Yes, Rumney. That bastion of sport climbyness, where even the cracks are bolted. Why, you may ask, did I want to trad climb at Rumney? The short answer was, I didn’t. I wanted to trad climb, and my partners were going to Rumney.
For the non climbers reading, trad is short for traditional climbing. Both sport and trad climbing are terms to describe the type of protection the first person in a climbing party, or leader, has to use in order to keep from hitting the ground if they fall. The gear used in traditional style of climbing is designed to be placed and removed by hand. Thus traditional climbs require some weakness in the rock, some crack into which the climber can place a chockstone or a spring loaded camming device. Sport climbing is where the leader clips into bolts with hangers that have been drilled into the wall. Rumney is the prime sport climbing location in New Hampshire. So why would I decide to trad climb there?
Because the protection is easier to place in sport climbing, people sport climb at a higher level than they do trad climbing. The difference comes from the amount of time spent placing gear. In a sport climb, you get within reach of the bolt, you grab a “quick-draw” (two carabiners connected by webbing) off of a gear loop on your harness, clip on ‘biner to the bolt hanger, the other to the rope, and you move on. Contrast this with trad climbing where the first thing you do is decide that you need to place a piece of gear. You examine the rock in your immediate vicinity and decide that there is somewhere possible to place a piece. You select something from a wide array of gear slung around your neck that experience tells you is most likely to fit in the crack in the rock. You slot it in, adjusting how it sets against the side of the crack to best support your weight in a fall. You yank down on it, to tess that it will hold at least that much weight. Then you yank outwards; if you climb up[ past the piece the rope will most likely put a horizontal load on the piece. Once you feel comfortable with the piece, you may decide to extend it (due to the wandering nature of the route you are climbing) with a quick draw. Then you clip it to the rope. If done cleanly, this will take at a minimum a few seconds more than the sport clip. Often, there is additional delays perhaps due to selecting the wrong piece of gear. A climb with the same difficulty rating is significantly harder to trad climb than to sport climb.
I think it is that extra degree of knowledge required to trad climb safely that calls to me. There are better climbers in all aspects of the sport. I will never compete with Chris Sharma, Ron Kauk, John Long, or any of the other rock demigods in any aspect of rock climbing. I am OK with that. If climbing were so important to me, I wouldn’t spend my time in front of a computer programming for a living. When I do get the time to get outside and climb, I like the experience of trad climbing. I prefer choosing where to place gear myself. Ideally, I love long, multi-pitch routes, with great views and few people. It is something like hiking, but a full body experience.
It is funny: I know that bolts are safer. The standard climbing bolt can carry the weight of a car, never-mind the forces generated by a climber in a fall. But I prefer something that I have placed myself. I get a greater piece of mind from something based on my own judgment, placed where I wanted it. Not that every placement I’ve made has been stellar. I’ve moved up above a piece (usually a passive placement) and heard the tink-tink sound of the carabiner hitting the rock as it slides down the rope. But those are infrequent. I’ve taken 25 foot falls onto several of my trad placements. I’ve never had a cam placement that I though was solid pull on me. It is all a question of judgment. I don’t get myself into a situation that I don’t feel I can safely navigate.
I hadn’t been to Rumney since 1992. If Rumney had a sports climbing only reputation back then I hadn’t heard about it. Mike Peloquin, Loren Armstrong, and I spent the day trad climbing at the main wall and had a grand ole time doing so. Thus, I had it in my head that Rumney was trad-climbable, even if its reputation said otherwise. Plus, one benefit to looking for trad routes at a sport climbing crag is that they are more likely to be available. Especially if one is visiting in the middle of the busiest weekend of the season. Once I linked up with my climbing partners, I flailed on a sport climb that would have been bread and butter for me in my prime. Not easy, but certainly within my ability. Due to crowding, we moved to another crag, as Rumney has a series of small cliffs with a dozen or so routes each. We ended up at Waimaia, the name of both the crag and the climb. Just to left of Waimaia the climb was “That Crack”. Needless to say it got my attention.
Climbs in America are rated on the Yosemite Decimal system. A leading number of 1-4 indicate various levels of non-technical climbing. A leading 5 means technical climbing. 5.0 is the easiest technical climbing on the scale. The scale was originally designed to go from 0 to 9. Then people started blowing the top off the scale an it was extended to 10, with sub ratings of a,b,c, and d. Once someone climbed something harder than 1 5.10d, they extended the scale to 5.11. The pattern continued until today where the hardest climbs are rated 5.15a. The climb I was flailing on was 5.10d. That Crack was rated 5.10a. Easier, but not significantly so. With the difference between trad and sport, I was probably looking at a harder climb. One major thing in my advantage was that I could place gear where ever I wanted providing I had a piece that would fit in the crack. It was a short climb, and I have a fairly thorough rack, so I was confident in my ability.
The climb turned out to be a one move wonder. The bottom and the top were easier than the stated 5.10a. The guide book mentioned that “the chimney is a grovelfest” or something to that ends. A chimney in rock climbing is when you climb between two slabs of rock, using opposing pressure to hold yourself up. This climb had about a ten foot section of chimney. The funny thing about chimney climbing is that while most people curse about it, it is in some way the most secure type of climbing. You are just not going to fall. It might be really hard to make upward progress, and you may bruise your knees in the process, but there is something snug and secure about chimney climbing. That being said, I did not climb the chimney clean. Really, the problem was getting out of the chimney and back to facing the rock. This is often the trick to chimney climbing, either getting into them or getting out of them.
Afterwards, I lead Waimaia and top roped That Crack again to clean it up. Later in the day we climbed Darth Vader. While it was a short route, it was enjoyable. It was rated 5.9 and had a couple interesting moves at the top. The route total for the day was 2 trad, 2 sport, 1 top rope. I also lost and found my keys, wallet, and cell phone. All in all a good day.