“Wow, rock climbing! Isn’t that really intense?”
Well, yes and no. Rock climbing – basically climbing up, down, and all around faces of rock – can be a real workout and has a lot of types, techniques, and possible equipment. However, it’s mostly invigorating, and you’ll have much less to be intimidated about by reading our guide below.
1. Seek Out Rock Climbing Classes
Since proper rock climbing isn’t something you can just pick up and do, you’ll want to find somebody more experienced to guide you as you’re learning the ropes. There’s a ton of excellent rock climbing classes specifically geared towards beginners that you should check out. Here in LA there are a ton of places to find climbing gyms or outdoor opportunities near you. So consider checking out our local indoor favorite Rockreation or our outdoor favorite RocknRopes and get started!
2. Pick a Style
There is a lot out there about rock climbing that you would benefit from knowing before getting started — including all of the types of climbing and techniques. But for starters, as a beginner you need to pick one of two types of indoor climbing: bouldering or top-rope climbing.
- Bouldering: Free of ropes or any harnesses, bouldering practices balance and strength. It is often close to the ground (within jumping distance) and an excellent introduction to climbing. Don’t worry about falling because thick pads and spotters help prevent possible injury.
- Top-Rope Climbing: This is the beginner’s entrance into harness-and-rope climbing. This involves the climber and a second person who belays. The “belayer” at the bottom manages the rope and acts as insurance in case of a fall.
- Lead Climbing: For more skilled climbers, lead climbing is quite similar to outdoor climbing. In lead climbing, you clip the rope to quickdraws on the side, so every slip will drop you back to the previous clipped point. Similar to top-rope climbing, you will still have a belayer.
Once you have mastered these, you can try traditional rock. It is dangerous, with few to no anchors, and offers a challenge to even the most skilled climbers. Educate yourself and find which one suits you.
3. Know Your Levels
Indoor climbing usually has indicators specific to the gym that will let you know what’s easy or challenging. The U.S. typically uses the Yosemite Decimal Rating System to determine climbing difficulty. Beginner climbing routes usually rate from 5.1 to 5.5, while more advanced routes scale from 5.6 to 5.10. The most challenging ones are from 5.11 to 5.15, with “a,” “b,” “c” and “d” to further separate them. Bouldering follows multiple different scales. The most common is the V scale, with V0 the easiest and V16 the hardest.
4. Get Appropriate Equipment
Equipment is very, very important in rock climbing. Proper equipment is the reason why falls are actually quite rare when climbing (fun fact: the most common ailment climbers face is simply callused hands and rough skin). In particular, for these beginning styles, ask your instructor for where to start finding suitable shoes, chalk, and helmet. Special climbing shoes and chalk will reduce the chances that you’ll slip, and the helmet will protect your head just in case. Soon after, if you choose to boulder outdoors, you’ll need to find a good crash pad to soften any jumps off the rock wall. Some gyms provide or rent certain gear. As you become more skilled, you may want to buy your own. Here is a quick overview of different equipment:
- Harness: This climbing must-have is used for both indoors and outdoors.
- Carabiners: This connects the belay device (brakes on the climbing rope) to the harness.
- Chalk: This gives you a better grip. It helps when your hands get sweaty — they will!
- Rock climbing shoes: These comfortably tight shoes have soles that provide a better footing on climbing surfaces.
- Climbing rope: Most gyms will provide this. You need it for climbing walls.
Now that you have some familiarity with rock climbing, try it out with some of the rock climbing classes near you! Remember, don’t dwell too much on reaching the top, but relish the journey. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask the instructors. You’ll definitely learn a tip or two. Most importantly, have fun in this adrenaline-pumping sport!