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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Conquer New Heights - A Beginner's Guide to Rock Climbing


ROCK CLIMBING NEAR ME
Rock Climbing Outdoor

Have you considered getting into climbing but are confused where to begin? This is the post for you! When I started climbing, I felt confused by all the terms, the different kinds of climbs, the equipment I needed…everything. I hope this guide can help you avoid that and have a smooth experience!


I began rock climbing in 2020 during the pandemic. My Cross-Fit gym was closed at the time, and I had the opportunity to climb with a friend. I have been climbing ever since! I fell in love with the complexity of the sport - the mental strength and perseverance needed, combined with strength, technique, fluidity, and coordination; it’s the ultimate challenge. A good climb feels like a dance on the wall.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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A BRIEF HISTORY


Climbing as a sport is not new. In the late 1800s, mountaineers became interested in climbing specific cliffs and rock formations. Gear and techniques have since become more advanced with increasingly harder routes being climbed. Rock climbing, in both indoor and outdoor settings, has seen a significant increase in popularity in recent years.

  • There has been an average increase in climbers of 10% per year since 2010 according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

  • The number of indoor climbing gyms in the United States has increased by 89% since 2010 with, now over 600 gyms in operation nationwide.

  • Rock climbing made its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

 

ROCK CLIMBING STYLES


WHAT IS BOULDERING? THE BOULDERING BASICS.


Bouldering indoors or bouldering outdoors
BOULDERING OUTDOORS

Bouldering is the most straightforward type of rock climbing. It is performed outdoors on rock formations that are smaller and closer to the ground (boulders), or indoor bouldering on artificial walls with rock climbing holds set to a height of 8 to 15 foot indoors.


Because of the height of bouldering, a rope is not needed and instead a crash pad or bouldering mat is used for fall protection.

The routes are called problems and consist of a sequence of difficult moves, designed to be solved in a progressive fashion. For the harder bouldering grades, the problems are often projected over days (months and even years for outdoor boulders).


Bouldering is short duration and high intensity activity, triggering the anaerobic power endurance energy system. For this reason, bouldering needs a lot of power and strength – think of it like a 200m sprint.


ROCK CLIMBING GEAR NEEDED

  • Rock climbing shoes

  • Chalk and chalk bag

  • Bouldering crash pad for outdoor climbing


WHAT IS TOP ROPE ROCK CLIMBING?



An anchor system is set at the top of the rock, or the artificial wall in a rock climbing gym and a rope is thread through the anchor.


Rock climbing gym walls are on the average 40-60ft tall. The climber wears a rock climbing HARNESS and ties themselves to one side of the rope; the other side will be attached to your partner (known as a BELAYER), who controls the slack with a BELAY DEVICE.


The top rope climber can only fall as far as the length of the slack is given by the belayer, so it is considered a very safe way to climb.

Climbing in this fashion can be performed both indoors in a rock climbing gym and outdoors on designated routes. Mountain Project is a popular way to both find and get the beta on the routes.


The routes are longer than a bouldering problem, and thus require more of your aerobic system and endurance with some power moves over the most difficult part of the route (the CRUX). Like bouldering, routes can be projected when they are near your max ability, and worked on until you send that climb.



ROCK CLIMBING EQUIPMENT NEEDS


WHAT IS SPORT ROCK CLIMBING?


TOP ROPE CLIMBING
INDOOR LEAD CLIMBING

Sport climbing is like top rope rock climbing in every way except the way the rope is anchored; it is a type of lead climbing with no top anchor.


The climber will have the rope tied into their harness with the belayer providing a lead belay below them. The climber will clip QUICKDRAWS into permanent bolts installed on the wall, clipping the rope into the quickdraws when ascending.

Indoors, the quickdraws are already placed on the wall.


Sport climbing has more risk involved as the fall can be twice the length of above the last anchor. You will not begin with sport climbing but can progress into this style as you learn and gain confidence with top roping.


Sport climbing taxes the body in a similar way to top roping, but with the addition of increased time spent in isometric holds when the climber stabilizes their body to place gear and clip into the quickdraws. Sustained isometric contractions present a unique challenge to climbers because they reduce local blood flow which causes muscular fatigue.


ROCK CLIMBING EQUIPMENT NEEDS

WHAT IS TRAD ROCK CLIMBING?


Trad climbing - short for traditional climbing - has more risk involved than sport climbing.

The climber places removable gear (CAMS, NUTS, HEXES) into cracks or other features in the rock. The rope is clipped into the protection to create anchors.

Trad climbing is more advanced than sport climbing and provides a fun challenge! It is a both physically and mentally challenging placing your own protection along the route; and is often the only climbing method in remote locations where sport routes have not been established.


Trad climbing will increase the time spent under tension even more so than sport climbing. The climber must take additional time placing gear into the rock with more time in a static position stabilizing the body, all while carrying extra weight from the protection. It is a physically demanding form of climbing.



ROCK CLIMBING EQUIPMENT NEEDS




WHAT IS MULTI-PITCH ROCK CLIMBING?


Refers to multiple Trad or Sport climbing routes with one or more stops at a belay station. Each section of the climb is called a pitch. Dawn wall, which is considered to be one of the most famous and difficult routes in the world on the face of El Capitan in Yosemite, has 32 pitches to reach the summit. After reaching the summit, depending on the route the descending options are typically either a walk off or rappelling.


 


GRADES OF CLIMBING


The grade of a climb depends on the technical difficulty, as well as strength, power, endurance, flexibility, and commitment required to complete the climb. Climbing grades can be subjective and are typically assigned by the first climbers to complete the route. Grading scales are often unique to a given country, below are the grading scales for the United States.


BOULDERING GRADING SCALE


Bouldering grades are on a scale that ranges from V-0 to V-16, easiest to hardest. Each number signifies one level of increased difficulty. If you are new to bouldering, begin with a V-0 and work your way up to harder problems.


V0 -V2

BEGINNER

V3 - V6

INTERMEDIATE

V7 - V11

ADVANCED

V12 - V15

EXPERT

V16

ELITE!

ROCK CLIMBING GRADING SYSTEM FOR TOP ROPE, SPORT AND TRAD


The grading scale for trad, sport and top rope climbing is the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), ranging from 5.0 (easiest) to 5.15 (hardest). Each decimal increase indicates a more difficult level of climbing. Also, at grade 5.10 and above – a letter (a, b, c, d) is commonly added to further specify the climbing difficulty. For example, a 5.10c is 2 grades harder than a 5.10a, just like a 5.8 is 2 grades harder than a 5.6.


5.0 - 5.8

BEGINNER

5.9 - 5.11

INTERMEDIATE

5.12

ADVANCED

5.13

EXPERT

5.14 - 5.15

ELITE!


 

WHERE TO BEGIN?


The best place to start is to check your local climbing gym. Find "Rock Climbing Gym Near Me", and you are on your way to climbing fun! Intro classes and one-on-one coaching sessions are often offered and are a great way to get into the sport! Connect with others in the gym during dedicated hours to find belay buddies, female climbing nights, and more. Climbing has an amazing social and supportive atmosphere!


Don’t let being afraid of heights hold you back - I’m petrified of heights! But I trust my safety equipment and the system, helping me to feel safe when I climb. Rock climbing has been an amazing way to improve my self-confidence and perseverance to continue fighting when I feel like giving up. Climbing also provides an amazing way to explore our beautiful earth. It’s invigorating making it to the summit after hours of hard work to get there! Give it a try, you won’t regret it.



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