Teenage Girl belaying rock climbing Squamish BC

Rock Climbing 101: A Beginner’s Guide

The Coast Mountains and Rockies have some of the best rock climbing in the world. For that reason alone it’s worth trying your hand at this truly exhilarating sport. But for those who’ve never attempted to scale a wall – whether at a gym or at an outdoor climbing centre – the prospect of hanging off elevated hand holds and foot holds can be a little intimidating.

Yet even the most experienced rock climbers all had to start somewhere. In this Rock Climbing 101 guide, we’ll hopefully dispel some of the perceived barriers to the sport and show that with a bit of perseverance, anyone can do it.

Intro to rock climbing Whistler Squamish Rockies
Rock climbing is for all ages and abilities


The first step is to take an intro to rock climbing course (learn more). Safety in rock climbing depends on the crucial steps of selecting and equalizing anchors, tying off, belaying and rappelling, so when learning the fundamentals of top rope setup it’s worth having a professional show you the method. MSAA offers rock climbing courses with the option of a  1-Day and 2-Day Intro to Rock course. In one day you learn all the basics as described above, spending all your time in the field and also covering route selection. The 2-Day course then also teaches an introduction to techniques of lead climbing, attempting a multi-pitch climb and further developing skills learned from the first day. All the equipment required is available for rental. Get started rock climbing safely now!


Intro to rock climbing Whistler Squamish Rockies
Top roping allows climbers to attempt more difficult routes in the safest way possible


If you are serious about getting into rock climbing then it’s time to shell out for some gear. This will improve the experience since you’ll have a harness and pair of shoes that fits you properly and is available whenever you get the call to go climbing from your partner (more on that later).

A beginner’s package consists of a harness, locking carabiner, belay device, chalk bag, helmet and a pair of shoes. Make sure your first pair of shoes are not too painful to wear for extended periods or you’ll end up hating rock climbing before you have even started! You are now equipped to join a climbing party that has top roping equipment, which is how a lot of climbers start out. Learn  about the dates for the next rock climbing courses now!

lead climbing rock

Lead climbing allows more uninhibited movement when ascending

Rock Climbing is all about Location, Location, Location

Selecting the right route to begin your climbing career is important to maintaining basic skills as well as making sure you are enjoying your rock climbing sessions. In Squamish, one of the more favoured faces for beginners is Burgers & Fries in the Smoke Bluffs area. It has a gentle pitch with obvious holds and easy foot access to the top of the face to drop your top rope. There are plenty of other areas you can find in a local guidebook such as Squamish Select.

Rock climbing spots in Vancouver Sea to Sky
The Smoke Bluffs crag in Squamish is popular with beginner and intermediate climbers


Like many sports, once a beginner climber develops the baseline strength and skills, they will probably seek the limits of their capability. That means tougher climbs on the top ropes and dabbling with lead climbing. 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 thought before attempting the next big challenge. 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.

The Next Step

Top roping (when done correctly) is a safe and controlled method of rock climbing, but to climb routes that have no foot access to the top (such as multi-pitch) you will need to learn to lead climb. This usually starts with sport climbing on bolted routes, where placing protection as you ascend is as easy clipping a Quickdraw (two carabiners joined by webbing) to the bolt then clipping your rope into the Quickdraw.

lead climbing rock
The size of trad gear rack needed depends on the length of route and type of protection needed


Traditional or “trad” climbing get a little more technical. Climbers ascend the rock with an entire rack of gear to place as protection from wired aluminum blocks called nuts to actuating cam devices, which are used in cracks. Since your safety is dependent on how that protection is placed, trad climbing should be attempted on routes where you are confident of your strength, skills and ability. MSAA offers a 1-Day introduction to trad climbing for intermediate to advanced top rope or sport climbers to get you up to speed.Intro to rockclimbing Whistler Squamish Rockies

Beginner Rock Climber Promotion

MSAA have partnered with Climb On in Squamish to offer a discounted rate on beginner climbing packages and courses. Use the offer code CLIMBON10 when booking the 1 or 2-Day Intro to Rock courses. Shop at Climb On using the online discount code MSAA10 or if in-store just show the staff member an electronic copy of your receipt for any MSAA rock or alpine course in the same calendar year.  Rock climbing is safer when you know what to do and have the right equipment!

Intro to rockclimbing Whistler Squamish Rockies

Intro to rockclimbing Whistler Squamish Rockies

Good luck on the rock this summer and hope to see you on the crags! 

Written by: Vince Shuley


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