Learning To Rock Climbing


#1 How To Learn From Your Friends…And Not Be A Total Pain In The Ass.

So you want to learn to rock climb?


Step 1: find people to learn from.

Here’s the deal…learning from professional guides is the best option.  If your guide is a tool find a different guide, if you’re female maybe find a female guide.  They should be pro’s and they have all the gear and it will all be great.

But if, like most of us, you end up trying to learn from your friends here are some pointers…

  • Find people who are not sketchy.  Judging the sketchiness of climbing from a beginner perspective can be hard, but trust your instincts and ask for outside opinions on the friends you might be learning from.  If they’ve worked as or with guides that’s a good sign.  If they get attention by telling stories of the sketchy things they’ve done that’s a bad sign.
  • Now…this one’s tricky…but to some extent, if you’re a total beginner, safe experienced climbers might not want to climb with you.  Sketchy beginner climbers might want to climb with you because all the safer climbers wont go near them…just be aware of this.
  • Be persistent but not pushy or rude.  Loads of people say they think it would be fun to go climbing with me.  I have no idea if it would be fun to climb with them.  Most of them never bring it up more then once.  Learning to climb is hard, it can be painful and demoralizing, be ready to do this even if you get 5 min in and realize it totally sucks.

So…let’s imagine someone does agree to take you climbing even though you’re clueless…and let’s assume the’re a great safe climber.  Hopefully they are incredible patient and start you on really easy routes…now when I say easy it still might feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done…it might feel impossible…you might not get to the top…try to listen to their advice and do your best.  If you don’t get to the top that’s okay…and if they seem pissed that you didn’t make it then screw them because they chose the route in the first place.

Now…if it’s the awesome day of climbing we all hoped it would be…you probably want to go again…this is where the dating analogy comes in.  If you want a second date, then A: you need to communicate that, and B: you need to impress them at least a little bit.  You need to keep it fun for them too.  Trust me…teaching people to climb can really suck some times…but when they carefully listen to my instructions and seem like they want to learn and have a sense of humor about it all that’s awesome!

So, here are some tips for the second “date”…

  • Unless you find someone who is really stoked about loaning you gear, then get your own.  If you’re ever going to be a climber you absolutely need your own shoes and harness.  A chalk bag, belay device, and a few carabiners are good too.
  • Take VERY good care of your self, if you’re too hungry, sunburned, dehydrated, cold, hot, bug bitten etc. then you will be less fun to hang out with, you’ll have a harder time focusing, and you’ll look careless.  There’s nothing worse then a belayer who’s cold and hungry due to their own negligence…unless of course you just taught them to belay!  Then it’s definitely worse, they probably don’t know what the’re doing and I’d be tempted to keep my feet safely on the ground at this point.
  • Learn EVERYTHING.  As much as you can.  Follow the lead of the person teaching you and learn their systems.  Learn to coil their rope however they like it, learn to organize their gear, learn to tie whatever knots they use and build anchors the way they do.  Learn their preferred climbing commands and try and get all this stuff dialed.  Doing your homework between climbing days and asking thoughtful questions is a big winner!
  • Remember, they’ve invest years of practice and hundreds if not thousands of dollars into their climbing gear…you complaining about the $50 you can’t afford for climbing shoes won’t go far…and neither will you without those shoes.  So try and pull your weight as best you can.  You don’t need to go halfsies, but if you’re serious about this make some effort.  Offer to pay for gas or start saving for gear or something…anything…just remember what other people have put into this.
  • Snacks: you don’t need to go over the top on this, but after sitting on some cold god forsaken ledge and belaying you for an hour as you struggle up that “easy” climb some cookies never go amiss, ice cream on the way home can also work, and many climbers respond well to beer.

So…in short…if you’re going to learn to climb from your friends be serious about it.  Don’t be a pain in the ass.  Listen to them and be responsive.  Every person is different so every climber is different, respect that.  There’s not really a “right” way to learn, or a “right” way to make it to the second date…but make the effort as best you can, have fun out there, and stay safe!

And hey, I for one would still rather climb with a fun enthusiastic beginner then any of those experienced sketch balls!  Besides, if they stick it out and learn good systems we could be swapping leads in no time.

*Note: climbing is never safe, maybe think of safer climbing like safer sex…safe enough but nothing is 100% here.

*Note: if you’re on the teaching end of this you literally have someones life in your hands, understand power dynamics, be super respectful, and don’t let them die!!!  More on all this some other time :)

Also…there are a million exceptions to the things I’ve written here…the subject could easily fill a book, so please ask questions, share your experience, and add to the conversation!  Yay!


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