Directions up are simple enough: Ascend small cracks to 40 feet, traverse right and down to a right-rising, curving crack. Where the crack steepens, move right, then up one of three cracks to a belay atop a small tower. A little ways more, past a dirty, awkward chimney, a triangular ceiling to a belay by a small fir tree, and a bigger pine, is the top . . .
Getting down is another story . . . lean back, hold on, step backwards over a 100 foot granite-faced cliff, and trust in the system.Experienced rock climbers can and do, as comfortably as stepping off a curb. Neophytes are less trusting. Given time, however, they'll join the growing band of climbers that hang in rock cracks and off narrow ledges, and rappel off granite cliffs as confidently as walking up and down stairs.
Using rubber-bottomed shoes, ropes, slings, carabiners, chocks, a sure grip and a dancer's footwork, male and female, young and old, the timid and the bold, are climbing in the canyons feeding into Salt Lake Valley.
The sport, says Mark Watson, mountaineering instructor at Snowbird, is growing in Utah.
"Drive by `Gate Buttress' (a popular climbing area about three miles from the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon) any afternoon and see," he adds.
Rock climbing is not new, nor are the methods inspired by any computer programer. Technique and equipment are tried and proven.
According to Watson it comes down to good balance, good footwork and good safety practices in the beginning stages.
"You don't even need especially strong hands and arms. Most of the climbing is with the legs. Body size really does not lend itself to good climbing. It's more finesse. Strength enters into the more difficult climbs. Climbing is really nothing more than a giant puzzle and the climbers that are the best are usually the most creative," he explains.
When instructing, he says one of the first things taught is good footwork.
"It's vital you learn where and how to step," he continues. "You don't take giant steps, but little ones. You don't step on your toes, but put as much of your foot on the rock as you can. Also, you don't hug the rock. That's what many beginners want to do for security. What happens is they slide down or simply can't see where they're stepping."
All of this, of course, is wrapped up in proven safety practices. This would be a harnesses around the climber that's hooked to a rope that's attached to a double sling and twin carabiners and then held by another climber that is securely stationed.
Watson admits outsiders have the notion rock climbing is hazardous. There are natural hazards, he says, like falling rocks or sudden thunder and lightening storms, "but if climbers do what they're supposed to it's safe. You don't climb anything you can't climb down. And, unless you really know what you are doing, you don't solo climb. Most accidents, you find, happen because of bad judgment."
He suggested those interested in trying the sport:
1. Get instruction from a qualified instructor.
2. Spend the money to get good equipment, especially good climbing shoes.
3. Learn where to climb. In many states there are books available pointing out climbing areas and detailing routes.
For climbs along the Wasatch Front, Les Ellison and Brian Smoot have written a book "Wasatch Rock Climbs," published by American Alpine Club ($14.50). The book describes areas in Ferguson Canyon, Little Cottonwood, Pfeiffer Horn and Hogum Fork, Bells Canyon, Big Willow and Lone Peak Cirques.
In Little Cottonwood, the book rates, maps and offers suggested climbing routes at 26 locations. (Climbs are rated under a decimal system, with the value 5 given to all climbs where ropes and hardware are necessary. Under this system a climb of 5.1 would be the easiest, a climb of 5.14 the most difficult.)
According to Watson, instructors usually open by detailing safety equipment and practices, then start students doing what is called "bouldering," or climbing around boulders. First they learning to step, then balance and use of the hands, they move from gentle inclines to steeper faces with not much height. Time is also spent teaching students different belaying methods, or climbing with ropes.
Under the Snowbird program, Watson and his instructors have available to them the specially constructed climbing wall built on the Cliff Lodge last month for the World Climbing event. More and larger holds have been put on the wall to make climbing easier. More advanced students have access to the wall "if they choose."
Cost of Sunday and Thursday rock climbing classes at Snowbird is $15 for half-day session. Climbing shoe rental is an additional $3.
Classes are also available through International Mountain Equipment and Guideworks. Instruction ranges from the basics to expedition climbing. Cost is $50 for basic (mechanics and safety) and novice (techniques) classes, and $55 for intermediate (learning to lead climb). Each session runs for eight hours.