A beginning outdoor climber’s guide to beginning outdoorsiness

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Me, being outdoorsy. Photo cred to Mackenzie Taylor Photography.

Growing up, I considered myself a hypothetically outdoorsy person.

I didn’t camp, hike, or swim in rivers, but I thought that given the opportunity, I would enjoy doing those things. I loved trail running and the smell of grass after a rain, but true outdoorsiness eluded me. Rock climbing in particular seemed like a rich person pursuit, and I didn’t have the money or knowledge to buy or use gear. Besides, my 1989 Lincoln Town Car wasn’t getting me up many mountains.

In college, I started working. Then I started climbing. And then I discovered that if I spent money on gear instead of groceries, and spent weekends on travel instead of homework, I could afford to climb outside on the reg. Which made me both Outdoorsy and A Climber. I was now An Outdoorsy Climber.

I was blessed with awesome friends and mentors who taught me The Ways Of The Crag, and I’m a shrewd Googler, but not everyone is so fortunate and sleuthy. Climbing is getting really popular, and it’s more important now than ever to educate new outdoorspeople on how to act outside. As a confirmed Gym-to-Crag Nature Newb, I’ve got a few tips for climbers who are new to recreating in the outdoors.

Environmental Ethics

I’ve written about this before, and there are a lot of resources online about minimizing your environmental impact. It’s really pretty simple: when you leave the crag (trail, beach, volcano, whatever), it should look the same as it did before you got there — or better. Everyone knows not to litter and to stay on trails, but there are a few other things a Nature Newb might not think about:

When you’re walking on a trail and have to let another group past, step downhill. This helps prevent excessive erosion. So does keeping your dog on a leash! CORRECTION: Per a more experienced reader’s recommendation, we should actually just try a little harder: “Preferably everyone just stays on the main tread of the trail and squeezes by each other, or at the very least stands on the inner edge of the trail facing in with your backpacks off the trail so people can get by.” We are nature’s guests, so let’s do everything we can not to be a burden.

If it’s rained at a crag recently, make sure it’s OK to climb there. Southern crags are usually fine after a downpour, but Western sandstone and conglomerate can be so soft that it loses strength during the days after a rain. You don’t wanna be *that* person who broke the crucial jug off a damp Joe’s Valley classic!

Don’t feed the animals. This includes leaving food scraps on the ground. Yes, that orange peel can be harmful, and so can that banana peel! If something wasn’t there before you were, pack it out.

When you poop outside, do it 200 feet away from any water sources, and bury your business six inches deep. If there’s a toilet at the crag, it’s probably best to use that. Avoid pottying near climbs, obvi.

And I know a lot of people bury their toilet paper (side note: making a pile of leaves does not count as burying something), but considering the ease with which it resurfaces, it is seriously best to just pack it out. It’s not that gross! Or if it is, you should check your diet. #ghostpooper4lyfe #wentthere

Not Being a Jerk Ethics

These are things that may not have a direct environmental or safety impact but are important if you want to avoid degrading the quality of someone else’s experience.

Keep the noise down. You’re probably outside to have fun, and sometimes fun gets a little loud, but make sure the volume of your chatter doesn’t reach such heights that it bothers your climbing kinsmen who might be out for a chill day in the woods. Or wildlife. Don’t scare the wildlife.

On that note, most people like music, but chances are that not everyone at the crag likes your music. Or maybe they do, but they don’t want to hear it while they climb. Consider not bringing your speakers. Or at least ask if everyone is cool with your indie-infused Afro-Cuban techno groove pop before blasting it beneath The Orb.

And remember that if you’re at a sport crag, noise levels are a safety issue. The climbers around you shouldn’t have trouble communicating with their belayers. Cleaning a route above a chorus of chatting climbers, laughing children, and barking dogs is frustrating at best and dangerous at worst.

If you must use tick marks, brush them off before you leave. Nobody wants your beta, and tick marks (chalk marks pointing to hard-to-find holds) are ugly.

Aaand don’t spray. Beta spraying, if you’re new to the lingo, is when you see someone working a problem and are like THIS IS THE BETA HEAR ME ROAR. Not cool! It’s like solving somebody else’s jigsaw puzzle for them. This is annoying in the gym too, of course. Just don’t do it! If you have beta, offer it — and don’t be offended if the climber isn’t interested.

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Taylor, being outdoorsy.

Infrequently Asked Questions

These are questions I have had at one point or another. I felt silly for having them, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there Googling things like “how to pee outside” and “sleeping pad v. yoga mat.”

How do I dress for the cold? I used to hate the cold, but then I realized I was just dressing wrong for it. I still get cold easily, and sometimes I make stupid clothing choices, but the basic rule is layers. If it is 50-60 degrees, I wear a tank top with a warm fleece and leggings. If it’s 40-50, things get serious: I’m in a tank top, fleece, puffy jacket, hat, and leggings. If it’s below 40, I add some pants and a long-sleeved technical shirt between the tank and fleece. If it’s below 30, I’m probably wearing everything I own and buried in dry leaves.

Why do people sleep on mats? To keep from getting cold! I thought I just had prissy friends, but it turns out that when you sleep on the ground, even if you are in a good sleeping bag, the earth pulls warmth from your body. Sleeping pads provide a little insulation. They can also give some cushion if you’re not as cheap as I am. I’ve slept on a yoga mat before, and I usually stick to the Mad Pad mattress, but I just ordered my first ~*official*~ pad for future me’s backpacking adventures.

Remember too that the smaller your tent, the warmer it will be! It’s better to be cramped but cozy in a two-person tent than sprawled out and shivering in one twice as big.

How do I poop outside? You squat and go over the six-inch hole you just dug, 200 feet or farther from any sources of water. (Oh hey, check out this bizarre advertisement that explains why we should all be squatting indoors too. #unicornpoo)

How do I pee outside? If you are a girl, you squat and go. Angle yourself intelligently so as to avoid urinating on your shoes. If you are a guy, you probably know what to do.

How do I make a fire? First, find someone who knows how to make a fire and can supervise you/do it for you (#shameless). Then make sure fires are permitted in your neck of the woods. Then find the stone fire ring. If you have to make one, make sure THAT’S okay, and do it far away from any boulders the heat might ruin. Then it goes like this: tinder, kindling, logs. You can do the teepee thing or the log cabin thing or probably a million other things, but be sure to keep the the setup close enough to ignite without suffocating itself. Fire needs oxygen! Don’t go to bed with a fire lit, obviously.

What do I do with my trash? Pack it out. All of it. I usually bring two big Ziploc bags, one for trash and one for recycling. Keep in mind that you will probably be picking up strangers’ trash as well…

How do I work a camp stove? Ask the person who owns the stove. But if you’re really wondering… It depends on the stove, but generally you are going to have a fuel canister that you screw onto a valve. This opens the canister, allowing gas to be released when you turn the regulator knob. Then you light the burner and cook yoself some oatmeal.

How do I pick out a ____? Whether you’re looking for a tent, backpack, stove, or sleeping bag, a good starting place is REI’s handy dandy “How to Choose” guides. My personal outdoorsy favorites are my Stanley thermos, my North Face Cat’s Meow sleeping bag, and my friends’ Jetboils.

Overall, I recommend shamelessness. If you don’t know how to do something — especially if it concerns fire or safety — ask someone more knowledgeable! Everybody who knows this stuff learned it from someone, and it’s better to ask for help than to start a forest fire. If your friends are jerks about your nature newbiness, you should join mine instead. In fact, they’ll be taking applications for my replacement soon because…

I have an announcement.

I am moving to Ecuador on January 26th!

If you know me in real life, you’ve known this for a while. If you don’t, sorry for waiting so long to tell you. I’ve been awaiting the “right” moment to inform my Internet friends of this Major Life Change, but moments like that tend to not arrive.

So yeah. I joined the Peace Corps and will be living in Ecuador for 27 months, teaching English and eating rice. I hope to keep adventuring there and will do my best to maintain this blog.

I want to thank everyone who has followed Eat & Climb and become my Internet friend during the last year and a half. It’s been a lot of fun building this blog, and I can’t wait to see what it becomes in the future.

Did I forget any important Nature Newb basics? Anybody have climbing beta for Ecuador? Leave your words in the comments!

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18 thoughts on “A beginning outdoor climber’s guide to beginning outdoorsiness

  1. Cool beginner’s guide! Covered the basics in a simple and fun way. 🙂 And moving to Ecuador? That sounds awesome. I spent nearly 5 years living in the Dominican Republic and loved every bit of it – the people, the culture, the food, the nature, the lifestyle. . I still visit like twice a year. Never been to Ecuador though. I know their mountains are spectacular so there must be a good amount of outdoor awesomeness. Oh and hey, deep water soloing in warm Caribbean water! 🙂

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    1. Wow, just realised the nonsense I have typed. I meant warm waters of the Pacific. Sorry, it’s a habit to say Caribbean when I speak of warm waters.

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      1. You’re good! 🙂 thanks for reading, so cool that you lived in the DR! I can’t wait to spend time in the Andes, hopefully I will have plenty of climbing ops. And DWS would be so cool — I posted about my Mallorca experience a while back, definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done haha.

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  2. I want to be “An Outdoorsy Climber”! I’ve never been outdoor climbing and I appreciate you spelling it out for us climbing newbs! 🙂 Keep writing… And please do maintain this blog. Don’t deprive us of you wonderful writing voice. 😉

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    1. Hi, hope you enjoy your trip! The north coast is better for climbing than the south. In fact, if you are around Punta Cana, which is the main tourist spot, you won’t find anything different than resorts (and white sand beaches with turquoise waters and coconut palm trees). Barahona is a good place to see, in the south but it’s very very far from everything. The landscape there is entirely different from the rest of the island. There’s also some epic DWS! When it comes to route climbing, you won’t find much. There are few bolted routes on the north coast, at playa Fronton, next to Samaná (awesome place for whale watching). These are not very good and I wouldn’t really trust most of the bolts because it’s been a while since they were placed and metal dies quickly at that climate. There’s a bit of bouldering on the actual beach and some DWS as well. If you go to Sosua and Cabarete (the party capital of the island and where I used to live), there is some DWS at Playa Alicia. On the left hand side of the beach after a short swim, you will see the terrace of the restaurant Pier Giorgio. That’s a good spot. Alternatively, if you swim to the right side of the beach there are the cliffs of the hotel Casa Marina. Both spots are cool, but the rock is very sharp and it can be painful. If you’ve made it that far north, it might be worth going a bit further. Just after Puerto Plata there are the well known 27 waterfalls. Now that’s some awesome DWS, waterfall/cliff climbing and diving. It’s awesome. In between Cabarete and Samaná, there’s a sweet water lagoon called El Dudu. There’s a cliff there that is quite tall and it’s awesome for cliff diving and DWS. If you are an adventurous kind of person, you might want to hike Pico Duarte. It’s over 3000m high and it’s the highest peak in all of the Caribbean. It’s a long hike but it’s worth it for the view and the various eco systems and continuously changing landscapes you go through. I hope this info helps you get the most out of your trip. Have fun!

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  3. Great info! I do think what you say about where to stand when being passed by people on trail is a little confusing though, I am not sure if we are on the same page. As someone who builds trail for a living it is actually most harmful to the trail to step off of it on the downhill outer edge. Preferably everyone just stays on the main tred of the trail and squeezes by each other or at the very least stands on the inner edge of the trail facing in with your backpacks off the trail so people can get by. The outer edge of the trail is called the critical edge and it is the first thing to begin eroding, aided by people walking or stepping on it. Avoiding weakening this edge is super important! This might be what you were saying, I just wasn’t sure from your description! So great to have people like you reminding everyone how to be good environmental stewards! Thanks!

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    1. Hey, thanks for reading!

      I totally agree that we should do everything we can to avoid walking off-trail. I was referring to times like when two groups collide and everyone is wearing crash pads, which take up an ungodly amount of passing space. I found this advice on the Leave No Trace website several months ago, but on second thought, maybe we should all be less lazy and simply shift our pads to our hands when this might be an issue.

      Thank you for your insight! I’ve updated the post with your wisdom 🙂

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