Is starting rock climbing one of your ambitions for 2017? Here are our top five tip on how to get started.
1. Pick your discipline
Rock climbing includes a broad range of disciplines, each requiring different types of equipment and expertise. The easiest and safest discipline to start off on is indoor climbing. These days most large towns and cities will have a climbing wall, check out the ukclimbing to find a wall near you.
Indoor climbing can include bouldering, you don’t need a rope or harness just a pair of climbing shoes and some chalk. In bouldering you climb as high as you can comfortably jump off onto the crash mat, you can work on building strength with correct movement and technique. Indoor climbing also includes top-roping, where the ropes are securely attached to the top of the wall, for this you will need a climbing partner to belay you. Lead climbing is also done in an indoor wall, using your own rope you clip into quickdraws as you progress up the wall, for lead climbing you also need a competent belayer.
Once you become confident on the indoor wall, it could be time to progress outside. There are two main types of outdoor rock climbing in the UK, Sport climbing and Traditional (trad) climbing. For Sport climbing bolts have been drilled into the rock following the route, using quickdraws you clip into the bolts as you climb up giving protection. Trad climbing requires lot more skill and knowledge than Sport climbing. While Trad climbing the lead climber will protect against a fall by placing protection; nuts, slings and camming devices into the rock. Once at the top of the pitch or climb the lead climber will secure an anchor to help bring up their second climber.
Photo courtesy of Stewart Miller
2. Get the Gear
As a beginner climber you will need a few essential bits of kit to get you off the ground. For indoor climbing, you will need:
Climbing Clothing: Non-restrictive and breathable sportswear.
Climbing Shoes: Rubber soled, to protect your feet and provide friction on the wall.
Climbing harness: To securely tie your rope into, with waist belt and leg loops.
Chalk – To improve grip and absorb perspiration on your hands.
Belay device and carabineers – For belaying your climbing partner up the wall.
Climbing rope – Single rope for indoor lead climbing.
When progressing to Trad climbing the amount of equipment you need greatly increases. You will need to start a climbing rack, this rack will include all your climbing protection, nuts, hexs, slings and cams. This protection, when placed correctly in a crack or hole in the rock will stop a climber from falling a significant distance.
3. Learn the ropes
Most large indoor climbing walls will run introductory taster sessions, many won’t actually let you climb until you have completed one of these sessions. The sessions will teach you the basic skills to be able to climb safely indoors. Usually this will include:
- Putting on your harness – Surprisingly, a lot of people do get this wrong.
- Tying in – How to safely attach the climbing rope to your harness.
- Belaying – A fundamental skill to learn in climbing, how to hold your climbing partners weight and arrest a fall.
- Taking in slack rope – Taking in rope at the same speed as your partner climbs.
- Descending the wall – How to safely come back down to the ground and how to lower your partner back down.
4. Understand the Grades
At first grading systems for climbing can seem confusing, there is a huge range of different systems. Indoor climbing, bouldering, sport climbing and trad climbing all use different systems, and if you are thinking of going climbing abroad the grading systems are different again. As a beginner climber your main focus is going to be on indoor climbing, therefore two systems are the most important to learn (and luckily, they are the two easiest to understand!)
Roped climbing at your indoor climbing wall predominantly uses French numerical grades. As the numbers ascend so does the difficulty of the route i.e 3,4, 4+, 5, 5+, 6a, 6b etc. When you start climbing you will quickly work out what grades you can climb comfortably and which you can work on to get stronger.
At most indoors walls there will be a bouldering section where the grades differ again to the roped climbing section. The grades on the bouldering wall use the V-scale, grades go from VB, V0-, V0, V0+, V1, V2 all the way up to V15 or even V16 right now.
5. Learn the Lingo
At first it might sound like rock climbers are using their own language, here are some key words so you have some idea of what is going on at the wall.
-Overhang – Rock that is beyond vertical.
-Smearing – When there are no footholds you can press the sole of your climbing shoe against the wall for grip.
- Jug – A large easy to grab hold.
-Crimp – Holding a small edge with finger tips, fingers bent to bring your hand closer to the wall.
-Mantel – Pushing down on a hold or ledge to climb up, like climbing out of a swimming pool.
-Pumped – When your forearms become filled with lactic acid and strength is lost.
-Bomber – When a hold or piece of equipment is very strong.