Climbing for Beginners: What I wished I’d Known

Hi everyone!

How are you all doing during the lockdown? 

Today I thought I would share a post answering some questions I had and get a lot when I take people climbing for the first time. Before the lockdown, I noticed that lots of people trying out indoor climbing for the first time and its popularity was gaining traction. Which is super exciting as I love climbing! Whether you’ve tried it already or seen loads of friends trying it and are wondering what it is all about, I’ve answered some questions below.

1. Is it scary? Is it dangerous?

Yes and no. I personally am, (and know other climbers who also are) afraid of heights. However, the thrill of conquering that fear keeps us going. In terms of danger and safety, it is very similar. It is an extreme sport because it can be dangerous, especially when climbing outdoors. But if you are just starting you’ll most likely be starting in a gym with friends or instructors who will ensure you know how to climb safely before going off on your own. 

Outdoor Bouldering

2. What are the different types of rock climbing?

I’ve outlined the different types of free-climbing below. Besides these, you’ll also hear about speed climbing, aid climbing, mountaineering and ice-climbing. I’ve never tried any of these so I can’t share knowledge there. However, these are not as popular due to difficult access, extra gear or physical requirements. 

The most popular is probably indoor bouldering as this type of climbing involves less equipment and can be more physically challenging, making it feel like a fitness workout. For bouldering, all you need is climbing shoes and a chalk bag. Bouldering challenges balance with powerful moves on short walls. 

You can also boulder outdoors. This is a lot harder. I will be doing a post on bouldering indoors vs outdoors but for reference, you should feel comfortable climbing V3-V4 indoors to comfortably try a V0 outdoors. 

Then there’s sport climbing. This is the one with ropes and a harness. Sport climbing is endurance heavy as the routes are longer but less technically challenging than boulder routes. Sport climbing is probably my favourite type of rock climbing, especially when outdoors, the views, challenge and adventure are perfectly balanced in all routes. Besides indoor and outdoor, there are also two other types of sport climbing: leading and top-roping. To lead is to be the first one to climb a route placing the quick-draws (clips) and clipping the rope to these and the anchor. To top-rope is to climb it with the rope treated to the anchor. Leading is scarier and more challenging as there’s more risk of bigger and more falls.

Me top-roping a route.

Lastly, there’s trad climbing or traditional climbing, this is mainly done outdoors. Trad climbing is basically when a route doesn’t have bolts to place your quick-draws. Therefore, you must place your own gear to climb the route. With trad, you’ll need a lead climber to place the gear and a climber that follows them up the route to remove all gear. I’m still not very comfortable with trad climbing as it almost always involves a dodgy walkout. 

3. How do I make sure I’m safe when climbing?

The best way to ensure you are safe is to go on courses and training sessions. Your local climbing gym will most-likely have these regularly. I also recommend joining a climbing club as most have great training sessions with climbing instructors. Also always make sure you have your safety gear with you. Whether it is a crash pad if you are going outdoor bouldering or helmet when doing sport or trad, a well-fitted harness and gear you can trust. Always climb with people you trust and make your safety checks too. 

3. Terminology

So in climbing, there’s a lot of slang that climbers use to communicate. If you’ve been to a climbing gym you’ve probably already heard some of these. Below are some of the most used words that I’ve come across:  

  • Route: a set climb involving a series of moves ending at an anchor or top of a boulder. 
  • Topo: or guide book, are representations of the route outlining where it starts and ends. 
  • Crag: a climbing spot.
  • Crux: the difficult part of a route
  • Belayer: the person holding the rope or feeding the rope to the climber. The belayer is usually on the ground or if in a multi-pitch the belayer will be in an anchor. 
  • Belay device: the device the belayer uses to give or take the rope from the climber. Some belay devices are assisted for extra safety. 
  • Beta: information provided by the route setter or another fellow climber to help you climb the route.
  • Multi-pitch: a route that has multiple anchors because it’s really tall.
  • Free solo/soloing: climbing without a belayer or safety gear. Unlike bouldering soloing or free solo involves climbing really high-routes that would normally involve having protective gear.

There’s lots more as you can imagine but you’ll get the gist once you start climbing. 

4. What should I wear? What gear do I need to buy?

For indoor climbing simply wear your normal gym clothes. You won’t need to buy or gear up for your first sessions. In fact, I didn’t buy any gear until six months in and I know lots of people that only bought gear after climbing for over a year. 

The first thing I recommend buying is your own pair of shoes, well-fitted shoes make climbing easier. Climbing shoes can be tricky to buy but go for a cheap pair at first. Then, I recommend getting a chalk bag and some chalk. 

If you are planning your first outdoor sport climbing trip, I recommend getting your own harness and helmet. If you have joined a club they’ll probably have some gear you can borrow. 

Climbing gear can be expensive and most of the time you can borrow it or rent it. So don’t rush into it.

Tom gearing up for a trad route.

5. What if I can’t climb? What if I embarrass myself?

Honestly, no one cares. The climbing community is probably one of the most chilled and supportive ones out there. Everyone started at V0 and loads of great climbers still struggle in easier routes. Keep going and ask for help if you need it.

I love how climbing is a great reason to get out of the house (not in lockdown obviously) and checkout beautifully hidden places. So, I hope this has helped you or inspired you to try climbing once we are out of the lockdown.

Love, 
Carolina

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