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And so on. But as our workout came to an end, I wanted something more from the conversation. Steck's recollections had brought on a feeling of historical retro-vertigo: I found myself staring up a mountain of Yosemite achievements, suddenly daunted by the enormity of local climbing history. Fishing for consolation, I asked Steck if he had any advice for East Bay climbers who are just starting out.
The enthusiastic simplicity of his response embodied the attitude that unites all climbers, novice, and expert, young and old: "Yes! Get outside and climb!" he replied.
And with that, the vertigo was gone.
Nine tips to get you started.
1. Learn indoors
A climbing gym is a great place to start, and the weather doesn't matter. Berkeley IronWorks (510-981-9900) and Touchstone Concord (925-602-1000) are complete gyms with weight rooms, exercise equipment, great climbing walls, and instruction for all skill levels. TouchstoneClimbing.com
2. Do your homework
Excellent books on technique such as Don Graydon's Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills and John Long's How to Rock Climb: Climbing Anchors can get you started. Before you head to Yosemite, pick up a guide book with tips, maps, and directions to the routes. Yosemite Free Climbs by Don Reid is an old standard, while Yosemite Valley Free Climbs: Supertopos, coedited by Berkeley's Chris McNamara, is an extremely detailed guide.
3. Get a buddy
4. Not just a buddy - one who knows what the hell he's doing
If you should happen to meet an experienced climber, latch on like young grasshopper. Climbing is a team sport, and one-on-one is the fastest way to learn.
5. Hire a guide or instructor
Yosemite Mountain Guides offers a variety of classes and guided trips in the valley to get climbers of all abilities onto routes that would otherwise be too difficult. The guides teach solid and safe climbing skills and supply the necessary gear. Call 209-372-8344 or visit YosemiteMountaineering.com
6. Know your limits
It's easy to get yourself into trouble, so work your way up slowly as you gain skills. The standard climbing ratings help you assess if you're ready for a given climb.
Class 1 -- Hike. No hands needed.
Class 2 -- Might need to use your hands.
Class 3 -- Simple scrambling with frequent use of hands. A rope should be available.
Class 4 -- A fall could be serious. Beginners will want a rope.
Class 5 -- Climbing involves the use of a rope and protection. This class is subdivided using the Yosemite Decimal System: from 5.1 ("five one," easy ) to 5.14 (hair-raisingly difficult).
7. Be prepared
A climb, scramble, or hike can take a long time. Bring rain gear, warm clothes, a headlamp, adequate food, water, and a pal. Let others know where you're going and when you plan to get back. Get beta (info) from other climbers, and bring a topo, a detailed map of the route.
8. Keep within your abilities
An adventurous Yosemite novice can reach amazing places with minimal gear by going up some of the routes the guide books suggest you take down. For a stunning view of Yosemite Falls, try the third- and fourth-class scramble up to Sunnyside Bench and traverse to the side of the falls. Attempt the scramble up North Dome Gully to the rim of Yosemite Valley, climb the class two talus field up Cathedral Spires Gully to the summits of Higher and Middle Cathedral rocks, or follow a stunningly beautiful route to the top of Half Dome via "The Death Slabs" descent, where some equipment and technical knowledge are needed to ascend the fixed ropes.
9. Practice locally
Seven Days - February 18, 5:00 PM
Seven Days - February 17, 4:09 PM
Seven Days - February 16, 3:24 PM
What the Fork - February 15, 2:00 PM
Culture Spy - February 15, 10:30 AM