An Introduction to Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is a great activity that everyone can enjoy. It has many health benefits and is very exciting, but unfortunately many people are put off by the seemingly dangerous and difficult nature of the sport. Finding out a little more information about the activity however reveals that rock climbing is neither and can be as challenging or relaxing as you want it to be.

When you first start rock climbing you will likely be taught to use a harness, tie knots and ‘belay’. This basically covers the fundamental safety aspects and while we won’t go into the process in detail here basically means that one climber will be supporting another with a rope in such a way that even if they fall unexpectedly, the rope will still catch them. In other words it’s completely safe and to begin with there will usually be an instructor with one hand on the rope just in case and in some cases where the climber is heavier than the belayer, a sand bag. To begin with the climber will go to a wall outdoors or indoors that has been set up for climbing and tie into a ‘top rope’ which goes above them fixed to that wall.

From here the person climbing will simply start their ascent up the wall and this is of course where things get interesting. Most people who don’t climb don’t realise that rock climbing involves ‘routes’ up the walls which mean the climbers have to follow a pre-set trajectory up the wall. How they follow this route, i.e. which holds they use etc, will depend on their own interpretation, however the direction they take will normally be pre-decided. Outdoors this will be taken from a guide book with the route drawn onto a photograph, while indoors it will be done by using a separate colour for those holds.

These climbs are then graded with a number and a letter such as ‘2a’, meaning that you can choose a route that suits your level of expertise. This means rock climbing is as easy or as hard as you want it to be and that you don’t need to be nervous when starting out.

When you start climbing for the first time you will probably find it quite difficult. It’s important not to be put off however as like any sport it simply requires practice and isn’t all about brute strength as some people think. It’s very possible to have almost no upper body strength and still be a very good climber if you use the correct foot positioning to take most of the weight so that you’re ‘standing’ on the rocks. That said however it will still tax your muscles to a fairly large degree and is great exercise for that reason. If you want to get strong forearms, lats and calves then this is definitely the sport for you, and is a far quicker way to harden up your lower body than any ‘legs, bums and tums’ class.

Another thing that makes rock climbing a lot easier is to use the right equipment. Ropes and harnesses etc will largely be supplied by the club, but if you buy your own shoes and a chalk ball then you’ll probably find that you start progressing a lot more quickly and that these help you almost ‘stick’ to the wall like Spider-Man.

If you start climbing and find that you need a little time before you can build up to being able to do top ropes then there are lots of other things you can do in the interim which don’t even necessarily involve height. One of these for example is ‘bouldering’ which means climbing boulders and smaller obstacles with a crash mat underneath which aren’t high enough to be dangerous. Another is ‘traversing’ which means climbing sideways rather than up which means you’re never more than a foot off the ground (this is also a great way to build the strength and technique you’ll later need).

When you progress though there’s a lot more you can do other than top ropes and things will really start getting exciting once you begin ‘lead climbing’ outdoors, which means climbing up and sealing the rope into the wall as you go thereby creating your own ‘route’ in the wall.

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