“Trad” Climbing, or Traditional climbing, has always stuck out to me. The idea of being able to go anywhere and climb anything just feels so free. Unfortunately Trad climbing can be a lot more dangerous than sport climbing or top rope climbing, which is why I’ve never tried it alone. Luckily for me, my buddy/mentor Mario teaches a weekend class on it.
We left Friday night for the Wichita Wildlife Refuge in Lawton, Oklahoma. My photographer friend Max and I met up with Mario and Tucker at a Braums in Denton to start out the trip. The drive is about 4 hours so we got into camp pretty late. We threw our tents together and hit the sack.
I emerged from the tent the next morning to meet the other two guys who would accompany us, Dan and Bruce. The temperature was around forty degrees, which is already pretty cold for us Texas dudes, and it would only get worse as we got up to the top of the exposed Mt. Scott. I put on what I thought was enough layers, and Max and I hopped in Dan’s car to head towards Upper Mt. Scott.
Mario made it clear that we wouldn’t be climbing until the 3rd day which seemed odd to me at first. At the time I couldn’t really grasp how he was going to manage filling an entire day of “how-to” without actually doing any of it. I was quickly enlightened. The entire day was filled to the brim with a plethora of Trad climbing knowledge. Mario hit every note: climbing etiquette, equipment, knots and hitches, belaying, protection and anchoring. It actually ended up taking about a day and a half. I won’t get into all the details, but Mario didn’t miss a single step; the guy’s a machine.
It also gave the group a lot of time to get to know each other and develop a good rapport. We needed it, especially with Max and I in our twenties and Bruce and Dan being in their forties. It didn’t take long for the “dad” and “that’s what she said” jokes to start flying around the campfire.
The night brought almost freezing temperatures and rain. Max and I’s rain cover for our tent ended up having a leak and we tried to fight the leaks with duct tape, but it was a futile effort. We decided to just suck it up and sleep through the weather. We awoke to a moat inside of our tent with our sleeping bags resting on an island in the center. Luckily before I passed out I put my laptop and other important things inside of a waterproof bag and they stayed safe through the night. Either way we made it through alive and well so I’m grateful for the experience.
The third and final day I realized that the change of clothes that I had brought would soon become my 2nd and 3rd layers. The cold and drizzly weather continued to try and beat us down, especially me without any sort of rain jacket, but we persevered. We made our way back up to Upper Mt. Scott to continue the lessons from the previous day. For the last part of our training we got split into two groups: one focusing on natural anchors and the other on gear placement.
I got set with Bruce doing natural anchors which ended being just as cool as it sounds. On location we had these enormous monolithic-type boulders to use as our natural anchors. All you really do is sling your rope around two monolithic boulders, tie them to each other and drape it over the side of your climb with a “BHK” (Big Honkin’ Knot).
The last part of the day was the climb. Mario had us top roping and placing our gear as we went up and then we would rappel back down with him to check our gear. I decided to go last out of the four of us and so I plopped down under a massive boulder to avoid thedrizzling rain and dozed off for 30 or so minutes. When I woke up Bruce was rappelling down with Mario and I was up next. I hadn’t expected that the wet rock I had laid on would make me as cold as it did and it made me glad that I got to heat back up while climbing. I tied myself in and started my way up, trying to keep in mind that even though I was mock leading, I needed to think as though I was actually leading. So I placed a piece of gear every 3 - 5 feet, or something along those lines. I wanted it to feel as real as possible. I quickly gained respect for all trad climbers because the amount of pump I got in my arms while holding my weight and trying to place a good piece was insane. I met Mario at the top and he rappelled down with me, inspecting gear along the way. He would make slight changes to my gear placements and give me helpful tips, all in all he gave me a “B” for my placements. As soon as my feet touched the ground the sky started gushing rain, almost as if God was giving us a sign that it was time to go. I hastily packed my gear and made the trek back up to the parking lot.
We finished the day off at a restaurant near Lawton. For some reason climbing makes food taste 100x better than normal; I think my burger might have been made by angels. We rested and commemorated on all the good times from the weekend; cracking jokes, making fun of each other, and just chatting. It was a great way to end the trip. I went to the clinic wanting to learn how to trad climb, I came out the other end knowing so much more, and with new climbing friendships.