On the Rocks: Your Go-To Prep Guide for Rock Climbing in Idaho 

"I always take my expectations way down if it has been a while since I climbed on rock."

click to enlarge bouldering2.jpg

Hayden Seder

Southern Idaho summers are warm and beautiful, and while it may seem like the perfect season for rock climbing, veteran climbers know better. It's actually the cooler temperatures in spring and fall that give ultimate friction on the rocks and help climbers avoid getting completely burned out—physically and mentally—while climbing for hours at a time. While we're still in the throes of spring, it's a prime time to start transitioning from indoor to outdoor climbing. Whether you're a first-timer or a seasoned pro, certain training tips, gear and resources could make this your best rock climbing season ever.

Training

For climbers of any level of experience, training at an indoor climbing gym goes a long way. For beginners, going to a climbing gym is a great way to meet people that you can potentially go on climbing trips with. Bouldering—short-form climbing that doesn't require harnesses or ropes—is a low-investment introduction to climbing. Spots like Asana Climbing Gym in Boise or Gemstone Climbing Center in Twin Falls offer entry-level indoor bouldering. The only requirements are to either rent or buy a pair of shoes, get some chalk and wear comfy clothes.

One of the most common beginner problems is pushing it too hard at first, which can lead to injury.

click to enlarge Demonstrating an antagonistic exercise with a weighted dowel - HAYDEN SEDER
  • Hayden Seder
  • Demonstrating an antagonistic exercise with a weighted dowel

"Try to make a routine of it. The more you do it, the more you're going to develop the muscles and tendons you don't normally use for other things," said Stephanie Carter, a former climbing coach to athletes at the divisional level and the developer of a local climbing team in Ketchum. "Coming in two hours, twice a week is a good place to start."

Be wary of scraping your fingers and toes when starting out, since calluses will have yet to develop. While indoor climbing can get you in shape, transitioning to outside is always a bit of a process.

"After a long indoor training season, I kind of lose a bit of 'rock sense' or just forget how to move over rock very well," said Jonathan Siegrist, a professional climber from Boulder, Colorado. "I always take my expectations way down if it has been a while since I climbed on rock."

In addition to gym climbing, cardio and weight training are also good for getting in shape for the outdoors. Upping your cardio can make carrying a pack full of gear a bit easier, and strength training, with a focus on your core, can help prepare your muscles for climbing.

Stretching

Rock climbing pinpoints particular parts of our bodies, such as shoulders, fingers and tendons, that normally aren't used so aggressively. That means that stretching before and after climbing is a necessity.

click to enlarge A climber demonstrates hangboarding - HAYDEN SEDER
  • Hayden Seder
  • A climber demonstrates hangboarding

"General rotator cuff health is crucial," said Jesse Foster, a physical therapist who has been rock climbing since 1993. "You want to strengthen the shoulder joint by focusing on small-shoulder health, not the big curls or lat pull-ups."

Foster added that he sees many climbers with impingement, the result of tension in the connective tissue on the back side of the shoulder. Impingement pushes the arm forward, so that every time someone who has it raises their arm, they can hit the bicep tendon. Isometric stretches will help the posterior capsule return to the proper spot, allowing freedom of movement.

Foster also recommends building contact strength, and said getting on a hangboard to stress the connective tissue in your fingers is a good idea before you start trying to grab onto tiny holds.

Above all, warming up is important before any climb, inside or out. Outside, that warmup can be as simple as walking while carrying your gear, or even just stacking some rope.

"When I start climbing outside again, I do a lot more warming up than usual," said Siegrist.

After a climbing session, Carter recommends doing some physical work that is the opposite of climbing, which means pushing instead of pulling. This might be push-ups or bench pressing, anything that keeps your body in balance.

More Resources

There are many guidebooks to Idaho and other climbing areas, and online resources like MountainProject.com, which can detail a climbing area, the best times of year to go in terms of weather and best-rated routes, as well give you directions to get there. Of course, there are also companies that offer guides for hire if you prefer to have a professional take you climbing.

Know Before You Go

click to enlarge HAYDEN SEDER
  • Hayden Seder

Safety and good stewardship are of the utmost importance. When heading for an outside climb, go with an experienced climber who can ensure that you're using your equipment, tying your knots and belaying correctly. Going with a local climber also means you're more likely to learn a few things about the area you might not get from a guide book. Plus, you might be able to borrow gear from a friend if you're not ready to commit.

Good climbing stewardship also means managing the impact of climber traffic, human waste and garbage. Remember: Leave no trace, and always pack out what you pack in.

Gear

With that training and knowledge under your belt, it's time to get set up to climb. If you're interested in bouldering outside, you'll need shoes, chalk and at least one bouldering pad to protect you during falls. If you're heading outside with a group of experienced boulderers, chances are they will have plenty of pads.

If you're going out for a sport climb, you'll need shoes, a helmet, a harness, chalk, rope, quickdraws, a belay device and a personal anchor. If it's your first time, your partner will most likely have rope and quickdraws, but a climber who truly wants to practice the sport will be responsible for the rest, and for knowing how to use the equipment. Most gyms teach classes on proper belay technique for both sport and lead climbing, and anchor building. If you need help finding any of this equipment or figuring out the best brands to buy, talk to your local gear shop—its staff should be happy to help.

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