Whether you’re a natural thrill-seeker or simply curious to see what the sport of climbing is all about, hitting a rock climbing wall for the first time can be a daunting task. Aside from the sheer height, which can be a bit surprising upon your first ascent, there is a lot to know about knots, ropes, technique, and strategy that every newcomer must learn. Luckily, with a helpful instructor, friend, or experienced climber who’s willing to share the basics, just about anyone can get to climbing after only a brief tutorial. But regardless of your entry-level training process, there are a few key lessons and reminders that every new climber ought to know.
1. Trust your ropes
Perhaps the most crucial lesson a nervous, first-time climber can learn is to trust the ropes that support him. If it’s your first time on the wall, do yourself a favor and take a deliberate step off the rocks and let yourself dangle as high as you’re willing to above the gym floor. Feel what it’s like for the ropes to catch your weight. Without the reassurance that your ropes truly are your secure life-lines, there won’t be much else on your mind other than the fear of falling. If it’s your first time tying your own knots and clipping in, have an experienced climber check all of your gear to give you that extra boost of confidence.
2. Climb with your legs
Our heads are conveniently placed near our arms. This allows us to easily see where our hands are going and where we’d like them to be. It’s natural, then, that as we climb upwards with hands on the wall and heads craned upwards, we let our hands do most of the dirty work. Do this for even a few minutes, and you’ll discover why it’s nearly impossible for any climber to climb on arm strength alone. Sore fingers and cramping hands will inevitably cause a new climber’s focus to shift to his legs, which can be much more efficient muscles in fighting the pull of gravity. The more lifting you can do with your legs, the less pulling you have to do with your arms.
Although you may have a climbing partner, climbing is a solo sport. You’re alone up there. Just you, the wall, the rock, and your breath. The relative quiet as you climb can be surprising and a bit nerve-racking to new climbers. The only sound that you can seem to hear is your breath bouncing back in your face and your adrenaline-pumping heart. As with any sport, remember to relax and keep your breathing in check. Don’t let your own nerves get in the way of your climb.
4. Attitude makes a big difference
Climbing is both a physically and mentally demanding sport. Although your body may be doing the manual labor to get you moving vertically, your attitude and approach to the climb can make the difference between whether you make it to the top or not. It may be a cliché, but telling yourself you can complete your ascent really does help. And while it’s important for any climber to know when it’s right to push himself and when to back down, there are bound to be moments where you don’t think you can go any further. Having the right attitude in these moments can determine the amount of enjoyment you get from your climbing experience.
5. Use your brain
For new, eager climbers, any way you can get to the top is a good way, no matter how much effort it takes. But skilled climbers know that technique and energy conservation can make a challenging climb easier and a long day of climbing seem shorter. Climbing is a technical sport, and sizing up your route before, during, and after a climb can be helpful in building your skill and knowledge set as a new climber. Though it may be fun to scramble up the side of a wall or rock as fast as you can, good climbing requires thought, patience, and precision. In climbing, your brain can be your most important tool.
Image by Jeff Waraniak