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SheJumps Outdoor Lead Climbing with Mountain Madness in North Bend, WA – Recap

SheJumps ladies working in teams and getting to know eachother, while enjoying the views at the Exit 38 crags.

Indian summer, new friends, and in depth skills practice made for a dreamy autumn day at the crags for SheJumpers who joined this fall’s Outdoor Lead Climbing course. Offered in partnership with iconic, Seattle-based guide company, Mountain Madness, this full day course  was designed for women skilled in top roped outdoor climbing, to help them cultivate the skills needed to lead climb outdoors on real rock. Conditions could not have been any better for the five ladies who made their way out to Exit 38 two weekends ago.

These ladies took off their training wheels, strapped on their helmets, and clipped in for an adventure outside of their comfort zone. Designed for women skilled in top roped outdoor climbing, this particular course was aimed at cultivating the skills needed to lead climb outdoors on real rock.

The day started out with a short hike from the parking lot just outside Olallie State Park, up the well beaten path to the Iron Horse Trail, an old railroad line converted to a gravel trail that is now popular among local mountain bikers who frequently ride the 17 miles that separate this region and the summit of Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains. Here, large granite crags stretch from the base of the trail up the mountain, and a series of gentle climbing routes beckon. Ranging from easy to advanced, this crag has something for every level of climber and all were present on this balmy Sunday.

Rope management lessons before getting set up on the day’s routes.

Arriving early, the group started out with this popular crag all to themselves, allowing them ample time and space to choose their routes, set up their ropes and begin the day’s training. Mountain Madness guide, Jeffrey Turner, started the day with a lesson in quick draw setup, walking the group through how to set up quick draws properly before getting on the rock, and how to place the draws on bolts efficiently and safely. He demonstrated the wrong way to clip in to the rope, which, as experienced lead climbers know, result in subtle, but hazardous snafus like z-clipping, and back-clipping. Jeff demonstrated both, and carefully instructed the group on how to recognize and safely prevent them. As the group learned, much of correctly clipping on rock, stems from repetition that creates muscle memory and each climber paired up and took to turns repeatedly clipping into the rope with each hand until the movement became second nature. With this most basic skill mastered, we then began the real work of learning to lead climb: anchor building, anchor cleaning and the Petzl Pass system.


Mountain Madness guide, Jeff demonstrates how to clip into the rope when placing quickdraws on bolted routes.

Once a climber has led the climb up the route, placing her protection along the way, she must then set up the top rope. To do this, Jeff slowly walked the ladies through each step of the Petzl Pass System, a protocol often considered the gold standard for installing a top rope. This portion of the course served as a perfect introduction to the main focus of the day’s activities: understanding, building and selecting anchors. Jeff reviewed the different anchor types leading into an in-depth discussion of when they should be used, and what gear to set up. Among the anchor types learned were the quickdraw anchor, the quad, the magic X (or sliding X), and self-equalizing. With the initial top ropes in place and anchors set up, the group was ready to ascend the rock for their first mock leads.

As the clouds parted, and the sun beamed down on the glistening rock, each SheJumper took a turn ascending the three mock lead routes. Everyone ascended each of the routes with great success, clipping efficiently, effectively, and safely. Working in threes, climbers had the chance to test out lead belaying with a traditional ATC style device and top rope belaying with a Gri-Gri in addition to climbing the routes. As the groups rotated positions, working together to support the climber on the wall, unique connections were made as belayers learned the differing styles of the other climbers, and the climbers in turn, learned to effectively communicate their needs to their belayers.

By the end of the day, trust was built, friendships were forged, and future adventures were planned. By mid-afternoon our brains and our hearts were full, and it was time to bid the rock farewell. Everyone walked away with a new sense of empowerment and excitement to continue learning and practicing. Just as valuable as the skills learned, were the new connections made with one other. Climbing is about community and this clinic helped engage more local women in the mountain out to learn and grow while expanding their comfort zone. A special thanks to Mountain Madness for making this day possible and helping these women reach their climbing aspirations with the support of one another.

For more on the specific skills learned in the clinic, check out the following links.

Lindsey Ganahl 



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