Scaling New Heights
Self-taught climber tackles a road-side climb in her quest to grow the local climbing community
By Rodney J. Auth
Imagination fuels dreams. Action fuels success.
Lauren Hansen, (who prefers to be called by her middle name, Rose) and her twin sister, Chloe, are women of action.
Still winding their way through McCall-Donnelly High School, they’ve taught themselves to climb—how to work down from a top rope, belay for each other, lead up faces with no top rope, fix their used equipment, and inspire others to join the sport.
Now, they’re looking to spread the word and grow the local climbing community.
Top Rope Action
It’s only been a couple years of self-taught technique and used gear purchases, but Hansen is hooked on climbing. Like most beginners, she started with bouldering and quickly moved to actual climbing.
“With bouldering, you just need shoes, chalk and a crash pad,” says Hansen, “but that’s not as fun. That’s like 15 feet off the ground and you fall back. If you really want to climb, you need to find someone with gear and have your own harness and shoes.”
From there, it’s a short step to purchasing a top rope set-up (carabiners and webbing) and then an even shorter step, but bigger investment to owning a rope and a belay device.
Hansen bought her rope second-hand (not normally recommended) then had a local climbing expert test it to make sure it was safe.
“Beginner climbers, that’s what you do,” says Hansen, “You find a way to scrape up equipment and you go top roping.”
By definition, top roping is finding faces where you can hike to the top, drop your rope over the edge, rappel down and then start the climb.
“And that’s a problem I ran into when I started to climb,” says Hansen, “I’d go out with friends, we’d end up at a place where you couldn’t hike and set a top rope and they’d be like, ‘ok, who’s going to lead’ and it’d be like me all the time. So, I’d have the potential to fall 10 or 15 feet to last anchor. That’s why we always tried to find hike-able top ropes—no scary falls.”
Finding Climbing Partners
Like most mountain activities, climbing is a social sport—it’s more fun with a partner. And, unlike say skiing or hiking, which you can technically do alone, climbing requires a partner. So, Hansen set out to find like-minded climbers.
“There are kids around my age who climb, but they’re all leaving,” says Hansen. “There are a lot of seasonal workers—people who come to McCall or Riggins for the summer—and they’ll be into it, and people who climb Black Cliffs down in Boise show up on occasion, but as far as year-round people, there’s not a lot.”
The lack of community didn’t stop Hansen.
“There have been a few instances where I just ran into somebody while climbing and made a connection. But more often than not, I got my friends into climbing. I was always like, ‘Do you want to go with me once’ and then it was ‘Let’s get you some gear and go all the time’!”
The entry-level cost for climbing is a bit of a commitment.
“You can buy a kit, which is usually a belay device, harness, chalk bag and shoes for a little less than $200,” says Hansen. “If you’re really into it, if you want to place your own anchors and such, that gets really expensive.”
Local Top Ropes
To hook her friends, Hansen took them to any number of climbs in and around McCall—places where they were often the only climbers and could learn and make mistakes in peace.
“There are top ropes kind of scattered all around the area,” says Hansen. “Like the spot we’re going today which is a top rope right off Warren Wagon Road, about two miles north of Payette Lake.”
This particular top rope is, according to Hansen, about a 5.8 in the toughness scale. She classifies it as a fun climb.
“5.15 is the hardest climb possible,” says Hansen. “The scale goes from about 5.4 to 5.15. To put that in perspective, if you bring a reasonably athletic person off the street they could climb a 5.6, probably. A 5.8, you’ve been climbing for a summer. Once you get in the area of a 5.10—and that’s about the limit of what I’ve led, a low 5.10, you need to be training. Anything higher, say 5.11 or 5.12, you need to be seriously training. And anything harder than a 5.12, you need be fit, training hard and extremely gifted.”
The two most popular climbs in the area are Thinking Spot on the north end of Payette Lake off Eastside Road and Slick Rock up near Yellow Pine.
“Thinking Spot probably has at least 25 pitches with lots of top ropes scattered about. It’s really diverse. You can bring your family out there and have something for everybody,” says Hansen.
“Slick Rock is the only real big wall climb in the area. It has eight pitches and there are several ways to get up it,” says Hansen. “Lots of people come up from Boise to give it a try.”
A Great Time To Be A Climber
“It’s an exciting time to be a climber,” says Hansen. “Some of the best climbers that have ever lived are alive right now. And, actually last year, we saw the first woman ever climb a 5.15.”
Hansen and her friends are hopeful they can grow the local climbing community. They’re working to film themselves climbing all the top ropes in the area and publishing them in McCall Life magazine and on mccalllife.com. Her boyfriend published a local climbing guide, which is available in local stores. They’re starting to discuss ways to bring an indoor climbing gym to the area. And of course, they’ll continue to invite their friends and their friends, friends to come out for a climb and, hey, maybe buy some equipment so we can do this more often.
It’s a cool dream—one they’re fueling by constant action, which of course, means it’s only a matter of time before McCall is known as a climber’s paradise.
Rodney Auth is the publisher of McCall Life magazine. He believes in the power of everyday adventure to create happy, healthy people and communities. He’d love to hear your adventure story. Consider visiting mccalllife.com and sending it to us.