Matt Johanson
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Climbing Tips

“I turned 50 recently and I’m grateful to still enjoy outdoor activities that I picked up in my youth. Following are lessons I’ve learned over the years. This installment, the second of five, focuses on climbing.”

Ascending Cathedral Peak in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows thrilled us. Atop the granite gem, a godly view of the mountainous horizon rewarded my buddy and me. The challenges we overcame to see it made the victory sweeter. That joyful moment made me a lifelong climber. Here are some tips I have learned along the way.

  1. Safety first. Secure your harness properly. Check your partner’s knot and your own. Wear a helmet. These measures go a long way toward ensuring safety.
  2. Use indoor gyms to climb more and better. Nothing beats climbing outdoors, but indoor gyms allow year-round and nighttime activity.
  3. Pick a good partner who you know and trust. But it’s also good to climb with new people who can help you improve and discover new destinations.
  4. “Five fun” is the best ability level. Climbing doesn’t have to be difficult to enjoy. I got started on moderate classics and still enjoy those the most. Let Alex Honnold handle the cutting edge. No one has to prove anything to have a good time on the rock.
  5. General fitness will help you enjoy climbing when you can go. Running, cycling and other aerobic exercise will keep you trim, which definitely helps. Pull ups are the simplest way to improve your ability.
  6. Time your outings to avoid crowds. Try to go midweek or in the shoulder seasons. If you have to go on prime days, arrive early.
  7. If you think climbing delivers thrills, try leading. Not everyone is suited for this, and one should follow many outdoor climbs first. But when you’re ready, leading a challenging route successfully can make you feel like a climbing rock star.
  8. Buy good gear, even though it’s expensive. Cams cost up to $100 each but are worth every cent when you’re high above your anchor and need to jam one into a crack quickly. Don’t cheap out on the rope, either.
  9. If you lead and protect a climb well, then accept falling as part of the sport. To improve, a climber needs to push limits and risk falling. A climber on a top rope should have nothing to fear. Lead climbers must accept greater risk, but should still fall harmlessly if they prepare and react correctly.
  10. Be considerate. Keep your noise down, pick up your trash and help those in need. It also helps to climb popular routes quickly so others can enjoy the route after you’re done.

Cathedral Peak keeps calling me back. Following my 50th birthday, I teamed up with my cousin to climb it for the seventh time. After the pandemic restricted Yosemite all summer, we enjoyed a glorious autumn day.

I’m looking forward to many more years on the rocks, and every time I see Cathedral Peak, I’m grateful to the majestic mountain for teaching me how to climb and how good climbing feels.

Read more stories by Matt Johanson here.