Friday, March 9, 2007

Follow Her Lead

While climbing gyms, courses, and of course, sportswear, seem to be gaining in popularity, few books have appeared that satisfy a new climber's quest to learn more about lead climbing. So Heidi Pesterfield, a long-time climber, decided to do something about it. Wilderness Press has just published the climber's new book, Traditional Lead Climbing: Surviving the Learning years.

These days, many new climbers have started their ascent in rock gyms. Moving these skills to the less-controlled environment of the rock throws up a new set of obstacles for novice climbers. This book can help make readers aware of the problems the rock presents.

In addition, sport climbing has become more popular in recent decades. The basic difference between sport and traditional climbing is that sport climbing routes have permanent protection already placed on the routes, while traditional climbing routes have removable protection placed by each climbing team. Traditional lead climbers not only have to work their way up the rock, they also have to know how to set up the protection, or “pro,” that will keep them safe.

Climbing magazine ( is a good resource for learning more about different approaches to the sport.

Pesterfield is a rock climbing guide for Alpine Skills International (, based in the rock-rich Donner Pass near Truckee, CA. She’s written for magazines like Climbing, Rock and Ice, and CitySports. In her first book, she chronicles some of her own pitfalls and successes in learning how to lead traditional routes around the world.

But this book is more than one person’s account of their climbing. Traditional Lead Climbing covers the ins and outs of everything from choosing a rope to setting protection to rating routes. The book is filled with pictures of climbers stretching out on the rock, many of which are used to illustrate the tips Pesterfield gives. In addition, a series of cartoons runs through the book, which seems to be a good way to point out safety issues and techniques without seeming too pedantic.

One of my favorite sections of the book covers the human side of climbing. While it is possible for a climber to play by herself, whether bouldering, freeclimbing, or using ascent-assisting tools, most climbers team up to work the rock. And choosing people to surround yourself with is one of the key elements to successful climbing, according to Pesterfield. The person at the other end of the rope holds the key to a safe climb or a dangerous fall. And if that person is a partner in your personal life, working with them on the rock can prove even more challenging. While this is something I’ve talked about with my friends – who’ve survived relationships after heated discussions on the ski slopes and in the waves – it was great to see this problem discussed in print.