Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing

Of all the mountain pursuits, rock climbing can be one of the most intimidating. Watching videos of professional athletes ascend impossible-looking vertical walls with nothing but tiny ledges for grip, it’s not hard to see why it can be perceived elitist-only sport. But like every experienced rock climber, the pros had to start somewhere. In this Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing, we’ll hopefully dispel some of the perceived barriers to the sport and show that with a bit of perseverance, anyone can do it.

Step 1: Own the Fear

While those with acrophobia (fear of heights) would likely be the last to try rock climbing, you may be surprised how many climbers have to learned to overcome that fear (the author included). What some people don’t realize is that all rock climbers begin on a top rope system. If a fall does occur, the climber only travels as far down as the rope stretches, usually a few feet at most. There’s no risk of free falling on a secure top rope set up.

Get your start in the controlled environment of a climbing gym

Step 2: Start Small

Most beginner rock climbers have their first session in an indoor climbing gym. This is an excellent place to gain confidence in a controlled environment while building strength and skills. It’s also weather proof, allowing climbers to train during the winter and on rainy days. In the Sea to Sky Corridor, check out The Core in Whistler and  Ground Up in Squamish.
One of the most important qualities of aspiring rock climbers is patience. It takes months, even years to develop the finger strength and technique to tackle tougher climbs or bouldering problems (bouldering is climbing very small amounts of vertical rock without ropes, just a mat to absorb falls). Rock climbing can get extremely frustrating at times, especially when attempting a move that you may have done a hundred times before. Just breathe through it and return to conquer it another day.

Climbing can take you amazing places. Bugaboo Provincial Park is one of the most popular destinations in Canada for expedition climbers

Step 3: Find a partner

As solitary as rock climbing may seem in all the magazine photos, every climber needs a belayer. This is the person that watches your every move, ready to clamp the rope and safely arrest your fall. A climbing partner should be someone you trust and around your own ability level. That way you can progress towards more difficult routes together. A mentor is also helpful, someone that can coach you through the more tricky manoeuvres.
If you really want to hit the rock and don’t have a partner, consider reaching out to outdoor lifestyle or climbing groups on social media or take a course or trip with a qualified guide to get you started.

Lead climbing up the Squamish Chief. You’ll know when you’re ready.

Step 4: Don’t Rush the Learning Curve

Like many sports, once a beginner climber develops the baseline strength and skills they will probably seek the limit of that they are capable of. That means tougher climbs on the top ropes and dabbling with lead climbing (leading is when a climber places protection as they climb, rather than being secured from above like a top rope). While the steep part of the learning curve is when you are making the most progress – and therefore the most fun – it’s important to know your limits and not start taking unnecessary risks. Accidents in climbing can be fatal, so allow a moment or two of sober second though before attempting the next big challenge.

Some Squamish inspiration. Poster available at


Step: 5 Don’t Take this Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing as Gospel

Of course everyone has their own approach towards a new sport or activity, so don’t feel that the steps guide is the only way to become a rock climber. If you want to be self sufficient and are ready to invest in all the gear, it’s also worth investing in proper training. If you’re looking for an easier introduction, check out the climb/hike hybrid activity of  Via Ferrata.

Stay safe and enjoy the 2016 rock climbing season.

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