an experienced and trusted adviser
advise or train

I caught the bug 5 years ago, and like nearly EVERY new climber I wanted to learn it all and learn it all quickly. I was the walking definition of a climbing gumby (in many ways I still am) and in serious need of someone to let me shadow them. Picture your average climber with 6 months of gym experience, having just taken a course on inside leading, and curiously overeager to try lead climbing on the local sandstone. Sounds like a horror scene from Bruise Brothers in peak season with lines 8 deep. Yep, an accident waiting to happen. Perhaps that is what prompted Margarita to take me under her wing for my first 3 days of Red River climbing? Better to educate a noob than to have them become a statistic and create bad press for the local community? At any rate…

I’ll never forget that very first trip:

Memorial Day weekend, late morning, and the destination was The Shire. People, LOTS of people, who were doing the exact same thing I was. Waiting in line to check out some classic beginner routes. During the next 3 hours, I listened intently as Margarita pointed out every nuance of climbing technique, belayer attention, and all of the predicable subtle mistakes that everyone makes when cutting teeth into the sport. It was indispensable information. My turn in queue eventually came and of course, I was a complete bumbler. While flaking the rope, Margarita discovered a knot it in. I was so nervous on my first outdoor lead that at first I forgot to clip a draw into the bolt and didn’t realize it until I had called “clipping” while pulling the rope up… all I could say was “oh.. oops”. I put a draw in and then proceeded to backclip the damn thing not one, but twice, all the while she was patient and understanding that there were things that just needed to be worked out. I felt all eyes on me, judgement being cast, and overall embarrassment. I was so nervous. Margarita didn’t skip a beat though. Some advice was given and encouragement was provided for the next route, and things started to go better in my head. Rinse and repeat for the classic Miranda Rayne.

I was hooked and Margarita seemed to approve.

She and her husband, Rene, were leaving the Red for the summer, but would be returning for the start of the fall and offered to take me out for a weekend when they returned. I had a LOT of homework to do.

The next time we went out it was a much less busy time and it was perfect for a revisit to the same wall that I started on. She introduced me to 2 other amazing crushers, Elaine and Marlene. That weekend I was given an education that I almost couldn’t believe. Route after route, climb after climb, Margarita belayed me on every 5.9 and below that I could find and then cleaned it all as well.

She then wanted to get a lap in on something that would be more her style (I expect the beginner routes got a little boring) so she took me to Shady Grove. This was my first introduction to the caves that the Red provides.

I was in awe.

Then I belayed her (while using the GriGri incorrectly) on Far From God. She danced up the route, having the beta clearly dialed in.

I was in awe.

She then offered me the chance to check it out. With Elaine belaying, I could make it up to the 2nd bolt, but my tendinitis was screaming at me and I didn’t have the energy to clip. Shit. Shit shit shit. I had never downclimbed and had only taken one practice fall in the gym. Shit shit shit. I hung out on the jug, a full body length above the first bolt and let go. I then smacked into my belayer, a carabiner on one of my gear loops clipped into one of hers and we began spinning. Shit. Shit shit shit. I was the mayor of town gumby (probably still am).

Frustration subsided and we headed back to town to meet up with Rene and grab some food, then stop at “the shop.” I couldn’t believe that she had her own climbing gym! Woah!

The next day we went to Left Flank and I decided that I wanted to try my hand at something a little harder. The 10a was open. Enter the gumby. I got past the crux but was having a lot of trouble on the crimps. My leg was going behind the rope and of course I hear “Noooo” as Margarta called me on my bullshit. I either didn’t have the strength, or was too gripped to clip. This was bad. Shit. Shit shit shit. How do I fall here? It’s like, vertical and there’s an edge right down there! Shit. Gumby mode engaged. I jumped back away from the wall with my legs pulled away… and subsequently slammed into the wall hands and knees first. OUCH.

Margarita, being the experienced woman that she is, knew how to give a soft catch and kept me from breaking any bones. I’ll never forget her reaction once I was back on the ground, “OK, what was that?”… THAT was a panicked noob that knew he still had a LOT to learn. Oh, then she rescued my gear, because there was NO way in hell I was going to try that route again.

After that shitshow, she mentioned something to me that I carry with me still. “OK, Colin, let’s go do something a little more fun. Remember, ALWAYS end the day on a good note”. We went over and went up a 5.9 around the corner. She was right. I felt a lot less defeated and a little more like this was something that I could do.

She gave me a quick lesson in cleaning and then we all parted ways.

I’m not sure I could have been any more fortunate than to have her as a mentor. Margarita has been an unyielding source of information and one of the more humble climbers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Always open if you have a question and her advice on technique, crag etiquette, and overall safety.

Four years after my first time out I got the pleasure of climbing with her again, only this time instead of chuffing of 10a, I was working on a 12b for the day. A lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. She is still absolutely crushing, and I’m still a gumby.

Be sure to get a pair of her Dry Pointe shoe inserts, your feet and your friends will thank you!

Margarita Martinez


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