Rock Climbing in Utah | Guided Rock Climbing by Jans

Rock Climbing in Utah | Guided Rock Climbing by Jans

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Part of my job as editor for is to figure out what kinds of information will be helpful to our prospective customers. This summer, I thought it would be a good idea for each of our writers, including myself, to tag along on a Jans guided tour. That way we could provide our readers with some insight about what to expect and see who would benefit the most from our guided fly fishing, climbing, hiking, and biking tours.

I decided to review our Full-Day Guided Uinta Climbing Tour since my previous experience has been limited to a handful of indoor climbing walls that could only be characterized as tame. Although I successfully made it to the top of said walls, I was definitely a novice when it came to rock climbing outside – and more than a little timid. However, under the expert tutelage of Shaun Raskin, who has been a climbing guide with White Pine Touring for nine years, and the gentle prodding of Photo Editor Ross Downard, I got a true flavor of rock climbing in Utah’s pristine Uinta National Forest. And let me just say that the views from the top were amazing.

Where Do We Climb?

As the name indicates, the Jans Full-Day Guided Uinta Climbing Tour takes up the better part of your day, and it’s worth every moment. We met at White Pine Touring on Bonanza Drive at 8:30 a.m. to get fitted for our LaSportiva rock climbing shoes. Then grabbed harnesses and helmets before climbing into the White Pine van for the 35-minute drive into the Uintas.

About halfway into our journey, we stopped at the Samak Smoke House on Mirror Lake Highway to pick up sandwiches and snacks for our day on the rock. Something of a legend among Park City, Kamas, and Heber locals, this country store boasts tasty smoked beef jerky, a notorious pulled pork sandwich, and addictive Samak Stickies – homemade granola bars that are the perfect fuel for an active outdoor adventure. After making a last restroom stop, we tucked our lunches into our packs and resumed the drive into the lush evergreen forest that awaited us.

For our guided rock climbing trip, we parked at the Crystal Lake trailhead and started a 20-minute, moderate hike to Cliff Lake, our climbing destination for the day. This high alpine lake is situated at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet and is filled with breathtakingly clear, and equally cold, run-off from the nearby mountains.

Climbers stand in green clearing at base of rock face

What Type of Rock Climbing?

The beauty of having a guide on a rock climbing tour is that beginners need only focus on the climb itself. Instead of trad (traditional) climbing where a lead climber goes ahead to place gear along the climbing route, Jans’ rock climbing tours focus instead on sport climbing with a fixed top rope on a single pitch.

What this means is that our faithful climbing guide, Shaun, hiked around to the top of the rock face and set the top rope from fixed anchors. From there she rappelled down and gave us a brief, but important, rock climbing tutorial.

We learned basic climbing commands such as “on belay,” “climbing,” and “take” and about how climbing is based on a system of checks and balances. We also learned that the crux of a climb is the most difficult part and that smaller movements enable you to climb more efficiently.

With her classic wit and clever use of analogies, Shaun cautioned us not to reach for the metal bolted hangers as handholds, declaring them “guillotines for your hands,” and reminded us that using them as footholds is nothing less than cheating.

She then explained her “rule of three” – it’s important to remain balanced, like a tripod, and to always have at least one limb available to progress further up the wall. With a final reminder to climb with my legs instead of my arms, Shaun checked my harness and I began my first climb.

Climber reaches for another hold

Is Rock Climbing Scary?

Let me preface this section by admitting that I am inherently afraid of heights. Needless to say, climbing on a rock face is nothing like climbing in a gym. I found myself dismayed that there weren’t clearly marked foot- and handholds that I could pick and choose from at my leisure. But once I started really studying the route above me, I began to notice the slightest inkling of a nub where I could nudge my toes or a piece of rock that I could grab onto with my hand. Shaun also suggested I feel around above or next to me for possible hand or footholds. It reminded me a bit like using Braille to find buttons on an elevator and was rather disconcerting. Let’s be honest, I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

“The key to not being scared can be summed up in one word – trust. Trust the equipment, trust your guide, and trust yourself.”

Whether or not rock climbing is scary depends upon your attitude and mindset. As Shaun put it, “turning our horizontal world vertical can be a little unnerving.” To some people it brings up an element of fear, to others a challenge, and to the true rock climber at heart it delivers a surge of adrenaline.

The key to not being scared can be summed up in one word – trust. Trust the equipment, trust your guide, and trust yourself. I had no problem trusting Shaun–who is one of those people you instantly like–but I had a much harder time trusting the equipment and my own strength, particularly in my legs. Instead I reflexively gravitated toward climbing with my arms. And yes, I know this defies a cardinal rule of rock climbing, as discussed in a blog on climbing techniques written by Shaun’s husband and fellow climbing guide, Weston Deutschlander.

When my harness caught me after my first misstep, along with Shaun’s expert belaying skills, I’d taken my first “fall,” and began to relax and trust the equipment. After I reached the top of my first route and experienced the sensation of being lowered, I was literally hooked on the fact that my equipment would not only protect me, but it gave me the chance to feel like a real live Spiderwoman. It was a blast!

How Hard Are the Climbs?

The important thing to remember, regardless of a climbing route’s rating, is that you only have to go as far as you feel comfortable. Case in point: after climbing both a 5.7 and a 5.8 route, someone in our group got about 10 feet into a 5.10 climb and decided she wanted to stop. No problem at all – and a wise choice considering it was her first time out on the rock and she was pretty fatigued.

Climb ratings are based on the availability and sizes of handholds and footholds, type of rock, and steepness of the pitch. In our case, we climbed a 5.7 route, the easiest of the day, followed by a 5.8 route, which had fewer hand- and footholds, and then the final pitch was a hefty 5.10 with an outcropping at the top. All of the climbs ranged from 60-90 feet in length, and not one of them was “required” to be completed. Shaun only suggested that we go as far as we felt comfortable and then make one more move before being lowered.

Is Rock Climbing Kid-Friendly?

Given the fact that Jans’ guided climbing tours are customized to the ability levels of each group and are ideal for those who have never climbed before, climbing is a pretty kid-friendly activity. Families with young children are taken to a different climbing location than Cliff Lake, one with climbs more tailored to kids instead of teenagers and adults. And since experienced guides focus on safety first, enlisting the assistance of a professional climbing guide is essential to climbing – not only with youngsters, but kids of all ages. And for families with seasoned rock climbers, the beauty of using a guide from White Pine Touring is that every climbing tour is customized to the level and interests of the individuals participating. So if your college kids or young adults want to tackle tougher climbs, our guides will gladly create a tour to challenge your skill and hone your rock climbing technique.

A climber on a face with a lake in the background

What Should I Wear/Bring Rock Climbing?

As is often the case, the temperature at the lake was a full 10 degrees colder than when we left Park City and the ever-present wind that flows through the Uintas made it seem even cooler. My capri leggings, short sleeve shirt, and sweatshirt didn’t cut it. I actually ended up wearing Shaun’s puffy coat for part of the day while she belayed in another lightweight jacket that she had wisely brought along.

Because of the fluctuating weather in the Uintas, dressing in layers is as important to rock climbing as having the right gear. You’ll want to avoid loose clothing, as that can get caught or tangled in your harness or climbing ropes. The other thing to remember is to dress more warmly than you typically would, given the temperature. Even though you are working hard when you’re climbing, there is a fair amount of time spent watching and waiting for other climbers to complete their turn. That’s when a puffy jacket, flannel shirt, or cozy sweatshirt comes in handy.

Jans expert climber Kendall Fischer wrote a great blog called “How to Dress for Rock Climbing” that details everything you need to be comfortable, no matter what the weather brings your way.

When rock climbing in Utah, remember that even though the air is cool, you are at a higher elevation which means you’re closer to the sun and at higher risk not only for sunburn, but also dehydration. Be prepared for your climbing trip by bringing along a backpack filled with sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat for the hike in/out, extra layers, food, and plenty of water. It’s always better to bring along more food and water than you think you’ll need.

“Being above the tree line is something special that skiers, hikers, and bikers experience often. But getting there of your own accord on a vertical surface makes it all the more astounding.”

The Final Take

So what was the best part about rock climbing as part of a Jans guided trip? Other than the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the top of my 5.7 and 5.8 routes and channeling my inner “spidey” while lowering, I’d have to say the most noteworthy moment was at the top of each climb. A feeling of complete awe overcame me when I looked down at the view. Being above the tree line is something special that skiers, hikers, and bikers experience often. But getting there of your own accord on a vertical surface makes it all the more astounding.

Liz Yokubison, Senior Editor