with other Skinner’s Butte climbers about what kind of advice they would give to people new to the community.
Top 10 Tips:
1: Practice your rigging and rappelling at home. The Columns are a great place for practicing and learning, but it’s good getting the basics sorted at home. There are tons of books at the library on how to do this including Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills and Climbing Anchors by John Long.
2: Backups and double checks, every time all the time. It’s easy to get into a routine and stop paying attention to the basics. If you make double-checking yourself and your partners a part of the routine, then no worries eh? Learning and teaching others how to back up a rappel could save a life.
3: Give crack climbing a try! The Columns are an amazing place to learn crack climbing with 5.7 cracks all the way up to 5.12 and up. Crack climbing can be very nuanced and technique-specific, so it can be baffling and frustrating at first. I promise that if you keep with it you’ll be cruising up The Columns with ease very soon. Typing “crack climbing technique” into your search engine of choice can really speed up the learning process as well. There are lots of great videos and articles online. The best way to learn is hands on, so check out our crack climbing clinic July 28. To find out specifics and sign up go to https://ceapps.eugene-or.gov/econnect/Activities/ActivitiesAdvSearch.asp Class barcode # is 105010
4: When tossing a rope down it is customary to holler “rope!” and wait a few seconds. It’s also a good idea to look where you’re throwing your rope to make sure it’s clear. Not dropping your rope on somebody is a great way to make an introduction. Tossing rope bags, sandals, or anything else is generally a bad idea.
5:It’s all in the feet. It’s natural to focus on hand/finger jams and totally forget about footwork. Footwork is just as important in crack climbing as in other types of climbing, but in some ways can be harder to learn. Standing on a ledge comes naturally enough, but learning how to create a comfy ledge with a foot jam takes a lot of practice and testing to see what works.
6:The Columns can get super crowded and busy. The best way for us to be able to share this limited resource is to stay relaxed about getting on any specific routes, and talking with people who are already on them. Most of the people who are there on a crowded day are in a similar situation as you and might not know what do next. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself and talk with people around you. Often you can just trade with people, jump in with their group, or figure out some sort of solution. If you find yourself waiting around for a route to open up, this is a chance to clean up some of the broken glass and garbage which invariably finds it’s way to The Columns. A few minutes of cleanup does wonders for your route-negotiations as well.
7: Clear communication is critical. At a busy place like the Columns (and other local spots like Smith Rock) it is critical to communicate clearly with your partner. Commands like “on belay” should include your partner’s name, “On belay Joe?” so there is no doubt of who is talking to whom. It can be helpful to establish what you plan to do once you reach the top, and to let your partner know what you expect them to do before you leave the ground. Hand signals also can work well if you’ve worked them out beforehand.
8: Extending your anchor out past the edge can really help with the rope-eating nature of the cracks, save wear on your gear, and cut down on rope drag. This can also make rappelling or lowering a little more scary, so try to find what makes you feel most comfortable and go with that.
9:We get a lot of people stopping to gawk and take pictures. Climbing is still a weirdo-type thing for some people, so you might get asked some strange questions. Please try to be as polite as possible in answering them. In the big picture, it’s important to interact positively with the non-climbing community since these are often the folks who own or manage land with potential climbing spots. Also, bringing your gear with you to the base of the routes you are climbing helps keep everything looking tidy and less like a free pile of gear to people passing by.
10: Recently it’s become more common for people to bring radios climbing. Please be considerate with them, especially when there are other people around. Bringing pets to climb can be similar. It might be great fun until it isn’t, and then all of a sudden it’s no fun at all. Skinner’s Butte is a Eugene City park, so if you do bring a pet it needs to be on a leash, and please clean up any waste the pet produces.
Thanks for reading some of the ideas which some local climbing addicts wanted to share. Please note that these are tips, not rules. Climbing is about self management and an at-your-own-risk activity. The Columns are a very special place, but Eugene City park rules still apply.
Have fun out there and don’t forget to introduce yourself around!
I hope to see you @ The Columns.
-Joe Richardson is a Rock Climbing staff at the River House Outdoor Program
If you’ve got an awesome tip of your own to share, please leave it in the comments