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July 17, 2008
Everyone who climbs knows how important it is to have a good partner. "The brotherhood of the Rope" and all that... In my case for many years it was my wife Alyssa, with whom I climbed here in North Conway, at the Gunks, Cannon, Red Rocks, Mt. Lemon, and numerous other places. Her calm and highly attentive belaying style allowed me to climb many things that I most likely would not have managed with another partner, especially in the early days of my leading. Hopefully it was the same for her.
Of course that's not to say that other climbing partners haven't been good. My friend Mason and I did lots of stuff after Alyssa backed off from climbing after our son Lewis was born. Since I've been guiding more I climb a lot n the early seasons with Brad White, my boss and owner of IMCS. He is a great partner who is always calm and supportive. He's been my partner on a lot of the harder ice routes I've done like Dropline and Last Exit, and when I had an icicle whack me in the face last winter he was right there with the first aid kit to patch me up.
One thing I have noticed a lot lately is different people's belaying style. It's even more obvious when I'm guiding. I have to say that I'm not sure that people are actually getting much instruction in belaying a leader. Most climbers know how to belay someone on a top-rope scenario - keep the climber somewhat snug, belay hand always on the rope and pay attention. There's a little more, but that's the gist of it. Belaying a leader is, however, a bit more complex.
This all came to mind when I was out at the Attitash Crag with Joe Perez and George Hurley yesterday. We started out with Joe leading Golden Slippers, a nice 5.8. George belayed and I shot a few pictures. We all took turns belaying and it was fun. Then I led the 5.7 2 lines to the left, Choo Choo. It's a very sweet climb with fun moves and reasonably spaced bolt protection. Joe belayed and I felt very comfortable on all the moves. Joe followed and he just rapped as George was planning on leading How Green Was My Valley, the 5.9 just left of Golden Slippers. I took more pictures as Joe belayed and again we all took turns climbing. Then I decided to do a good looking 5.8 to the right called Bear.
This time George belayed and Joe took a few pictures of me climbing. (Now finally I get to the point of all this long lead-in.) As I was climbing, at every point that I needed to make a clip I didn't need to say "clipping" or even let George know what I was going to do. I would reach down to pull up the bite of rope I needed and in what felt like milliseconds before I tugged on the rope, the exact amount I needed was there. If I had to put a little in my teeth & pull up another bit, that was there as well. And as I made the moves between clips just the right amount of rope was always let out such that I never felt the slightest extra tug on my harness. It was magic.
What I'm trying to say here is that George's level of attention to what the leader (me) was doing was almost telepathic. After the first clip I knew that he was totally engaged in what I was doing and that freed me to simply climb. I want to make it clear that Bear is by no means a difficult climb. It was simply a very nice and well protected 5.8. However, because of the involvement that George exhibited, the belay portion of the stress of climbing was simply nonexistent. All I need to do was to find and make the moves. Joe had done the same thing for me when I led Choo Choo, but the climbing was a bit easier and I simply didn't notice.
Does this mean that there was no conversation or social interaction between Joe, George and me while I was climbing - not at all. Heck, I'd be hard pressed not to chatter about all kinds of stuff when I'm climbing. But whichever of us was belaying it was clear that the main focus was on the leader and that was transmitted through the attentive belay. And that attentiveness was exemplified by the belayers anticipation of their leader's moves and needs.
Just something to think about the next time you're belaying your favorite leader, even on the easiest climb.
It's been years since I've been to Attitash Crag and there has been a lot of development there for sure. Joe & Judy Perez, George Hurley and others have put up a number of very nice climbs in all grades to the area. The hike takes maybe 30 minutes from the parking area at Thorn Pond, there is a great big log to walk across the far branch of the Saco and the trail uphill starts right there. The huge oak trees surrounding the cliff provide for some great shade on sunny days, and you get into the sun about 1/2 way up most of the climbs. It kind of reminds me of Lost Ledge in that way. Just looking at the crag from the road doesn't really provide you with a good idea of what's there and in fact from the distance you can't see where 80% of the climbing is. Here are a few pix -
How Green Is My Valley
Change Of Season
Change Of Season
If you have never been there or haven't been there in a while you definitely should give Attitash Crag a try. Although there are a lot of bolted routes, bring along your standard rack as well if you are going for the first time. A 60 meter rope will get you off all the climbs and they are all single pitch. Directions and a number of descriptions are on the NEClimbs.com web site. Check it out...
The morning after I wrote the last Bug Report I was out in the woods hiking and got absolutely KILLED by the bugs. A weather front was coming through and they were out in force. The only blessing was that the ticks were conspicuously absent. At Attitash Crag on Wednesday there were no mosquitoes or Blackflies but I found a tick on me as I walked out. So I guess the deal is that there are bugs, it depends on the weather & time of day and just bring the bug dope and be prepared.
Up on one of the Mount Washington Valley's finest crags and want to know what that climb you're looking at is? Or maybe you're on your way up from Boston and want to check out the Ice Report for your upcoming weekend plans. Or more likely, you're at work just want to daydream about your next adventure. Well if you have a smart phone handy, you can get to NEClimbs from anywhere you have cell service. While it doesn't offer every single feature of the site and it's not an "app", in mobile form, it does do a whole lot and is very useful. Here is the live link to the mobile version of NEClimbs:
Check it out and if you have issues on your specific phone, please feel free to let me know.
Join us and LIKE us on Facebook. I'll try and post some interesting pix every Thursday and the latest Ice Report in the season, tho certainly not the whole Report. Here's where you can check it out:
Have fun and climb safe,
The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
|This is a group of people I used to go walking with. (long pause) That's me on the left. (even longer pause) On the right is the woman I married, Audrey. (very long pause, speaker looks at shoes) Which just goes to show that danger lurks where you least expect it.|
|Don Whillans commenting on a B&W slide showing a group of smiling hikers|