Bite of El Diente, and Tips for Climbers

Most climbers tackle their art with a passion that could only be called contagious. I exposed myself to that particular virus this spring, carried by veteran rock climber/writer/attorney Jamie McNally, and I suppose that’s why, as I prepare for a week in Guadalajara, I’m packing my climbing gear.

One of the menu of outings offered by the Society of American Travel Writers in its pre-conference lineup was “Eco-Adventure in El Diente,” and with a name like that, how could I resist? Especially with the excellent training provided by Jamie, who nearly killed me in my first exposure to rock climbing this spring. It wasn’t until I went online today and googled it that I realized that where he failed in May, he may have succeeded in October.

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me...

El Diente (The Tooth) is about to bite me…

My account of my May adventure will appear in the Dallas Morning News this fall (posthumously, perhaps) so I asked Jamie to provide a few tips for beginners as I prepare to punish myself on the cliffs of El Diente. (El Diente pic compliments of Marc and Kristi, who climbed there a year ago and made it sound like a piece of cake in their excellent blog… Thanks, guys!)

OK, so after reading Marc and Kristi, and after going through Jamie’s tips (below, for the very brave), I’m feeling better about the climb. Honestly, it’s the mountain biking that I’m kind of freaked out about. I’ll keep you posted – if I’m not in traction.

Read on for Jamie’s excellent tips. And if the climbing bug bites you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Climbing tips for beginners

From veteran climber Jamie McNally of Austin

1.  It’s all about the feet.  Most people think you have to have loads of upper body strength to be a good climber. Not so. Footwork is much more important than often realized, even on steep or overhanging terrain. Think of using your legs to propel you up the rock rather than using your hands and arms to pull.

2.  It’s also about balance. Your first inclination when climbing is to cling to the rock. Resist the urge. You want your weight distributed over your feet. This means that your center of gravity, especially on slabs, is often further away from the rock than is initially comfortable. But if you press too close against the rock, your weight will shift and your feet will often slip.

3.  Use your bone structure to your advantage. Climbing is often a race against muscle fatigue. One way to avoid flaming forearms is to climb with straight limbs as much as possible. You can hang from a chin-up bar a lot longer with straight arms than you can with arms bent at the elbow. Try it. Think of straightening your limbs and using your skeleton to rest on each hold while only using your muscles to move between holds.

4.  Trust your shoes. The sticky rubber on the bottom of even cheap climbing shoes is otherworldly. Dime-sized edges, rounded nubbins, and near-microscopic rock crystals are all stellar footholds. You can even stand on near vertical slabs.

5.  Don’t be afraid of cracks. Today in Texas (and in a lot of other places) most people start out climbing in gyms and learn pretty quickly how to grab different types of holds. This type of climbing is intuitive and feels natural. Climbing cracks requires a totally different technique that seems unnatural and is often painful at first. As a result, in some places, crack climbing has become a lost art. But learning to jam hands, fists and feet into different-sized cracks will improve your climbing and open up a world of rock that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Here are some of Jamie’s photos from a recent climb at ERock.