Beginners Guide To Climbing: The Basics To Getting Started

It was 2014, I was travelling through SE ASIA and I had met a bunch of Argentinians who lured me with their mate and good looks to travel with them through Cambodia.

One night I notice one of them rigging a complicated hammock system in the rafters of our room (we were trying to fit 11 people in 1 room), I asked where he learnt how to do the knots and climb the rafters seemingly effortlessly.

He started to tell me about rock climbing, I followed him to a nearby crag days later and was hooked instantly. I learnt a lot of things about climbing the hard way, through many mistakes.

Based on liability waivers, it’s estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 people are trying climbing for the first time—every single day—in the U.S. alone (source)

While most of climbing can only be learned by actually getting out there and doing it, there is some advice I’d like to bestow upon you.

Some of it’s for the safety of yourself and anyone else around you. Other parts of the advice will just ensure that your path to beginning climbing takes you to meeting the right people and being a part of the what I call the best sporting community on the planet.

Understanding Climbers

MUST READ: IMPORTANT

Why are these people that are broke, hungry and standing on the side of the road hitching to crags seemingly not phased by the hardships of life? Are they just following in the footsteps of Fred Beckey in hope of 5-minute fame too?

Understanding climbing and the religion surrounding it is imperative to you becoming a good climber. Because it’s not only perfecting climbing techniques and being strong that makes you a good climber. You need to understand proper climbing etiquette, learn to be humble, and know your limits.  

I know a few climbers who could climb a vertical pole covered in oil but the thing is they never have a climbing partner because they aren’t good to climb with. Let me explain.

Climbing Etiquette (Mainly for the outdoors)

  1. If you have been on a climb for a long time, trying to get past that crux (the hardest part of the climb) and you can see people are starting to shuffle their feet below you, it’s time to stop. It’s rough on the belayer to be straining their neck for so long and unfair on others waiting to climb. Move onto something easier and come back to it.
  2. If you are new and need someone to take you climbing ALWAYS offer up a trade of services. It’s a considerable more amount of effort for the main climber so if you want to be guaranteed to be invited again, bring some food or offer to pay petrol.
  3. Always be encouraging! The beautiful part of climbing is the support you receive. Even if you’ve never met the person before, even if they are ten times better than anyone else there, a good old “YOU GOT THIS” when you see a leg tremble or a “Nice climb!” after they’ve finished goes a LONG, LONG way.
  4. Communication!! Talk to your climbing partner as much as possible. Any gym or outdoors instructor will talk you through some basic lingo that is used to ensure climber and belayers are ready. Don’t get lazy with this, check your gear, talk with your partner, most accidents happen because of silly mistakes like forgetting to check a knot. If you are unsure about something, swallow that pride and ask! Learn to be humble and the smaller your learning curves will be at times of mistake.
group going climbing

credit: Sarah Sackville

But How Do I Get Started Climbing?

STEP 1 – TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

The smart way to get into climbing is to first try it and see if it’s for you. If you hate it after the first climb but you’ve just spent a few hundred dollars on gear, you’ll probably feel like a twat right?

Another aspect to consider is what type of climbing is for you. Try them all, you’ll quickly figure out where your passion lies. The following are suitable for beginner climbers.

There is:

  • Bouldering – This is climbing done relatively low to the ground so there’s no need for ropes/harness etc. Just shoes, chalk and a strong spirit! You’ll find most bouldering focuses around short, strong routes. Lots of technique and strength in short bursts of energy. Indoors you’ll have mats to fall off onto, outdoors you’ll find boulders and place crash mats underneath. Both indoors and outdoors it’s wise to have someone there as a spotter. A spotter will try help break any falls that look like they may result in serious injuries. Learning to be a good spotter is another part of being a good climber.
  • Top-rope – When you enter a gym you’ll notice that 90% of climbs are already set with ropes. When a climb is ready to go like that, we call it top-roping. You have a belayer and a climber. Climbs will vary in difficulty according to the “crux” (hard part) and length. Keep in mind the crux of a climb can be ANYWHERE. Sometimes it’s the first move you do! Top-roping requires endurance and ability to focus at heights. The person who sets these climbs is called the “lead climber”. Lead climbing takes practice, knowledge and confidence, it can be very dangerous so only start to lead once you are comfortable with top-roping techniques.
  • Deep water soloingCan you control fear and love adrenaline? Can you swim? Deep water soloing is a huge amount of fun but can also be extremely dangerous. Deep water soloing is a climb that is based over deep water you can fall off into. There is no gear involved except your shoes, so long as you don’t mind them getting wet! Some DWS climbs finish with you being able to climb over the top, others you have to jump back into the water. DWS can start from being in the water, on a boat or to the edge of a large expanse of water. Obviously, you need to know how to swim! Make sure you go with people who know you are beginner so they can direct you to easier routes, trying to match others skill levels in serious climbing situations like DWS can result in serious injury.

While there are many more types of climbing such as lead climbing, trad, high-ball bouldering, free solo…As a beginner you won’t be starting off with these. They require more knowledge and experience.

INDOOR GYMS

Going to indoor gyms is not only a safe way to first try climbing, it’s also cheap. You can rent your gear, you can even rent your belayer (the person who makes sure you don’t fall to the ground) in some cases. Even though climbing indoors and outdoors is somewhat different, the basics of belaying and initial climbing technique are the same.

Being indoors means there are staff to coach you, other climbers who often are seasoned veterans to encourage you and it’s a controlled environment so it’s not as daunting as a big cliff face.

OUTDOORS

Another option is to join a guided group outdoors. There are multitudes of camps running introduction to climbing courses, though it’s noticeably more expensive than a few trips to an indoor gym. If you are thrillseeker and need to feel real rock under your fingers, climbing stores and most indoor gyms will be able to point you in the right direction.

If you are feeling particularly keen, search for climbing Facebook groups in your area. Offer up a trade for someone to take you climbing. Perhaps you know how to massage? Or you can pay petrol and food? There are many climbers who love introducing new people into the sport as much as they love climbing in itself.

Take a moment to introduce yourself and a bit about who you are though. Most climbers (not climbing instructors) won’t take a newbie out on rock they don’t know if they think there is a chance they are too full of themselves or gung-ho, it’s dangerous for everyone involved.

indoor rock climbing

STEP 2 – GET THE BASICS

So you’ve decided, yes, climbing is definitely for me.

If you have been fortuitous enough to successfully grow money on a tree, then go! Go buy all the gear you’ll ever need and be everyone’s best friend because you have it all!

Unfortunately for most of us we don’t have such luxuries and need to kit ourselves out with gear as we need it.

To get started you’ll only need the basics

  • A harness
  • Shoes
  • Chalk bag
  • Belay device

There’s two options to get kitted:

  1. Go to a store and get help picking out the most suitable gear for you. I personally believe that 95% of climbers in stores will always be honest and helpful, it’s the nature of the sport.
  2. Get the right advice from said stores or other climbers and scour the internet for some deals. NEVER buy gear (maybe minus shoes and chalk bags) that don’t have a professional safety tick. Stick to the mainstream companies like Black Diamond, Evolv , Camp etc. It’s your life we’re talking about putting on the line here.

Once you have the basics you’ll be ready for anything! You’ll also find yourself more motivated to go climbing!!

climb ing gear on rock

STEP 3 – BREATHE, SMILE AND WAVE

At the end of the day climbing can be dangerous. At the same time so is driving a car. We do things in order to eliminate danger whilst driving like wearing a seatbelt and installing airbags. The same goes with climbing.

Always check in with your fellow climber what level they’re at, how they are feeling that day and try build a continuous motion of support.

Follow safety instructions even if they seem excessive at first.

Climbers are the most humble, accepting and encouraging people in sport that I’ve ever met. I have given nearly everything a go and climbers for me are the epitome of what all sportsmanship should look like. Contribute to the nature of these climbers and you’ll not only find a sport but a community that can change your life.

The more comfortable the environment is when you climb whether it’s indoors or outdoors, the less risk there will be involved. The less risk the more confidence and the more confidence the better you’ll climb!

It takes most climbers years to shake the self doubt that haunts us before a climb, but it’s why climbing is so addictive. Every time you finish a climb it’s like you get the satisfaction of finishing the argument with your own fear with a big fat “ I PROVED YOU WRONG!! “.

I can honestly say there is not a better feeling in the world than sitting back and looking at a climb after you’ve finished it, feeling the full weight of what you’ve just done. You may have been clipped in and on ropes but you climbed that wall, something that without rope would seem IMPOSSIBLE, but you did it, you did the impossible.

Sarah Sackville
 

Heya! I'm Sarah or many call me Sacky! Some years ago a solo 3 month trip through Asia changed me forever. It stirred the adventurer in me and gave me the confidence to try new things. The desire to accomplish these new tasks became addictive and thus a slight attention deficit approach to participating in outdoor sports was born. A problem arose when I realised that my lifestyle couldn't incorporate the normal 9-5 so I became a freelance writer! So here I am somewhere between random library desks, mountains and the surf soaking up this opportunity!

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