First rock face-off

Beginning class teaches climbing basics

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2004

ANACORTES, Wash Where do you go next?

Your leg shakes as you feel your foothold slipping.

The next step looks impossible.

The trees rustle behind you and a bird's shadow glides across the rock in front of your face.

An ant crawls by. You blow it off.

Don't you have better things to think about? Like making it to the top?

You give in, take that step, and you've made it. Five feet up, 25 to go.

That's ''Rock Climbing 101'' at Mount Erie Park in Anacortes, Wash., where Scott Harder takes his students from Cascade Guiding Services for an introduction to the outdoor sport.

It's where man and woman square off against rock. There are no color-coded routes and no pads to break your fall. But more importantly, you'll find fresh air and breathtaking views of Deception Pass and Puget Sound.

''A lot of people choose to climb here because it's in a rain shadow,'' said Harder, who started the Snohomish-based Cascade Guiding Services in March. ''You're always wary about rain out here.''

Harder worked many years for Everett's Cascade Crags, an indoor rock-climbing gym and retail store for outdoor sports equipment. Last year he left to start his own outdoor climbing venture. He also offers more advanced rock climbing classes, private lessons and guided backpacking tours.

Since Cascade Crags doesn't have outdoor classes, Harder does it for the store's members at a discount price and gets many referrals from there.

For about $75, a newcomer can step into a harness and climbing shoes (included) and get started.

After six months of indoor experience, G.C. Canagaratna, 30, of Everett, stared up a sheer rock face at Mount Erie before his first outdoor climb on a recent Sunday.

''I'd like to do it a lot more, but I'll start with the basic,'' Canagaratna said. ''It should be a good challenge. With indoor (climbing), you can see where all the holes are.''

Harder and his teaching partner, 24-year-old Hunter Brown, take their time explaining the basics everything from tying your harness onto a rope to demonstrating the technique of securing a position on the rock before moving upward.

As Brown likes to say, the rope is like a god.

It literally holds your life in the balance. But when ropes are used properly, rock climbing is a controlled and safe activity.

''After this class, you should be able to go into any gym and climb,'' Brown said. ''And, if you like it, you can come back and we can show you how to set up ropes and everything else.''

This day, though, the five-member group was happy to learn the basics. In addition to climbing, the class included an introduction to belaying, or controlling the other end of the rope to keep the climber from falling. There was also an intro to rappelling, which involves using the rope to descend the rock face (like they do in those Army commercials).

Michelle Perez, 32, of Sammamish, was satisfied to make her way up and down.

''I was a little skeptical at first,'' she said. ''But Scott was pretty good at troubleshooting and telling me where to put my feet.''

Everyone in the group agreed that the camaraderie was part of the fun. But it's easy to build camaraderie with a complete stranger when he's holding the other end of your rope.

''The company here was great,'' said Tom Astrof, 39, of Mill Creek, who later invited the bunch to join some friends for dinner. ''It's a great way to spend an afternoon if you're into fitness.''

As for Canagaratna, he was ready for more before the harness even came off.

''What's next?'' he asked rhetorically.

''Whatever the next climbing class is.''

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