My First Outdoor Climb

I recently decided to attend the 2016 Climbing Wall Association's (CWA) national conference in Loveland, Colorado to join a 'Boomers and Beyond' workshop. Before leaving Des Moines, I called the Colorado Mountain School and hired a guide for my first climbing experience outdoors after nearly seven years of indoor climbing.

Mike Lewis (see was the guide assigned to me. He called about a week before the trip to discuss my level of experience, and to ask what type of climbing I wanted to do - single pitch, multi-pitch, trad, sport, top-rope, etc.

Mike is a senior guide at the Colorado Mountain School, and a consummate professional. If you ever decide to climb outdoors, I highly recommend traveling to the Estes Park/Boulder Colorado area and hiring Mike for your first experience.

During our phone discussion, Mike decided to take me to Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder. Even though I had no outdoor climbing experience I hoped I could try a traditional multi-pitch climb. In 'Trad' climbing, the lead climber places protection as he or she climbs and then belays the follower from above after creating an 'EARNEST' anchor system, preferably on a ledge. 

After reaching the first stopping point of the lead climber, the follower (me) immediately connects to the secure anchor system, returns all of the retrieved gear to the leader, then belays from below as the lead climber begins the second leg of the climb, and so on. Thus, a 'multi-pitch' climb.

Mike explained before we began that I would be belaying him from below and feeding out rope as he climbed. I would also be responsible for retrieving all the protection he had placed in cracks, around boulders or through holes in the cliff as I climbed to join him ("Please don't drop my gear Tom!"). 

We started with a fairly easy climb (two pitches), presumably so Mike could analyze what level of climbing I could handle. We climbed increasingly difficult routes all day, as I had asked to be challenged as much as possible. 

We climbed several routes and a total of eight pitches that day. It was epic - memorable just doesn't cover it. Even though I'm not fond of heights, I was able to control my fears and trust my climbing partner and myself. Believe me, Mike Lewis is easy to trust - check his level of experience at

So, what's different about outdoor climbing vs. indoors? For one thing, you climb MUCH higher. Birds glide smoothly by, seeming to look you over carefully trying to understand what kind of creature is invading their space. 

For me, though, the main difference was the need to trust your feet on nearly invisible footholds, and the unlimited choices facing you as you constantly decide on the best leverage and body positions and scan for the best possible footholds and handholds as you climb. 

Climbing Eldorado Canyon put me immediately 'in the flow'; completely immersed in the process of pushing, pulling, stemming, smearing, matching, mantling, stretching, twisting, etc. Continuously searching for the best possible way to position yourself on every move led to the highest level of concentration and exhilaration I had ever experienced while climbing.

Looking back, it's remarkable that I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life at nearly 70 years old. It was a phenomenal day, one I will never forget. Thanks Mike!