Expanding the Competent Outdoor Climbing Community

Expanding the Competent Outdoor Climbing Community

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On August 27, 2019
  • Comments

The Outdoor Ascent Series’ (OAS) purpose is to help expand the competent outdoor climbing community in the Wasatch. Like an Avalanche 1 course, OAS aims to lay the foundation for participants to build off to have a better outdoor experience when they head to the crags near Salt Lake and beyond.

The class began as one offering under the name “Plastic to Classic.” But David Farkas, The Front’s adult programming manager, has since evolved the program to what it is today: A four-part series of courses that will give students a high-quality knowledge and experience base from which to begin climbing outdoors.

The Outdoor Ascent Series runs in the spring, summer and fall and includes instruction in outdoor top-roping, outdoor sport climbing, intro to trad climbing and multi-pitch sport climbing. In each offering, students start in the gym with Farkas (pictured below), then head outside with The Backcountry Pros, a local guiding company.

“There are so many new climbers along the Wasatch, so the need for high-quality climbing instruction is quite high,” Farkas said. “Due to the many people who have done some climbing, however, and may be willing to take a friend out and show them some of what they know, the perceived need for instruction can be quite low.”

This situation is fine, Farkas added, if a new climber forms a strong mentorship with a truly skilled and experienced climber. Though, it can be hazardous if new outdoor climbers instead partner with individuals whose knowledge is incomplete, outdated or simply wrong.

Recognizing that now most new climbers discover the sport through gyms, Farkas understands and encourages that the natural next step for many of these climbers is to eventually climb outside.

The gyms that anticipate this, Farkas added, are the gyms that offer the best services to their members and guests, services that help new climbers accept and engage in the additional responsibility, skills and preparedness that outdoor climbing requires.

An American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)-certified Single Pitch Instructor, Farkas has a well-rounded guiding foundation. In the past, he’s spent five summer seasons as a backpacking and mountaineering instructor for the Colorado Outward Bound School, then worked as a guide in Durango, Colorado. Eventually, he moved to the Pacific Northwest after finishing an Adventure Education degree, where he worked as an alpine and mountaineering guide for the American Alpine Institute. Farkas’ guiding brought him all over the country, from Joshua Tree and the Sierra Nevada to the Cascades and Alaska.

“After needing ankle surgery and a more stable place to live, I became more involved with gym climbing and began working at The Front,” Farkas said. “The existing ‘Plastic to Classic’ class seemed like the perfect opportunity to expand The Front’s offerings, serve the Wasatch and utilize my experience.”

While Farkas will instruct the indoor portion of OAS, John Mletschnig and The Backcountry Pros will instruct the outdoor part of the classes. Farkas chose to work with Mletschnig because his guiding approach embraces AMGA standards, which aligns with The Front’s, and his company is flexible and provides the best experience possible for clients. 

“It seemed natural for us to work in conjunction with The Front because I believe our ethos as a local business is similar, and our end goals for education are similar, too,” Mletschnig said. “At Backcountry Pros, we strive to offer guiding and educational products which allow our clients to develop real-world, practical skills which act as a base for decision making.”

Students can take just one class, several, or the entire series. No prior outdoor climbing experience is necessary. Though, students must have passed The Front’s top-rope belay test to enroll in “Outdoor Anchor Building” and “Top-Roping.” All other OAS courses require that students have passed The Front’s lead climb and lead belay tests. Anyone that has the required prerequisites is welcome to join.

Each class starts with an introduction and getting to know the students, their background and climbing goals and an understanding of what they’re hoping to take away from the course.

“It’s important to meet the students where they are and help them do one thing very well before moving on to the next,” Farkas said. “For example, we would make sure everyone is confident with belaying before moving on to something like climbing techniques. We want to build a solid pyramid.”

In addition to technical and systems skills, each class has an emphasis in the difference between indoor and outdoor climbing. Climbing outside is much different than in a gym: No one is there to make sure your gear or the wall is properly maintained. Rather, the technical set up, decision-making and risk assessment is completely up to the individual.

“The first thing we do is remind students that they need to accept responsibility for themselves when climbing outside,” Farkas said. “We want to help them make better-informed decisions about technical systems and Leave No Trace for climbing.”

Crag etiquette is also emphasized. In a gym there is often loud music and often a lot of activities taking place in addition to climbing. But outside, distractions could lead to mistakes and improper practices. In OAS, crag etiquette like pet control, music, staying on established trails, gear consciousness and Leave No Trace is also stressed.

At the end of the day, outdoor climbing is about having fun in nature while responsibly creating memories that will last a lifetime, and OAS is helping to facilitate this.

“If you aren’t having fun as you gain experience climbing and spending time in the mountains, it is going to be pretty hard to be humble and learn from mistakes. We set out to recreate because it’s fun and whether you are just starting out, or are a seasoned pro, I feel you will have a lot greater success as a climber or educator by communicating with humility and on level terms,” Mletschnig said. “Being passionate is key to convey any message and to show how something personally shaped your existence and how amazing that process was.”

Sign up for a clinic HERE!