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Guide to the New Gym Climber

Submitted by ctardi on 2006-06-06

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This article is meant as a bit of a guide to the new gym climber, and answers some of the questions that I had throughout the beginning of my climbing career, which although it is still just starting out, will hopefully last for many more years. I have no qualifications, other than wanting to help out those who go though the same things that I have. Iíve been climbing just over two years, and only made about 20 trips outside, several hundred inside, and have been lucky enough to have many hours with a mentor that has been able to answer almost all of my questions.

I started climbing when I was invited to a birthday party several years ago. At this point, I was what would be referred to as an Unconscious Incompetent. This means that I was unaware that I would even need any skills to continue from there. Itís just pulling yourself up a wall, how hard could it be? Several years, and birthday parties, later, I saw an article in the local paper about a climbing gym having an open house, with climbing, and a B.B.Q. outside. Didnít have anything else to do that day, the gym was only a 15 minute drive away, and I always wanted to get more into climbing, but never really knew how to get started, so didnít pursue it.

Upon getting to the gym, I had a harness put on me and did a couple of climbs, even the Ďupside down one!í This left me with the nagging question, how do you get more into this sport? And what in the world does a climbing team do? Why does the harness strap go through the buckle 3 times? What do all the key chains on the wall do? How about those silly looking things coming out of the floor? I signed up to an intro course / belay course, so I could learn to Ďhold the ropesí. Still at that point, I didnít believe that there could be any more to it than running it through an upside down Easter basket, and pulling up the wall like a mad man.

The course only put even more questions in my head, but I didnít want to take away from the other participantís course, so I held on to them. I wanted to know what stuff was made of, how do you build your own wall, and if this had any relation to climbing outside. At this point, I was a Conscious Incompetent. I knew that there were many more skills that I would need before I could go further. I started climbing whenever I could, in order to build on the little skills that I had at this time, and to start seeking answers to the questions that I had burning in my head. I learned things like the key chains are really quick draws for lead climbing and the aluminum carabiners shouldnít get dropped onto anything hard.

By this time, I was hanging around with the gym owner, who was great, able to answer all of my questions and told some great stories, as he had had a hand in developing one of the local outdoor climbing areas. About three months after I started climbing, I was getting to the Conscious Competent stage in my climbing. I thought I knew everything there was to know about climbing, although I was very wrong. My belaying, however, impressed someone, as I was asked to work for the gym. This was great for me, as I got to spend a lot of time with people, and educate them about our great sport.

I stayed in this stage for a while, but didnít have anyone to tell me that I was in this stage, so may have given some dangerous advice, which is not something I recommend. The next step after this is to go on to the Unconscious Competent. I couldnít tell you if Iím at this step yet, or if you are at this step yet, as this is where you donít even have to think about what you are doing. This may be argued as where you may be very likely to make mistakes, but most of these can be avoided with buddy checks, and slowing everything down. I can think of 3 incidences in the past little while where a buddy check either saved from a potentially deadly mistake, or was not done and the people involved were lucky. One of these was my fault.

I was climbing with someone who had done it for much longer than I had, and they did not finish their knot. Luckily they were able to complete the climb, and lower without incident, but were rather shaken up. So, slow down, have fun, and keep your stick on the ice!

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1 out of 5 stars A climbing gym can be a great place to develop safe belaying skills, develop strength, rehearse basic climbing movements, and socialize with friends. It can also be a good place to hook up with more experienced climbers so that you can get a chance to get outside to climb. There is a real difference between pulling down on rock and pulling down on plastic, but when you are starting out the difference is marginal.

Different gyms emphasize different kinds of climbing, gyms like "The Front" in Salt Lake City and the "The Spot" in Boulder emphasize bouldering. "Upper Limits" in Bloomington emphasizes lead climbing, though they have recently added more
bouldering, and places like "Planet Rock" in Ann Arbor and "Vertical Endeavors" in Naperville have a little bit of everything. Bouldering entails climbing shorter climbs, so you don't need to rope up. This means that you don't need to invest in as much
gear, and don't need to worry about belaying. However, boulder problems tend to require more strength and deeper technique than taller climbs, so the physical barrier to entrance is greater.

Most gyms will offer a class in how to belay, or for people who can already belay, give a belay test before you start climbing. Generally, there are two different levels that they test you at. One is to belay someone top roping and the other is to belay someone who is leading. The degree to which they worry about belay competence tends to depend on
the local culture. For instance, I have never had a belay check at a climbing gym in Poland. In Idaho, sometimes they give you a belay check sometimes they don't. On the other hand, in the Midwest of the US, the gym personnel will generally object to
you belaying in any manner than is different from the one way they do it in that gym. There is more than one way to belay correctly, however there are many, many unsafe belay practices. Learning to belay safely is the most important skill for a beginner to pick up.

Most gyms want you to bring your own belay device, harness and shoes. Generally, there will be a pro shop where they are willing to sell you this gear if you need it and in general they are willing to rent or loan gear to people who don't own it yet. If you have never been to a gym before you might call up ahead of time and find out the schedule for the belay class, and what their schedule of fees is, including the price of renting any gear you don't own that you will need. Even though most gyms require you bring your own belay device there are some gyms that require you to use their devices.

In conclusion, if you are curious about climbing, a climbing gym can be a great place to go check it out.

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2 out of 5 stars Thanks for writing this, but it doesn't seem as much of a guide as it is a personal story, i.e. none of my "beginning gym climber" questions were answered. THe above post by moss1956 is more in line with an educational article.
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i appreciate the ending. It just goes to show that you cant be too careful, no matter how long youve been climbing. I cant count on both hands how many times in the books ive read about famous climbers up high in the Himalayas or the Andes not securing their harness or their ropes or whatever, but luckily most of the times their partner saved them before it was too late.
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1 out of 5 stars Nice story, but exactly how is this supposed to help a beginning gym climber? Some information about what to expect, what to ask for, and so forth would be more useful.
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LOL! good story but no help at all!!
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This is no guide at all, just some story telling. Why is it linked as "a guide" on the first page? An admin should remove that link.
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1 out of 5 stars 'Guide to Indoor Gym Climbing' !!!!!!! no.

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