Rock climbing guide: everything you need to know

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As spring approaches, climbers around the world are dusting off their gear. Warmer weather is a welcome sign for those looking to climb the obstacles of nature. However, if you’ve never had the chance to experience rock climbing on your own, the technical demands of the sport and its seemingly exclusive nature can be off-putting. In this guide, we’ll break climbing down to its basics to find out why it’s something anyone can do.

While rock climbing is not an impossible athletic task, it still requires basic levels of fitness. Before you jump into your first climbing gym, you need to make sure that you are comfortable shifting your own body weight through space. Good home workouts can include assisted pull-ups and dips as well as core strength workouts. Once you understand how to manage your body weight, you should be ready to try your first climb.

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Once you’ve finally entered your first climbing gym, you’ll notice an assortment of different styles. Most climbing gyms offer several types of climbing. Whether you are a novice climber or a frequent guest, contemporary gyms have something for everyone. Let’s break down the different types you might encounter:


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If the saying “A thousand kilometer journey begins with one step” is true, then for climbers that first step is bouldering. According to REI’s Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing, bouldering is the “simplest form of rock climbing.” For those looking to give it a try, all you need is a pair of climbing shoes, a chalk pouch and a crash pad to soften and protect the landings. Most climbing gyms will provide all three.

Since the boulder doesn’t have the rope and harness system found in other forms of climbing, every mistake you make on the wall will land you flat on the bottom. While other types of climbing can involve climbs of 30 to 40 feet, bouldering routes (also known by experts as “problems”) are much shorter – consider dropping 9 to 12 feet. on a mattress. Despite their small size, bouldering issues can still help climbers retain their fundamental climbing skills. It could be a great way to keep up your strength during the offseason.

Free climbing

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Once you graduate from bouldering and don a climbing harness, you will begin your free climbing journey. However, despite the scary name, you will be safe at all times. If you fall in a climbing room on a free ascent, you will usually only fall a short distance until your lifeline snaps into place, keeping you suspended above the ground and able to pick up again. your ascension. Another advantage of free climbing with relays is the possibility of taking a break when needed. Your climbing partner below will use their weight with a pulley system to help you stay weightless on the wall when needed. Free rope climbing can be divided into three categories: rope climbing, lead climbing and traditional climbing (or known as “trad”).

Rope climbing

Rope climbing is what most beginner climbers are familiar with. This technique requires a climber’s rope system to be anchored above them at all times. On the ground, a belay partner will act as a counterweight, “eating” the excess rope returned by the ascending climber. Communication between the climber and his insurer is essential. Since the belay partner is responsible for maintaining the safety of the climber’s rope, whenever a climber begins to climb faster (or slower), the belay partner must adjust their technique to follow the rhythm. Top rope climbing can be done in an indoor gym or on an outdoor wall.

Lead climbing

The next type of climbing that one can come across is lead climbing. It is much more difficult than anything that has been discussed so far. One of the – if not the – most popular types of climbing for experts, lead climbing is not for everyone. The most popular version of this technique requires the climber to tie their rope in bolted or secure locations along the route as they climb. In stark contrast to the more predictable top rope technique, lead climbing requires you to put your own safety in your hands with every foot you climb. Rightly so, most indoor gyms and outdoor guides require extensive training before you make your first lead climb.

Traditional climbing

A type of lead climbing, traditional or traditional, rock climbing involves moving and removing your anchoring equipment as you go up the wall. An assortment of removable equipment (such as nuts and cams) will accompany you on your way to the top, giving you the security you need to keep you from falling. Requiring additional knowledge of how to use a whole new class of equipment, traditional rock climbing is not for the faint of heart – nor for the casual climber.

Climbing aid

All the types of climbing mentioned so far rely on the climber using natural formations in the rock to help him climb the wall. Organic or replica (in the case of a climbing gym) grips and grips are required to successfully climb under the previously mentioned distinctions. However, artificial climbing, as the name suggests, involves an extra layer of assistance for the climber. According to REI, for particularly difficult or impassable sections of routes, aid climbers will use tools such as a special climbing ladder called a stirrup pull yourself up rather than leaning on the rock itself.

Free solo

Alex Honnold in free solo on the Scotty-Burke field of Freerider on El Capitan of Yosemite. (National Geographic / Jimmy Chin)

For this type of climbing, the name is as scary as it sounds. No ropes, no help and no second chance. If you make a mistake while soloing free ascent, there’s nothing stopping you from falling to death below. Even the most expert climbers usually never experience this type of activity. We strongly advise against participating in this type of climbing; however, if you want to see this type of climbing performed at the highest level, be sure to check out National Geographic Free solo – featuring the infamous 2017 assent of American climber Alex Honnold on the 3,000-foot granite rock face known as El Capitan.

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