Rock climbing isn’t the kind of sport you just wake up one day and decide you want to try on your own. There are serious risks and dangers involved, and the more you know ahead of time, the more likely you are to “send,” or climb a route bottom to top without falling. By having the proper gear, grabbing a knowledgeable friend and familiarizing yourself with some of the climbing lingo, you’ll be “crushing” in no time.
Know the language
There’s a lot of funky language with climbing. To be able to understand much of anything, you’ll first need to know a few terms.
Belay: There are various ways to belay a climber. Long story short, it’s a way to exert tension on a rope so that when a climber falls off a route, they don’t go far — or anywhere at all, if they’re on top rope. (See “lead climbing vs. top roping” section.)
Beta: Information about how to do a move on a climb. To provide beta or analyze beta may mean learning one small tip, or learning every complexity of the climb.
Crash pad: In bouldering, this is a mattress-like protection pad used to catch someone’s fall. If you’ve ever seen someone walking around the woods with a big square on their back like SpongeBob, they’re likely on the hunt for rocks.
Crimp: A small, narrow handhold, sometimes only big enough for the top of your fingertips.
Crux: The toughest move or sequence on a route. Once you’re “past the crux,” you’ve successfully made it through the hardest part. You can’t quit now!
Jug: A large, easy-to-grasp handhold.
Onsight: To “send” a route the first time you try it.
Problem: A particular route up a boulder. Problems are graded from V0 to V17. (See “how difficult is a climb?” section.)
Send: When a climber says “I sent it, bro!” they mean they got to the top of a route or problem without falling or weighting the protective gear. Unlike “onsighting,” a “send” means you climbed the route or boulder bottom to top, without placing your weight on any of the protective equipment; with sending, you may have climbed the route sometime in the past to learn the beta.
Sloper: A round handhold that’s difficult to hold onto, given that your hand is generally open to grip the rock.
Spotting: When bouldering, your partner can “spot” for you. This means they’ll move your crash pad as you traverse, and help catch your fall.
Types of climbing
Before you get started, you’ll want to decide if you’d rather try rope climbing or bouldering. This will determine what kind of gear you need and what places you’ll go.
Sport climbing: This form of climbing relies on permanent anchors that are bolted into the rock. As a climber lead climbs (see “lead climbing vs. top roping”), they will clip a Carabiner through the bolt, pulling the rope through it. This way, if they fall from the rock, they will only drop to the last place they clipped in — generally only five to 10 feet between each bolt.
Trad climbing: Trad, or traditional climbing, is when a climber temporarily places gear to protect their fall. This means the climber must be experienced enough to know how to choose and place a wide variety of protective gear: spring-loaded cams, nuts and slings, for example. They must then remove the gear once a route is complete. Chances are if you’re new to the sport, you won’t be trad climbing any time soon.
Bouldering: Bouldering does not require a rope or harness and is generally performed on small rock formations. Bouldering aims to isolate difficult movements and was viewed as “training” for other types of climbing until only recently. When you fall from a boulder, you land on a crash pad, or portable gymnast mat.
How difficult is a climb?
5.2 - 5.15d: Climbing on rope uses the Yosemite Decimal System to relay how hard a climb is. Routes graded from 5.2 to 5.9 are considered fairly easy. Between 5.10 to 5.15, routes are subdivided further into a’s, b’s, c’s and d’s — like 5.10c or 5.13a. A 5.10a is considered intermediate, whereas a 5.12 is thought of as pretty difficult and a 5.14 or above is typically achieved only by pros.
V0-V17: Boulders are ranked from V0 to V17. Essentially, a V0 is a cakewalk, and V17 is beyond even the most burly climbers’ comprehension.
Lead climbing vs. top roping
Lead climbing: To be able to top rope — what you’ll be doing as a beginner — you must first have a partner “lead climb” to prep the route. A lead climber will clip a Carabiner through permanent bolts on a sport route, or place trad gear, as they ascend the route. Once they’ve tied off at the anchor, they will rappel down, un-clipping gear as they descend. Once they’re back on the ground, the rope will be hanging from the top for you, or another “top rope” climber.
Top rope: When you top rope climb, you don’t have to worry about clipping into bolts. You simply climb. If you fall off the route, you won’t actually fall — you’ll hang exactly where you slipped. With any form of rope climbing, the person scaling the wall has a belay partner at the base of the route who pulls the rope tightly as the climber moves.
Where to go
There are countless climbs around the state. Check out this link for some of our recommendations: bit.ly/2N66XiE
Get the right shoes: Climbing requires specialized footware, akin to ballerina shoes with a high-friction rubber coating. Climbing shoes range from flat-lasted beginner models, to “eagle talon-esque” downturned models. There are some pretty aggressive climbing shoes on the market, and while you don’t need to cram your foot into an aggressive pro shoe that is half the size of your street shoe, you will want a legit pair of climbing shoes. Scaling rocks can’t really be done in tennis shoes.
Buy some chalk: You might wonder why there is a dusty white powder on your friend’s hands. Well, in climbing, chalk is used to absorb sweat and moisture, improving friction and grip. This can sometimes be the difference between success and failure on a route.
Use the buddy system: If you’re sport climbing, you’ll need a partner to belay you. If they’re also wanting to climb, you’ll either need to be belay certified or have a third friend tag along to help show you the ropes — pun intended. While you can technically boulder on your own, it’s wise to bring a pal for safety purposes. They can help spot for you.
Bring snacks, water and a camp chair: Seriously. Climbing is almost always an all-day affair. You’ll get hungry and thirsty out there, and you’ll certainly want a comfy place to rest in between climbs. Otherwise, your options will be cholla or sitting in the dirt.
Leave no trace: Don’t leave trash or cause damage to the climbing area. Respect the rock, and it will respect you.