Highway 120 climbs up from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, shedding temperatures and crowds with each mile, the granite shrinking and taking on gentler angles and faces. A chill wind trails us as we drive the two-lane road through enchanted sub-alpine terrain. Eventually bidding farewell, the wind pushes us east and downward, toward the dry eastside and eventually the sandstone of Nevada and Utah. Our van is filled with ropes, cams, guidebooks, and layers, and the tangible feeling of excitement that accompanies each October. For climbers, this is not just another month: it’s ROCKtober.
The days are growing shorter, the breeze crisper, and the temperatures nearing perfection. Crowds have gone back to school and work, and climbers have filtered down from their summer hibernation in the high country. Wherever a rock monkey can dream of going — the granite big walls of Yosemite Valley, sandstone splitters of Southwest Utah or the gorges of the Southeast, Index, North Conway or the Black Hills of South Dakota — conditions are prime. If you’re a climber, this is your month. So, how do you get the most out of the 31 days of Rocktober?
- Make a Plan
Regardless of whether you’re staying close to home or road tripping for the entire month, make a plan to ensure you spend less time hiking and driving and more time on the rock. If you’re traveling, plot out the areas you want to climb; if you’re staying at your local crag, make a list of routes you want to get on. Then connect the dots and tie in! For some added fun and motivation, consider a friendly month-long competition with climbing partners, collecting points for routes completed on lead, with points increasing for difficulty and trad vs. sport.
- Break Your Plan
As the saying goes, plans are made to be broken, or something like that. Don’t hesitate to follow whimsy — if the weather is better elsewhere, friends need a third member for their three-day wall climb in Yosemite, or you’ve lost inspiration for your 12b sport project and want to onsight climb instead — this is your month to pursue your goals to the hilt. Additionally, the sport of climbing contains so many different disciplines to challenge and delight — perhaps use this fall to break your usual routine and explore bouldering areas, go on a sport climbing trip, or hone your multi-pitch skills.
- Sleep & Eat Well
Your basic needs are not to be neglected, especially while trying to maximize your Rocktober. A good sleep set-up is key; if you’re on the road, consider setting your car up for comfort. Therm-a-Rest makes a whole basecamping mattress and sleeping bag line to help with this, including the mega-comfortable MondoKing 3D and DreamTime mattresses. As for eating: treating yourself well doesn’t mean spending more money or hours planning. Load up on an assortment of veggies to accompany rice and beans and add variety with different sauces: taco seasoning, red curry paste and coconut milk, or a tahini dressing for a salad bowl. Vegetables such as cabbage, onion, potatoes and sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots will last for the whole month without going bad.
- Go With the Weather
Climbers are all about sending temps, and if there’s any month when they’re easy to find, it’s October. However, play it smart—don’t get lazy thinking that wherever you go in October will be good. If it’s still warm in Indian Creek, head north to Colorado. If it’s raining in Squamish, journey down to Trout Creek or Smith Rock for some sun. Climb smarter, not harder, and seek out the right mix of sun/shade so that you can climb your best.
- Meet New Friends. See Old Ones Too.
One of the best parts of climbing is being part of a tribe of monkeys that live across the US and the world. If you’re just now dipping your toes into the world of climbing, rest assured: there are endless partners and future friends waiting for you. Visiting a climbing area alone might be initially intimidating, but pass a bottle of whiskey around a campfire or provide a supportive belay for another’s project, and you’ll be sure to meet stellar individuals and partners. Rocktober is also a great time to reconnect with old friends; rally a crew together for a weekend or the month and catch up at the crag!