Spring in the Bow Valley means rock climbing season and there have already been climbers out on Yamnuska, in Echo Canyon on Grotto Mountain and Barrier Bluffs. It’s a great time to shake the winter off and put your gym climbing skills to the test, but there are many things to keep in mind as we head into rock season 2019. Ticks are gross little insects that love to hide at the base of warm crags. Their goal is to crawl onto you, find somewhere warm (arm pit or head) and to bury their head. Try your hardest to avoid these critters and do a thorough tick check every day until tick season is over. South-facing slopes will be full of ticks from April until around June. Remember it’s bear season and most of our climbs are in bear habitat. Educate yourself about where you’re climbing and take the necessary precautions such as bear spray and groups of four.
Most of us have been climbing indoors for that past six months. Don’t let the excitement of being outside cloud your judgement. Good communication with your belayer is key. Know your calls, from “On belay” to “Secure.” Remember that protection bolts and anchors are not permanent. Someone was nice enough to put them there, but that doesn’t someone else didn’t take them or the weather didn’t loosen them. Be safe and carry a wrench that can tighten loose nuts on bolts and anchors. Bring a hammer to be sure fixed pitons are secure. It’s spring so be prepared for sudden rain storms and cold weather depending on where you are. Wear appropriate clothing climbing. Also, keep the local search and rescue phone numbers in your phone. If you’re heading somewhere without reception consider bringing something like a SPOT or InReach.
Climbers die and get seriously injured every spring. It’s the time of year when the freeze/thaw process that was set into motion by cold temperatures can wreak havoc. Water freezing in the rock’s crack is one of the main contributors to loosening rock from the earth. It’s especially dangerous on vertical rock faces. If you’re climbing a notoriously loose route, check every hold with a little tap before trusting it. Wear a helmet and beware of loose rock. If you find one, shout to everyone that you are dropping it or to be award as you carry it down. Yell “Rock!” if you knock one off the wall. Rockfall is real, can lead to unexpected falls and can kill you, so heads up. Remember access issues impact your local climbing. Check with the Alberta access groups TABVAR or CASA for crag status and beta. Climb safe this spring and remember the classic Alex Lowe quote, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” Keep yourself and everyone around safe this spring. – Brandon Pullan is the editor-in-chief of Gripped, Canada’s climbing magazine.