Thursday, February 3, 2011

When Does the Rock Climbing Season Begin and End? Or... Winter Rock Climbing, an Act of Desperation or Salvation?

“Once you set sail on the high crag, the long journey never ends.”
-Rock Jocks, Wall Rats and Hang Dogs by John Long

Climbing has a magnetic attraction to it. Many avid climbers, especially in their younger days base their entire lives around it. They work hard and save money, only to quit their jobs and spend all the money climbing. Some create their social circles around climbing, all their friends are climbers and all they talk about is climbing.

Obsession is one word that comes to mind when I think of the climbers who eat, drink and sleep for another day in the vertical. When one finds his or herself in the middle of this obsession, the question why? is often asked. This question is as old as the pursuit. George Mallory’s “because it’s there” is the shortest, most often referred to answer.

This winter, during what is the most reflective season, I found myself thinking about a much simpler question, “When does the rock climbing season begin and end?”

During a recent climbing session I posed this question to my best friend, Two Tent Timmy. Tim has stopped off in Durango to sample the climbing, and in the time he’s been here we’ve climbed several days locally, and we’ve also got seven days in at the nearby, crack Mecca of the world, Indian Creek.

Tim’s initial reply was that there is no beginning and end to the climbing season. I thought about it, and agreed in some sense. At the end of the year climbers are down in El Portrero Chico in Mexico in hordes to celebrate the holidays. Others are out in Joshua Tree in southern California, and some are out at Red Rocks in Las Vegas. I’ve heard climbing can be good in the south down at Red River Gorge in Kentucky that time of year as well. I know some climbers who are taking refuge in the tropical climate of Thailand.

So the reality is that the climbing season doesn’t ever really have to end. A blessing, because other outdoor adventure sports (for the lack of a better word), such as skiing depend heavily on weather conditions. If it doesn’t snow, skiing sucks. On that flip side of that many mountain town residents know skiers who will try to ski for every month of the year. Those who have passion for something will find a way to do what they need to, in order to pursue what they love.

Two Tent Timmy on a cold late afternoon ascent of Simians to the Sun (5.9+), East Animas, Durango

After this conversation with Tim I came up with my own definition for the climbing season, or at least an optimistic, idealistic definition. The climbing season begins and ends around the holidays. Specifically one season ends right around Christmas, and begins with New Years. Add that up and the rock climbing season amounts to 358 days for a year, or 51 weeks.

My reasoning here is I like to spend the holidays with my family back in the Midwest. That week is really the only time period I can guarantee that I’m not going to touch the rock. The rest of the year, God-willing, I hope to go rock climbing at least once a week.

It gets deeper. Most climbers don’t rock climb year round. They don’t need to, or they are involved with other pursuits, such as skiing or ice climbing, which are obviously more natural activities to pursue in the winter months. I’ve given both skiing and ice climbing a shot, and they just simply don’t do it for me. Nor does climbing plastic in the gym, I’ll put in a couple days a year in the gym, and it’s good for a pump, but it cannot replace real rock and the outdoor experience, just as masturbation cannot replace sex (or at least good sex).

Additionally, I also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Winter is typically the time of year when I am most likely to be depressed and unhealthy. Memories of winters when I stopped climbing are filled with sugar products, alcohol, way too much of the ganja, and long hours in front of the television. I’ve found that the greatest cure for my SAD is exercise, and of all the outdoor activities I participate in, climbing makes me feel the best.

Now that I’ve outlined all of this, it’s time to get to the heart of it, winter climbing and its romance. Where I’m living now, in Durango, Colorado, the climate lends itself greatly to winter climbing. If it’s sunny and above freezing winter climbing is not an act of desperation, but rather a chance to experience climbing in all its glory. Many days this past January I’ve found myself at the Golf Wall, a local sport climbing area, where at just the right time of day one can bask in the sun, in the heat, and the temperatures are perfect, even begging one to take his shirt off. And, when all of these factors align, any feelings of depression melt away like the snow at the top of the Golf Wall on a sunny day.

The author climbing on the Golf Wall, photo by Dave Ahrens

Lindsey Schauer getting her yoga on, Golf Wall

Another blessing of Durango is its proximity to the crack climbing Mecca that is Indian Creek. Two and a half hours from Durango and you’re there, and the same rules seem to apply to the Creek, if it’s sunny and above freezing climbing is going to be comfortable, and dreamy.

Indian Creek is also free of crowds during the winter. Now one of America’s more popular crags, for good reason, the Creek gets a good amount of traffic during its so-called “on season”. During the off-season, the winter, a climbing party can have even the most classic of walls, all to their selves. I am a social person, and I love people, but something about climbing on some of the most classic, beautiful cracks, with only your partner and God (and the ravens) watching is just downright magical.

Two Tent Timmy on Generic Crack (5.9+), Indian Creek

Tim Foulkes on Gingivitis, (5.10+), Indian Creek

Two Tent Timmy on Rock Lobster, (5.11), Indian Creek

And it’s this magic that we’re always trying to find in climbing right? The feeling that comes together with good friendship, physical activity, sunshine, fresh air, overcoming fear, and the beautiful struggle that is climbing…

We’re in a bit of a cold spell in Durango as I write this. Last night it was negative 16 degrees. But, the weather forecast is looking to get warmer in the upcoming days. Already after only a few days I’m itching to get out and climbing again. Some of you reading this have perhaps not tasted this majesty in longer than you would like. The longer the wait has been, the sweeter it will probably be when you finally touch rock again. Regardless, if you’re pining for rock climbing I hope your season begins sooner than later.



Karen Ast said...


Glad to hear you are enjoying Durango. We miss you here in sunni (and cold) Gunni.

Great writing, as always. Call me sometime.


Al Smith III said...

"just as masturbation cannot replace sex (or at least good sex)"


Magic Ed said...

Here in the Potrero Chico it never ends. Some folks might think it's too hot to climb here in the Summer but because of the way the walls are oriented, and the fact that the temps do not go extreme, there is always something good to climb in the shade.

Check out my website and blog at:

splitter choss said...

I think it really depends where you live. In Colorado and much of the West, it's not too hard to climb year round. In the northeast, not so much.

And yeah, there is something truly magical about Indian Creek in the off season!

Travis Kuester said...

The question of "when does climbing season begin/end" depends on what kind of climber you are. Being a sunny day climber might be an indicator that your commitment to climbing is a little lax. Two years ago a buddy and I snowmobiled into Hartmans on a sunny February day for a quick burn on Laughing Buddha. The way I see it, if you are committed there is no off season. Besides warm weather is only a plane ticket away.

James said...

Hi – Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Rock Climbing Community? Our members will love it.
Members include: Other Rock Climbers, Guides, Experts and Clubs
It's easy to do, just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website… it’s a win win. You can also add Photos, Videos and equipment Classifieds if you like. It’s free and easy.
Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
The Rock Climbing Community:
James Kaufman, Editor

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