Beginner Rock Climbing Advice

Dreaming of fresh air, broad vistas, and scabby knuckles? Here are a few bits of advice to get you out on the crags.

Do some reading about climbing

I mean, read everything: the climbing magazines, the climbing how-to books, those hardcover tales of adventure, and even the online junk. Climbing guidebooks are great bathroom reading, if you find the ones with lots of anecdotes and wry wit. Soon, you'll pick up the proper terminology (and lingo), and the reading will reinforce your hands-on experience.

Take a climbing lesson

A climber's education is graded on a pass/fail basis, and partial credit is only awarded posthumously. Sure, your roommate or coworker could show you how it all works, but what they're really doing is practicing on you. Your early investment in a qualified climbing guide is returned immediately in the form of accelerated learning and safer climbing decisions in the future.

Get a partner

You need somebody else out there climbing with you - that's why ropes come with two ends instead of one. Look for a partner with more experience than you, more climbing gear (and the knowledge to use it properly), and a better car. Age and gender are absolutely irrelevant, but a certain social compatibility is essential. Choose carefully; you'll be trusting him or her to double-check your tie-in and give you a decent belay.

Get some climbing gear

Owning climbing shoes is a start, but you'll get invited along more often if you can supply your own harness, belay device, locking carabiner, and perhaps a chalk bag and a climbing helmet. Maybe your partner says she'll lend you her old harness, but how come she's not still using it herself?

Scope out local crags

Search online for local climbing destinations, then go check them in person. Find out where you can park. How long is the approach? Is that poison ivy? Is this even legal? A rainy day spent at a crag with a guidebook can prevent wasting valuable hours finding the route when the sun is out.

Keep climbing

Climb at every opportunity. You should be bouldering on your lunch hour, top-roping after work or after class, cragging on the weekends, and road-tripping on your vacations. Do the math, and realize how cheap a ten-day trip to Joshua Tree could be. Or if time is the problem, remind yourself that two days is plenty at New River Gorge, since your arms will be toast anyway.

Optimize your downtime

Do doorjamb pull-ups while you're waiting for the copier. Look for chalk marks on those old railroad bridge abutments. See if you can make it all the way down the hall without touching the floor. Then convince your partner that you'll help him turn his garage into a bouldering cave, since your landlord won't let you do it at your place.

Skip the serious training

The best training for climbing is climbing. Any time that you spend trying to improve your strength would probably be better spent trying to get more efficient and more creative. The best climbers aren't overpowering the crux moves, they're outsmarting them. Well, OK, maybe one of those hand-held squeezy-things would be a good idea in the car, but that's it.

Prepare for the unanticipated

Climbing gets more interesting when it becomes less predictable (if it stayed the same all the time, they'd call it car racing). Sometimes this means building a carabiner brake because you dropped your rappel device, or rigging a quick-haul system to help your partner through the crux. But sometimes it's a real emergency. Practice that stuff and become self-reliant.

Learn from everything and everyone

Watch other climbers. Watch other guides. Analyze what you see: Is it good? Bad? Pick up some climbing history and learn from Royal Robbins and Miriam Underhill and Gaston Rebuffat. Look up the Compressor Route, the Titan, Midnight Lightning, and the Eigerwand. Read climbing catalogs. Talk to rangers. Read the summit register. Get beta from locals. Read the notices on the campground bulletin board. Ask your mom.