Start to… Rock climbing

Winter season is near and this means outdoor activities are getting limited. Don´t get me wrong, I don´t mind a bit of cold or snow, but winter in the place where I live is mostly wet. So that is why I will be picking up some indoor activities that I´ve been neglecting the last few years. One of these is… indoor rock climbing.

But… how to start rock climbing?

Know what to expect

We´ve all seen those type of climbers scaling sheer cliffs in the Alps or through binoculars on the face of “El Cap” in Yosemite. And yes, when we see them, we all dream of reaching that level one day. But just like anyone, they have started once too. Most likely in an indoor climbing hall.

Rock climbing can seem intimidating and is often considered a dangerous pursuit. However it is more likely a rewarding effort and comes in many levels. Also climbing is more than an effort of your arms. Technique will get you further (read: higher) than strength alone. Beginners should pay attention to their balance and footwork. You can learn by watching others climb. Muscles in the lower body are stronger, so it´s only logical to make them do most of the work.

Getting started

Begin indoors

As mentioned before, an indoor climbing hall is the best way to get started. If you are rock climbing indoors, it may be best to follow an introduction course that allows you to learn about the gear used, basic techniques and how to belay. If you are serious about setting your steps into the sport, consider taking a Top rope climbing course, which will get you certificated. You may needed in most indoor climbing halls.

indoor toprope

What do I need?

A climbing partner

The best thing is of course if you have a friend with whom you can climb together. Are you alone? No problem! There are always plenty of people you can climb with. Just speak to someone and ask if you can climb with him / her or them.

Climbing harness

Climbing harnesses are available in various models and sizes. It is extremely important that you know how to put on your own climbing belt properly. First you need to tighten the waistband around your waist. Make sure that your hip belt is above the pelvis, so that you cannot fall out of your harness in case you end up hanging upside down. Then tighten the leg loops tightly around the thighs.

A climbing harness usually has several loops:

Binding loops: These loops serve to tie yourself ‘directly’ with the rope when you go climbing. You do this with the help of a double eight-knot. Not all climbing harnesses have separate binding loops.

Safety loop: The safety loop is attached to the binding loops of many climbing harnesses and thus keeps the leg loops and the hip loop together. Often the securing loop also has a different color than the binding loops. The safety loop is the strongest part of a climbing harness and can carry a lot of strength or absorb serious falls. The loop is used to attach your carabiner to which the belay device hangs. Some climbing halls do not allow you to tie yourself in directly, but provide the eight knots themselves in the ropes. In this case you have to attach yourself ‘indirectly’ to the rope using a safebiner or two propped screw carabiners. In this case, you attach the carabiner (s) to your belay loop.

Equipment Loops: These are for attaching additional climbing equipment that you are not currently using. They are not designed to bind or secure to it! So never bind to the material loops! These don’t even hold ten kilos! Accidents have been reported in which a climber accidentally tied himself in or secured to a material loop and the material loop broke. Some climbing centers therefore remove the material loops from the front of rental belts. Do not leave any material on your belt while climbing. This way, material can never (accidentally) come loose from your belt while climbing and fall on bystanders.

climbing harness anatomy

Climbing shoes

Climbing shoes come in all shapes and sizes. In general, the shoes should be snug so that they don’t twist, slide or bend too much when you step on a grip. The choice of footwear depends on the climbing environment. If you choose to climb and bouldering exclusively in a climbing gym, light and tight-fitting, slipper-like climbing shoes will suffice. With this type you can feel very well the grips on which you put your feet. This is especially an advantage for the advanced climber, a beginner will not experience it that way. Slipper-like models do not provide much support or protection for the foot. The firmer the shoe, the less you will feel small grips. Not every shoe model is suitable for every foot. It is therefore advisable to try on several shoes when purchasing climbing shoes.

Belaying device

The term belaying is used in climbing sports to protect a person against the risk of falling. The use of a rope, climbing harnesses, carabiners and a belaying device prevents the person from hitting the ground in the event of a fall. There are many different types of belay devices. Most sport climbers nowadays use a tuber-like type for top rope (such as Petzl’s reverso or black diamond’s ATC). The operation is the same with most belay devices and they are very suitable for novice belayers, partly due to their simplicity and the improved braking power on newer models. Belay devices are always used in combination with a screw carabiner or twistlock carabiner, but preferably with a safebiner.

Carabiners

To attach the belaying device to the safety loop of your climbing harness, you need a carabiner. Various options are also possible for this. There are carabiners with and without secure closure. You can use carabiners that are secured against uncontrolled opening for securing and binding. There are various protections for this:

Screw carabiners

The screw carabiner is the most famous karabiner with secure closure. He has the disadvantage that you can forget to close the closure. In addition, in the event of an unfavorable rope course, the closure can be turned open because the rope rubs against it.

carabiners

Twistlock carabiners

With twistlock carabiners there is also a risk that the closure will open due to the course of the rope. However, you cannot forget to close the twist-lock carabiner because it closes automatically.

Safebiners

Uncontrolled opening is impossible with a safe-lock carabiner (or safebiner) because you have to perform three actions to open the carabiner. Examples of safebiners are the dmm Belay Master, Petzl Ball-lock carabiners and carabiners with the dmm Locksafe or Petzl Triact-Lock closure. With the Belay Master, a black plastic cap (which only fits when the screw is closed) prevents unintentional opening. The Ball-Lock carabiner from Petzl can only be opened if a green ball is pressed simultaneously with the thumb. Since the ball is arranged in a small recess, it cannot be compressed by unfavorable rope routing. The dmm Locksafe or Petzl Triact-Lock closure resembles a twistlock carabiner, but you have to slide the closure sleeve up before you can turn it and open it. The safebiners of many other brands also use this type of closure.

NEVER use carabiners without a secure clasp for binding or belaying!

Magnesium

Magnesium powder improves the grip of the hands because it absorbs moisture from the skin. Magnesium powder is available in block form and as magnesium balls. Magnesium is carried around your waist in a bag, the so-called chalk bag. Liquid magnesium, based on alcohol, does not produce dust.

Is Climbing safe?

Sport climbing is fun and challenging but not without risks. Climbing involves falling and by falling you get to know your own limits. If climbers obey the safety rules and master the belaying technique, nothing will happen in the event of a fall. But ignorance and inattention can lead to life-threatening situations. In addition to this risk awareness, a sense of responsibility, confidence, a serious attitude and good control of the techniques are important.

Types of climbing

After climbing (Toprope)

With top rope climbing, the route is already equipped with a rope that runs through a diversion point at the top of the route. The belayer is on the ground and constantly keeps the rope taut by overtaking it as the climber goes up. When the climber has reached the top of the route, he will hang in the rope and the belayer will lower him / her to the ground. Top rope climbing is the most common form of sport climbing in many climbing centers. Novice climbers can get acquainted with climbing safely in this way, while advanced climbers can train in a safe situation on more difficult climbing routes.

Lead climbing

For lead climbing on an artificial climbing wall, the route is equipped with hooks, in which intermediate fuses (or “sets”) hang or are hung by the climber. As the climber climbs up, he attaches the rope to these intermediate securing devices. When the climber falls, he does not fall to the ground, but only the distance above the last intermediate fuse, times two. If it is a route that can be climbed with one length of rope (usually less than 40m), then there is a diversion point (or “relay”) at the end of the route. When a route spreads over several rope lengths (multi-pitch routes), there will be one or more sites along the way from which to re-secure. Lead climbing is the most common form of rock and ice climbing and competitive climbing.

top rope vs sport climb

Bouldering

Bouldering involves climbing on a short, difficult route (boulder) without a rope. There are usually thick mats on the floor for safety. A bouldering route is often referred to as a “problem” because the boulders are built in such a way that a limited number of movements are possible to climb the boulder. In terms of effort, bouldering is comparable to the 100-meter sprint, in which strength, explosiveness and technique come together. You can also use bouldering to practice new moves at a low altitude before applying them high up on the wall. Bouldering can also be done outside on rocks, such as in France in the most famous bouldering area: Fontainebleau.

Climbing Levels and Difficulty Levels

In a climbing center you can usually recognize routes by the color of the handles. Each route is assigned a difficulty level by the route builder. This difficulty level is shown at the bottom of the route, along with the rope you need to climb on. The level of difficulty gives a rough indication of the physical and technical requirements of a route.

There are several difficulty scales in use worldwide, such as the French scale, the UIAA scale or the Yosemite decimal system.
The French scale is usually used in European climbing centers. It looks like this:

French 1 – 3 4a 4b 4c 5a 5b 5c 6a 6a+ 6b 6b+ 6c 6c+ 7a 7a+ 7b

Most climbers climb routes of difficulty 4, 5 and 6 (French). In 2013, a 9b + is the most heavily claimed route ever.

Basic Climbing Techniques to Know

WikiHow has a very instructive post about how to use your harness and how to attach it to the rope and belay device. Read about it here.

Get Outside

Once you’ve built strength and technique, learned the skills to climb safely, acquired some gear, and met people to climb with, it’s time to get outside. This is a major step beyond the climbing hall, however. Climbing outside means you are relaying on your own skills and equipment. Unless you are convinced of your group´s capabilities, consider hiring a guide the first time. Enjoy!

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