Skip to Content

Rock Climbing : Articles : Introduction to Climbing : Start Climbing - Part 1 : Introduction & Overview

Start Climbing - Part 1 : Introduction & Overview popular

Submitted by trevor on 2006-10-18 | Last Modified on 2010-04-01

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 60 | Comments: 28 | Views: 207588

So, you've seen the videos: Tom Cruise pulling off crazy unroped stuff on massive cathedrals of rock in MI2. Stallone showing off his bulk dangling on some razor-thin chunks of rock... You're stoked and want to give it a try... But...

Why the hell would you want to pick up climbing anyway? If it's to impress the chicks with those buffy pecs you'll be disapointed. There's lots of easier ways to work on those instead of groveling through gruesome bloody crack climbs. You'll occasionally rip up your hands and generally scab various body parts. Occasionally you'll scare the wits out of you. So why do people climb anyway? Not for the hardman image of pure force portrayed in the media.

Climbing is not all about strength anyway. Many a strong man has been humbled by the feminine graciousness and apparent ease of a woman moving over rock. Climbing is all about balance, knowing your body and being able to reposition it in space. It's about creativity, learning to adapt to what the rock has to offer. It's a whole-body exercise and though your upper body gets a fair share of grunt work, your legs and feet are your most important instrument for upward motion. It's about concentration and overcoming your fears for the void.

You don't need to be young or extremely fit to pick up climbing. Many people start later on in their life, and there are excellent climbers of all ages. I personally know some climbers well over fifty that still can compete with the young sharks.

For me personally it's all about discovering the natural world around and within you. Climbing will bring you to lots of lovely places and will definitely give you a unique perspective on the world below you. You'll learn a couple of things about yourself and the people you climb with.

Climbing is both an individualistic and social sport: when you're on the rock you can only count on your skills to get to the top. If you do fall however, you'll have to trust your climbing partner with your life. Beyond question. No mistakes allowed. This often makes for very strong bonds and relationships.

Learning to climb is very much like learning to ride a bike or ski down a snowy slope. You'll never forget the basic moves, but will need years of practise to perfect them.

Climbing styles come in many flavors. The basic games include: bouldering, indoor climbing, free rock climbing, trad rock climbing, solo climbing aid climbing, ice climbing and alpine climbing.

We'll handle bouldering next week, indoor climbing and toproping in week 3, basic free rock climbing in week 4 and advanced techniques such as trad, aid and alpine climbing in week 5.

This series of articles will pinpoint a couple of fundamental principles but was never meant to replace proper instruction. I simply hope to give you a taste of the sport and some guidelines to get you started. Make sure you learn from more experienced climbers or in a climbing school. Trust me, you'll love it.

Bouldering addicts climb short jumbles of rock, often only a couple of feet high. The key here is linking the moves: because of their short height bouldering problems tend to be fairly intense and technical. It's hundreds of feet of difficulty compressed into 5-10 moves. Unless you're climbing so-called highball problems you'll climb unroped and close enought to the ground to be safe to jump off from. During the nineties there's been a renewal of interest for this game. Thousands of bouldering areas have cropped up worldwide.

During the late eighties and early nineties climbing on plastic, aka indoor climbing became of fashion. Most competitions are on plastic nowadays. Indoor gyms are excellent places to learn rope handling techniques and to work on the basic moves. However, most of the diehard climbers agree that there's nothing like natural rock.

Free Climbing is the art of climbing a rock without using your equipment for upward motion. You can only use your arms, hands and other essential body parts to climb. The gear is used for protection only. This is where ethics come into play. A climb is said to be onsighted when a climber leads the climb for the first time without having watched other climbers do it and reaching the end without falling or pulling on gear. If you don't meet these criteria, you have to start over from the ground up to complete the climb.

In Trad Climbing, climbers use their own gear for protection whereas in free (aka sport) climbing pre-drilled bolts are clipped with carabiners. Trad climbers use friends, chocks, stoppers and other passive and active gear instead. These are devices of different shapes you can stick in cracks or holes for protection without damaging the rock. This is called clean climbing and is the only acceptable way of climbing in some areas. Due to the technicity of this kind of climbing it is mostly reserved for advanced climbers.

When Aid Climbing the above rules no longer apply. Because of the sheer difficulty of the rock pulling on gear is often the only way to get up. This kind of climbing involves staying on the rock for several days (Climbs called Big Walls.) and handling massive amounts of gear. It requires an extreme level of technical expertise and a certain sense for logistics. You'll have to haul your supplies up the cliff in special haul bags and sleep on the rock in hammocks or portaledges. For adventurous souls only.

Solo Climbing is certainly the most dangerous game and reserved for the truly skilled only. Since you're climbing without any kind of protection, falling is simply not an option. Most climbers do not climb unroped to satisfy their ego. Or at least, those who do don't last long. Solo climbing is all about knowing your own limits and trusting your good judgement. Only a select few choose to climb unprotected and if they do it's a very conscious choice. Do not try this at home...

Ice Climbers use ice axes to move up frozen waterfalls. Lately mixed climbing and drytooling has gained popularity. This involves climbing mixed faces of rock and ice requiring both excellent traditional rock climbing and technical ice climbing skills.

Finally there's Mountain Climbing and the alpine climbing games. This is where important natural elements come into play. Mountain climbing involves living on ice covered slopes for several days at the mercy of the weather, avalanches and more. A fundamental knowledge of the alpine environment and very advanced technical skills are required. As much adventure as sport, climbers face the inherent dangers because of the beauty of the places they climb in and the pure physical and emotional challenge in these climbs.

For all of these advanced types of climbing proper instruction is fundamental. Go find a local climbing club or school and learn from them. Good instruction will probably save your life some day. I hope I raised your appetite with this short introduction. Next week I'll get you started on your very first climbs.


Twitter  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Delicious  Digg  Reddit  Technorati

28 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
This article is very insightful. I was wondering if I could cite it in an essay I am writing about climbing. Could someone please send me the author's name, if possible?
Thank you!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars This article is awesome! Thank you
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
3 out of 5 stars this artcle is very usefull for who want to starting climb
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Trevor Allred is the citable author.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Wonderfule article, gave a good insight.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
What's aka from " climbing on plastic, aka indoor climbing became of fashion. "
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
4 out of 5 stars This is a good article for those who want to the basics of climbing!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
1 out of 5 stars When did "free climbing" become synonymous with "sport climbing", and "solo climbing" synonymous with "free soloing"?

 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Thank you.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I live in Nicaragua and want to start rock climbing? Any suggestions?
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
thanks for the great article!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I am a third grade teacher looking for kidfriendly video to show class to show how belaying works and some basic equipment. we read a story in our reading book. Any ideas?
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I really enjoy Climbing but work doesnít permit me to do it very often, but for me the best substitute is to go indoor climbing at Az on the rocks. It is fun as well as thrilling and has the same excitement as we do in real climbing. Itís really great for people like me who canít remove time that often, if not outdoors we can at least complete our desires indoors.

For further information check them out at:
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Thank you.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Thank you, good info and advice..can't wait to start my first climb.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I agree with the rest of the comments. This article is really helpful. I am a newbie at climbing and was feeling low about my ability until I read this. Thanks the practical info and insight.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I live by Stoney point in Ca and im always taking walks thier. Isee people climbing everytime im thier and the more i see it the more i want to try it. How do i get started ? Thanks
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Hmm i will post this link on my facebook and maybe some of my buddies will want to get into this and go climb with me :D
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars Brilliant introduction to the topic for newbies! Many thanks for sharing all these prescious infos!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
love the article, thanks,for me its about enjoy the mans great creation before we destroy it.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I agree with article!Congratulations :)
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
This got me really pumped up to go get vertical!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Extremely well written. I'm amped and ready to climb. I was hoping to cite this article in a paper that I'm writing. Could you please e-mail the article info at
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Thank you.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
awesome article. interesting in climbing. plus, climbing and parkour are related, and both of those have been neglected physiological interests of mine for awhile. problem with climbing is it's gear-intensive (and no way I can afford all that gear). basic bouldering though and parkour are prob very similar. either way have neglected those interests. don't know if I will ever get around to doing parkour or climbing at all or regularly but still interesting. have had good varied physiological schematic recently and want to keep it up. it's not 'fun' but it's good physiological maintenance. i will post a pdf of spreadsheet on fb. so looking for more of exhilarating physiology thingie, but meh i prob have enough stuff going on as is. this type of gymnastic agility inherent to parkour and climbing is definite interest. plus, I wager I'd be decently good at it. was also looking at kettle bell and punching bag but all or any of that would be significant financial investments. Also in regards to economics, I've noticed an odd asymmetry. people that are poor/less_wealthy are I think on average in better fitness (not counting medical checkups and whatnot, just cardio, muscular etc) than those whom are very wealthy. that's a generalization that has obvious exceptions, but I think it's more true than not. the kenyans who ran multiple miles to school (very poor, very healthy) come to mind and other things. i can't stand running these days though. I do it just for physiological maintenance and for that it's very useful.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
very inspiring article.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Good article! I've spent considerable time on mountain excursions in the Bitterroot Range in Montana and the Wind River Range at home here in Wyoming. I want to know more about aided climbing in order to summit some of the peaks in the Winds. This article has "Peaked" my interest!!!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Some corrections/clarifications:

"In Trad Climbing, climbers use their own gear for protection whereas in free (aka sport) climbing..."

sport climbing does not equal free climbing.

free climbing is where you dont pull on gear for upward progress
sport climbing is where you clip into prepaced bolts for protection

Trad climbing and sport climbing are both types of free climbing as long as you don't pull on gear.

"Solo Climbing is certainly the most dangerous game and reserved for the truly skilled only. Since you're climbing without any kind of protection, falling is simply not an option."

What you are referring to here is called Free Soloing.

Solo Climbing is just climbing alone without a partner. You can still solo climb using protection and a rope.
Free Soloing is where you are climbing alone AND without using any gear (ie. protection, ropes, harness, etc)

"pre-drilled bolts are clipped with carabiners. Trad climbers use friends, chocks, stoppers and other passive and active gear instead."

friends is a brand name of Spring Loaded Camming Device or SLCD. SLCDs are mostly referred to as Cams.

Add a Comment