Even though multiple vultures were circling below me as I began to rappel off the anchor I had helped place, climbing at the East Bluff in Devil’s Lake State Park was the most fun I’ve had since starting out in the sport of rock climbing. Note: I am a beginner and the most difficult routes I can finish in the gym are 5.8+, so this is not by any means extreme (!!!). This is a trip recommendation meant for those looking to try climbing outdoors, learn technique for climbing on real rock, become familiar with how to set up safe anchors for top-roping, and have a good time. It was such a good time!
The Place: Baraboo, Wisconsin – Devil’s Lake State Park. The setting can’t be beat, 500 foot quartzite bluffs overlook the blue lake waters and thick forest. Map of Devil’s Lake State Park.
The Guide: Adventures in Climbing. Matt was our guide and instructor for the six hour day (8a – 2p). He is informative, knowledgeable about the area, helpful with any questions/concerns, and knows jokes from Seinfeld. Adventures in Climbing provides you with all the required technical gear (sticky rubber shoes, helmet, harness, belay device, chalk, and of course the rope). Bring your own water and food and a bag to put it all in. You will want a snack at some point, especially if you only ate granola for breakfast.
The Hike In: Boulders boulders everywhere. The path leading to the climbs burned away that granola I mentioned. There is a clear trail moving through the boulders, but if you aren’t accustomed to walking up several flights of uneven stairs with a pack, it does take away some energy and get your heart pumping. Great views of the surrounding trees and Lake Wisconsin in the distance once you near the top.
Tying Knots: First thing we did to prepare was to learn the basic knots. This was actually a lot more fun and interesting than it may seem. I’ve been practicing the following since I got home from the trip: Figure Eight Follow Through, Single Figure Eight, Double Figure Eight on a Bight, Clove Hitch (not a knot, but very useful). Looking forward to others, like the Bowline, after mastering the basics. Below is the anchor I made on my living room radiator using two figure eights, a clove hitch, and a double figure eight on a bight.
Anchors and S.E.R.E.N.E: Time to use those knots to make an anchor. This is tricky to explain in writing and each setup will differ based on the natural surroundings. Using natural protection and setting up the rope to be in the best place for the route you want to climb takes practice and some maneuvering. The acronym S.E.R.E.N.E is an easy way to remember the components that make for a solid anchor. Before climbing, ask, “Is my anchor serene?” Is it Safe, Equalized, Redundant, Efficient, No Extension? Take the course and learn hands-on. I felt good knowing how everything was set up, seeing the stoppers secured under two immovable boulders and a third leg attached around a strong healthy pine tree. The course was the perfect introduction to anchors and placing protection, necessary for anyone interested in pursuing outdoor rock climbing.
Climb It! Started out with a warm-up on a 5.5 route to get a feel for the rock, which was a bit slippery. Nothing challenging here, but great for beginners, like me, to get comfortable. This climb put me at ease and helped build some confidence for tackling something at a higher grade. Moved along to Peter’s Project, a route rated 5.7 where we had worked earlier in the day during our Anchors course. Rappelled down, taking it pretty slowly at first, but it was good to get moving and off the ledge where I had been waiting. Once on the ground, it was time to go back up, but this time by climbing the rock face. Received tips regarding hand holds (particularly one block that moved, but Matt guaranteed it was secure and wasn’t going to pop out). Used a fair amount of chalk on repetitive attempts at the crux, which was only a couple moves in. Somehow pulled it off right when I was about to give up, and succeeded in following the route to the top. A perfect view to end the day – the tops of green trees, a bright blue sky, and no vultures.