IntroductionA lot of people would like to learn how to Rock Climb but don't know where to start. This article will provide a simple road map through the learning process.
There are many ways to learn to climb stone. This is a generic approach I have compiled from teaching friends and guiding. It's methodical and direct and provides a safe path to self-sufficiency and competency in the vertical world.
If any terms or concepts are unfamiliar - don't worry - it will all make sense in time. In the beginning everything seems daunting and unforgiving, that is normal, rest assured that your outlook will change as you learn more. The modern system of Rock Climbing is exceedingly well thought through and very safe. However, it requires time, focus, and respect to learn how to rock climb properly.
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Why?There are few activities as gripping, beautiful, and fulfilling as Rock Climbing. There is a limitless array of good reasons to start; enough to span people from all walks of life, fitness levels, and geographic locations.
Afraid of heights? Risk-averse? Join the club, so are most climbers! Don't be fooled by rock climbing's "extreme sport" designation. Rock climbing is actually very safe, especially for beginners, as long as proper care is taken. Rock climbing is not always hard or physically demanding. Rock climbers are normal people like you and me.
Rock climbing is fun, and anyone can do it!
What do I need to buy?Listed in order of importance: from most important to least
- Rock Shoes
- Rock shoes are essential and hard to borrow. Even if you buy nothing else you can do a lot with just your sticky rubber shoes. The most important factor in choosing shoes is fit. The final, broken-in product should fit snugly, be relatively comfortable, and feel like an natural extension of your foot. Some shoes stretch, some don't, so ask for help and be ready for the initial fit to be slightly uncomfortable. * see chalk bag.
Retail: $60 - $130
Clearance & Used: $15 - 70
- Want to really get off the ground? You'll need a harness. Almost any modern harness will work, but features like padding, speed-locks, and a haul loop are nice. Mandatory features: Belay loop and Gear loops. easy to borrow
Retail: $35 - $100
Clearance: $20 - $70 don't buy used
- Belay Device & Locking Carabiner
- These tools are an essential part of climbing safely and really open up what's possible. A belay device is also used to rappel, get an "ATC style" belay device do not get a "figure 8". The carabiner should be an "HMS" style with an easy locking mechanism, get a nice, big, thick one. easy to borrow
Retail: $18 - $30
Clearance: $12 - $20 don't buy used
- Retail: $10 - $20
Clearance: $5 - $12 don't buy used
- Chalk Bag*
- Chalk keeps your hands dry. Most climbers buy a chalk bag with their first set of shoes. They are not essential, but every real climber has one... easy to borrow
Retail: $10 - $25
Clearance & Used: $5 - $15
The entry level price to get into climbing is relatively inexpensive, whether buying just shoes or all the items listed above. Rock climbing gear also generally lasts a long time.
What do I need to study?Before you even touch a stone you can be learning valuable skills. Buy a copy of Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills which is the bible of climbing, and/or How to Rock Climb or other suitable rock specific text.
Learn your knots. Learning knots takes lots of practice over a span of time - so practice at home to avoid wasting valuable time outside. You'll specifically want to learn the figure 8 knot + rethread. Always have an experienced partner check your knots.
Listen and visualize what the authors are teaching. Read -> digest -> read again -> practice -> sync with reality -> read again. Know the theory behind what you are doing, know why option A is better than option B etc. The more you study the more you'll remember what to do when it really counts.
- Climbing Technique
- Belay Technique
- Rappelling Technique
- Dangers of Climbing
- Mental Focus
Can I start climbing now?Yes!
You're ready for two types of climbing: Bouldering & Top-Roping
Bouldering: Bouldering simply means monkeying around at a comfortable distance from the ground without a rope. Despite its apparent safety bouldering can be dangerous. Watch your landings and stay within your ability level and you will safely build strength and technique.
Top-Roping: Want to get high? Top-roping means that a rope runs down to you from the top of the climb. The belayer keeps the line tight, making falls benign and usually just a few inches (the stretch of the rope). When set up and performed correctly top-roping is extremely safe and a great way to begin enjoying the vertical environment and heights.
Climbing upwards on top-rope is the easy part, it's being lowered that makes people really freak out. Fully committing your safety to a skinny rope is unfamiliar and difficult at first. Trust your partners! You're totally safe! Just lean back and walk down the wall... repeat after me "just lean back and walk down the wall" ad infinitum.
Are you starting to see how much trust matters in climbing?
Where do I start?Most climbers start at an indoor gym. Here you can top-rope and boulder in a safe environment with professional supervision. Gyms teach basic climbing skills and offer courses on Belaying. Gyms are great for building specific muscle strength and a perfect place to meet partners.
Sooner or later you'll want to go outside. Outdoor climbing is much more rewarding than indoor climbing, but there's less safeguards and increased hazards. It is absolutely essential that you have an experienced climber supervise everything. Ask questions, admit your ignorance, and observe the details. Your partners are a wonderful source of knowledge, sponge up as much as you can and enjoy true climbing!
How do I chip in?As a new climber you're very reliant on your more experienced elders. As you gain skills, less supervision is needed and you'll start contributing more. Most climbers are more than willing to babysit a little, but probably not on a regular basis, so if you want to get out regularly you must learn the golden skill...
Belaying will really kickstart your climbing career. Learn top-rope belaying first. One hand ALWAYS stays on the brake. Belaying is actually very easy, but mistakes can be catastrophic. Feed ~1,000 meters through your belay device, catch 20 falls, and lower 30 or so times and you should be a pro. That could take 2 days, or 2 years, it depends on you... SO GET OUT THERE!
Lead Belaying is a different skill. Each leader has different preferences about how much slack they want, when to give it, and when to cinch up. Learning the process can be made simple by following these steps:
- Be honest, "I don't know how to do this."
- The leader leads something easy that they won't fall on
- Repeat Repeat Repeat
- Find someone else and Start Over
With these skills better climbers don't have to sacrifice their ambitions, and you get to climb more exciting and harder routes. Try following some crack climbs ("trad climbing" - where protection is removable). You'll feel better adding something to the pot.
Now you're ready to move on to the next step...
How do I get down?What goes up must come down. If you've lowered others and been lowered yourself... you really already know how to rappel. You can learn at any stage of the game, and it opens many doors even if it's all you know, but I generally teach it after belaying, so it is natural and familiar. Same old story: super-easy, but if it goes wrong... it goes way wrong.
To learn safely: Ingredients: 1 experienced partner, 1 trustworthy friend, You
- Experienced partner sets up and checks the anchor
- Experienced partner makes sure you're hooked up correctly
- Trusworthy friend stays at the bottom holding both strands of rope
- If you screw up trusworthy friend pulls both strands and you stop immediately
Using this method you can rest assure the anchor and rigging are proper and safe, and the "Fireman's Belay" from your friend assures a gentle touch-down even if you blow it.
If you know how to belay and rappel you can take down ropes and climb multi-pitch routes. You've got a future in this!
Where do I go from here?With these skills you really are not a newbie anymore. You have some experience, have established some partnerships, and probably increased your comfort level in the vertical-world dramatically.
Many people stay in this zone for a long time, some forever. If you want to go to the next level, then you'll want to start leading. Leading is a different game and requires a more rounded knowledge base. It introduces a new element of danger and fear and is as much a head game as it is a battle of strength or technique. "Sport" climbing offers the safety of strong pre-placed bolts, so most start there.
Leading traditional climbing is a more advanced skill, if only because there are more variables at play. If your goal is to do more difficult alpine routes, then you'll want to heavily invest yourself in learning to trad climb.
Practice, practice, practice...
ConclusionRock climbing can be easy and fun, but it demands respect at all times. Be careful and take it seriously. Follow the plan, pay attention, be redundant about safety and you should have a long fruitful career.
Let's summarize the steps;
- Acquire the Gear
- Learn the Knots
- Learn Technique
- Learn to Belay
- Learn to Rappel
- Learn Anchors
- Learn to Lead Sport
- Learn to Lead Trad
Respect your partners. They are at once teachers, guardian angels, critics, and friends. You'll find out they are strong but also vulnerable. True partners share trust, friendship, and survival instinct. Climbing can be the source of many strong and lasting bonds.
Finally, I apologize. Rock Climbing is an emotional rollercoaster and for many it becomes a lifestyle. The vertical brings us many feelings we'd never expect, some good, and some bad. If it really gets into you, you'll never be the same. So in the odd chance you look back, see that I played a small part in the beginning of your climbing career, don't curse me, I warned you!
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