What’s to Love: A couple of years ago, I wrote an article called “Gym to Crag,” where I highlighted Portland Rock Gym’s (PRG) excellent outdoor climbing program that is specifically designed to get indoor climbers out on real rock. By heading out to local crags, climbers can start to build an appreciation and love for the environment, what it takes to maintain crags, how to climb responsibly, and definitely gain a new appreciation for the grade of 5.9+. For those of you who want to “kick it up a notch” and personalize your outdoor fun, or who want to take the whole family out, I recommend hiring a private guide at Portland Rock Gym.
Before I get into all the wonderful things about climbing with an experienced and certified (American Mountain Guides Association -AMGA) guide, I want to point out that the pictures from this article are from two climbs at Beacon Rock where I was led by PRG’s Adam Snyder, who leads their outdoor program.
We climbed together on two separate occasions climbing the classic Southeast Corner (5.7), and then, Young Warriors (5.9). While climbing both routes, Adam exhibited excellent judgement, and climbed with efficiency, competence, and good humor. He carefully explained each crux section to me, and I felt totally comfortable committing to each difficult section. Look for the AMGA guide certification when using a private guide – it’s the gold standard in guided climbing and instruction.
Private guiding offers you an opportunity to explore an area that seems way out of your league, like Beacon Rock. Just look at that thing! It’s pretty scary looking from the road, but there is a relatively easy route (Southeast Corner 5.7) that takes you all the way to the top in six or seven pitches. For many people, that is a once-in-a-lifetime-event. For Portland Rock Gym’s guides, it’s a easy cruise where they can talk you through all the ins-and-outs of multi-pitch climbing.
While being led as a client, the guides do all the heavy lifting including: carrying most of the gear, leading the pitches, talking you through cruxes, setting up anchors and rappels, and much more. You’ll be able to do what you love the most, which is climbing while knowing that your safety is their number one priority. Go at your own pace, enjoy the views, ask questions, and learn more about what it takes to lead a route.
Also, the best thing about private guiding is you can talk things out with the guide before you ever touch the rock. The guide will take a look at your experience and recommend routes that are best for you. If you want to push yourself a bit, certainly PRG’s guides know the routes in the area that have that “old school” reputation – routes where 5.8 will make you work, even if you climb 5.11 in the gym. Setting up a session can be done in half or full-days, and certainly, can involve kids. Give the folks at Portland Rock Gym a call to talk things over.
Caveats: My biggest caveat here is that outdoor climbing is HARD. I’ve been climbing since 1988, and I believe Portland Rock Gym goes the extra mile to deliver routes that are true to the grade. However, it’s difficult to recreate the outdoor experience on indoor walls. Many of Portland area crags have a long history, and some routes were put up when 5.9 was the top level of climbing. Expect to climb well below your level at the gym – it will feel like a whole new experience.
I know you might climb 5.11 as a warm-up in the gym, but be prepared to adjust your expectations outside. You may be cruising along at Beacon Rock and all of a sudden, the enormity of what you’re doing hits you, especially the “airy-ness” of certain climbs. Your peripheral vision takes in everything, and for the first time climbing, you experience fear. Guides cannot guarantee that they’ll get you up a route or even a pitch for that matter. While they can make you feel as comfortable and safe as possible, sometimes, adjustments need to be made.
Website: Portland Rock Gym – Private Guiding
Distance from Portland: Depends where you go climbing. Generally, most options are within a 90 minute drive. Here are some options:
Recommended Ages: Private guiding gives more leeway in the age department. The requirement would be similar to that of climbing inside at PRG, which means the child must be big enough to wear a harness safely, and certainly a parent would have to be there climbing as well. For outdoor climbing, they will also have to wear a helmet. Young kids often do well climbing outside.
Parental Stress Factor: Climbing with a guide certainly takes much of the common stress factors out of the equation. Despite the American Mountain Guide Association certification, guides cannot control all factors at a climbing area, such as rock-fall, parties on the same climb, and bad weather. Even with a guide, you will experience levels of stress associated with climbing, especially if you’re with your family.
Physical Difficulty: Climbing is hard, especially if you’re new to climbing on rock. While experts look at some cracks as a place to relax and jam for pitches, a novice can turn a simple hand crack into a physically draining experience. Try your best to prepare for spending far too much time searching for the “right” handholds, foot placements, and desperately trying to figure out which way the route goes. This extra time will result in getting pumped far more than you’re used to at the gym.
Family Fun Factor: While a guide can handle a whole family, you have to ask yourself, “Are my kids really going to be able to stand around while others are climbing?” Outdoor climbing takes time. Even efficient guides need considerable time to setup ropes and manage the climbing area – there may be other parties waiting for climbs as well. This could be a disaster for some families. Therefore, if you want to make it a family outing, you may want to keep it to a parent and a single child, or two parents and a single child.
Pet Friendly: I’ve never been a fan of dogs at crags, even if they are mellow. Certainly, you’ll want to keep your dog at home for a private guiding session.
Weather Considerations: Climbing in the rain is not fun or safe. Check-in with your guide to see if your session can be rescheduled, which is likely the case if rain is in the forecast. Guides also do not want to make a climb more stressful by adding in slippery hand holds.
Insider Info: If you’ve never climbed before, you may want to start first in the climbing gym. If you really want to experience outdoor climbing, but don’t like the idea of climbing inside, opt for PRG’s “Gym to Crag” program. This will get you oriented to outdoor climbing, and you’ll get a better opportunity to climb on routes with varying difficulties and styles of climbing.
Want to take a cruise up Beacon Rock on a multi-pitch adventure? Well slow down there Peter Croft! Many multi-pitch routes in our area require traditional placement of gear to protect the lead climber. Following a route requires the removal of this gear, sometimes while hanging from a hand jam. Removing the gear efficiently is a difficult task and can even be more difficult than placing it! You’ll have to know how they got the gear in there in the first place, the stance they were in when they placed it, and how to actually get it out without getting it stuck even worse. Beginners are welcome; however, if you have any concerns, or want to learn more about placing and removing gear, you might want to consider PRG’s Introduction to Trad Climbing course.
Also great for beginning climbers – do you want to get in an easy multi-pitch with a sweet summit? Check out Rooster Rock! The “Classic Route” is only 5.4.
Other Posts of Interest...
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum on November 22nd, 2010
Jackson Bottom Wetlands on February 1st, 2011
Summer Rock Climbing Camp on May 16th, 2013