Every rock climber starts somewhere. Alex Honnold didn’t start his career free-soloing until he had countless multi-pitch climbs under his belt. Tommy Caldwell didn’t send the Dawn Wall on his first day out at the crag and neither should you. If you have dreams of scaling the big walls in Yosemite Valley or attempting daring first ascents like the pros, you have got to start small. Fortunately, North America has plenty of classic multi-pitch climbs for beginners — worthy locations where you don’t have to sacrifice adventure for accessible climbing and beautiful views.
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Rock climbing is an adventurous and varied sport which, fortunately, can be just as exciting for 5.6 leaders as well as 5.12 leaders. Challenging yourself to climb new and diverse styles of rock will make you a more well-rounded and competent climber. If you’re planning on getting out on the rock in 2020, these five classic multi-pitch climbs are all great places to start. The right locations can help keep adventure in the pursuit high, while each suggestion is packed with learning potential to help you practice the necessary skills for when it’s time to tackle those larger vertical objectives and more exposed walls that keep you dreaming.
Stay safe, have fun, and climb on.
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Star Check, 5.8+ | Squamish, BC
Star Check is a classic multi-pitch climb with a moderate approach, a spectacular view, and fun climbing to boot. This route wanders up a low-angle arete on a bluff feature that overlooks the Cheakamus River in British Columbia. While climbing, make sure to pause and look behind you! The view is breathtaking. This route is popular among beginning rock climbers because of its unique location and beautiful views, so plan accordingly. The 5.8+ grade feels fair, and the bolts aren’t spaced too far apart so the climb generally feels comfortable for anyone climbing at the grade. If you happen to visit the budding adventure town of Squamish in British Columbia, Star Check is a “must-do” climb for any rock climber.
Why it’s a classic: The location can’t be beaten, the accessibility is unique, and the climb is a joy! Learning potential : This is a great first multi-pitch climb. The anchors are all bolted, and there is a safe distance between all of the bolts for the leader to clip on each pitch. It’s a safe, fun multi-pitch route that will help you build your confidence rock climbing outside. Kaya Lindsay North Arête of Crystal Crag 5.6 | Mammoth Lakes, CA
Known for being an excellent first alpine route, the North Arête of Crystal Crag is one summit you don’t want to miss. It’s close proximity to town, sweeping views of Mammoth Lakes and unforgettable “crystal corridor” on the final pitch makes the North Arête an instant classic. The approach is an enjoyable and moderate trek through the ponderosa pine forests of the High Sierra, passing the clear-blue Mammoth Lakes and arriving at the foot of Crystal Crag. The North Arête is pure fun, with many places for a comfortable rest, and time to turn around and enjoy the view. The most memorable part of the climb is the last pitch where the rock beneath your hands and feet turns from gray granite to pure white quartz. It’s unlike any other climbing feature — and well worth the trip.
Why it’s a classic: Fun climbing with a great view, and a beautiful Crystal Corridor to enjoy right before the summit. Learning potential : The North Arête is low-angle and wanders slightly. This makes the route feel secure but still challenging enough to be fun. There are plenty of ledges, trees, and crack systems to build anchors at, making it a great route for beginning trad leaders. Kendal Irish Thin Air 5.6 | Cathedral Ledge, NH
The Northeast is known more for its ice climbing than its rock climbing, but look long enough and you will find this hidden gem in New Hampshire. Thin Air on Cathedral Ledge combines the adventure of a much harder route, with the good protection and enjoyable movement of easier climbs. There is a mix of bolted and gear anchors, so leaders should be ready for anything. This climb, although fun, will make new rock climbers think. For climbers wanting to test themselves mentally, this climb is a great start. There is a run-out slab, a techy traverse, an interesting chimney and a fun little boulder problem at the top. Sit back and enjoy the view before a casual hike back down to the main trail.
Why it’s a classic: With a relaxing approach, varied climbing, and a beautiful view, this climb hits all the marks for a worthy classic. Learning potential : Traverses can be challenging for even the most confident of rock climbers. Thin Air allows new climbers to get a feel for traversing terrain, while also keeping it safe. The well-protected traverse can be spooky but finding those gear placements and trusting your feet will help any climber improve. Courtesy of The Sophia Panuthos-Buell Collection Direct Route 5.6 | First Flatiron, Boulder, CO
The Flatirons jut dramatically out of Colorado’s foothills and mark the beginning of the Rocky Mountains’ Front Range. Boulder, Colo., sits just on the eastern edge of this continent-long mountain range and can be seen in its entirety from the top of the Flatirons. Summiting the first Flatiron for the view alone is worth it. As a multi-pitch route rated 5.6, the First Flatiron is great for beginners. However, climbers should be comfortable with long run-outs and tricky gear. The climbing is only 5.6, and many experienced climbers will free-solo it. That said, budding multi-pitch climbers should only go on this adventurous climb if they possess a strong lead head and are confident in their gear placements. With that in mind, climbers can enjoy moving along 10 glorious pitches of diverse rock climbing and take pleasure in the sweeping summit views.
Why it’s a classic: The Flatiron rock formations are unique, the length of the climb is perfect for a day-long adventure, and the summit views are spectacular. Learning potential : A crucial part of rock climbing is building up confidence while being significantly run out. Climbing the First Flatiron is a great way to practice this skill. While the Direct Route is safe and relatively low-angle, it will challenge the beginning climbers’ lead head and ability to climb confidently. Jeff Wang The South Face 5.7, South Six-Shooter | Indian Creek, UT
For any desert climber, towers hold a special place of interest. Desert towers are sources of adventure and provide a unique sense of accomplishment once you finally stand at the high point and see the desert from a new perspective. For many climbers, the South Six-Shooter is a logical first of many towers to climb in a lifetime. Located in Indian Creek, Utah, South Six-Shooter has great climbing, bolted anchors, and a view that goes on for miles. The approach up a talus cone can be brutal, but the fun climbing and balance-y mantle move to reach the summit make the tiresome approach worth it.
Why it’s a classic: As desert towers go, its location is epic and the summit views are spectacular. The climbing is fun and since it’s on a talus slope, the summit view is much higher than you have to climb. Learning potential: This is a great multi-pitch climb for beginning trad leaders. The anchors are all bolted, so climbers who aren’t confident in their anchor-building skills can enjoy this tower and practice gear placements! There is also some crack climbing on this tower, which makes it a great place for practicing your crack technique.
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