The beauty of trad climbing is that it’s engaging even when it’s not too hard, it’s a great way to explore and grow in your climbing and it equips you with skills to handle a multitude of climbing scenarios. While you don’t have to dive in, you should give it a try and see what it’s about. If you’ve led a route or three and the trad bug has truly bitten it’s worth considering investing in a rack. I use the word investing because we’re talking about a decent chunk of change to get kitted out and once you have it, your rack will last for years and bring hours and hours of fun, adventure and experiences. When you own a rack the options for climbing really open up, you no longer rely on others to get your trad fix and you can go whenever and wherever your heart desires. As the owner of a rack you have the rare opportunity to take others out tradding, opening up their climbing world and showing them a new way to experience nature.
After being bitten by the climbing bug and immersed into the climbing community 5 years ago, I have been fortunate to have some great mentors along the way. My first trad experience was on Table Mountain with Trish Breyer. She handed me a cam, showed me how to remove it from the rock and told me not to drop it or leave any of these behind! After a brief intro at the base, she explained that I would be on top rope the whole way so I should just enjoy the journey. The climbing was incredible, the exposure unreal and the imprint in my brain is as fresh as it was yesterday.
Fast forward to today where my husband and I have a full rack, enough experience to safely get to the top and back down and can eagerly drag any interested parties with us for a day on the rock. I compare trad climbing to the yin yoga of the climbing world - it's slow, controlled, it clears your mind and you feel amazing afterwards. We don’t trad hard, usually a few grades below our sport grades and it’s all about the journey. From packing your bag the night before, walking in, route finding, spending hours on a climb, abseiling or scrambling back down and reminiscing on the drive home as you view your photos and talk about that scary step over at the top or when I couldn’t get that nut out, it's one long adventure that recharges and humbles you.
While I still get scared leading on sport or trad that pushes my limits, climbing with other girls has helped me overcome this. Watching Trish lead is inspiring, she is always cool, calm and collected and while there is still some fear, she’s brave. I have a few male trad mentors who I climb with, but seeing a woman do it is very badass. I first saw Hazel Findlay in Africa Fusion climbing with Alex Honnold and had an instant girl crush. She is a British trad climber and besides the fact she climbs really, really hard (her hardest send, Magic Line is 5.14C or 35 on trad), she is humble, down to earth and openly talks about having off days, insecurities and fears.
Facing your fears is the biggest challenge I have found in climbing. Fear of heights, falling, the unknown, the list goes on. To overcome this, there are a few things that I have found that have worked for me; pyramid climbing to build your movement bank gives you more confidence on the rock as you can read the rock better and know how to move easily through it; general fitness training that builds your endurance on long routes and days out; and most importantly a motivated mindset. When my husband sends a 21 on sport or leads the precarious looking trad pitch I think to myself “well he’s a guy, he’s stronger than me”, but when Trish or my belaytionship buddy Kirsty do it I think, “wow, if they can do it, so can I – be brave Cally, let's do this!”. So climb with other girls, they will give your mind the confidence to be brave, believe in yourself and inspire you to keep trying!
– Cally Bishop.
There is a lot to know if you want to trad as safely as possible but you can get away with a lot if you’re happy with safe enough. Common sense and a slow and steady approach will get you through most of the situations you have to figure out on the fly and there’s no way to be prepared for everything. Being adaptable and creative allows you to take what you know and apply it to new scenarios. If you follow the basic rules of always being clipped to something or on belay, having mostly good gear placements and not falling off too often while you’re learning you can get away with a lot. Being in over your head is a common theme in the best climbing stories so go out and see what you can do.
South Africa is a mecca for trad, we’ve had three trad exchanges with other countries and the response is always amazement at how great our rock is. For the northerners, the Magaliesberg is undisputed as the best trad close to Gauteng with Kransberg, Wilgepoort, Blyde, Blouberg and Manoutsa offering stellar multipitch and big wall trad. For the Capetonians there’s Table Mountain and the Cedarberg (which offer a lifetime of climbing by themselves) and Yellowwood to name a few. KZN has Monteseel and the Drakensberg. There’s a whole world out there waiting to be climbed. Go get some!
If you’re thinking that trad might be where you want to go in your climbing or you’re ready to buy a rack then there are some things you can buy as you go through your climbing journey to ease your introduction and some essentials for trad that you should look at. Here’s my trad buying guide.
Helmet: Whether you’re sport climbing or trad climbing a helmet is a good idea. The lightest and most comfortable one you can afford is best. I love the Singing Rock Penta as the best value for money helmet you can get and the Petzl Boreo as a perfect first helmet.
Belay device: Get one with guide mode, they’re not too much extra and will be useful should you get into multi pitch sport or trad. The Wild Country Pro Guide Lite is the best value and the DMM Pivot is the top performer.
Slings: Dyneema slings are much thinner and lighter, perfect for alpine draws or for putting 6 of them over your shoulder. Long slings are quite useful too. The Mammut Contact range is amazing and they have a good variety of lengths, I love the 240cm for building anchors.
A 60cm Mammut Contact Dyneema sling with Metolius FS Mini 2 carabiner and 240cm Mammut Contact Dyneema sling on a Mad Rock wire gate.
Quickdraws: Lightweight is best here, wire gates are nice and a snag free nose is good. The DMM Alpha Trad is a top performer and the Wild Country Astro draws are best value for money at the moment. Get a few extra to separate for alpine draws as it’s cheaper than buying individual carabiners. I have some slings with only one carabiner on for extending cams or slinging blocks or trees, the Metolius FS Mini 2 carabiners are lightweight and perfect for this.
Gear for the rack
Cams: Having cams that follow the Black Diamond colour and size system helps when climbing with other people and their racks. Black Diamond, DMM and Wild Country all work really well for the large (C4, Dragon and Friend) sizes but I really love my BD X4s for small cams and the new Z4s look amazing.
Nuts: DMM walnuts are amazing for the types of rock we have here in SA. The DMM HB Offset nuts are worth their weight in gold and I’d recommend getting those when you’re ready to double up on certain sizes. Small nuts are useful (DMM Peanuts) but not essential when you’re starting out.
Hexes: I’m not a huge fan but if I had to buy some I’d get the DMM Torque nuts because they match the cam colours and sizes and have the extendable dyneema sling.
Jacket: A lightweight windshell that folds up small and can clip to your harness comes in useful when the wind picks up or the sun starts to set.
Crack gloves: Trad climbing involves rock with lots of cracks (we need them to place gear) and jamming is a great way to make the climbing easier, it helps to have crack gloves for easier jamming and to protect your hands. The Ocun ones are tough and quite sticky.
That’s it for Nuts November. Put your shoes on, pack your bag and get out there, remember to pack a headlamp and a jacket, be safe and have fun. See you at the crags.