After spending the last two Saturdays at Spire Rock, I was excited to climb on real rock that was not molded into cement. The completion of Mt. Erie meant having completed one month of Washington Alpine Club’s Basic Climbing course. I can’t believe how fast it is going. However, I still sometimes feel overwhelmed with not having any free time or being able to sleep past 6:30 am. I get to sleep in during the workweek!


The week leading up to Mt. Erie I learned how to examine an anchor. With fake, bolted boards to simulate sport anchors, which appear at the top of most sport climbing routes, the students were taught three different mechanisms of using slings and rope to make anchors.

Students broke into groups of 3 to 4 and were paired with instructors to practice setting up anchors and evaluating them for safety. The evaluation was the main reason for introduction to anchors since creating them is covered in the intermediate course. To evaluate anchors, we were taught the SERENE(D) acronym.

S – Solid (or strong). Are all the pieces of the anchor strong and solid?
E – Easy. Is the anchor easy and simple. Making complex anchors take time and speed is safety.
R – Redundant. Is there more than one piece to the anchor? Redundancy will save you if one piece/section fails.
E – Equalized. Are all the pieces holding the equal force?
N – No
E – Extension – (No Extension). If your anchor fails or pieces of it, how far will you fall? Another reason why redundancy and equalization is important.
D – Direction – WAC adds this from the usual acronym since all climbers should be aware of the directional force of the rope and gear. Make sure to limit the wear of the rope and rock.

Mt. Erie

Mount Erie is located near Anacortes, Washington, where most of the ferries depart to the San Juan Islands. With the elevation of Mount Erie, I had views of Puget Sound and glimpses of the Olympic Mountain Range in the distance, along with the archipelago San Juan islands. Bald eagles watched our shenanigans while flying around and perching on surrounding trees.

Mt Erie

Puget Sound

I couldn’t believe that the rain was holding off. With little hopes of staying dry all day and having to climb on wet rock yet again, I was ready and prepared mentally for the elements. Top ropes and rappels were set up prior to the students’ arrival. I can’t remember the exact number of climbing routes set up (maybe six to eight); there were other things to focus on.

Mt Erie

Mt. Erie climbing.

After some fun trying to find the bottom of the rock wall, I was ready to hop on a route and start climbing before the rain started. My main focus today was climbing, belaying, and rappelling with one other station–anchors. I was finally getting the hang of belaying and rappelling off a Munter hitch in lieu of a belay device. I practiced different brake hands for both rappelling and belaying with and without a belay device.


Jodi throwing rope after completing a climb. – Photo by Jason Zabriskie

I completed three climbs throughout the day, including one climb with my 34 liter pack. I did find myself finding unique holds to get past crux sections of routes and the additional weight of a pack. Did I mention I was climbing in bulky mountaineering boots? Smearing was rarely an option.


Rappelling with a pack (my favorite part of the day) – Photo by Jill Reid

Towards the end of the day, my group was scheduled for anchors. After the anchors introduction of gear to place into cracks and around stationary objects, we were given a chance to place gear ourselves. Having exposure to trad climbing helped me understand the nuts, hexes, and cams. As a group, we were then instructed to build a 12 point anchor system that could haul a boat to the top of Mt. Erie. Using available gear and keeping the SERENED acronym in mind, we all set up different points. Since there was a time limit, we all worked together to make sure our anchor would pass the SERENED test.


Anchors – Photo by Lourdez Rejon

After the long day of climbing, all the students assembled to get a quick instruction of lead climbing. Since Mt. Erie does not have any sport routes, the instructors clipped into knots on a rope. It was a great way to end the day.

Mt Erie

Lead climbing instruction.

I really have begun to enjoy the outings and practice the techniques learned throughout the lessons and in other outings. The individual attention received from the high student to instructor ratio is beneficial in retaining the information.

*A big thanks to my classmates that supplied the photos.

Mountaineering School Series:

Would you ever try to rock climb?

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