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Strategies for finding climbs from the top


Original Post
David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122

I've been doing a lot of TR solo for a while now, and I've found that the most annoying part is finding the top of the climbs. Too often I think I'm at the top of a climb I scouted from the bottom, only to discover as I'm rapping down that I'm on some 5.not-happening or chossy nonsense. Guidebooks usually only have pictures from the bottom and you can't see most of the climb from the top, so it can be fairly difficult.

Here's some strategies I use:

  1. When scouting out a climb from the bottom, I'll stand at the base, then turn around (facing away from the cliff) and take a picture with my phone of what I see. If I see the same thing from the top, I'm in the right place. However, this doesn't work out if the climb is overhanging, or very tall.
  2. From the bottom, I'll also take a picture of the top of the climb. However this often doesn't help much: sometimes what looks like the top of the climb from the ground isn't the top of the climb, and even when it is, the same features can look very different from the opposite side.
  3. If I'm top roping (not TR soloing) I can have one partner stand at the bottom of the climb and I'll start to lower the rope where I think the climb is, then we'll yell back and forth to confirm that I'm in the right place or need to adjust. This is the most reliable way I've found, but obviously doesn't help for TR solo.
  4. The Gunks App has a GPS feature which works well at the top of cliffs, but obviously that only works when I'm in areas where Gunks App has a guide.

Any other strategies?

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2

Take a GPS location at the base.  Use that GPS location to find the top of the same climb?  Helps to know cliff-facing.

I assume you do the obvious with trees (and other features) as landmarks -- though they look different from bottom & top, too.

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

After you locate the climb.  Spray paint the name of the climb on the top,  so other climbers can find it too.  Orange spray paint seems like a good idea.  

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

If you're by yourself, leave your pack or make a cairn at the base of the climb (back from the base far enough that you can see it from the top). Like you said, if you have a partner at the bottom, it is easier.

trailridge · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 20

If it is a shorter climb.  You could throw a roll of toilet paper from the bottom to the top.  It should unravel and make it easier to locate.   

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122

The backpack idea is great. Can't believe I didn't think of it before.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122
David Gibbs wrote:

Take a GPS location at the base.  Use that GPS location to find the top of the same climb?  Helps to know cliff-facing.

I assume you do the obvious with trees (and other features) as landmarks -- though they look different from bottom & top, too.

I suppose there's probably an app that does that, isn't there.

Old lady H · · Boise, ID · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 581

A variation on the backpack: entendable stick clip, propped in the rocks out from the base. 

We've not done that for routes, but I did do so, with a hoody hanging on it, to let others who were joining us know which trail to head up.

Best, OLH

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

one thing that really helps with the 'leaving your pack or a cairn below" strategy is to use two items that are basically make a line towards your project.  if you only use one item it usually looks like the right spot from all over the cliff top (particularly if you are climbing in any sort of ampitheatre).

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 334

Some good suggestions above. I'd add: once you've found the top, pay it forward. Take a pic at the top (perhaps even of your anchor in place), and post it as a beta pic on MP.

Devil's Lake has easy access to the top of the cliffs, and a proud history of toproping, but the guidebooks tend to only label the routes from the base. Thankfully, there are many beta pics of people's anchors, indicating what the route looks like from above. I've never gone solo, so I've used the "partner at the base" method extensively, but anchor pics on MP have helped tremendously as well.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122
Andrew Krajnik wrote:

Some good suggestions above. I'd add: once you've found the top, pay it forward. Take a pic at the top (perhaps even of your anchor in place), and post it as a beta pic on MP.

Devil's Lake has easy access to the top of the cliffs, and a proud history of toproping, but the guidebooks tend to only label the routes from the base. Thankfully, there are many beta pics of people's anchors, indicating what the route looks like from above. I've never gone solo, so I've used the "partner at the base" method extensively, but anchor pics on MP have helped tremendously as well.

Good idea, I'll definitely do that (although I'm mostly TR soloing in undocumented crags until Peterskill opens up in April).

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122
slim wrote:

one thing that really helps with the 'leaving your pack or a cairn below" strategy is to use two items that are basically make a line towards your project.  if you only use one item it usually looks like the right spot from all over the cliff top (particularly if you are climbing in any sort of ampitheatre).

Nice! That makes sense.

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2
David Kerkeslager wrote:

I suppose there's probably an app that does that, isn't there.

Could be, I wouldn't know.  I am really not much of an app person.  I may have installed three (two e-readers to choose the better one, and rackup) on my phone in the couple of years I've had the phone.

Ryan Swanson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 50

I've rapped down the wrong climb more times than I care to admit.You get good at ascending though.  Sometimes I leave my pack at the top, so I rely on trees that are in the guidebook at the top of the cliff.  

Bryce Adamson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 748

Leave your backpack at the base, or hang your jacket from a tree, or something. Once you get to the top, build a solid anchor point where you think you will want it, then rap up to the edge to double check, but don't go too far down that it is difficult to get back up.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 122
Ryan Swanson wrote:

I've rapped down the wrong climb more times than I care to admit.You get good at ascending though. 

Yeah, let's just say I don't feel like I need to practice ascending in the gym like I did before I started TR soloing.

Nathan Hui · · San Diego, CA · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0
David Kerkeslager wrote:

I suppose there's probably an app that does that, isn't there.

I do a good amount of GPS and land nav work with my phone.  I'm a fan of GPS Status for Android - I can use it to set points of interests and targets, and it will give me range and bearing to the target with visual indicators.

It's also available for Iphone.

Edit: Agree with what slim said - use existing features.  If you have time, take a land nav course - you might learn a couple techniques that might be useful, like baselines and whatnot.  If you have a compass, you should be able to take any feature in the distance and use the bearing to that as a good reference.  I can't give you specific tips on what techniques to use, as it kinda depends on what is around you, and how you like to think about problems like this.

rgold · · Poughkeepsie, NY · Joined Feb 2008 · Points: 525

You only need one bearing to a distant object from the base, as where that bearing line goes through the top...is the top of the climb.  Just walk along the top until the distant object is at the same bearing as it was at the base and you're there. Any ol' compass will do, as will the compass utility on your phone.  This won't work if the base is heavily wooded and you can't get a bearing on anything, but otherwise its good.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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