For some weekend fun today, l Jake and I went climbing. We have been seriously slacking when it comes to climbing lately. We have just been too busy/lazy to make a trip up to the gym (the one we go to is about 40 minutes from us). Climbing is how we met, so it’s something we enjoy doing together. Since we hadn’t been in so long and I knew he wanted to go more, I got us a 10 trip pass for Christmas. It was actually the only gift he didn’t know what it was..
I figured for anyone who is unfamiliar with climbing, or that has wanted to try climbing but was unsure, I’m sharing some basics about it with you. It’s a great, full body work out, and you will definitely use muscles you never knew you had. But it’s a lot of fun and a great challenge.
I’ll start off saying that I have, and yes I do mean still to this day, a huge fear of heights. I actually started climbing to try to consistently push myself out of my comfort zone, which is definitely the case. I also like that it’s not only physically demanding, but mentally, too. As the problems (routes) get harder in difficulty, you have to think your way through them more.
If you’re afraid to start off (like I was), the best way I can encourage you is that the climbing community is amazingly friendly. Everyone is so helpful and just wants to help everyone get better. At least, that’s been my person experience. I had an anxiety attack my first time ever going and a random stranger just stood with me and waited for me to calm down before teaching me some basics that would help me.
What to Expect:
So, when you get to the gym, they’re going to have you sign a waiver, because every gym does this. It’s for liability because climbing is at your own risk. Typically they give you a tour and explain the basics. If you’re sport climbing (with a rope and harness, as shown below), then they probably have an auto-belay system for you to clip onto your harness to catch you. If not, you’ll need a partner to belay you up and down the wall. Usually this requires a certification of your knowledge of being able to safely belay. Auto-belays are much easier for first time climbers.
Once you get your harness and shoes, you’re good to start! The easiest routes to start with are the lowest in number. Sport climbing uses what’s called the Yosemite System, and each route is typically color coded so you just follow the same color all the way up. The route will probably have a quirky name (climbers are typically quirky people), and a number on it. A route rated 5.6 is usually the lowest in the gym and the easiest to climb. They go up by tenths (5.7, 5.8, 5.9) until you get to 5.10 where they add a letter behind them. This is the same way of showing difficulty, just within one grade. Each letter means it’s slightly harder. They will have an a, b, c, or d beside them before moving on to the next tenth of a decimal, for example the next level after 5.10d is 5.11a. But that’s for further down the road when you’re getting serious!
First, get into your harness. Make sure each leg is in it’s on right with someone who works there. Nothing should be twisted or feel really uncomfortable. It might feel weird, but you get used to it. Tighten the leg straps and the waist as much as possible. This thing is holding you, so you want it to be snug! Side note, using chalk is personal preference. Most climbers do because your hands get sweaty and it’s supposed to help your grip. It WILL get all over you, so keep in mind if you care. That’s my chalk bag on the back of my harness.
Everyone I’ve ever met that was into climbing was super big on safety, because obviously climbing 40 ft inside is no small fall, and then when you go outside to 70+ ft, it’s even more real. The habits you instill at the beginning should always carry through no matter how experienced someone is. You should have a partner you trust always double check you that you’re clipped in safely because it’s easy to overlook something once you get comfortable. Jake constantly double checks my knots, my harness, and my clipping, and I do the same for him. Also, unless you’re bouldering and the walls are only 10 feet high, don’t try to climb without being clipped in. Just don’t.
Get on the wall and work your way up! Start EASY. I mean as easy as possible. Yes, it’s exciting, but you can easily hurt yourself getting on something harder when you’ve never climbed before. Most easy routes are considered “ladders”, meaning you can just climb up them easily like you would a ladder. This yellow one is a great example of that.
Climbing is a lot of fun, but you WILL get tired quickly! I used to work at a gym and I would see big crossfit guys come in so excited to show everyone up and they couldn’t climb more than 5 routes because this is a COMPLETELY different set of muscles than you’re used to using for typical work outs! PACE YOURSELF. Your hands and forearms will thank you for it, I promise.
My biggest advice is to get comfortable with falling before you get to the top and freak yourself out. As someone who is afraid of heights, I had to slowly work my way up, fall, then climb back higher the next time, fall again, and keep going until I got more comfortable with it. It WILL happen, so just accept it and trust the auto-belay (or the person belaying you!).
*Don’t ever let someone belay you that you don’t literally trust with your life.* Many accidents have happened when the belayer wasn’t paying full attention. Auto-belays are capable of catching over 300 lbs., so most people are safe there as long as you’re clipped in correctly. I recommend climbing up a little and falling intentionally so that you know what to expect. When you take a fall, just stick your feet out and walk down the wall.
Once your comfortable and feel like you have the hang of things, feel free to try something a little harder. I recommend climbing at least 2-3 5.6 routes before moving on, just to get your muscles warmed up and used to what’s going on.
If your fingers start to hurt, don’t push yourself too hard. It’s very easy to injure your fingers and they take forever to heal, so ease yourself in!
And some of Jake, too, just because I enjoy watching him figure his way through a problem. He is a lot stronger than me and therefore climbs harder routes, so it’s fun to see how he decides to approach things.
Shop my look:
My exact harness here, similar here. My exact shoes here.
If you decide to give climbing a try, let me know how you like it!!