The Beginner's Guide To Rock Climbing

I'm harnessed in 30 feet above the ground. My palms are sweaty, I reach back into my chalk bag to chalk up my hands for the next phase of the climb. My right calf muscle is tired and starting to cramp up. I stretch my leg out and put my left hand on the blue rock a foot above me. The blue rock is going to get me to my next rock which will get me to the top of the wall. I lift my left leg up and reach for the next rock with my right arm. Sweat is dripping down my forehead and I'm huffing and puffing. I reach as high as my arms will let me and I make it to the top of the wall! I feel elated and happy and although I'm tired, I just climbed my first 5.13 wall and it feels really good. This is what dreams are made of, this is rock climbing.

My love affair with rock climbing started when I made the decision one cold, January morning that I needed to conquer my fears. I made 2016 the year of facing everything that terrified me, and although rock climbing sounded fun, it scared me and I knew it was something I needed to do. On Valentines Day of last year, my amazing husband surprised me with passes to Granite Arch, our local rock climbing gym and upon entering their space, I fell in love. I learned everything there was to know about rock climbing that day, and now it's become a strong passion of mine. I'm training each day to get good enough to participate in rock climbing competitions this summer.

Rock climbing is a unique way to train your body, and it's tons of fun! You'll conquer your fear of heights, and you'll feel like a monkey when you climb the walls. Rock climbing gives you a strong core and upper body, and the confidence you'll gain from rock climbing will carry on into other areas of your life. Not only will you feel strong, but learning how to rock climb will give you the confidence to try other new things you were fearful of trying before and you will feel stronger in your decision-making skills. This post will guide you through everything you need to know about the basics of rock climbing, what gear you'll need, and the best clothing to wear on those rocky walls. 

The most important thing when learning how to rock climb is having the proper gear and keeping an open mind. You'll need shoes, a chalk bag and chalk, a harness, a locking carabiner, and climbing ropes (optional since most rock climbing gyms have them). You can find all these items at decent prices at any major outdoor, retail store.

You'll also want to make sure you have cool, comfortable clothing. My favorite clothing brand for climbing clothes is Athleta. Their clothes are durable, breathable, and functional, and made for a female's body. The outfit I'm wearing in these photos are made by Athleta and the pants are the Sculptek Stealth Capri in the color Constellation Blue. The Sculptek line is one of my favorite lines from Athleta, with it's breathable, but durable fabric, and super flattering lines, these pants won't let you down. They move with you on the rock climbing walls and are super comfortable. These pants were made for climbing tough walls, running high hills, and lifting heavy weights! The top I'm wearing is also from Athleta and it's called the Inversion Tank made with Powervita fabric in the color Lotus Lady Neon. This top is soft and the fabric feels great on my skin especially when I sweat. This top kept me cool and dry and didn't get snagged on the rock climbing walls. I was impressed at how it stayed put throughout my entire workout and I never had to adjust my top once. Everything stayed put and in its place. The entire outfit is made in a Fair Trade Certified Factory which is really important to me because I know where my clothes are coming from. 

Gear you'll need:

  • Harness- The harness is the belt that keeps you locked into the rope and is required at all gyms. Make sure you chose a harness that fits your body. There is nothing worse than having a harness that is too small or too big. 
  •  Locking Carabiner- The locking carabiner attaches your belay device to your harness.
  • Shoes- Invest in good climbing shoes, trust me, they will be your saving grace and the right ones can keep your feet from getting blisters. Your shoes should fit snugly, but should be flexible enough to have movement in your toes. Try on a few pairs before making your final decision. 
  • Chalk and Chalk Bag- Chalk keeps your hands cool and dry and keeps your palms from getting sweaty. Throughout your climb, you'll reach back and chalk up your hands as needed.                                                                                                                                

Types of indoor rock climbing:

In rock climbing, there are three ways to go, bouldering, top rope climbing, and lead climbing. Lead climbing is for the much more advanced climber, so here will focus on bouldering and top rope climbing. Bouldering is where you free climb on walls that have routes that fall under the V-scale starting from V1 (novice) all the way to V16. You will always have a thick crash pad under you, and the only gear bouldering requires is good climbing shoes, chalk, chalk bag, and breathable climbing clothing. You will learn to boulder by climbing the beginner's climbing wall and climbing up and down as many times as you can. Some exercises that will help your bouldering skils are push-ups, pull-ups, and downward dog exercises from yoga. When you first start bouldering it's easy to get frustrated, but keep trying, and before long you'll be a master at it! The other benefit of bouldering is it will make you super confident when you are top rope climbing. 

Top rope climbing is the most common way to rock climb for the beginner climber. Top rope climbing is where you are secured in a harness, and there is rope that is secured to an anchor on the wall at the gym. You tie into the rope by making a figure-8 knot and the other end of the rope is held by your climbing partner, aka your belayer. Your belayer is the person who manages your climb and will catch you if you fall. Make sure you find a climbing partner you trust and who is a certified belayer. Any rock climbing gym you go to will teach you how to make a figure-8 knot and use of the belay device. I've included instructions to refer to below to see how it's done. 

How to make a figure 8: 

  • Grab your rope and make sure it's long enough, (arms span length is perfect). 
  • Form a large loop in the rope.
  • Elongate the rope, tucking it over and under the line, then feed it back through itself.
  • Make sure to pull it tight and that it's snug and secure. 

Once you've made your figure 8, check in with your partner and ask them if they are ready. They will usually respond with "climb ready, or ready." Once they are ready, you are ready to climb! The standard training routes in climbing gyms range from 5.0-5.15. The 5.0's are usually white colored rocks and your goal will be to stick to the white colored rocks when climbing up the wall. There are two ways to climb the wall called "tracking" and "all feet". Tracking means that you have to follow the same colored rocks with your hands and feet, while "all feet" means your hands need to stay on the same colored rocks, but your feet can go on any colored rocks. Begin with the 5.0-5.5 walls and practice those for a few weeks before you move on to the more advanced walls. Before you know it, you'll be climbing those 5.11 and 5.12 walls and teaching your friends to climb! 

Once you get confident in your wall climbing skills, there are many places in Norther California that have bouldering rocks to train on. Bring your friends, some yummy snacks, a landing pad, your chalk and chalk bag, along with your climbing shoes and you can climb to your heart's content. Bouldering is a fantastic way to build strength and helps you train for the more advanced walls at the rock climbing gym. 

I hope my beginner's guide to rock climbing helps and inspires you to try rock climbing. Once you put that chalk on your hands and finish your first successful climb, you'll be hooked!

And remember, it's not about how high you can climb, it's about the journey you experience along the way. 

A special thank you to Athleta for providing me with the clothes featured in this post. I truly love Athleta's clothing, the brand, and their message to all powerful women.