Rock Climbing: A guide to getting started
If you’re like most novices who want to get into rock climbing, you have no idea how to turn your burning desire into a reality. Here are some helpful hints from someone who was introduced to the sport the hard way…through friends.
By Margo Talbot
Don’t get me wrong. Friends can be a wonderful way to get introduced to the sport of rock climbing. Their passion and enthusiasm may well be the very reason that you want to try this popular outdoor sport yourself. But not all rock climbing buddies are the same. If you are fortunate yours will patiently accompany you to the local gear store to buy your first harness, shoes, and chalk bag. They will take the time to explain the intricacies of the equipment, how each piece works and why you should trust it.
They will be willing to forego their pet projects for the day, or weekend, and focus instead on your needs to begin on easy routes to get your ‘rock feet’. They will diligently watch you and give useful instruction on how you can better use your body.
If you have these kinds of friends in your life, then you are a lucky person and need read no further. If you have no friends who rock climb, or if you feel like you would just be holding them back on their one day off a month to recreate, here are my quick and dirty suggestions on how you can get yourself started.
Essential Rock Climbing Gear
The gear needed to rock climb can seem overwhelming to the beginner, but you need only three pieces of equipment to outfit yourself from head to toe. These are a helmet, harness, and rock shoes. The best way to inform yourself on these products is to go to your local climbing gear store and find the most helpful staff member you can. Grill them on the differences between various manufacturers’ gear, which range from the purely aesthetic, to the fit and performance. Make it clear that you are a beginner and want as much information on the products as possible. This is all very straightforward when you are talking about helmets and harnesses, but it gets a bit more complicated once you’re into trying on shoes.
A common mistake most beginners make is to listen to the staff member when they tell them that their rock shoes need to be so tight as to cause serious pain even while seated in the store. This is a complete fallacy, and has led to many an aspiring climber to having to buy a second set of shoes after their first time out at best, or to quit this masochistic sport altogether from the get-go. Sure, you want the shoes to be snug, but you also have to be able to walk around the store for at least five minutes before the pain makes you lose consciousness.
Your selection must also be a good all-around shoe, as there are many specialty shoes on the market. But how can you possibly choose a specialty shoe when you haven’t even climbed a specialty route yet? If you stick with the sport, you will eventually buy a second pair of more technical shoes for this application. But leave that for the future. Right now you need equipment that will work for what is happening at your current level.
You’ve Got Your Gear, What’s Next?
If you can’t find someone to go out on real rock with, try hiring a guide for the day. You’ll have the choice of having a one-on-one experience, which will cost you more but give you and your goals undivided attention. Or you can opt for the group experience, which saves you money and provides you with a social experience, as well as the potential for meeting other people new to the sport.
A third option, especially if it is in the off-season or unseasonably cold outside, is to go to an indoor gym. Whatever you choose, the beauty of instruction is that you get someone that is well versed in safety, has teaching skills, and can pick out your undesirable practices before they become bad habits that take a long time to break.
Become an Attractive Climbing Partner
So now that you’ve got your gear and you’ve had your introductory session with a friend or guide, it’s time to network. Start inquiring who in your circle of friends rock climbs, knows someone who does, or knows of a resource to lead you there. Go back to the indoor gym, socialize while you’re bouldering, and find other beginners who want to take to the crags. Become a conscious and attentive belayer.
Do some sport-specific training for you arms, and more importantly, your fingers. In other words, make yourself an attractive climbing partner. Read books on technique and strength training. Take good care not to step on people’s ropes. Remember, desire creates your reality, and in this regard, you will be amazed at how many ‘coincidences’ will enter into your life. Seize these opportunities when they arise and before you know it, you’ll have too many offers and too little time to take them all up. The month before, you never knew a single climber. Now, after some proper socializing, you’ll wonder how you lived without this activity in your life.
At this point you are hooked. Your body feels more balanced on the rock and in everyday life, and you have one more healthy activity to indulge in when you’ve got time off from work. But be careful, many unsuspecting novices have gone on to give up everything they thought they wanted to pursue the intangible euphoria they experience when they leave the ground.Suggested Reading: Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, Published by the Mountaineers How to Rock Climb: A Falcon Guide by John Long Publisher’s Note: Margo Talbot is a world-renown ice climber who spent 16 years skiing and climbing in the Canadian Rockies before deciding to travel to the coldest reaches of the planet. She is the author of “All that Glitters,” due for release in May 2011. You can find out more at www.glitter-girls.ca