Reaching for the summits

Editor’s Note: Seth Hogan grew up in Brocton, and graduated from Brocton High School in 2005 with an Advanced Regents Diploma. His mother and father, Tanya Hogan and Stuart Bauer, grew up in the Chautauqua County area and some members of family still live in the area. People in the area may know his aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. Bob Wise of Wise Guy Quality Painting.

Hogan joined the Brocton Ski Club his first year of middle school and continued through the end of high school. After graduating from BCS, he attended SUNY Plattsburgh and began his degree in expeditionary studies with a concentration in rock climbing and a secondary in back country skiing. He has spent the past four spring and fall seasons traveling to climbing destinations such as Yosemite, Moab and the New River Gorge.

In this first of two parts, Hogan explains about the journey leading to his most important climbing trip.

During my academic stay at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, I have gone from a student in the midst of figuring out what I am supposed to do with my life to an adult with the knowledge, skills and aspirations to pursue what had eventually become my passion in life: the outdoors. I would like to share with you a part of what I have accomplished as a student of the outdoor rock climbing industry.

It all began by taking my first class in rock climbing. I remember being amazed that climbing a rock could be a sport; I instantly fell in love. Continuing to take climbing courses and making it a big part of my life is one of the most life changing decisions I’ve made.

In my introductory classes, the other students and I had the work done for us and simply got to climb. Ideally, we would figure out body mechanics, look at the systems set up once we reached the top, and ask questions about the rope systems. In a more advanced setting we would then learn how to set up climbing areas safely to allow new students to climb as we had before them in a beginner type setting. This entails using natural features such as large trees to set up a redundant anchor system. Equalization and redundancy are the two largest factors in a system so that each anchor piece is sharing the weight and, if one piece were to fail due to a fall, the others would be able to catch the falling climber effectively. The next step in my progression was to learn to effectively lead classes and teach what I have learned throughout my progression. Included in this was to lead the previous classes that I had taken in a supervised environment, giving presentations on how to be safe in these environments. For example, using a tree to show which knots were appropriate in setting up the anchor as well as the industry standard for connecting our climbing rope to the anchor.

Another central aspect of climbing is lead climbing which is the act of climbing above the last piece of protection, often times the most dangerous part climbing. While climbing, the climber takes certain gear with him or her to be able to do the climb as safely as possible. The gear can range from small stoppers that are placed into constricting cracks to placing large gear known as “Camalots” that expands and contracts so that if the climber falls the gear converts downward pressure into outward pressure keeping the climber from hitting the ground. Each of these is placed at the climbers’ discretion and can be viewed as a checkpoint, if the climber were to fall 5 feet above the last piece placed, the climber would fall 10 feet, be caught and be able to try again.

As I became more comfortable with the climbing aspect it drove me to get out to less ventured places and begin alpine climbing. Alpine climbing is similar to other types of climbing although it involves more work and the risk is higher, as climbing partners are often climbing alone in a remote area. I have done extensive climbing in Yosemite, Eldorado Canyon, Lake Tahoe, Moab and many other places. Most recently, my partner Andrea Wilson and I planned and executed my senior expedition into the Grand Teton National Park. Choosing a partner is a very important aspect of climbing because you rely on each other essentially to save each other’s lives. This process should begin with climbing together in beginner areas getting comfortable with a system each partner knows very clearly. Making sure each climber knows when one is climbing, the other is safely allowing the other to climb by giving out more rope when they are climbing higher, or pulling it tight if the climber needs to rest.

The planning process involved using guidebooks put together by groups of people that had previously climbed in the area. These gave brief descriptions and pictures showing the path of least resistance. Researching the weather was also important, as I later learned. I also called the park to get emergency numbers and advice from rangers about approach paths to our climbs and potential emergency retreats.

Next week: Climbing in the Grand Tetons.

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