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Safety fanatic to teach annual climbing school

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By Kelly LeVan

Kai Davis admits he began climbing in the early 1980s with friends “who seemed to be safe and others who were obviously not so safe.” Since then, however, safety has become his mantra.And now, those who want to learn to rock climb but have been too scared in the past should rejoice: The self-proclaimed safety fanatic will lead the Los Alamos Mountaineers annual climbing school this year.The course requires a commitment of six weekday evenings, five Saturday mornings and one full Saturday for the graduation climbs. But Davis, quoting one of his fellow Mountaineers, said that’s just the beginning.“The problem isn’t the five or six weeks the class takes,” he said. “It’s every spare minute for the rest of your life.”For many who love outdoor activities, try climbing and enjoy it, their lives change forever.After several years away from the climbing scene after a few bad experiences with unsafe climbers, “I took a class here just to learn how to do it right, and to learn how to use the safety gear for climbing up trees with a chainsaw in my yard,” Davis said. “But it turns out climbing is addictive.”He added, “You know you’re having fun when two hours go by and it seems like 30 minutes.”In addition to evening lectures on topics such as types of climbing, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, knots, anchors, communication, top-roping, rappelling and other safety-related topics, the course includes several actual climbs.Students will first try the climbing wall at the YMCA, and move onto climb rocks in White Rock Canyon and at Las Conchas in the Jemez Mountains, as well as other local locations.For the final, multi-pitch ascent, instructors will bring students to either the El Rito or Tres Piedras trad itional areas for a full-day climb.The graduation climb “is quite a thrill,” Davis said. “You get quite a ways off the ground, and half-way up you realize that you have to keep your wits about you.”Davis is one of about 20 expert instructors participants will work with in the Mountaineers’ climbing school, several of whom have experience in alpine, ice and even friction climbing, which Davis said means “there’s nothing to hold onto to.”Members have climbed everywhere from the Scottish Highlands to the Himalayas.While the Mountaineers form a rather robust group, you don’t need colossal upper body strength to learn to climb, Davis said.“A person needs to be fit enough to hike moderately rough terrain carrying a small pack,” he said. “It really is footwork. You use your hands mostly for balance ee You don’t have to be an athlete.”Davis said the class is appropriate for beginners and those with some experience who would like to learn more safety techniques. Those ages 16 and older are welcome, although minors must have a guardian present for the outdoor and YMCA climbs.“I used to say the class was for ages 16-60,” he said, “but we have a 65-year-old enrolled this year.”He stressed that participants will not take part in any “trad” or “sport” climbs, both of which involve a high risk for falling.“Students will never be in that situation,” Davis said. “They will always be suspended by a rope from above.”Lectures will take place 6:30-9 p.m. March 25, and April 1,8,15 and 23 (four Tuesdays and one Wednesday).The indoor climb is scheduled for 7-10 p.m. April 2, and the outdoor practice sessions will be from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. April 5, 12, 19 and 26. The graduation climb is May 3.The school costs $185 plus $15 membership fee for nonmembers; the fee includes all classroom and gear except for a climbing harness, belay device, belay carabiner and climbing shoes.Register by March 23; only 25 students may sign up. Visit www.lamountaineers.org and click on “School Room” for detailed information about the course.