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How To Find Mentorship in the Climbing Community

Posted by Kathy Karlo on January 24, 2019
Climbing is Growing Too Fast for 1-1 Mentorship

I found climbing in my mid-twenties, much later in life than a lot of climbers. Luckily, I was mentored in things such as building safe anchors, proper gear placement, rope management and other various technical aspects needed to rock climb. I learned in the Gunks, one of North America’s premier climbing destinations, located just outside of New Paltz, New York.

The distinctive white cliffs draw you in, where you can climb anytime between April and November (not counting bonus winter days, of course). With well over one thousand traditional gear routes, the Gunks offer an experience like no other. And for many lucky new climbers, including myself, I was able to have my first climbing experiences amongst friends and mentors on these cliff lines.


However, as a result of climbing’s ever-expanding popularity, not everybody has this same luxury. More indoor gyms are popping up in urban neighborhoods and more people are exploring local outdoor areas as well.

Because of this, there has been an increased focus on addressing the mentorship gap for climbing outdoors. Many organizations, such as the American Alpine Club, have been establishing local chapters throughout the country to implement education programs, with the goal of identifying the barriers keeping people from learning more. There are also many guiding services and schools that will offer clinics to aspiring trad climbers.

Rock climbing, backpacking, wilderness, outdoors

It's important to mention that existing programs and gyms are meant to be your teachers and play an extremely huge role in helping increase outdoor climbing knowledge, but they still aren’t one hundred percent responsible for conveying all of the information necessary to safely climb outdoors. We have more options and resources available to us than ever before, but the question still looms: How do we bridge this mentorship gap?

Mentorship is an Issue for Experienced Climbers, Too

Not every experienced climber has the time and bandwidth to take new climbers out and help teach them to develop technical skills. Time is precious, schedules are compressed and taking on a less experienced mentee isn’t always the most ideal way to spend one’s time. However, as there are legitimate safety concerns regarding this mentorship gap, this is not a stand-alone issue. In fact, as long as you are climbing in the outdoors, this affects you, too. Mentorship does not have to mean taking a mentee under your wing and spending all your free time on the weekends teaching rope management and how to build anchors. It does not have to be a dedicated schedule or an organization that you belong to. It can be as easy as calling out something you see being done incorrectly at the crag and suggesting a better and safer way to do it.

Rock climbing, bouldering, outdoors

 

Look at Both National and Local Groups for Resources

There is no single answer to bridging the educational gap, but with growing concern of it being a serious problem, people are starting to talk about it and, most importantly, take action. If you are a new, lesser experienced climber and are eager to learn safe ways to progress your outdoor climbing skills, consider some of these options:

  • Make Friends
    This is probably one of the more accessible (free) ways to find mentorship in climbing. Try and create a community by meeting new people at your local gym, create meet-ups and learn together.
  • Find a Guide to Take You Out
    There are many resources available for new climbers to wield, but first, you have to pick one. Do a little research in your local area to see what is available and most convenient and affordable to you—from signing up for courses at your local climbing gym to venturing outside to apply what you are learning on real rock with local guiding services.
  • Get Involved with the Access Fund or American Alpine Club 
    Joining your local climbing organization is a great way to meet with other climbers and form real conversations and partnerships.
  • Consider Other Organizations with More Long-Term Plans 
    Organizations like Outward Bound, NOLS and AMGA specialize in creating learning more accessible through workshops offered year-round.
  • Research on Your Own
    At the end of the day, no matter who you hire or what connections you’ve made, you are responsible for your own actions. With so many books and online articles available as resources, you can learn a lot if you are willing to try.

With the increasing number of people heading outdoors eager to learn safe ways to progress in their climbing, acknowledging an education gap is more important than ever. This is an issue that every climber, new or well-seasoned, is equally responsible for.

Photos by Alma Baste and Aly Nicklas

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