Spiderman, does what ever a spider can...
Climbing really brings
back your childhood. You can hear that distant voice of
your mother, "Get down from there. You're going to fall
and hurt yourself." Well, leave it to adults to rig it
so you won't fall and hurt yourself. That's right, at
least while you're learning "falling" is part of it. Though
you're not really falling since you're strapped to a harness
which is tied to a top rope. Your "belayer" has the rope
secured so when you loose your grip you don't "fall" more
than an inch or two. Not too scary.
The real question is when
did climbing become so hard? Didn't we climb all the time
when we were kids? If there's anything scary about it,
it's the reality check on our age and our ability. Though,
kids being lighter probably also use better climbing "technique".
Children don't use their upper body to pull themselves
up, but instead use their legs to "walk" up like a latter.
In fact to begin with women are typically better climbers
than men are because they don't rely on their upper body
strength either. Also, women in general have better balance
than men have. Successful climbing requires proper technique
Now that you're an adult,
you must try climbing at least once. It is truly a different
kind of sport.
Climbing comes is many
forms. "City" climbing (not to be confused with scaling
buildings) or climbing an indoor wall is the most common
form. Indoor climbing walls are becoming a sport and industry
unto themselves. Yet, they have little in common with
climbing's roots, mountaineering. Not that indoor walls
are a new concept. They've been around a long time for
practicing outdoor maneuvers. Indoor climbing seems to
be a new alternative to the normal gym workout, providing
an excellent mental and physical workout.
City climbing is the urbanites
answer to the outdoors; build a replica of nature indoors
where it is accessible. Climbing walls are easy to find
with walls springing up in gyms across the country. They're
actually very challenging and rewarding even if they're
not outside. It's also easy to schedule a quick climb
after work with a friend. Of course for many the ultimate
is to climb outside on the real thing.
The sport is physically
challenging and will get you in shape fast, if for no
other reason than you don't want to lug that 1/4 lb. cheeseburger
up 25 feet of wall. Lean and mean is where it's at. You
know those incredible cut arms and physiques we envy?
Climbing will get you those. It's also mentally challenging
in a way that's difficult to explain. You're 3/4 of the
way up, you're tired, and can't find your next grip...
It's like being in a maze, lots of problem solving. You
need to find a path and at the same time you're hanging
onto a tiny ledge.
There are two types of
climbing, top roping and lead climbing. Most climbing
images are of climbers on the top of the world clinging
to a pinnacle rock. Obviously, this is for expert climbers
and requires lots of experience and specialized gear. To
get there these climbers used "lead climbing". When leading,
there is no top-rope so the lead climber must climb above
their protection. As they move up the face, they continually
place new anchors that are closely space. This reduces
the distance the climber might fall, which for a lead
climber will be much farther than a top-rope climber.
As a beginner, you'll be
introduced only to top roping. This is where the rope
is run through a previously secured anchor at the top
of the climb's route. An indoor gym might use a metal
bar or steel ring bolted to the ceiling. In the outdoors,
you might use a tree at the top of a ledge.
Between beginner and expert
there are wide expanses of skills and experience. You
can be an expert indoor top-rope climber with all the
moves, but you would still be quite novice to the sport
of climbing. The intermediate climber has perfected those
techniques outdoors where the paths aren't obvious and
problem solving is crucial. As an intermediate you'll
begin lead climbing; learning the equipment, angles in
which to properly place protection reducing loads. As
an expert you've master the equipment and science aspects and
are pushing the extremes, such as multi-day big wall climbs.
Most of what you've been
exposed to in photographs are masters at their sport.
It is a long climb to get to that level, but with great
rewards the entire way. Each level offers major challenges
and victories. Whatever height you dream of, climbing
is an amazing sport.
First Climb of Your Adulthood
First and most importantly,
learn from an expert instructor not a friend. It can be
a dangerous sport. You need an instructor that is experienced,
patient and thorough, so you get all the information you
need. Secondly, strive to become a safe climber from the
beginning. Start a routine early of double checking you
and your partners knots and gear.
Most people's first climb
is on a climbing wall. This isn't required, just more
accessible for most. When climbing indoors, you don't
have to worry about rain or weather. There is also something
reassuring about the controlled environment of the "wall".
Your instructor will get
you the right size equipment and discuss the proper harness
fit. A proper fit is essential to safety and comfort while
dangling from the top rope. Though a proper fitting harness
isn't necessarily comfortable while standing. You will
appreciate its snugness when you're up on the wall.
Next you'll cover the proper
knots for your first day of top-rope climbing. Pay closes
attention and asks lots of questions. Know your knots!
For you to climb on your own, you'll need to be proficient
in this area. You don't want to find out it was tied incorrectly.
Climbing is a partnership
between you and your climbing buddy. You will take turns
climbing and belaying each other. Take this relationship
seriously. No foolin' around. When belaying, the climber's
safety is in your hands. It's important to hold up your
side of the agreement: pay attention at all times and
know your equipment and knots.
Learning the art of belaying
is the most important lesson. The belayer is the safety
person and manages the rope. The primary rule for a belayer
is to never take your hand off the brake line until the
climber is on the ground. NEVER! That hand prevents the
climber from falling to the ground. The belayer stands
on the ground with the end of the rope lead through the
belaying device. For top roping, the other end of the
rope has been lead through the top anchor and back down
to the climber. The rope is then secured through the climber's
harness. The belayer should get in the habit of checking
that the climber's harness is on properly, that the rope
is lead through the harness properly and that the knot
You might be concerned
that you're not strong enough to hold the weight of the
climber. Because the rope is run through a purchase system,
the pressure is greatly reduced at the belayer's end.
Even a petite woman can belay a large man.
As soon as the belayer
is ready, they call "On belay". Then when the climber
is ready they call "Climbing". At this point the belayer
steadily takes up the slack in the rope as the climber
moves up the wall. The rope shouldn't be too slack so
that it gets in the way of the climber or allows the climber
to fall any distance. Additionally, the rope shouldn't
be too tight hindering the climber's freedom of movement.
Once the climber has reached the summit, they'll call
out "Ready to lower". That's the signal that the climber
will be leaning back and putting their full weight on
the rope. The belayer then calls out, "Lowering".
Communication is often
minimal, so it comes down to the belayer paying close
attention the whole time. Communication is difficult because
as the climber gets higher it gets harder to hear, and
neither party has free hands to use hand signals. The
climber is completely focused on their challenge at hand,
which means the belayer must be totally focused and reading
the climbers moves. You and your partner should review
commands before the climb, then keep the commands to those
few basic calls. This will help eliminate confusion.
As soon as you have covered
all the belaying methods, your instructor will typically
send you up the wall. Many instructors don't talk about
climbing techniques on your first day. If you use poor
technique, you'll be out of breath by the time you get
to the top of your first climb. This can be very frustrating,
making you feel like you're not strong enough. Before
you go up the wall, ask your instructor to discuss climbing
techniques, and demonstrate proper moves.
Most people will use their
arm muscles to pull them up to the next step. Performing
hundreds of pull-ups will exhaust you immediately. However,
you are capable of standing all day and can climb many
more steps. This is the key to technique. Focus on using
your leg muscles. When resting put your weight on your
body's frame to relax your muscles. Efficient movement
is what climbing technique is all about.
Once you've done your first
climb and been checked out, you and your partner will
be left alone to get a real taste for the challenge. The
first wall will be quite easy with many foot and handholds.
Try a number of paths to get a feel for the problem solving
aspect of the sport. After your first day of wrestling
with "impossible" climbs, take a look at an expert scale
an overhang. You'll be truly humbled and amazed at the
holds they discover. But don't despair, you too can learn
to do that. Besides, most of 'them' have been climbing
for years. If you love it, just stick with it and go at
your own pace. It's great exercise and a great mental
Getting To The Top
Now that you've got the
bug, to continue climbing regularly you'll need to organize
a few climbing buddies. They'll help you get motivated.
Your buddy doesn't have to be at the same level either.
You will learn a lot from watching an experienced climber.
Even at this stage a qualified instructor can help improve
Once you decided you're
hooked, you should buy the basic equipment right away;
climbing shoes, harness, and the chalk and chalk bag.
They'll be more comfortable and a better fit. You won't
need to buy the rope or the belaying device until you
At this point you've got
a lot of techniques to learn and some aren't so obvious.
A great way to learn and practice your moves is by bouldering.
Bouldering is traversing a boulder or rock, which is only
a foot or two off the ground. It doesn't require any gear
or equipment because you can simply jump down. And because
it is safe, you're free to try new and difficult maneuvers.
Movement is the name of
the game. You'll often hear climbing described as a dance,
using light and loose maneuvers and hip swings. Good climbers
almost float up the wall. Like dancers, climbers are focused
on maintaining balance. Rarely do you see the power house
guy grunting and wrestling every foot up.
The first trick is to use
your legs instead of your arms. You can stand around for
hours without getting tried, so use those muscles for
all your upward movement.
Secondly, you'll need to
learn to rest and relax while climbing. Finding a balancing
position may take some time. You'll need to be able to
rest each of your limbs. When resting an arm, you should
let it hang down, allowing blood to flow easily to all
the fingers. Taking frequent brakes will keep you from
becoming over tired as you make your way to the top. Whenever
possible use your body frame or skeleton instead of muscle.
Hanging from a straight arm is less exhausting than from
a flexed arm.
The secret to most movements
is applying opposing pressures. By pulling with your arms
and pushing with your legs at the right angle you can
hold your position. Many moves have technical terms, but
it comes down to finding what moves works for you. Some
of the techniques include handholds, footholds, jamming
with your hands and your body, smearing, and chimneying.
There are many techniques
your instructor can easily demonstrate. Additionally,
watch and talk with other climbers about their movements
and techniques. You can get a lot of ideas for maneuvers
by watching others climb.
The indoor gyms are a great
place for regularly practice. However, you must try an
outdoor climb. Finding those footholds and handholds are
much more difficult when they're not bright red man made
attachments. It adds a new intensity as well as a greater
understanding of the forefathers of climbing and mountaineering.
At this point you're ready
to try the second type of climbing, lead climbing. Lead
climbing adds the new dimension of placing your own protection
and then hooking into it. You've seen all the other equipment
in the climbing stores? Now is the time to get familiar
with them. As well, you can no longer just lean back placing
your weight on the rope. If you let go of the wall you
will fall a substantial distance, double the distance
of your last protection. So if you're hooked in 2 feet
below, you will fall 4+ feet. The "+" relates to the amount
that the rope will stretch during a fall. It's important
to keep the "+" in mind.
Your first lead climb should
be on a preprotected route. This is where the protection
is already placed and you just hook into it. These preprotected
routes allow you to get comfortable with climbing above
your line and equipment, which takes a little getting
The equipment you'll need
(quick-draws) are secured to a "rack" either on your harness's
gear loops around your waist or over your shoulder. You're
main focus when beginning to lead climb is learning to
clip into protection. It sounds easier that it is. With
practice it will become second nature. Additionally, the
rope must be placed in the quick-draw's carabiner correctly.
If not, the rope could pull against the opening gate braking
When climbing a preprotected
route or sport route be very cautious of the existing
bolts. Many factors can cause bolts to weaken: manufacturing
defects, improperly inserted, weather, etc. And it's impossible
to tell a bolt's strength just by looking at it.
Only once you've mastered
the preprotected indoor routes and outdoor sport routes
are you ready to climb traditional clean routes outdoors.
At this point you must learn to place your own protection.
Keep in mind, no protection is fail safe. Always have
a back up.
Traditional leading provides
many new challenges. To be prepared for those challenges
you must have completely mastered the previous techniques,
such as maneuvers, clipping-in, managing your rope, etc.
There's no room for panicking, while on a traditional
climb. Unlike the gym, you'll be exposed to many new issues:
- sharp rocks which make
any falls hazardous
- loose rocks which can
give way under your feet or fall from above
- weather changes which
will require you to finish your climb abruptly
- poor communication because
of distance and noise
- even the odd confrontation
with a critter.
In addition to these challenges,
you'll need to place you own protection and clip into
Lead climbing requires
a full spectrum of climbing tools, tools that sound like
they should be in a toolbox. In essence, you're looking
for the right tool for the job at hand.
Determining the right equipment
or rack will depend on the rock. If you're unsure of the
rock's fašade and the size of cracks you'll find, you'll
need to take a wide variety of protection devices. The
most common today are chocks or wedges. They come in many
sizes and shapes. A wire is run through them with a loop
at the end to secure a carabiner. They are wedged into
a crack in the rock providing an anchor point. As well
as chocks, there are spring loaded camming devices. These
are mechanical devices in which outward pressure forces
them to widen and become tighter. Learning to use these
devices properly takes time and experience.
These devices are not left
in the rock. The lead climber has a partner, the second.
As the lead moves up placing protection, the second is
the belayer. The lead then anchors themselves and belays
the second. As the second climber moves up they remove
the anchors and attach them to their rack.
Placing protection takes
time to master. Start off on easy routes and be conservative.
Reaching Amazing Heights
When you get to the expert
level, you're really feeling like spiderman. Though don't
forget, part of what got you there is good safety practices.
It's no time to change. Most expert climbers will tell
you, they never stop learning. Each climb is a new challenge
with new lessons.
The rewards of becoming
an expert climber are incredible. Very few people are
able to go where master climbers can. And they are the
most spectacular places on this earth. Just image a multi-day
climb a 1,000 feet up on a sheer mountain face. The stuff
dreams are made of.
- When belaying, never
take your brake hand off the rope.
- While climbing, never
joke around. There's plenty of time for goofing around
- Don't put all the responsibility
in your partner's hands even if they're more experienced.
It's important to work together to prevent mistakes.
- Knee length tights or
bike shorts are probably most comfortable to start with.
When the harness is properly fitted, it feels like a
giant wedgie. Not exactly glamorous. And loose clothing
can get in your way.
- When starting off, take
your time and go at your own pace.
- Learn to rest.
- Don't forget it's supposed
to be fun. The challenges are energizing, but remember
to enjoy it too.
- Double-check yours and
your partners knots and gear.
- Be conservative. There's
little room for error.
- Never put all your trust
on one device.
- Buy the best equipment.
The equipment isn't that expensive and it will save
- Choose a partner you're
comfortable with. You need to trust them.
- Wear a helmet if you're