How to Plan a First Ascent in a Foreign Country

Mar 2, 2011
Outside Magazine

On February 24, professional climber Caroline George notched a first ascent on “Uprising” in Jordan, a 700-foot, 5-pitch route, the hardest of which was rated 5.11b. George is one of only seven women in the U.S. to be IFMGA credentialed for ski, rock and alpine guiding. Outside caught up with her to find out how she prepares for a first ascent in a foreign country like Jordan.
--Michael Webster


Doing a first ascent anywhere is never a given, much less in a remote country that has been explored thoroughly and where you won't be staying very long. To have the odds in your favor, you need to plan ahead and prepare.

Get in touch with locals or people in the know
I contacted a few people who live here or climb in Jordan a lot. Truth be told, it didn't help much, but it planted the seed, and when we arrived, we asked our local contact if he know of any line that had not been climbed yet. He told us that in a few days he would show us a line and we could decide if we wanted to climb it. For the next few days, we got used to the rock, which is key because the quality of the rock isn't great here. When we felt ready, he drove to the line.

Scoping a line
We scoped the line first from the car, with binoculars to get a feel for it. The rock looked decent, but there were some unknowns. So, we hiked to the base and made the call to climb a little ways up to see if it might go. We felt pretty good about it, rapped down and came back with the appropriate gear (hand drill, bolts and lots of wide cams).

Climbing fitness
It helps to be in good climbing shape, so that you feel confident that you can overcome any harder section on the route.

Climbing techniques
It's important to be as quick and efficient on the route, and to do that, you need to be up to date on climbing techniques: aid, rope management, anchor building, assessing rock quality as you go.

Mental aspect
I would say that this is the most important aspect to doing a first ascent. Being motivated by that goal (considering that there are many other routes that have already been put up around, so why do a first ascent when you could just go climb those?) and being willing to push on despite the unknown, the bad looking rock, and believing that you are going to make it to the top.

To me, doing a first ascent anywhere is as exciting as it gets. So many parts to the equation are complete unknowns, and you need to solve the problems as they come to you. Before getting on the climb, everything seems possible. You're standing at the base of the route, all proud and sure that you can do it. But the mental aspect comes into play when you're on the route, and doubts start creeping up on you: "Is it going to go? Is it worth it?" You wonder where the best place to set up an anchor is, you wonder if you're partner is going to be happy with that route options you've chosen, etc. As you're climbing, you wonder if you can make yourself any lighter so that the block that you're the first person to have ever pulled on doesn't go flying down the climb, with you in tow, hitting your partner below and cutting your rope in the process. Of course, you can't think that too much or else you just don't go, but these are things you have to wonder at times. But it's all these unknowns that make first ascents so appealing and exciting.

Tips for first ascents:

- Scope the route thoroughly with binoculars

- Check in with locals to make sure the route hasn't been climbed. This is more of an issue with ice climbs, since often times, the gear that was left in place during a first ascent won't be around the following year.

- Bring at least a double rack with you: cracks are often wider than they look.

- Make sure you know how to differentiate good rock from bad rock and climb accordingly.

- Build anchors in a sheltered spot when and if possible.

- A hand drill and some bolts are always useful.

- Bring leaver nuts and biners for rappels.

IMG_4222-150x150 IMG_4220-150x150 CarolineGeorge_JordanFirstAscent_4

Read more about Caroline’s first ascent of Uprising at the First Ascent blog

Photos by Eddie Bauer First Ascent/Jim Surette

Filed To: Adventure, Climbing

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