Written by Ryan Siacci
Some folks dream of seeing London, Paris, Rome or New York… But not you, of course.
You’re a climber. And that means your idea of a holiday is a little different. You don’t want to spend it touring museums, dining in expensive restaurants, and sliding your pampered body between two million thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets each night. You want to spend it examining a large body of rock in minute detail, drinking cheap beer, and contorting your body into strange and uncomfortable positions.
So, instead, you dream of seeing Yosemite, Kalymnos, Chamonix or Patagonia. As if you needed any further encouragement than the mere mention of those hallowed names, I have a bunch of pretty darn good reasons why you should start planning your next international (or even domestic) climbing holiday today.
Gain experience with different climbing styles
In 2015, during an extended tour of the American Southwest, I found myself in Indian Creek, Utah. I was surrounded by pristine Wingate sandstone with perfect splitter cracks, and I could climb almost none of them. I was a quivering wreck on 5.9 (17 in ‘Strayan grades) and couldn’t even get off the ground on 5.10 (18). It was utterly demoralising.
But it was also the start of a new era for me. I returned home with a burning desire to give this crack climbing business a red hot go. Thus, started my love affair with Frog Buttress. I spent most of the winter there in 2016 and eventually moved to Boonah in 2017. As a result, I now consider crack climbing to be one of my greatest strengths as a climber.
A climbing holiday can be a great way to expose yourself to new styles and rock types. Never climbed on limestone? Why not try El Potrero Chico in Northern Mexico? Do you suck at slab? Why not check out La Pedriza during a tour of Spain. Never climbed ice? The Ouray Ice Park in Colorado is a frozen playground, and its entirely free!
These are just a few examples. Millions more await.
Teach your ego a lesson
If you remain static, preferring to stick to a few local crags that you know and love, there is no doubt that you’ll become very proficient at those crags. You’ll become an expert at one particular style. You’ll get familiar with the relative level of the grades. You’ll climb with the same old characters, using them as a yardstick to judge how well you’re doing. Some might think of it as specialising, but in reality, it amounts to becoming pigeon-holed.
If you decide to take a trip overseas, your ego had better be ready for a masterclass from the School of Hard Knocks. Be prepared to be bamboozled by unfamiliar moves on unfamiliar rock. Get ready to shed tears on ruthless sandbags. Be dismayed as the locals warm up on your projects.
One of the most difficult, but arguably most important challenges for many climbers is defeating the ego. In his book, The Rock Warriors Way, Arno Ilgner calls it “The 1000 Headed Dragon”, and while an overseas trip may not slay that sucker, it might just lop a few of those heads off.
Build appreciation for your home turf
It’s a digital age and we have unprecedented access to images from exotic locations around the world. Of course, social media does tend to view these hotspots through a rose-coloured filter, because a warts-and-all approach doesn’t get Instalikes.
I personally don’t see this as a massive failure, it’s just human nature. Back in the day, we used to keep photo albums, but we didn’t fill them with shots of divorce or cancer diagnoses, we filled them shots of fancy dress parties and trips to the beach. Nothing much has changed. We still like to look at happy images, but it means that our impression of a place can become white-washed by the expectations we build from social media.
Whilst you’ll generally have a fantastic time when visiting overseas climbing areas, you might find yourself a little disenchanted by certain aspects which weren’t in the brochure… like the 4 million yearly visitors you’ll have to contend with in Yosemite National Park, or the horrific combination of relentless humidity and glass-like texture of polished limestone in Thailand, or the fact that some nutbag has chopped all the bolts and burned the refugio at Hatun Machay.
I’m not trying to say that you’ll come away with a bad taste in your mouth, but rather that travelling has a way of helping you to appreciate what you have at home. It’s always greener on the other side, until it isn’t. In South East Queensland, we have access to some stellar crags with a pretty great climate and a relatively miniscule number of users. This thought helps keep me stoked as I plan my next holiday!
Contribute to less fortunate communities
The word “impact” gets thrown around a lot these days, and it always has bad connotations. Most climbers tend to be pretty diligent in minimising their environmental impact and that is something to be proud of… but not all impacts are bad. Climbing can and does have a positive economic impact on otherwise impoverished communities.
I recently spent three weeks in El Potrero Chico in Mexico, where the community has been very welcoming to climbers from the USA and beyond. The locals are super friendly and the town of Hidalgo is remarkably safe for foreigners when compared to other locations in the troubled nation. This is mainly due to the steady stream of gringo dinero that climbers inject into the town each year. If you can have an amazing climbing experience and help support a family running a small restaurant or campsite at the same time, why not do it?
In some cases, such as Nepal, climbing essentially keeps the entire country afloat, but the economic benefits can be found in wealthier countries as well. Ouray was a ghost town in winter until the formation of the ice park in the mid-1990s, and Eastern Kentucky sure doesn’t mind the $3.8 million that Red River Gorge climbers spend annually in the region.
People don’t want charity, they want a good, honest job. Despite its dirtbag beginnings, the modern climbing scene has created jobs and income in some of the most unlikely locations. That’s pretty cool.
For the memories
I have many fantastic memories from climbing at home, most of which were created on “character building” Tibrogargan horrorshows and Frog Buttress testpieces. But I’ve climbed at those crags so often that many of the climbs tend to blur into one another.
One thing I can never forget is being high above the clouds on the West Buttress of Denali, or questing upward on the final pitches of Epinephrine in Red Rock Canyon with 600m already below me, or my first trad multipitch on Pico Urriellu in Northern Spain.
These memories stand out so boldly for me because they are so unique and outrageously different from day-to-day climbing back home. To me, these they have more value than any worldly possessions, their worth beyond measure. You owe it to yourself to go make a few of your own.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.
PS. If all this has got you hankering for a climbing holiday, why not check out our guided Vietnam expedition running this December?