As I stood outside my tent at the campsite, I realized there were a few uncertainties in my mind about my climb the next morning. So I turned to my dear friend (who is an experienced climber) and posed a simple question – “Are these outdoor climbing routes already roped up for us? Do we just climb it?” To me it made sense that there were potentially some routes with ropes pre-attached & ready for use :D. Unfortunately, my grand vision of benevolent climbers who leave behind all their gear for the next set of climbers never came to pass – And of course, over the next day, I witnessed and partook in the full spectrum of events that lead to a successful outdoor climb, including having a lead climber, using the right equipments, the cleaning of routes, etc
Needless to say, I learnt a bunch of things in this first outing. As I look back at my ‘virgin climber’ time, I realize I had many questions which were answered eventually in the course of the climbing day. I hope this short article can help de-mystify outdoor rock climbing for some of you who might be curious to check it out.
1) Connect with climbing friends – Learn from collective experience
Climbers & climbing friends tend to be close knit groups to a large degree, due to the niche nature of the activity itself (unlike say, runners..but similar to say motorcycling friends/groups). There’s a lot of decision making that goes on for each ‘climbing outing’ which might make very little sense to a newbie (what rock faces to visit? Best times to climb? Equipment required at that site?… etc). Getting connected with a climber/group is a great way to help ease things on the first outing. Like most things in life, there is a wealth of information that is available on tap simply by being around others who’ve already passed/completed the experiences you are about to make for the first time.
2) Basic Knowledge of essential climbing gear
Rock climbing can be a highly rewarding activity, both physically & mentally. What works additionally in favor of the sport is the comparatively low barrier to entry in terms of cost. You don’t need an expensive motorcycle or a high-tech wetsuit (comparable high adrenaline activities – motorcycling & surfing). You require the basic climbing harness and a pair of climbing shoes. Everything else (ATCs, Carabiners, Chalk bags, etc) can be added on eventually but can be shared to begin with. However, one needs to acquaint oneself with the basic usage & understand the workings at a basic level (of course, if you have a more than basic knowledge that’s helpful!!). I had the experience of 5-6 sessions in an indoor climbing gym before my outdoor climb – this was more than sufficient for me to get a basic belay certification as well as understand & get my own set of harness, ATC, chalk bag & shoes (the shoes were a present 🙂 *wink*wink* )
3) A willingness to learn – Ask for help if you’re stuck on a route!
The best teachers are your friends, if you are willing to be an honest student. If you are unsure of how you’d tackle or move forward in your current climbing route, getting some pointers from your belayer or an experienced climber who’s watching you. This may sound obvious, but sometimes it can be difficult to ask for help because you are essentially competing with yourself when climbing! Our minds can inflate our egos in the middle of the climb and freeze our brains. I experienced this myself a few times – total brain freeze sets in. The best thing would be to take deep breath & re analyze the route to see what’s stopping you. If you are unable to find a way out, holler out to your belayer & ask if he/she/they have any suggestions for you. You’ll likely get valuable inputs that let you move forward. Climbing, like any other sport/activity that has a learning curve, is greatly benefited if the learner is willing to ask for help.
Hope you found something here in this article that resonated with you! I had a fantastic time climbing outdoors, thanks to a wonderful group of (new) friends. A shout out to Abi, Brian, Colin, Geralyn & Katrina 🙂 – Thank you.