Photo Credit Abby Santurebane
Jen is one of our quieter yet hard-to-miss staff members. You've probably seen her whipping or sending some 5.13 project in the gym, during finals at Battle Royale, and crushing those routes you dream of climbing outside. She teaches our Learn to Lead, Learn to Lead Outside, and Gym-to-Crag courses. In this staff spotlight, Jen gives us some insight her climbing world.
When did you start climbing, where, why, and how?
Well, I've always had a natural gravitation towards climbing. Some of my favorite activities as a child were climbing trees, fences, houses. I also dabbled in bouldering during college, but didn't start regularly climbing until 2014 when I spent the summer with my cousin in Bozeman, MT. My cousin Mike had been climbing for years and I knew I really wanted to get into it, so I took that summer as my opportunity.
What do you enjoy most about climbing?
This is hard to answer. There's so many things. Probably the problem solving aspect.
Where's your favorite place to climb outside? Can you tell us why it's your favorite?
Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming.
My first week-long climbing trip was here. We drove from Bozeman, arriving around sunset, and I remember being in awe as we drove through the canyon with the windows down. Endless dolomitic limestone. Cows roaming. There's a breathtaking lake not too far from the canyon. The nearby town is small and simple. Lots of empty space in Wyoming. Each time I go back it reminds me of spending time with my hilarious cousin who I've looked up to since childhood, and we can typically coordinate meeting up at least a couple days.
Aside from nostalgia, there's so much excellent climbing there and the routes are long. I could spend an entire summer there and not get bored.
Why do you keep climbing?
I love it. Makes me happy, challenges me. It's fun, physical, social, meditative...nothing compares to it. It motivates me to make healthier lifestyle choices.
When did you start lead climbing? Who taught you?
I started the same summer I got into climbing, and took an Intro to Leading course at the local gym, Spire. My cousin Mike and his now wife Sarah also helped coach me along after the course.
What kind of relationship and trust do you have to have in your belayer when you're leading?
Trusting my belayer is huge. Trusting that they're paying attention, have the experience to manage slack well, and won't drop or spike me among other things. I definitely feel most comfortable when I'm being belayed with a grigri, though I have friends I trust with the ATC.
What's your favorite style of climbing?
Sport climbing. Overhung juggy routes are the best. Vertical, techy crimpfests are also a fave.
What do you think climbers need to know/experience in order to transition to lead climbing?
I think it's helpful to have developed body awareness and have an understanding of basic technique, as the importance of balance is enhanced when we're taking one hand off the wall to clip. Knowledge of safety concerns to avoid and/or look out for.
What about to climb outside?
An understanding of differences and additional risk involved when climbing outside.
Bouldering? Knowing where to place the pads and how to spot. Know how to fall. Bouldering is dangerous ;)
Sport? If going out with experienced climbers who will lead and clean all the routes, minimal experience is fine (i.e. how to top rope belay and buddy check). If getting out with friends who are also new to outdoor climbing or if wanting to do more than top rope, I advocate knowing how to proficiently build and clean an anchor, lower, rappel, lead and lead belay. Anything a climber wants to do outside should be well versed, in my opinion. So many accidents happen due to mistakes during cleaning, rappelling, belaying or lowering, even with experienced climbers, so it's important to practice these things before being up on the route alone (or down at the base in the case of belaying).
Trad? How and where to place/remove cams and nuts, how to examine rock and check that a placement is solid, build anchors without bolts (slings, cams, and nuts)...and much more...I'm no expert on trad.
Why should someone take Learn to lead, Learn to lead outside, or Gym-to-crag?
The courses cover a lot of information climbers may not learn from a friend, including proper technique, industry standards, and safety precautions. One of my primary goals is to give people the knowledge they need to avoid unnecessary risk, and hopefully prevent accidents. The courses also give climbers a chance to practice these skills under supervision of experienced climbers, so they can get real time feedback and feel confident before they go out on their own.