28 Pitches in Two Days: Eldorado and Clear Creek Canyons

Classics in Eldorado and a Cruiser Day in Clear Creek

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of climbing two Eldorado classics, Rewritten and The Bastille crack, in one day. And then we did some more pitches on top of that for 15 total.

The next day was supposed to be chill in Clear Creek. We started later, ended sooner, and still got another 13 pitches.

A New Way to Post with OvrHD

This post is a little different so I’m going to have to explain a bit.

I’m beta testing for the people at OvrHD. It’s this awesome software that allows you to make your picture interactive as you mouse over hotspots.

The way I’ve used it here is incredibly basic and there are a ton more functions and uses I’m still exploring. But the way I’d like you to use it here is start at the top-left, work your way down, and then go over to the hotspots on the right.

If you just hover your mouse over the hotspot you will get a preview image representing the text inside. Once you click the preview picture or click the hotspot, it will take you inside so you can read the text and view additional pictures.

I’d love it if you could try this out and let me know how you like it.

Do you like this style or do you like the traditional posts?


Using Ignorance to Increase Your Climbing Grade

Let me say this before the internet climbing police come with their torches and pitchforks:

This has nothing to do with ignorance of safety.

Using Ignorance to Climb Harder

I can count three times in my illustrious climbing career where being ignorant of my climb has helped me with a huge mental and/or physical block in my climbing.

Ignorance in Red Rocks

Sport Climbing Red Rocks Canyon
The top of my first 5.10 sport lead outside. Completely accidental.

The first came when I was a budding 5.8 sport leader 3 years ago. That is, I could fearfully lead a 5.8 outside while I was utterly dominating 5.10’s and 11’s in the gym….on top rope. But nevertheless, I had enough experience clipping bolts, cleaning anchors, and rappeling that I decided to take the cheapest vacation possible to a place that had an extremely high concentration of modern, safely bolted sport routes: Red Rocks Canyon.

The long story is included in that trip report. The short story is that I roped up for what I thought was going to be a 5.8 or 5.7 and only later learned once I got down that it was actually a 5.10. Holy crap! I led a 5.10 outside and had NO idea. I went on to lead the next 3 or 4 or however many 5.10’s there were in that area. I knew I was strong enough at the time to climb 10’s but I most certainly didn’t have the balls. Talk about a breakthrough. Despite having many areas with a lot of 5.8’s to choose from, knowing I could now get on 10’s opened up a lot more options.

Ignorance in Indian Creek

I know more than a couple climbers that get stoked on on-sighting. Personally, I never understood that. I rarely, RARELY ever climb the same area, same crag, or same route more than once. (There are exceptions.) So pretty much everything I lead is on-sight. Well, not everything. I will repeat a sport route on lead, but if the movement doesn’t excite me, I’ll just TR it. I’m not too proud to admit that.

Anyways, on-sighting seems to be somewhat of a skill. A skill I’m halfway decent at when climbing within my grade and not pushing it. And that’s exactly how I did two of my first three lead climbs in Indian Creek.

I was tired of not leading. I was sick of flailing on top rope. I was gently being pushed by my partners to go for it. And my technique was getting much better. Even still, I had no intention of leading. But then I saw a line.

I had no idea what it was. I didn’t look at the guidebook. And I didn’t let anyone climbing with me look at the guidebook. I just saw a nice, hand-sized crack that had some actual crimps on the face if I needed them and low angle foot slabs. That was the first half of the climb. The second half was just a continuation of the beautiful hand-sized splitter crack but only went for about 40 feet.

It was calling me. It was saying that this was as good as any line that I’d find if I ever wanted to lead in the creek. So with absolutely no beta and far too many #1’s and #2’s on my rack, I led up my first climb in the creek without any falls. As it turns out, it was some unnamed 5.10, but the rating didn’t matter. The fact that I sacked up and did it, did.

And the second one went similarly. It was the next day, and I was feeling destroyed from all the climbs the day prior. We went to the Cat Wall and while other people were off looking for specific climbs, there was a line directly in front of me. Staring at me. Calling me. YELLING at me.

Once I racked up, someone started reading the beta from the guidebook. I insisted they shut-up. I didn’t want to know what I was getting myself into. Whether it was a 5.8, 5.10, or 5.12, I didn’t care. The line looked good, I wanted to do it, and worst case scenario, I had volunteers to clean it if I had to bail.

It had a short, thin fingers area at the bottom that took two C3’s before getting up to a huge ledge. From the ledge, you got one Camalot #1 way back in an off-width section that lasted for 15 feet. After that, it was another pristine hand-crack eating perfect 1’s, 2’s, and a .75 or two for 40 feet or so.

Once I got down, I finally looked at the book and it was another unnamed 5.10. But the badge of honor that came with this route is that everyone else that TR’d it exclaimed how it was such a heady lead, and that they wouldn’t have wanted to lead it. The thin fingers were thin. I think it was a 000 and 0 C3. The offwidth section was going to be a runout cheese grater or some broken bones if you fell.

But because I decided to remain ignorant from the start, I didn’t know of any of those dangers. I didn’t psych myself out. My choice once I got started, and especially once I got to that first ledge, was simply to finish the route.

Tom Cat Indian Creek

Ignorance After a Break

Immediately after my breakthrough at The Creek, I went home to WI to build my van. I was gone for a month. I didn’t climb for a month.

I met up with a friend at a climbing gym in Minneapolis on the way back. I climbed 5 routes and didn’t flash any of them. I had at least one take, many times multiple takes, just to make it to the top. Not because of fear. Not because of strength. Not because of skill. But because of endurance. It was gone. All gone. When I say 5 routes, I mean the last route I did that night was a 5.8 jug fest, and I still needed a break.

So when I got the bug to go climbing last night, I was still a little hesitant. I knew I was the rope gun. I knew I would be the one leading every pitch. But how the hell was I going to do that when I was so terribly out of shape? That didn’t matter.

I needed to climb.

The plan was an easy 5.7 warm-up route, Mary’s Jugs, and then head over to the 4-pitch 5.10, The Broadmoor, in Big Thompson Canyon. However, after talking to the party just to our left, they mentioned the route immediately right of Mary’s Jugs was a little bit taller and had a few 5.10 moves at the top. I thought, “perfect! It’s another easy warm-up to get my lead-head on and test myself on some 5.10 stuff.”

Once again, I had no idea what that route actually went at or what the name of it was, but I could see up to the anchors and thought, “yup, that’s easy.” And it was, with what I thought were one or two 5.10 moves. As I was anchoring in to set a TR, I yelled down to my belayer that it kept going. She asked, “well, should we do it?” With no knowledge of what was above me, other than what I could see from my stance, I agreed.

What was seen and what was climbed were two entirely different things. It all looked good from the first belay stance, but once I got on route, everything that looked good turned into downward facing slopers and horrendous crystally side-pulls. I took two whippers on the same move and needed a couple more takes after the crux.

Nevertheless, I still made it to the top without “cheating” or aiding. It wasn’t until I got down that I realized I was either on Out of Time or ConvolutionMountain Project doesn’t do a good job of pointing it out in a picture or the route descriptions, but it was definitely one of those two and they both go at 5.11.

Who knew?!

Had I known it was going to be a 5.11, I would have never tied in. I would have never tried. Because the highest grade I’ve ever led in my life outside was a 5.11- during one of my peak climbing cycles, much less coming off month long break and added weight from mom’s home cookin’. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

Ignorance in Free-Soloing

First off, I have nothing against free soloing. That’s your choice and your life. I might be sad and devastated and decide to quit climbing if you’re my best friend and kill yourself free soloing, but at least I’m the one that’s still alive.

At this point in my life, I won’t purposely walk up to a climb with the intent of free-soloing.

But sometimes it happens.

Spire 2 summit, Cathedral Spires
Spire 2 summit in Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills, SD

When I rope up for a 5.4 or 5.5, I have every intention of placing gear along the way. But sometimes it doesn’t take gear very well. Sometimes looking for a placement takes longer than just going. And I do have the ability to block out fear, to not think, and to just be lasered into my climbing and technique. I’m strong. I’m confident. It’s just one hold after another. And before I know it, I’m at the chains. Or I’ve run out 20′ between pieces. I accidentally free-soloed the first two pitches of Spire 2 of the Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills last summer.


But I never do it intentionally.

It’s a different headspace.

It’s starting a route and knowing you have absolutely no security. No way of getting yourself out of trouble (other than down-climbing, which is 3,904,3w4,034 times worse that up-climbing). You know that from the start, and you know you’re dead (or wished you’d be dead) if you fall after the first 40’ish feet.

When I accidentally free-solo, I at least have a rope. I have gear. I have a belayer. I have a way to rescue myself. It’s true, I may be running something out and then freak out and not have any placements. At that point my fate is the same as someone that purposely free-soloed if I can’t calm down and find my headspace again. But in my experience that hasn’t happened a lot. There is usually a place for gear. Or I’m smart enough to know that I have to place gear. But the main reason I don’t run into that problem is because I only do it when I know for a fact the climb is at least 3-4 grades or more below my level.

So if I do end up free-soloing something, it’s not because I’m ignorant. Nor do I believe a purposely free-soloed climb is ignorant. But as I’m climbing those lesser graded routes, I do choose to remain ignorant on the consequences should I accidentally fall.

Ignorance is NOT in Safety

As you can see, there are many instances in climbing where ignorance is bliss. Whether you’re holding yourself back mentally, or you’re just not willing to try climb a harder route because you don’t think you’re strong enough, not knowing, or remaining ignorant of that route’s grade can push you to the next level. Or give you the confidence you were lacking.

Where ignorance cannot be tolerated is in safety. Not just your safety, but your belayer’s as well.

If you have never climbed outside and just do internet research before setting top-rope anchors, that’s ignorant.

If your true limit is 5.10 and you try to on-sight a 5.10X route, that’s ignorant.

If you top-rope solo or lead solo with never having seen it done or talked to someone about it in great detail after already having a ton of regular experience, that’s ignorant.

Ignorance in these situations can easily get you killed. Or your belayer. And if you kill your belayer because of your ignorance, I guarantee you’d wish you were dead too.

So there is a time and place for ignorance in climbing. It can help you overcome your fears. It can give you the confidence to push through to the next grade. Or it can kill you.

Be safe and use it wisely.

The Flow of the Line



The flow of the line should be smooth. It should be picturesque. It should look like moving art. It should feel like you are water flowing up the side of the rock.

Many times we get caught up in the numbers –

How hard did I climb?

Is a 5.9 worth my time?

I’m going to train until I can on-sight 5.12’s.

“Well, it’s an old school 5.8, so it really counts as a 5.10.”

And others it’s all about the climbing style –

I only climb overhanging jug routes.

You’re not really a gifted climber until you can do technical slab.

I never do sport. Bottom-up trad climbing is the way climbing was meant to be.

But what if you only cared about flow?

Would not every route give you the same satisfaction as increasing your grade?

Would you not finish the day feeling calm and relaxed and accomplished?


I admit, I have not been climbing long, and damn near took an entire 7 months off due to life. But I have found an appreciation for that Zen-like flow. Whether it’s a cruiser 5.8 with gastons and stemming moves or a vertical 5.11 with heel hooks or requiring cutting your feet loose, flow can be found at any grade.

The best days climbing are the days when all the routes seemingly flow. When you’re able to block out the rest of your life, your belayer, your fear, and you are simply climbing. Moving with the rock, in the direction it takes you, and dictating your movements. Like a delicate dance on the side of a wall.

It’s days like this I seek out. Whether it be sport climbing, trad climbing, alpine, or even bouldering, I want that flow. I need it. It is my release from this world. It is where I am free. It is where nothing else matters but completing the climb and coming back to the earth safely.

Without the flow of the line, my head is still elsewhere in the world. It is too scared of falling. It is thinking how awkward the moves are. It may be relating the terrible movement of the route with the struggles of everyday life.

Do I seek to become a stronger climber? Yes. Do I seek routes that push my limits? Yes. But above all else, I seek to forget my world. I seek to be present with the rock. And when I return to the ground, everything else has deeper meaning. The friends I’m climbing with. The belayer that holds my life in their hands. The burrito I’m going to eat later. The beer I’m probably already drinking. Everything is richer. Fuller. And allows everything else to make sense.

And that’s what flow does for me.

It enriches. It fulfills. It clarifies. It cleanses.


Climbing Competition: Passion for Flashin’ 2012

More than several weeks ago, I competed in my first climbing competition, Passion For Flashin’, at Vertical Endeavors in St. Paul, MN. Let me tell you, I learned some things.

Since this was my first competition, I really didn’t know what to expect. I tried asking some of the employees at Vertical Endeavors how the competition worked and about the rules or anything else I needed to know. Turns out, the two I asked didn’t really know how to explain it either. Awesome. Guess I’m showing up to the competition blind. That didn’t bother me too much; I was pretty confident in my skills, at least enough to not be embarrassed.

Speaking of skills, I have only been climbing for a little over a year. At the time of the Passion for Flashin’ competition, I had only been for a year, almost to the day. Within that time, I progressed to the point where I was competing in the Advanced category, grades 5.10b to 5.11b. I can almost assure Adam Ondra has heard of me.


I show up an hour prior to the official start. I can’t remember why. It was probably the best idea ever at the time. This did give me a chance to look at all the routes and try plan my strategy since you only have a set amount of time to climb as many routes as possible in your category. As I was looking at routes, I wasn’t overly confident that I could get any of them! Even the easiest routes on the card looked hard from the ground. Yikes! I went and looked at the boulder problems and at least the easy one’s there looked really easy. Phew! At least I can get some warm-ups in.

Did I mention how nervous I was? WOW! I’m no stranger to competition. In my previous lives, I was a 3-sport athlete in high school. I was “ok” enough at football to play at a small, Division 3 college. After college I have competed in numerous lifting competitions. Here’s the thing: if I actually care about my placement or the outcome of the “game”, I get super nervous. Not debilitating, can’t function, screw-up all over the place nervous, just heart-bursting, bowel emptying nerves. I was a wreck in hich school before a football game, but as soon as I’d step on the field for warm-ups, they disappeared. I was hoping that would happen here after the first route. Nuh-uh! The nerves didn’t completely go away until I was climbing my last few routes. Guess I cared about the outcome more than I thought.


I warmed up with a super easy, juggy boulder problem. It incorporated some gratuitous heel hooks, but I experienced after the competition, when there were no judges involved, the whole route was easily campused. Then I went to the next, only slightly less juggy boulder problem. After that, I got some beta from Youth Female ABS Bouldering Champion Kyra Kondie on the boulder problems in the other area. She said the hardest one was pretty easy. Yeah. Easy. To the bouldering champion of the U.S.

I guess she was right. All-in-all, I flashed the first 4 boulder problems I attempted, which also happened to be the 4 most difficult on my card. It was nothing but super duper easy boulder problems after that, but I wasn’t going to waste my energy on those. I had some walls to climb!

Just as I was getting the nerves out of my system, they came back with a vengeance. I watched several people climb on several different routes before I finally chose my first route. It looked to be a pretty easy 5.10 (though, none of the route’s ratings were displayed) with one crux move, which was nothing more than having strong enough hands to support yourself on open handed pinches. I got this!

Then it was on to the passion route. Or maybe it was called the heart route. I don’t know. I literally made up both of those names as I typed them. There was a big-ass heart in the middle of the wall so I’ll let you come up with your own name. That route was a stemmy, scrunchy, Philly-fakeout, sloper kinda thing with a direct roof pull nonetheless. It was probably my favorite, much like smiling.

The route after that was on a completely angled wall with a traverse dyno right at the beginning. I made the dyno the first time, no problem because my calves get angry, but then I screwed up my sequence shortly thereafter. This was the first route I didn’t flash. No worries. I got it on my second try.

I’m not going to go through every route, but they were a lot of fun. My favorite was one that started out in a cave that put me completely inverted for the first 3 moves. After that, I campused my way down, almost back to the ground, where the route “restarted” on the climb up. There were some really fun moves and strong pulls over a small roof I had to make. In my opinion, a perfect balance of technique and strength.

Postgame Recap

All in all, I flashed all but 3 of the routes I attempted, and I flashed all of the boulder problems. Surely that will get me in the finals, right? Not true. The key word being “attempted”. Because I wasn’t completely aware of the strategery of this event, I ran out of time. I took some poorly placed breaks between some of my climbs. I didn’t realize that those breaks in addition to having to wait in line for routes really add up. I got 5 out of the 8 hardest top-ropes, maybe 4 or 5 more intermediate routes, and ended up skipping all of the super easy ones. And by “skip”, I mean “ran out of time”. DAMNIT!

I finished 18th out of 43. I’ve no doubts that could have been higher. Who knows, I may have gotten to the finals. But, if I had, I can damn near guarantee that I’d be too pumped out to accomplish anything good. This was by far the most routes I’ve climbed in a single day. I was sore for a week after. You can imagine my stupidity of trying to climb the very next day. Which was also humbling because I saw 8 of the 12 finalists in the gym that very same day climbing like it was any other day of the week. Guess that’s why they were finalists and winners.

Can’t wait for the next competition!

PICTURES OF ME (the best kind, right?)!!!1!!1

I Want To Be A Brand Ambassador

The title alone should warn you, but I want to be very explicit. This post is about me. I don’t like to publicly share my thoughts of myself, but I’ve found that waiting around to “be discovered” is probably the slowest way possible to “become discovered”. Short of showing up on some doorsteps, I think this is the fastest, easiest thing I can do right now to try help myself out. So, if you’re not interested in reading, seeing, and learning about me, here’s your chance to go check out some of my other bodacious posts. ;-p

Also, a special thanks goes out to my girlfriend Anh for encouraging me to write this, coming with and planning a lot of these adventures, taking 95% of the pictures I post on this site, and of course, putting up with me and cooking me homemade pho. Thank you!

I Want to be a Brand Ambassador

There, I said it. It’s out in the open and now everyone knows. I don’t want to be a brand ambassador simply for free swag or getting paid or going to tradeshows or super-sweet locales. (Though, none of those things will ever be turned down.) I want to be a brand ambassador because there are a lot of companies out there that I think are doing things really right. I think they treat their employees with respect and flexibility. I think their products are top-notch. I think their services really fill a need. I think a lot of them are doing a wonderful job of promoting outdoor and action sports. And I think A LOT of them are doing the right things for our environment. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that? Why wouldn’t I want to help them grow their business?

Why I should be a Brand Ambassador

I think I should be a brand ambassador because I literally spend every spare moment thinking about my outdoor endeavors, hopes, dreams, and experiences. If I’m not thinking about it, it’s because I’m actually out there experiencing it with my girlfriend, friends, and family. The only time I’m not thinking or living it is when I’m actively working…at work. But c’mon, who likes working?

I’m constantly brainstorming about how I can be better at the things I do and then take action. How can I be a better climber? How can I make it easier to get to the top of a mountain? Where else can I go? Who can I tell? How can I spread the word to the most amount of people?

One way I tell people is by writing. I mean, anyone can write, sure, but a lot of people tell me I write well. They have told me I should write more in the public eye. It’s surprising to me because I just write what I think. It comes naturally to me. When people compliment me on my writing, it’s one of the greatest compliments I can receive. I love writing, and I love writing about things I love.

I’m not shy. I already make random comments to unsuspecting strangers. I’ll talk to just about anybody if I have a reason, and it doesn’t feel awkward at all. I even have a couple YouTube channels just in case people need some entertainment in their lives: Athlete Creator and Dudes With Tents. As you can see, I’m not afraid to be a little bit nerdy, a little bit cooky, or completely open with my personality.

I walk the talk. I’ve mentioned my passion for writing and how much I think about making myself better, but I’m more passionate about actually making myself better. I’ve only been climbing for about 13 or 14 months now, but in that short time, I’ve progressed from top-roping 5.7’s indoors to leading 5.10’s outdoors (and maybe even a few “soft” 5.11’s). I competed in my first indoor climbing competition after only 11 months of climbing, and I finished 18th out of 43 climbers in the “Advanced” division (5.10b-5.11b). I believe I could have finished higher if I were more familiar with the format. I understand these are not earth shattering numbers, nor are they anything that will be published in any major media outlet, but they are a glimpse at what I’m capable of and what I desire to be.

I hang out at all the cool spots. Ok, some of them are cool; some of them are visited out of necessity. During the week, you can find me climbing at either of the two most popular climbing gyms in Minnesota: Vertical Endeavors – St. Paul and Minneapolis. I climb there 3-4 times per week. On weekends, spring through fall, I typically visit the few crags found in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Due to the lack of mountains, these crags tend to be very busy with potential for a lot of visibility. I’m not much of a runner, but there are endless marathon opportunities nearly every weekend. The largest is probably Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth. I don’t mind wondering around in a sea of humanity regardless of the event. When winter comes blowing at my door, I don’t hide inside. Winter simply means “winter camping”. Granted, the parks aren’t quite as busy, but Minnesota shines in the winter. There are tons of cross-country ski trails right in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro. The American Berkebeiner is located just a few short hours east in Wisconsin. We are the state of 10,000 lakes, which yield way more than 10,000 ice fishermen. The Hockey Hall of Fame is located just a couple hours north of my apartment. Red Bull’s international Crashed Ice tour even made a stop in St. Paul this year. Needless to say, my activities in the outdoors are fueled for 12 months out of the year and Minneapolis/St. Paul is anything but a “dead zone”.

Some of the more notable places I’ve visited in the past 12 months outside of the previously mentioned locations include the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the Superior National Forest, Red Rocks located just outside of Las Vegas, Cloud Peak in the Bighorn Mountain Range in Wyoming, The Black Hills of South Dakota, and the red rocks of Sedona, AZ. Trips planned for the coming summer and fall include returning to The Black Hills for 8 days of climbing and camping and a trip to Colorado to summit Long’s Peak. I can assure you, there will be more that I just haven’t been made aware of yet.





Getting back to the technical side of things, I’m quite profficient with all social media. You’ve seen my excellent work with YouTube. I’ve also been using Facebook since 2005 and Twitter since 2009. I use LinkedIn for my professional networking as an engineer (though, I’m hoping this allows me to not be an engineer for much longer). I’m familiar with Google+ but haven’t used it much myself. But, once you’re familiar with one platform, it doesn’t take much used to get used to any of them. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, forcing me to know much more about physics and electrons than anyone should care. But it also means that I am exposed to new technology and new software all the time. I’m exceptionally good with technology, right down to writing my own Microsoft Visual Basic scripts.

Basically, I’m an open book. My personality appeals to a variety of people. I grew up in a town of population unincorporated and now live in a city of over a million. I can go to the local VFW, or I can hang out in a swank luxury lounge and talk to people with more money than I’ve ever made. I love sharing my life with others, doesn’t matter who they are as long as they want to listen. Also, and I don’t mean to be completely conceited here, but let’s face it, people respond more favorably to attractive people. Social experiments and surveys prove this over and over again. I take care of myself, and I’m proud of the body I’ve built. I think I’ll leave it at that because talking about myself anymore in that way makes me feel dirty.

If I were a brand ambassador, all of that energy of sharing my life, all the writing and technology skills I posses, would then be put to good use, sharing the great qualities of the brand(s) I represent.

What being a Brand Ambassador would mean to Me

Being a brand ambassador would mean that I would have a reason to be my crazy, cooky, and sometimes odd self for a reason. It would mean I get to connect people that are already crazy about a sport with a company looking to enrich their experience with that sport.

What I’ve found through “the evolution of me” is that I really really enjoy making people’s lives better. Whether that means helping them reach an athletic/aesthetic goal, sharing my personal experiences that they may also be going through, or connecting them with the right person or company that can truly help them out, I love helping people that want to be helped.

Being a brand ambassador would also give me a reason to be even more loud and outspoken when I go on adventures (but in a good way, I assure you). For that matter, it would give me a reason to go on more adventures to tell people how I got there and who is enabling me to be at such a great location, doing what I love.

I may only be 28 and not accomplished anything newsworthy, but I have already learned that life is about experiencing it, not “just getting through it”. I got through playing 3 years of college football. I got through owning investment property at the age of 23. There are many things I’ve gotten through that could have been done better and more enjoyable. I don’t want to get through life anymore. I want to live it. Being a brand ambassador would truly enrich my life. Not just with material possessions, money, or travel, but with helping people enrich their lives….as well as my own.

If you’re interested in contacting me, please feel free to connect through email, Facebook, or Twitter. I’m almost guaranteed to respond faster than you’d think. If you need more links to click, here’s my personal landing page that will get you to anything I linked here and more!

David Sandel

I certainly I hope I hear from you!

Flying With Rock Climbing Gear

Several months ago when Anh and I decided that we’d like to go rock climbing in Spain on our trip to Europe this spring, one of the first things I thought of was, “hmmm, I wonder if it’s safe to fly on an airplane with rock climbing gear?” After some internet sleuthing, I figured out that all of our gear should be fine as long as it’s checked.

Fast forward (or rewind, depending on which frame of time we’re in….or maybe we’re in both….I don’t know; ask Schrodinger’s cat) a couple of weeks and all of a sudden we were planning a semi-impromptu rock climbing trip to Red Rocks outside of Vegas over a long weekend. At that point, my question was, “hmmmm, I wonder what rock climbing gear is safe to put in our carry-ons vs. being checked?”

What Gear will get through TSA Security?

You can see a small sampling of the gear, all of which made it through TSA.

After looking over the TSA regulations for prohibited items, I decided that the only gear that we may have trouble getting through would be a nut tool and climbing chalk. Of course, a bunch of ropes and metal carabiners should always be assumed to raise an eyebrow or two (probably).

** Side note: I wasn’t sure about cams, but we had already decided we wouldn’t be bringing cams so it didn’t matter. **

Anh sent a picture of all of our climbing gear to her friend that works for TSA, and she said that it should all be fine…except for maybe the nut tool.

That still didn’t put my worries to rest. The TSA seems like an organization where one person might say something is “ok”, and then once you get to the airport, the person that actually checks your carry-on might say “no way, Jose; you can’t fly with that” depending on their mood that day.

My worries didn’t really matter though. We weren’t going to pay the ridiculous baggage fees. To mitigate the risk of getting too much of our gear split up if we were forced to check something, we packed all of high-risk items in one bag: chalk, biners, draws, nuts, and belay tools. All of the webbing, slings, and both of our ropes went in my rope bag. We decided to leave the nut tool at home.

TSA Likes Rock Climbers and Their Gear

Anh was so confident that all of this would pass through TSA security that we even planted a “test” in our bag. We had a bag of brand new, sealed climbing chalk and a plain ‘ol Ziploc sandwich bag with some chalk I just had laying around. We wanted to see which, if any, would be confiscated. (For this reason, we got to the airport 2 hours early, assuming we’d probably be searched quite thoroughly.)

As it turns out, Anh was right about everything. We made it through security with all of our rock climbing gear with absolutely no problems. We fit 2 ropes, assorted webbing and slings, 2 sets of nuts, lots ‘o biners, 18 draws, 2 bags of chalk, 2 helmets, 2 pairs of shoes, and enough clothes to climb and go out on The Strip for 3 days and 4 nights into 4 carry-on bags.

I’m not saying your experience will be the same as ours. I’m not saying every TSA checkpoint will approve of all of these items all of the time. All I’m saying is that if you’re looking for an experience of flying with rock climbing gear, here’s a successful one for you. We made it safely, our gear made it safely, and we didn’t have any problems with TSA security (in either direction).

Hopefully that calms some of your worries about flying with rock climbing gear. Now that Spirit Airlines is flying out of MSP to LAS for $28, I think we’ll be flying with climbing gear a couple times a year!

Climbers: How did you learn your technique/movement skills?

I’m simply just interested in other people’s experiences. I don’t think one way is better than another as long as it works for you in reaching your goals in the most timely fashion possible.

Some people can learn by reading. Others just need to watch others. Most people probably need a mix of visual plus explanation. And of course, there’s the less athletically inclined that need one-on-one, hands-on instruction.

Personally, I’ve always been very good at mimicking. Anything. I’ve been climbing less than a year, and I have gotten very very little instruction from other [more experienced] climbers. Almost all of my movement/technique has been learned by watching dvd’s and other climbers in the gym. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a better than average athlete in most sports either. Lucky me, eh?

What’s your story?

Rock Climbing in Red Wing, MN at Barn Bluff


Climbing Motivation: Magnus Midtboe

Holy crap!! I know a lot of you don’t follow climbing…..wait, let me rephrase that…..I know you don’t know anything about climbing, other than it looks really scary, but you have GOT to check out this video (sent to me by long time e-friend, noogles)!


This video is a perfect example of why I think bodyweight training is whack. There is a time and place for everything, but for the people that do nothing but strictly bodyweight workouts, you will never be able to do that kind of stuff. Also, for any climber reading this, notice that he’s doing contra-specific movements as well? By that, I mean, shoulder presses and horizontal presses (1-armed push ups). That is absolutely crucial to keeping your shoulders happy and healthy. You can’t just climb and focus on your back day in and day out. In fact, I’ll boldly say that you would make more progress if you took a day off from the climbing gym once a week and focused on traditional, full body workouts. Of course, there’s a bit of an assumption that you would be doing those workouts properly.

And just in case you’re wondering, the guy can actually climb too. Chris Sharma (a good climber guy that you’ve never heard of) may be the most famous, and in all fairness, the best, rock climber in the world right now, but he’s not the only one that can climb 9.a+/5.15’s. Ca-razy!! I might have a new role model.