Uphill Battle: Rock Climbing 101

Contributed by Michael Restivo, Mike off the Map

Rock climbing is a sport of balance, stability, and stamina. It is much more akin to yoga than it is lifting. While physical conditioning aids the climber as they progress, climbing is a sport that is open to all people and body types. Plus, it’s a great alternative to traditional gym workouts because it is dynamic, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. Safety is paramount in climbing and therefore requires constant communication between the climber and his or her partner, as well as a thorough knowledge of the equipment and skills that make for a safe and fun experience.

Beginner climbers should start in a gym environment. Climbing gyms, which are now becoming increasingly popular, offer a supervised introduction to the sport. A climber is given a harness and climbing shoes. The harness, which must be snuggly attached around the waist of the climber, is the point where the climbing rope connects. The climbing shoes, not unlike ballet slippers, must be tight around the feet but not constricting. Climbing shoes allow climbers to flex their feet comfortably while the tough, rubber soles help the climber securely grasp the wall.

Must-haves: harness, helmet, and two ropes: one for the climb and one for the rappel.

Climbing Styles

  • Bouldering

Bouldering is scrambling up large boulders without the aid of a rope or a harness. In most cases, the boulder is not tall enough to cause injury in the event of a fall. Bouldering is a great start for new climbers because it teaches proper hand placement, weight distribution and body positioning.

  • Top Roping

This is where the climber is affixed with a harness and climbing rope that is secured to a rope that hangs from a fixed point at the top of the route. The climber teams up with a belay partner whose responsibility is to act as the climber’s anchor and control the flow of the rope and its tension. The climber is held securely in place by the belay partner’s weight, so if they let go of the wall they are suspended in place. Once the route is completed, the climber takes their body off the wall, and the belay partner slowly lowers the climber.

  • Lead Climbing

The most advanced of the three styles, lead climbing begins with the climber affixed to a rope from below. As they ascend the wall, they must clip themselves into strategically placed points, which protect the climber from falling, while he or she continues up the route. Unlike top roping, the climber is given a generous amount of slack rope providing for a greater range of motion.  If the climbers fail to clip themselves before a fall, they run the risk of dropping a great distance before their protection catches them.

Belay up! An ATC Belay Device and climbing rope.

Knot to Mention

Climbers are initially introduced to the basic knot: figure eight. This knot serves two purposes: it creates a secure link between the rope and the harness and it acts as a shock absorber if the climber falls. When the climbers affix themselves to the route that they choose, they learn to tie a double figure eight, securely following the lines of the original knot.

An important part of climbing is managing strength. Climbers who frequently use their arms to get up a route tend to over-exert themselves compared to a climber who comfortably positions their feet and stands up to be within reach of the next hold. Paying attention to difficulty levels labeled along the route is recommended for beginners still gauging their strength.

Once the basic skills are mastered, climbing is an alternative, dynamic and, not to mention, challenging work out. With good safety skills and communication it can be an enjoyable experience.

Have you ever climbed before? What’s your best climb to date?

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