// THREE LESSONS JUSTEN SJONG LEARNED THE HARD WAY

LESSON NUMBER ONE: BRITISH CLIMBING BOOKS

When I first started climbing, I figured, “If I want to learn, I should buy a British instructional book because it was the British expedition that summited Everest 1st, right?

Well, this book highlighted many unusual things compared to normal selections from the standard books in the United States.

At the time, I was a student and didn’t have much cash. This classic book highly recommended a swami belt, and the concept was simple: take a long piece of flat, wide webbing, and wrap it around your waist a few times; then finish with a knot.

(Webbing for $3.00 versus $60.00 for a new harness at REI seemed like a great idea.) In the book, the leg loops were talked about as a comfort feature that wasn’t needed.

Later, I learned leg loops are a GOOD thing, and a swami belt naturally pinches the waist so much that it becomes a challenge to breathe.[/vc_column_text]

LESSON NUMBER 2: RAPPELLING

The concept of pushing a bight of rope through the ATC slot—then clipping those strands of rope—went over my head. I wanted to be extra safe, so I would untie from the rope and thread the end through each of the two slots on the ATC so that I could have that little piece of aluminum in addition to the locking carabiner.

When you thread the rope through in this manner, you need to laboriously pull all 200 feet before reaching the knot near the anchor.

It turns out, my extra precautions were slightly unnecessary.

LESSON NUMBER THREE: THE YOSEMITE DECIMAL SYSTEM

I was so excited to have climbed my first few 5.6 climbs. To me, that grade seemed high because 5.9 was the end of the scale, (if you think in terms of the decimal system). In light of my newfound talent, I sought out an Intro to Trad Class.

 To train for this class, I wanted to get on a few more climbs. In a guidebook, I found a 5.11, which I read as five-one-one since I did not understand the Yosemite Decimal System. To me, this was just a little harder than 5.1, which was within my ability.

I arrived at the base of the five-one-one I chose, and it was a crack with steep fingers! I wasn’t savvy enough to set up a top rope with the belayer on the ground, so I strapped my brother to the top of the cliff with his swami belt.

 I fought hard and hung many times on the rope before reaching the summit, but when I did, my hands were bleeding my brother was crying from being pinched from my lame rope-rigging-skills. This prompted me to ask around about ‘Pressure Drop,’ a 5.11 crack which seemed much harder than the 5.6’s that I had led.

JUSTEN MOVED PAST FIVE-ONE-ONE EVENTUALLY

Justen has learned a lot…so much so, that he teaches now. Signup with Sunrise with Sensei this October to work on finger strength and power. Book here.

All photos courtesy of Ben Nachtrieb

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