In this article we will tell you all you need to know to get into rock climbing whilst touching on some of the other forms of climbing.
Deciding to start climbing is just like with other sports; you say to yourself ‘I want to try that’ and then you answer some questions:
What do I know about climbing?
Where can I get more information?
Who do I want to go with?
How much equipment do I need to get?
What type of Rock Climbing do I want to do?
Here we will break down all the information you need to get outdoor and start your first climbs.
What is Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is the sport, or art, of moving up a cliff or mountain using both your hands and feet. It uses almost all your muscles and requires just as much, if not more, mental concentration than physical. The fundamentals of climbing are simple but building up your skill, technique and knowledge base is a gradual process of accumulation based experience and practise.
Many guidebooks exist to show you where to climb in your local area along with route descriptions, the grade of each route and other useful information such as how long the walk in is and what time of day the cliff gets the sun.
Who do I go with?
If this is your first time climbing then you are going to need either a guide or go with someone who already climbs as there is a lot of skills to learn. If this isn’t your first time still book a guide or go with someone you know as they will still have all the gear and climbing outdoors is very different to climbing indoors or with a school group.
What is ‘Trad’ Climbing?
Traditional, or Trad as it is affectionately known, climbing is the more ‘pure’ form of climbing. You move up the rock face and place your own protective gear into holes and crack in the rock and then ‘clip in’ to it. This will protect you against a fall but can be removed by your ‘second’ as they climb up after you. Like the name suggests this the oldest form of climbing and most popular type of outdoor climbing in the UK. Take a look at some of our belay devices here.
What is Sport Climbing?
Sport climbing removes a lot of the gear and emphasis on good placement and focuses solely on the technicality of the route itself. Instead of placing your own protection as you go and then setting up belay for the second you clip in, using quickdraws, to bolts that are already placed in the rock and then after a bit a rope adjustment get lowered off by your belayer. This type of climbing is very popular in Europe but less so in the UK due to culture of climbing here.
Other Types of climbing?
Indoor Bouldering: The most popular type of climbing and very easy to get into. Go with a friend to an indoor wall, or book yourself into an introduction class, and away you go. Very social atmosphere with a different way of climbing and little gear needed.
Indoor Roped: Like indoor bouldering this is done at your local climbing centre but unlike bouldering you will need a harness, carabiner and belay device. Top rope has the rope already on the route so you won’t need one yourself- just take in instead of giving out. Lead climbing is essentially indoor Sport. Buy or rent and indoor rope and clip into the quickdraws already attached to the bolts.
Mutli-pitch: Not strictly a different type of climbing to Sport or Trad but the skills and techniques required are additional to what you have already learned. Multi-pitch is where you need more than one length of rope to complete the climb. As a general rule people switch who is leading each pitch to move faster and share the workload of route finding.
Scrambling: A fuzzy inbetween type of climbing; it is more than a hike but less than a climb. You will need to do a few climbing moves to make progress but they will be a move here and there as opposed to one after another for the whole length of the route. You will find these are less technical but more exposed that your normal climbing route.
Ice-climbing: The big league. Only doable in winter and combines rock, snow, ice and a bit of frozen turf. You need a lot of additional equipment here, with a higher fear factor and far more objective dangers. Master Trad first before moving onto this and always go with an experienced person for your first couple of winters.
Outdoor Bouldering: Originally used for warming up this has become a discipline in its own right. Short but technical with almost no gear (just shoes and chalk) and only a small drop. Bouldering mats are recommended as you will fall off more often.
What Gear do I need?
It depends on what type you are doing. At the very least you will need an outdoor rope, harness, climbing shoes, belay device, some carabiners (HMS & Straight), a few slings and a set of quickdraws. A helmet is optional but strongly recommended. This gear will see you through Sports climbing routes as long as it is only a single pitch long. You will be looking at £100-200 for all of the above. This is why it is recommended to start with someone who already climbs, and therefore has most of the gear, or to share the cost between you and someone else.
If you are going for Trad then you will need all of the above but with more sling/lanyards and carabiners. On top of that you are going to need to build yourself a ‘Rack’. This consists of not just your slings and quickdraws but of Cams (also called Friends) and Nuts (also called runners). You are going to start spending quite a bit of money here so the best practise is to build up your rack year on year as each Cam is going to set you back £50+. You will be wanting at least 6 Cams and 1 set of Nuts. Definitely advised to go with people who already have the gear and to split the cost with another person.
What are Grades?
In climbing there are a number of different grading systems depending on the type of climbing that you are doing and which country you are in. Some system, such as for Sport, only take into account the technical difficulty of the route while others, especially Trad, take into account other factors such as the quality and quantity of placements for protective gear.
In general the lower the number the easier the route and this is where you should be starting. Going from one type to another, or one country to another means a little translation is in order. Luckily there are many conversion table available through a quick Google search.