Any serious rock climber will tell you that once you’ve conquered a rock face, that’s it, you’re hooked. The sense of adventure and freedom is hard to beat, as are the views you will see at the top of each climbing conquest. It’s a: sociable, challenging, technical and exhilarating sport. As well as this, climbing has a number of health and fitness benefits:
It develops arm and upper body strength needed to pull
Improves flexibility and agility as climbers must adapt body positions and reach for hand and foot holds across the rock.
Improves grip strength.
Boosts leg muscles and feet strength as you push your body up the rock face.
Improves the body’s cardiovascular fitness.
Refreshes and clears the mind from daily distractions.
Develops problem solving capabilities as climbers must navigate their way up a rock face.
Improves hand eye coordination with climbers working out how to reach the next hold.
The variety of mountains and hills out there means that rock climbing is never boring. There are so many routes to climb all around the world that offer thrills for all levels and experiences. And don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s simply about heading upwards — rock climbing offers so many different techniques and specialities.
Some climbers, believe it or not, never venture that far from the ground and prefer to tackle various technical complications of climbing boulders — these guys will swing round in all sorts of weird angles and positions, so don’t think this is the soft option. Then there are those that stay inside for their climbing fix, choosing to tackle the variety of man-made indoor walls out there.
Even at the traditional rock face in the great outdoors you will find two types of climber. There are those who stick to safe, bolted routes, with good rope set-ups, harness and climbing buddies will make sure they don’t head for a fall if they slip up.
The mightiest of climbing challenges, however, has no such room for error. Soloing, the second type of climber, is not for the fainthearted. These guys climb routes without ropes, relying entirely on their balance, grip, good shoes, chalk bag, knowledge and nerve to get to the top. This may sound totally crazy to the uninitiated, but for the soloist, it’s about total freedom and pure exhilaration.
Most experienced climbers recommend that beginners first visit a climbing wall to get their introductory taste of the sport in a controlled environment. There are also lots of ‘learn-to’ courses on offer in top climbing spots, to help beginners get to grips with climbing.
As a beginner you will learn how to look after yourself and your rock climbing buddies. Most of these courses involve around two days of professional coaching, instruction and practice on easy climbing routes, moving you on to longer climbs as you improve.
It’s a very good idea to seek professional instruction before heading out there because climbing has its dangers and it’s important for you to know how to avoid these. Courses are aimed at teaching you the rope work, belaying and anchoring skills to make climbing a safer sport.
Emergency procedures and environmental issues will also be covered. It’s important to remember, that while climbers are not required to hold qualifications, instructors do — make sure you check out their credentials.
Here are just some of the climbing terms and techniques you will be introduced to on a typical beginner’s course:
Crag: A term used by climbers when referring to any climbing route. Not all crags are bolted (where rope loops are permanently in place).
Rope systems: Single, double and twin rope systems are the main rope techniques used in climbing. On the course you will learn the properties of ropes, the different diameters and lengths, and care and maintenance guidelines. You will also learn how to tie knots such as the bowline, figure of eight, clove hitch and double fisherman’s. The instructors will also give you advice on which knot should be used for which circumstance.
Harnesses: Instructors will offer advice on what type of harness to use and how to attach ropes to it, known as ‘tying in’.
Belaying: This means to fasten or control the rope to which a climber is attached by wrapping it around a metal device. Basically lengthening or shortening the line to keep the climber from dropping too far. Students will be given an overview of the properties of different belaying devices and the use of belaying devices. This will cover belaying for ascending, descending and techniques used when in front or behind another climber.
Anchors: These are used to ‘anchor’ ropes in place on the rock face. There are various types of anchor available, such as rope, slings, chockstones, spikes, threads, nuts and friends, bolts and pitons. Students will be taught how to place anchors and select the appropriate types for a variety of sites.
Leading: When on a climb, the most experienced person or instructor will be ‘leading’. When leading you do not have any pre-placed protection ahead of you. Your job is to put the protection in place for all the other climbers while climbing.
Abseiling: Also referred to as rappelling, this is the technique used for descending steep rock.
Lowering: This is the term used for the technique for descending. A belayer at the base of the climb will control the amount of loose rope to ensure that the climber is lowered safely.
On the course the instructor will also cover a range of physical techniques for tackling particular sites, including how to deal with overhangs. Balance is an important skill for climbing, as is instinctively knowing where to place your feet and hands. It’s also about thinking ahead to the next step and working out the path of the climb in your head before you make each move.
Once you’ve got the basics mastered you may want to join one a club and go climbing with more experienced rock climbers who you can learn even more from.