Had I known then what I know now - my top tips for getting into outdoor climbing
While the indoor gym plays an integral part to my training nothing compares to the immense satisfaction I feel when pulling on natural rock and hanging off a cliff edge outside.
But like scores of other climbers before me my transition to the cliff began at the indoor gym. At first I didn’t even know where to begin learning and struggled to meet anyone willing to take me out. I didn’t get my first taste of real rock until about a year after I started climbing but I was instantly hooked. I went from climbing exclusively indoors to climbing outdoors every weekend and only using the gym for training throughout the week.
So if you’re ready to stop pulling on plastic, here are some tips that will help you get on the cliff sooner.
Learn how to lead climb
There are many different types of climbing but the most common is sport climbing, which relies on clipping your rope into fixed protection on the wall as you ascend rather than having a rope already anchored at the top. The added fear of falling from above the protection rather than under it poses the ultimate mental challenge as you fight against forearm pump to get to the top without resting.
If you’re interested in lead climbing, speak to your local climbing gym or outdoor club about participating in a beginners lead course. Equipment (including harness if you're a complete beginner) is usually fully supplied so it’s a great opportunity to find regular partners while learning the ropes (literally!), safe clipping and belaying techniques in a controlled environment. Some gyms also run weekly climbing nights and Facebook groups dedicated to finding partners.
Leading indoors is an entirely different experience to leading outdoors but gaining confidence on plastic first helps make the transition as smooth as possible.
Strike up a conversation
Rock climbing is one of the most inclusive sports in the world. Even as a beginner I had so much support, especially when bouldering (climbing usually short walls without a rope) which I’ve found as the best way to connect with other climbers. Starting with something small like asking for help on a problem will break the ice while similarly offering tips to a beginner will help them feel more comfortable if they’re a little shy.
There are so many sequences that can be used to do a boulder you’ll be surprised what techniques you learn and how quickly you become stronger when guided by more experienced climbers. It’s also incredibly motivating to have your own cheer squad to give you that extra boost when you're clinging on for dear life. If you boulder regularly, strangers will quickly become familiar faces and soon going to the gym will become as much aboutsocialising as it is about training.
Make safety a top priority
Like any sport there is always an element of danger but climbing is actually quite safe when done properly. I cannot stress the importance of learning safe belaying and clippingpractices right from the start. Practice clear communication
Don’t understand something? Seek clarification. Feel like you or your partner have done something wrong? Maybe the knot doesn't look right or it seems the climber has clipped incorrectly; say something - it could save a life.
This may sound like a given but even experienced climbers can become distracted or complacent. Just this year alone I have had two friends take ground falls because they failed to check whether a knot was tied to the belay end of the rope, which ultimately ran straight through the belay device before the climber reached the ground. Make it a habit to check things like your rope ends and carabiners before climbing, unclipping, untying or weighting anything.
Know your limit
I once took a six metre fall backwards upside down because my leg was behind the rope as I fell from far above my last clip. I luckily walked away with nothing but a sore elbow but this near-catastrophe could have easily been avoided had I just taken the fall instead of desperately trying to hang on even when it was clear I was too tired to make it to the next hold. There is a fine line between pushing your physical limit and taking stupid risks and it’s important to recognise that being able to lead climb safely is not reliant on only physical
strength - learning how to effectively assess the consequences of each decision you make will mark the difference between success and failure.
Learning how to set up and clean an anchor, how to take safe falls and minimising rope drag are also equally valuable skills that you will learn when climbing outdoors.
Remember to have fun
No one likes to be around a Gloomy Glenda. If you're known to get excessively angry or upset whenever you can't work something out or fall off and let it ruin your mood for the rest of the day, it will be difficult to keep any regular partners indoors or out. Certainly don't be devoid of emotion when climbing but pleasant always makes better company, so once the moment has passed just let go. Having experienced both sides personally, I can say that psyche is more infectious than negativity. Just get out there and enjoy!
Written by our ambassador Vanessa Fang