Are you an adventure enthusiast who has always yearned to go rock climbing? Plenty of aspiring climbers just don't know where to start. In this article, we have everything lined up for you, addressing everything from climbing techniques to climbing styles and routes.
Are you ready to get fit and agile? Are you excited about a serious adrenaline rush? Then you’re guaranteed to find pleasure in actual climbing. Whether you consider yourself a regular adventurer or a daredevil, rock climbing will keep you fit, happy, and healthy.
What you need at the outset is a proper guide, proper instruction, and climbing gear. If you’re a first-time climber, this is the ultimate guide for you about how to start rock climbing.
Preparing Yourself For Rock Climbing: Know What To Expect
First things first: you need immense upper body strength to be a successful climber. At the outset, you need to prepare your body by working out in the gym. In the process, you’ll gain enough strength in the upper part of your body.
It's advisable to start with an indoor climbing gym, where you can watch experienced climbers work on their overall positioning, hips, and feet. Additionally, this training will help you develop your footwork skills, balance, and form.
It’s uber important to take care of your lower body muscles, which are generally more robust and bigger. Your fitness level largely determines your success as a professional rock climber.
For beginners, climbing happens to be an inclusive pursuit. Once you hit the climbing gym, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many seasoned climbers are willing to assist you: yay new friends! After all, people from various walks of life find pleasure in rock climbing. Once you land up in the right atmosphere, you can train yourself adequately to address the hurdles that await you when you venture into real rock climbing.
Decide On Your Type Of Climbing
You'll come across different types of climbing. Based on your experience level and aptitude, you need to choose the style that suits you best. If you’re a newbie, it’s highly recommended to get started in a climbing gym.
Once you acquire the basic skills, you can explore a variety of difficulty levels. For most people, gym climbing is the beginning of the climbing journey, as they enjoy a secure and convenient environment indoors with all the necessary facilities. However, to savor the best climbing experiences, you need to venture outdoors. The scenery, weather, and rocks will constantly be changing as you immerse yourself in the real thing.
Obviously, you have the luxury of standard gear requirements in a rock climbing gym. However, it’s amazing to get out there and climb a real rock. Just keep in mind that the necessary skill levels are the same for both types of climbing.
Therefore, when you grow confident with your skills climbing indoors, you can try out the actual experience outdoors. However, don’t forget that outdoor conditions are ever-changing, and you’ll also need to have adequate knowledge about the demographics and ethics of climbing.
To make things simpler for you, we’ve laid down different climbing styles to choose from.
Gym Climbing/Indoor Climbing
Most climbers start training at an indoor climbing gym. These establishments are available in most cities these days. Here, the infrastructure is set up to replicate the experience of outdoor climbing. You’ll find artificial walls with jagged surfaces, footholds, and handholds.
Depending on the level of difficulty, you'll come across different routes at each of these gyms. There are colored tapes marking each route. A plastic card is used to designate the grade and name of the route, and an increment in number designates difficulty level increases.
Presently, many public recreation centers, colleges, and even REI stores have a freestanding pinnacle or wall. Here, you can try out bouldering or top-rope climbing. Also, route setters have the option of seamlessly moving the holds. This creates plenty of room for an endless number of new routes on the same pinnacle or artificial wall.
Here are some of the benefits of climbing in an indoor environment:
- Indoor rock-climbing facilities don’t depend on the weather. Considering the convenient accessibility, you can work out and practice as and when required.
- In case you don't have access to any outdoor climbing site, indoor units prove beneficial.
- Even if you don't have your own climbing gear, you can get them on rent without investing.
Before you venture into outdoor rock climbing, you’ll need to specialize in one of the following disciplines.
- Lead climbing
- Top roping
Special training is necessary at the indoor gyms, depending on the type of outdoor climbing experience you’re willing to go for.
Bouldering is one of the basic types of rock climbing that require minimal gear and time. Although there are a few advanced routes that might be difficult, bouldering requires for you to jump comfortably.
This variety of rock climbing also involves moving along the rock horizontally, parallel to the ground. This will help you to develop climbing movements, skills, and strength. Besides, while climbing indoors, you don't have the risk of falling from a great height.
The prime difference between bouldering and other varieties of rock climbing is that you won’t be using a harness or a rope in bouldering. Even when you explore the bouldering routes indoors, you’ll be practicing climbing without ropes.
Rather than harnesses or ropes, indoor climbers largely depend on crash pads. These are thick mats that are highly padded to prevent injury to climbers during their falls. Besides, these routes don't exceed 20 feet in height. It’s not necessary to have a climbing partner when it comes to bouldering. However, you need to gain expertise in spotting when you engage in this sport.
Mostly, the boulder routes or problems are graded on the scale called ‘V’. Here, the variety of difficulty levels are marked in increasing order from V0 to V16. You should note that the V-scale has been developed on difficulty level, and is not based on danger.
Depending on the spacing, shape, and size of the hold, indoor routes can vary a lot. The initial training required is limited, as the process involves minimal equipment like chalk and climbing shoes. For beginner climbers interested in developing their forearm strength, this is usually the starting point in climbing.
When you’re ready to engage in something other than bouldering, top-roping remains a viable option. These ascents are secured by climbing ropes, which are belayed and anchored from the top. Belayed setting refers to the process of applying the rope with tension. This largely mitigates the distance in case of a fall.
Physically, top-roping happens to be less labor-intensive as compared to other forms of rock climbing. This is primarily due to the ability of the belay device to prevent you from experiencing severe drops.
When you engage in top-roping, the climbing rope is anchored to a particular spot at the top. While your climbing partner maintains the tautness of the rope, you proceed towards the anchor. Top rope climbing happens to be the first variant of roped ascent in both outdoor and indoor settings.
The term ‘belayer’ refers to the person who pulls back the slack as the climber proceeds. As you may have guessed, belaying plays a critical role. Therefore, make sure that your belayer is a properly trained instructor, guide, or climber. Advanced climbers are well-versed with belaying, so you'll master the art as you hone your skills.
Top rope climbing is presently one of the most popular types of rock climbing techniques. Usually, in indoor gyms, plastic cards are used to mark top-roping routes. Holds coded with particular colors are also present in these routes. Often, the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is used for grading the holds. The value ranges between 5.0 and 5.15c in this standard. The difficulty level increases with the rise in number.
Traditional (Trad) Climbing
After getting yourself accustomed to the routes in indoor environments, you can go ahead with trad climbing. This is the traditional process of outdoor climbing, where you need removable protection. It’s essential to place this protection throughout the length of the route to protect yourself from falls.
The advantage of trad climbing is that there’s no predetermined route you have to follow. That means you have a lot of opportunities to explore jagged surfaces. In the end, explorers and adventurers have almost no boundaries when they engage in this sport.
If you’re up for an adventure and a good challenge, you’ll love the complete liberty to explore and enjoy these routes. Of course, you’ll rely on nuts and bolts for protection. You need to insert this gear in the cracks and natural weaknesses of the route. Keep in mind that this type of climbing involves greater risks compared to sport climbing.
In sport climbing, trad routes are bolted permanently. However, when it comes to trad climbing, the climbers can comply with the guidelines of leaving no trace since they have modern protection which is removable. You can simply carry it along with you on your way down.
Alternatively, your climbing partner can collect the gear when they ascend. Therefore, future climbers get to enjoy better environments when they come along these routes. Although trad climbing is one of the most rewarding sports, you really need adequate skills to enjoy it. Unless you’re an experienced climber, it’s not advisable to attempt such routes.
In sport climbing, you’ll be ascending while you clip to the bolts that have already been drilled into the surface. This is similar to top roping, involving a belayer and a harness. However, you have more equipment involved in this process.
Here, you’ll need quickdraws, which is a type of webbed sling that comes with a carabiner on both ends. In sport climbing, you need to stick to a particular route. Going up, climbers need to clip to the bolts to ensure protection. As a result, you can safely climb to areas with few natural cracks for better protection.
If you've been practicing indoors, you would have quickdraws on the walls. Sport climbing outdoors is generally only for experienced or professional climbers since, in the case of a fall, the distance is much greater than what you would experience during top-roping. In this case, you won't have any anchored rope to secure you at the top.
In outdoor climbs, most ascents are lead climbs. Here, the lead climber would have to clip into bolts throughout the climbing routes. Next, they build the anchor to secure the climber from the top. The system would be belayed at the ground level.
As you progress further into advanced climbing types, you’ll get to test out aid climbing. With this technique, you’ll attach specific devices to protective pieces. Next, you’ll put your feet on those devices as you make upward progress.
For climbs that prove to be too steep, this equipment is essential. When free climbing becomes impossible, you may go for aid climbing.
How to Start Rock Climbing By Building Body Strength
If you opt for becoming an outdoor climber, it’s imperative to work on your muscles and upper body strength. Of course, you also need to train up the lower half of your body, as it would complement and balance the upper part.
Here, we present highly recommended exercises to give you a comprehensive idea of building body strength for rock climbing.
When you consider different forms of antagonist training, you can’t forget pushups to strengthen your muscles. This exercise helps you develop your pushing muscles rather than the pulling muscles, which are the ones that come under stress during regular climbing. When you work on both of these muscle groups, you can balance your body well and prevent injuries.
Of course, climbers need to strengthen their pulling muscles. For this reason, you need to include pull-ups in your list of climbing exercises. When you go up a steep ascent, you need strong muscles to hang from rocks or cling to steep edges.
Pushups and pullups happen to be some of the most common exercises for rock climbing. At the same time, it’s imperative to work on your core strength. When you undergo training to enhance your core strength, you'll be more precise with your footwork. Dead hangs also prove highly beneficial in developing core strength.
Although straightforward, planks are one of the most crucial exercises to develop body strength for rock climbing. This is somewhat similar to pushups when you consider the initial position. However, you need to bend the elbows at right angles, so that your forearms are carrying your weight.
Simply maintain this position for as long as possible. To enhance the training, try to extend and lift your opposite leg and arm while you’re in the plank position. For instance, try to plank by removing your right arm and left leg and maintain the posture for a minute.
Before you gear up for long-distance climbing, make sure to train up the lower half of your body. The six inches exercise is one of the best training techniques out there.
Simply lie down on your back with your hands by your sides and legs extended. Now, lift the legs about 6 inches from the ground. Hold the legs in this position until you feel pressure in the lower back. You might even place your hands under your booty to intensify the training. This move is guaranteed to tone up your core muscles lickety-split.
When you train your body for climbing, your forearms deserve special attention. When you climb up the indoor rock wall during training, you'll soon realize the importance of wrist training.
To do this exercise, take a small dumbbell in each of your hands while sitting on a chair. Alternatively, you can also get a soup can. Place your forearms against your legs. While your wrists hang off in the front, the palms should face up. Now curl the wrists upwards toward your body. To complete a full rep, slowly lower them back down.
While you stick to the exercises in the upper part of your body, you might be ignoring your legs. Remember: when you climb, your legs contribute a significant part of the strength. Both bodyweight squats and jump squats are ideal for conditioning your leg muscles.
Maintain a standing position while your feet are shoulder-width apart. Now bend your hips and knees to squat down. Lower your body until the floor and your thighs are parallel. Now reverse the motion and press up to assume the standing position again. To make the exercise harder, add weights.
Lunges are another fundamental exercise that can add power to your legs. Stand comfortably and step one of your feet forward. Now, simply lean forward so that the front leg is at a right angle. Your back leg and the ground should be parallel to each other.
Repeat the process with your other leg once you return to the standing position. Like squats, you can also add weight to make lunges more difficult. To increase the challenge, hold a dumbbell in your hands when you lunge.
How To Choose The Right Climbing Gear
As you undergo climbing sessions, you'll realize how gear-intensive the sport is. While you develop your passion and skills, it's imperative to know the purpose of each climbing instrument. Your instructor will brief you about the gears once you know the basics.
In some climbing gyms, you might have to purchase some gear and exercise clothes. Make sure to inspect the apparatus before climbing, whether you rent or own it. It’s natural for climbing equipment to undergo wear and tear on frequent use.
Some of the basic equipment you’ll need for rock climbing includes:
Rock Climbing Shoes
Besides providing your feet with friction to grip footholds, a perfect pair of climbing shoes protects your feet during the climb. In this regard, you can go for a versatile style. However, it's advisable to purchase a pair of shoes that complements your climbing ability.
Climbing shoes should not be painfully tight, and should fit comfortably. In general, closer-fitting shoes prove perfect for ascents that are technically more challenging.
Please note that rock climbing shoes are not ideal for walking long distances. In case you decide to hike, the shoes might get ruined. Use trail runners for hiking from the plains to the base camp. Rock climbing shoes are meant strictly for climbing.
It's advisable to put on climbing clothing that won't mess up the functioning of your rope. Wear breathable clothes that dry fast and are capable of wicking sweat. During the ascent, this will keep you comfortable and warm.
If you opt for outdoor climbing, make sure to carry adequate clothing to cope with changing weather conditions.
Climbing rope systems protect you during a potential fall. These systems contain a sheath and a rope. Most of the strength of the rope comes from the core. The function of the sheath is to secure the core and ease the process of handling the rope.
You'll come across static and dynamic climbing ropes. Dynamic ropes are designed with greater elasticity to absorb the shock if a climber falls. On the other hand, static ropes find extensive integration into anchoring systems, rappelling, or moving gear up a bouldering wall.
However, these ropes are not ideal for belaying a climber. Most climbing ropes are designed in such a way that they are used by climbers as individual strands.
Climbers can procure ropes in different diameters and lengths. For convenience, you can go for a single dynamic rope of 60 meters, with a diameter of approximately 10.2 mm.
The key purpose of your helmet is to secure your head from debris like pieces of rocks that might fall during the ascent. Sometimes, they also protect climbers from dropped equipment or flip and falls. Moreover, the back of your head remains protected from impact against hard surfaces like rocks.
Although many climbers don't wear climbing helmets indoors, they’re essential during outdoor ascents. Make sure that your climbing helmet is comfortable. It should fit properly but not be too tight on your head. Branded helmets come with an internal strapping mechanism and a hard covering shell.
Your climbing harness is an essential piece of equipment that connects you to the rope. Usually, good quality harnesses come with a reinforced and padded belt for the waist, along with leg loops. A reinforced belay loop is used to connect the harness to the waist belt. With a proper harness, you can carry the rope efficiently and securely around you.
Different types of harnesses come with specific features. These are customized for various climbing styles. When you choose the harness, consider features and comfort over saving weight.
You always need a harness for climbing, unless you’re bouldering. Harnesses consist of a waist belt placed over the hips for a snug fit, and leg loops. Each leg loop should go around each leg. Some harnesses also have removable or adjustable leg loops.
If you've already worked in the gym, you’re likely aware that chalk can significantly enhance your grip. When you climb, you need to keep your hands free from moisture when you sweat.
Climbers can store chalk in a bag in powdered form. This bag remains attached to the harness. Take care to use colored chalk that matches the rock color. This cuts down the impact on the environment when you climb.
These are strong loops made of metal that come with spring-loaded gates, serving as connectors. Carabiners connect the ropes to other protective equipment like camming devices, bots, and nuts. Additionally, they can attach gear loops to the harness.
You have both locking and non-locking carabiners to choose from. With locking carabiners, the gate doesn’t open automatically when you use it. They’re necessary for crucial connections, like attaching the climber to the rope or running it through an anchor. There are different types of locking mechanisms, ranging from automatic twist-lock to screw gates, and ones secured by magnets.
For non-extreme conditions, non-locking carabiners are ideal. These can be used to attach a piece of protection to the rope. For beginners, the best locking carabiner can be integrated with a belay device.
Popular brands have developed quality belay devices, which produce mechanical friction to control the climbing rope during belaying. The core purpose of this device is to ensure that the rope stops easily in case a climber falls.
They’re also used for controlling the rope descent when a climber is lowered or rappelled. Once you visit the climbing shop, you can customize the device to suit your needs. Belay devices also help in paying out the rope gradually or ensuring a smooth clack of the reel. One can choose from assisted-breaking and tubular belay device systems.
You’ll need both active and passive protection during climbing. Beginners need to master the art of setting anchors to ensure protection. As your skills mature, you'll learn to use all sorts of protective devices.
Protective devices are generally used in sports and trad climbing. The equipment secures rocks to the climbing ropes. When you place them correctly in a hole or crack, the protective apparatus secures the climber from suffering any significant drop. The equipment largely includes nuts, chocks, cams, and so on.
You'll come across active and passive protective parts. The active parts are movable, like an SLCD (spring-loaded camming device). These are compatible with different types of cracks. On the other hand, a single metallic piece constitutes passive protective gears, such as the Hexcentric nut.
Crash pads are essential when it comes to bouldering since they cushion the climber in case of a fall or a jump. During outdoor bouldering, you need portable crash pads to enhance your protection. You can carry small crash pads that can fold easily and attach to your backpack while you’re climbing.
Selecting The Right Length Of The Climbing Route
The number of pitches in a climbing route largely depends on its length. A pitch refers to a steep rocky section where a rope is necessary between two belays. Sometimes, it might be necessary between an anchor and a belay.
Several aspects determine the length of a pitch. For instance, the rope’s length affects it directly, as it should be shorter than half of the rope. Other factors to consider include visual sights, difficulty level, rope drag, and the existence of different belay stations.
As a rule of thumb, easier routes for climbing are rated from 5.1 to 5.5. Your instructor will recommend that you take on these routes initially. As you improve your skills, you can take on the intermediate and more challenging routes.
The harder routes range between 5.6 and 5.10 and routes ranging between 5.11 and 5.15 are pretty much impossible. To further classify the level of difficulty, routes are also identified with the challenge level indicated by ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, and ‘d’.
Also, remember that the V scale is used to determine the level of difficulty. It ranges between V0 and V16, as the difficulty level rises.
Communicating Effectively During Rock Climbing
As climbing difficulty increases, you need to master clear communication strategies that can bail you out in difficult times. Effective communication holds the secret to mitigate stress and avoid accidents, while also enhancing the efficiency of transitions.
When you issue specific commands during rock climbing, call out the name of your partner at first. When you climb busy cliffs, you’ll often encounter other groups issuing the same types of commands.
When you call out your pal’s name at the outset, you have a clear idea of the direction in which the communication occurs. When you receive a command, acknowledge it with thanks along with the name of your partner.
- When you set on climbing a multi-pitch route, the leader will call out ‘Off belay’ on securing himself after reaching the anchor. The person taking the leader off the belay should respond, 'Belay is off'.
- In case you feel like you’re going to fall, call out loudly 'Falling'. In this case, the belayer will enhance the tautness of the rope. This will ensure minimal shock when you fall.
- A few more commands would prove useful to you. If you find a falling rock, or you happen to drop something, shout ‘Rock’.
- Call out ‘Rope’ when you’re pulling one down. As the end goes slack all through the anchor, shout ‘Rope’ once more. Make sure to communicate this before it reaches the ground.
When you deploy effective, loud, and clear communication, you can enhance the overall climbing experience for the entire team.
Overcoming Your Nerves: How To Go About It
For beginners, rock climbing might seem overwhelming as well as exciting. At first, you’ll need to get the basics sorted. Get trained at a reputed climbing gym, where you’ll come across people sharing similar interests. Usually, such folks are amicable and helpful.
Be aware that it pays to know your limitations. You might take time to train your muscles before you go for the harder routes. Start off with a shorter wall and progress as your physical strength and skills permit. If you’re facing trouble with something, reach out to your instructor and clear things up.
Second, you’ll need a lot of patience. It might take you up to six months to master the basics. Learn the techniques and nurture your skills through practice. As you keep climbing, your progress will be evident in your improved skills.
Types Of Knots To Know During Rock Climbing
It pays to know different types of mountaineering knots that will make your climbing experience significantly easier. Below are some of the most common knots you should know before taking on trad climbing, sports climbing, air climbing, or any rock climbing involving rope systems.
Figure 8 Retraced
This is the most basic knot every climber needs to master. It’ll help you to tie the harness and rope together. It's easy to inspect, and most importantly, you can seamlessly untie the knot when you’re loaded in a drop. Make sure to have at least 6 inches of tail when you tie this knot.
A Girth Hitch is a knot for tying climbing slings to different features. This includes the belay loop in the harness, threads of rocks, bolt hangers, and chicken heads or horns on trad routes.
It’s easy to tie a Girth Hitch with one hand. You'll find it helpful in different situations during climbing. Take care not to leave the slings with this type of knot in the belay loop of your harness for long.
When you try to tie a carabiner quickly to a climbing rope, a Clove Hitch comes in handy. It's perfect for attaching yourself to one of the anchors. This knot proves handy, particularly when you equalize an anchor with the help of a rope.
It's easy to tie or untie a Clove Hitch even when you’re weighted. One can seamlessly adjust the knot after tying it, as well. Moreover, you need just one hand to tie the knot, enabling you to clip it quickly to a bolt or an anchor.
However, you need to be cautious while using the knot, as the hitches will start slipping when coming under a certain force. Therefore, experts don't recommend the Clove Hitch as the only knot for attaching climbers to the anchor. Pair it with one of the other knots, like the Figure 8.
When you need to rappel or belay on a rope with just a single locking carabiner, a Munter Hitch will prove handy. This useful knot will protect you even if you happen to drop your standard rappel or belay device. However, don't use the Munter Hitch unless you’re in an emergency because the rope gets severely kinked in case of a rappel.
Even if you’re a beginner climber, you now have a pretty good idea of how to start rock climbing. In this article, we covered the basics and introduced the crucial concepts.
Start with training your muscles at a reputed gym, followed by indoor climbing. Once you’re confident with your skills, get out into outdoor rock climbing, where a true adrenaline rush awaits you. Depending on your skill level, availability of gear, and aptitude, you can pick and choose from an array of routes. Happy climbing!