Rock climbing is a wonderful sport that can range from a fun and interesting workout lasting a few hours to a lifelong passion that takes you all over the world in search of challenges and adventures. Climbing is typically described in the media as ultra-fit daredevils, hanging dangerously at the waist of the fingernail, holding thousands of feet off the ground, risking certain death for an adrenaline rush. For this reason, it may sound more like a death wish than a sport. However, in reality, most climbers are just average people with varying physical abilities looking to get out and have fun in a safe way. Climbing is dangerous, make no mistake about it, but these dangers can easily be mitigated with a few pieces of the right equipment and a little education and experience.
Getting into rock climbing can seem confusing, intimidating, scary, and expensive. However, with a little guidance and explanation, it can be as easy to get started in rock climbing as any other sport or hobby. Anyone can engage in rock climbing, there is no age limit (upper or lower) and there is no physical condition requirement. Rock climbing can be whatever you like. It can be a fun workout several times a month at your local gym, right down to where your full-time job travels the world setting the world’s tallest and toughest climbs, and everything else. There is also a minimal financial commitment to try climbing. So if you’ve always wanted to try rock climbing, always wanted to go out and see nature from a whole different perspective, or always wanted to push your physical limits while having fun, then here is a guide to get started. climbing!
1: The Lingo
Like any sport or activity, rock climbing has its own dictionary full of bizarre terms that add to the color of the sport but also add to the confusion and intimidation for those unfamiliar with the “lingo”. There is a literal dictionary of terms that could be covered, but here is a list of a few key terms that will hopefully clear up some misconceptions and help you all get started in the sport.
Types of Free Climbing:
- Top Rope – A form of rope climbing where the rope has already been pre-hung over the top of the route. In the event of a fall, the length of the fall is practically zero because the rope can be kept tight against the climber.
- Lead Climb – A form of rope climbing where the rope is suspended progressively higher on the route as the climber ascends the route, passing the rope through various protective elements along the route. The length of a fall can be important as the climber must climb over the previous piece of protection before reaching the next piece.
- Bouldering – Climbing short routes (typically <15 ‘) where rope and protection are not used. Instead, a crash pad or boulder mat, a thick piece of industrial foam, is placed on the ground to cushion a climber’s fall.
NOTE: Beginners will start with Top Rope and Bouldering. Lead climbing is a more advanced skill that is learned later in a person’s climbing career.
- Belayer – A second person who “holds the rope” in the event of the climber falling to catch the climber with the rope. A special belay device and harness are used, making it a trivial action for a person to “catch” a climber with the rope. Belaying is hard to describe but will make perfect sense once you see it in person.
- Sport Climbing – Sport climbing describes outdoor climbs where their protection consists of pre-placed steel bolts fixed in holes drilled in the rock. These bolts will have been put into the rock by other experienced climbers. The rope will then be clipped to the bolts (using what is called a quickdraw) to provide protection in the event of a fall. It takes at least several minutes using a specialized hammer drill to drill the bolt hole. Unlike some popular rock climbing movies, there are no guns that shoot bolts into the rock.
- Traditional Climbing – Traditional or traditional climbing describes outdoor climbs where a removable protection is placed temporarily in the rock to provide protection in the event of a fall, then removed by the climbers’ partner. The protection should be stuck in cracks or other similar elements in the rock. Unlike some popular rock climbing films, properly placed protection can hold several thousand pounds of force or more.
- Free Climbing – Use only the natural characteristics of the rock and your own human power to progress. Ropes and guards are used but only for safety to catch the climber in the event of a fall.
- Free Soloing – Free climbing except without the use of ropes or protection for safety. A free solo fall would result in serious injury or death.
- Climbing aid – Climbing where upward progression is accomplished by pulling or standing in the protection placed by the climber.
NOTE: Free climbing and free solo are often confused; leading to the misconception that rock climbing is a death-defying sport (which it is not). An overwhelming majority of climbers do not break free solo and still use ropes and protection to stay safe. Even the few climbers who do free solo only free solo for a small percentage of the routes they climb. Personally, I do not approve of free soloing and cannot stress enough that you always use the proper safety equipment and techniques when climbing.
The climbing routes are classified according to their difficulty. The route difficulty is a combination of the difficulty of the hardest movement on the route (called the knot) and the number of difficult movements on the route (in other words, the durability of the route). Rope climbing and bouldering have two different rating scales.
Rope climbing – Rope climbing will be described by a system of decimal numbers always starting with 5, with the second number representing difficulty. A letter after the number (from a to d) or a plus “+” or minus “-” symbol after the number subdivides the scale. Some examples:
- 5.9 (read “Five-Nine”)
- 5.10a (read “Five Ten A”)
- 5.12+ (read “Five Twelve Plus”)
The scale increases with the value of the second number. In other words, a 5.12 is more difficult than a 5.9 (because 12> 9, even though mathematically 5.9> 5.12). “+” is more difficult than “-” and “d” is more difficult than “a” in a number note. “+” and “-” are typically used for 5.9 and below and “a” through “d” are used for 5.10 and above. The scale would be as follows, from easiest to most difficult:
5.8- / 5.8 / 5.8+ / 5.9- / 5.9 / 5.9+ / 5.10a / 5.10b / 5.10c / 5.10d / 5.11a / 5.11b etc. etc.
2: Go to a Climbing Gym
The first step to getting started in rock climbing is finding your nearest indoor climbing facility. One could jump straight into outdoor rock climbing, but an indoor climbing gym offers a mountain of useful tools and benefits.
I highly recommend bringing a friend or family member as a partner. Rope climbing really requires two people (a climber and a belayer), but going with someone else will make the experience a lot more fun and reduce the intimidation factor.
Finding an Indoor Climbing Gym:
These days, finding an indoor climbing gym is very easy thanks to the Internet. Your best bet is to just google “climbing gym” and search for the results. Many climbing gyms advertise it’s the back of CLIMBING or ROCK AND ICE magazine, but this list is limited. Local outdoor or leisure magazines can also be a source. The following two websites are also a good source for finding a gym.
Picking The Right Gym
Some gyms are definitely better than others, but in general you can’t go wrong with your selection with the exceptions below. If you have more than one option for a gym, I highly recommend that you try all of the gyms if time permits.
Climbing Gym vs. Bouldering Gym
A bouldering hall is a climbing hall that does not offer rope climbing and that only has bouldering. There are more and more bouldering gyms and the only downside to a bouldering hall is that they don’t offer belay lessons. I recommend finding a climbing gym that has both roped and bouldering at the start. The main reason for this recommendation is that you can learn belaying and you can try both rope and bouldering to see if you have a preference. Some climbing rooms do not offer bouldering. In this case, you will have to bring a friend or you will not have anything to climb. You can find partners to climb with at the gym, but I wouldn’t walk these waters on your first trip.
Climbing Gym vs. Climbing Wall
Make sure you find a real climbing room, not what I will call a “climbing wall”. A climbing wall may not be different from a climbing hall, but the business purpose is totally different. A climbing wall will only offer you a few climbs focusing on point users, while a climbing room will offer a suite of climbing and belaying lessons and instructions with the goal of transforming you. as a member. Tell-tale signs of a climbing wall are the price per hour or the price per ride along the wall, no lead or boulder climbing area, or a “funky” location like in a mall. or an amusement park. There is nothing wrong with climbing walls, there just isn’t what you will be looking for.
First trip to the gym (what to expect)
I was planning about two hours spent in the gym. Maybe half an hour to an hour of instruction, then an hour of climbing, and then your forearm muscles will probably be too tired to continue but you have a hard time keeping the smile on your face; ).
Expect to pay between $ 15 and $ 25 per person for a day pass to the gym. The cost difference factors between one gym and another will likely be lost for a beginner. However, a few dollars more can get you a newer, nicer setup that will make the day more enjoyable. Your first few trips, I recommend you get a day pass just to make sure you like it. Gyms will also offer punch passes (10 prepaid day passes) or monthly memberships that will offer savings on the day pass if you go there regularly.
The gym will teach you how to belay or have auto belayers (simple machines that pull the rope when you go up and down safely after climbing), or both. Gyms will vary a bit but some will offer belay lessons directly on site, some will offer them every one or two hours, and some will only offer them at certain times of the week. Self Belayers are very simple and straightforward to use, but require around 5-10 minutes of instruction to use if you’ve never seen them, but the gym will provide it. It’s best to call ahead and check these details to plan your first trip. You still have the option of bouldering (assuming the gym has it) that wouldn’t require a partner.
Don’t worry about the equipment. All you need for rock climbing are sports clothes (because you will be exercising) and closed toe shoes (no sandals or flip flops). You’ll rent a harness (unless you’ve been to a bouldering gym) and have the option of renting climbing shoes, shoes specially designed for climbing, and a chalk bag filled with gymnast chalk to keep your hands safe dry. Climbing shoes and a chalk bag can make the experience more enjoyable, but they are certainly not required.
3: Going Climbing Outside
Going from indoor to outdoor climbing is not trivial. Most beginners have a distinct lack of appreciation for all the controls and safety systems put in place by climbing gyms to keep things safe which are now the responsibility of those who climb to establish. outside. They also lack the skills, experience and equipment to set up these security systems on their own. No amount of classes or experience in the gym, reading books or educational articles, or watching instructional videos on YouTube or the like will properly prepare you to climb outdoors. Climbing outdoors should not be attempted without the guidance of a professional guide or an experienced mentor. Please, please, please stay safe!
I recommend using a professional and certified climbing guide or guide service for your first trip outside. At the same time, I recommend looking for and finding an experienced rock climbing mentor. I will elaborate below.
There are many guiding services located all over the country and usually located near outdoor climbing destinations. I highly recommend using only AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) or IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association) certified guides or services. There are some very reputable and professional guide services that are not certified, but as a beginner you probably have no way to tell them apart from an unreported service, so it is best to go with a certified guide. AMGA / IFMGA. Most guides are AMGA / IFMGA certified but check this on the guide’s website or by calling them. There are several levels of certification but for the needs of your first trip apart from all levels will be sufficient. The AMGA / IFMGA certification requires not only spending real life, on the rock, tests demonstrating knowledge of climbing and climbing systems, but also self-rescue skills (in the very unlikely case where an injury would occur on the rock) and a service oriented mindset (the guide is there to make sure you have a safe, fun and enjoyable day).
A guided trip will be a half or full day event. The guide service will almost always offer the rental of climbing equipment for you and have all the technical equipment. They will usually have a list of recommended clothing, but sturdy closed-toe shoes (no Teva or similar hiking sandals) and clothing made of sturdy but breathable fabric will be required. Jeans are strongly discouraged; they do not breathe at all and bind easily during climbing movements. As with all outdoor activities, use the layering system and dress for the weather. When you are climbing you will generate a lot of body heat, but during times of rest you may be sitting in the shade, so keep that in mind. You will likely need to bring a bottle of water and some snacks for yourself, but check with the guide service what to bring. Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and your camera! The cost can vary widely depending on the half day, location, and number of people in the group, but should range from $ 100 per person in a large group for half a day to over $ 1000 for a full day private lesson.
Finally, I recommend working with your guide service to explain what you expect from the trip and your current climbing experience. Guide services are all small business operations and will be happy to customize any trip to meet your exact needs.
Rock climbing is traditionally taught by mentors. There is no formal mentoring or company system, so finding a good mentor can be difficult and it will usually take a few turns to find a good mentor. A mentorship is nothing formal, not a contract, but it’s good to be honest about your skills and seek out a mentor. When looking for a mentor, you are looking for a partner to rock climbing with specifically a partner willing to mentor someone with less experience wishing to be mentored. We hope that a great mentorship will turn into a regular partnership and friendship.
A good mentor will have 3 attributes. The first attribute is experience and knowledge. The interest of a mentor is to pass on his experience and knowledge, so if he does not have it, he is completely missing the point. I would recommend looking for someone with at least a few years of outdoor climbing experience and who leads climbs of at least 5.10. The second attribute is security. Not only do you need to have the knowledge and experience to be safe, but you need to be proactive in implementing that knowledge and experience. The third attribute is good compatibility. Climbers tend to spend hours together due to the nature of rock climbing. So if you have nothing to talk about or find yourself boring, it will quickly ruin an otherwise fantastic day out.
Climbing equipment can be the most confusing, intimidating, and expensive aspect of rock climbing. However, a little explanation can help demystify all of this. I will tell you about the first basic “kit” or equipment you will buy. There are a lot of necessary pieces of equipment (ropes, protection, etc.) that you will need for outdoor climbing, but it’s really beyond the scope of this piece and is best discussed with a guide or mentor.
As perviously mentioned, to get started in climbing just takes some athletic clothing and closed-toe shoes. You’ll rent the gear you need.
Personal Gear Kit:
The first kit or set of equipment you purchase will be your personal equipment. This equipment is your harness, belay device, locking carabiner, chalk bag and climbing shoes. This is called personal equipment because each person will need their own equipment while the rest of the equipment (rope and protection) will be shared between climbing partners. At a minimum, you will need this to date a mentor.
All suitable climbing equipment is certified according to UIAA standards. The details of these standards are not relevant to a beginner, but understand that they are rigorous enough to ensure safe and functional equipment.
You will want to purchase all of your gear from a reputable dealer such as REI, EMS, or your local mountaineering / climbing shop. This has two advantages. 1) This ensures that you only buy material from reputable companies where everything is properly UIAA certified. 2) The staff will be knowledgeable and can help you choose the right equipment for you and size it correctly. I strongly, STRONGLY discourage buying material from sites like Amazon or eBay, at least initially. A lot of material will be confused with climbing gear, but it will either be for industrial rigging (safe but not functional or practical) or falsely advertised for climbing (but not safe). Some companies have even been caught falsely claiming UIAA certification. Once you have gained some experience and know exactly what equipment you are looking for, you may be able to find deals on sites like Amazon.
In general, as a beginner, you won’t need, or even notice, all the bells and whistles of expensive equipment, so it’s okay to look on the lower side of the price bracket. Ask the store clerk or a guide / mentor to help you choose the right equipment for your needs.
Everyone will need a harness. You will want something that is comfortable and looks good. A standard harness will have a belt, leg straps, a belay loop (to clip into your belay device), and gear loops along the waistband.
A carabiner is a large metal link, somewhat oval in shape, with a door that can be opened to insert things like rope or your belay device. A locking carabiner has an additional mechanism to lock the door closed so that it cannot accidentally open. This feature is mandatory for your insurer.
A belay device is a device that greatly increases or decreases the friction on the rope with small movements. It allows the belayer to hold the rope without the need for a vise on the rope, but also to exit or take the rope as needed in an efficient manor house. The most common belay device is a type of tube (like the Black Diamond ATC). They usually have two slots, but as a beginner you only need one. The second slot is for the two-prong rappelling, which you’ll learn what that means in due course. These are a lot more fancy and complicated (expensive to read) belay devices, but as a beginner you don’t need these extra features and it’s best to learn on a tube style device so save your money.
Climbing shoes are specially designed for rock climbing with stick rubber (exception to rubbing on rock holds), and the shape to suit your foot for precision and feel. They range from all-terrain beginner models (around $ 90) to various highly specialized models ($ 180) specific to certain types of climbing. To get the most out of climbing shoes, you want them to be snug, but not uncomfortable. Typically, people buy climbing shoes half a size smaller than their normal shoes. Generally, climbing shoes are worn without socks to improve the feel and precision of the shoe, so take this into account when sizing a shoe.
A chalk bag is a small bag worn on its own belt that contains powdered gymnast’s chalk. Sweaty hands make smooth hands. Chalk helps keep your hands dry and grip grips better.
6: Beyond Being a Beginner
Climbing takes a little time to learn but a lifetime to master. There are also a myriad of types of climbing beyond the rock that are equally fun, adventurous, and challenging. Eventually you will go from being a beginner to the point where you can cope on your own and even to the point where you yourself will begin to mentor others in rock climbing. There is no set bar to reach beyond being a beginner. Your guide or mentor will help you get a feel for your ability to cope. However, never stop being safe, never stop having fun and we’ll see you outside!
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