So you wanna be a rock climber? You want to join the leagues of plastic pulling, bolt clipping, and death defying acts of stupidity? Well, here's your big chance. This is The DeadPoint's guide to start climbing. Here in lies the knowledge to begin climbing and to do it safely. BUT- first we would like you to read our disclosure and please- for god's sake, don't do anything stupid or anything without receiving professional assistance. If you value your life you should receive professional training from a properly certified climbing gym or individual. Remember, 99% of climbing accidents are associated with human error, not equipment failure. USE YOUR BRAIN, it'll get you a lot farther than your forearms. Enough with the legal issues, let's start!
Thedeadpoint guide to Sport Climbing Sport Climbing is sort of an accumulation of climbing over the last forty years, starting with American big wall climbing in Yosemite and the outrageous European alpine ascents. On these massive climbs that were sometimes greater than three thousand feet, the climbers often encountered a section where their only option was to place a bolt because the rock was blank or too difficult. Back then it was considered bad form to use bolts unless absolutely necessary. That's definitely not the case these days. Somewhere in the early 70's, climbers realized that if they completely protected a difficult climb with bolts, they could often climb it if they clipped into the bolts on the way up, instead of fumbling around and trying to place traditional gear. The product of this discovery was Modern Sport Climbing. This also created some ethical problems and some conflict with traditional climbing tactics. Obviously, die-hard traditional climbers viewed this new style with mild contempt. Either way, Sport Climbing rapidly spread due to its ease and gymnastic qualities, and also because it was much easier than learning how to place gear. Doing a 5.11 with trad gear was quite difficult, and required a certain level of knowledge and confindence. Doing a 5.11 for sport climbing only required some basica climbing knowledge, and some skill. Although Traditional climbing is still very popular, it's much more involved and complicated than sport climbing. Sport Climbing's ease of use was the kicker for it's enourmous popularity.
Before you read this guide you should have read the guides about Anchors, Top-Roping, Belaying, and climbing Knots. If you haven't, then go do it! You'll be lost if you don't and it's good stuff to know so just do it…
The Equipment If you're going to go climbing, you have to have the right gear. Going climbing with insufficient gear, or with no gear, is like going sky diving with no parachute. Make sure you have all of the equipment that is needed to do the task at hand. Even more important, MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT. A harness is pretty worthless if you don't know how it works and what to do with it. Make sure you're familiar with the operation and use of all gear BEFORE you go climbing.
- A Rope, something you absolutly MUST HAVE. You can't go climbing without a rope. It's just that simple. You should get a UIAA certified rope with a diameter of 9.8 to 11 millimeters. It has to be a dynamic rope. If you fall on a static rope, you're either going to break the rope or your back, whichever comes first. Make sure you get a dynamic rope. There are numerous ropes of all sizes, shapes, and lengths to pick from; ask the salesperson what he/she would reccomend as the best rope for you. I would personally reccomend a 10.5 millimeter, sixty meter rope of any UIAA certified brand. Mammut and Edelweise make excellent ropes. Black Diamond ropes are also decent.
- Two Harnesses, one for the climber and one for the belayor. Although a cheap harness may be enticing, there's nothing better than a comfy harness. A decent harness is going to run you about fifty dollars. Try to get one with good padding around the leg loops and the waist, and try a couple of them on. I reccomend the Petzl Harnesses, because they have a strap that does not need to be doubled back, eliminating the chance of the climber forgetting to double back the harness. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW TO PROPERLY USE AND PUT ON YOUR HARNESS BEFORE YOU GO CLIMBING.
- A Belay Device, another must. You need a belay device to go climbing. There's about a billion options to pick from, from the cheap and simple ATC (air traffic controler) to the expensive and deluxe Grigri. If you have the money, splurge and get a Grigri, because they're the safest and easiest device to use. If you're hurting in the green department, go for an ATC. They're simple, good for sport climbing, and probably less than twenty dollars.
- Locking Beaner(s) for use in conjunction with the belay device. You should always use a locking beaner with a belay device to prevent any unexpected events from actually happening. Get a couple if you can afford it; locking beaners are pretty handy.
- Ten or more Quickdraws. Part of sport climbing is the use of quickdraws. A quickdraw consists of two carabiners that are attached by a piece of webbing. I reccomend a bent gate biner on one end of the draw, and then a straight gate biner on the other, connected by any old runner. You can buy quick draws that are sort of "pre-made," and they're decent. If you want to buy the pieces individually, I reccomend a Black Diamond LiveWire/HotWire for the bent draw end, and any cheap straight gate biner for the other end, connected by a decent runner. Expect Quickdraws to run you at least a hundred and fifty dollars for ten of them. This is probably the greatest expense that you'll have for sport climbing.
- Climbing Shoes, something that is not absolutly a "must have," but you'll be limited without it. Sport Climbing focuses on difficult sequences of moves that might be very hard without the proper footware. If you're not sure about the shoes and don't feel like spending the money, you can try easier routes with some stiff boots until you make a descision. Anything harder than 5.9 is probably going to be difficult without climbing shoe. Slippers are probably the best idea, because they're cheap and also perform well. I reccomend the Scarpa Minimas, or the La Sportiva Cobras. If you're hell bent on getting lace-ups, then the Five-ten Anasazi Lace ups are king, but they're going to put a hole in your wallet. Scarpa Dominators are also excellent lace-ups.
- (Optional) A chalk bag, another little thing to blow twenty bucks on that's not really necessary, but what the hell? why not? Any cheap bag will suffice. Pusher makes some very good bags that don't make me cringe at the hellish fashion statement that they present, and Metolius bags are good all around.
- (Optional) A rope bag, This is a bag that stores your rope and usually has some sort of tarp that rolls out to keep your rope from touching the dirt. It'll prolong the life of your rope and it's also safer, so if you have the money then that's great. If not, any ground cloth or tarp will suffice for this. This will greatly increase the life of your rope by keeping it cleaner, and protecting it from various pointy objects while it's not in use.
- (Optional) A guidebook to a local area. It's kinda hard to go climbing if you don't know where you can go. Make sure you find a Guide Book that has SPORT CLIMBING, not Trad routes or bouldering. Ask the person at the store you buy it from if the routes are bolted, and if they have good anchors and harware on them.
Climbing is as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. There's a minimum cost to get started (250 for a bare-bones setup?) but if you want nice stuff I'd plan on spending more like 400- 500 dollars. Yeah, I know it's not cheap...but can you put a price on your life? I seriously doubt it, so if I say you need the things listed above then you'd better buy them. All the things that I said were required are saftey oriented. You have to have them. Climbing is not a sport where cutting corners is rewarded, so please be safe.
The Technical aspects of Sport Climbing
So we've covered what you need to get started, now lets talk a little about how to actually do it. First off, you need a good belayor, because you're going to be taking falls and you don't want some idiot holding the rope. Second, you need all of the gear I listed above. Finally, you need a climb! You can't go climbing without a chunk of rock to climb on, can you?
Cleaning the Route
So you've done this climb and your belayor does it after you. Lucky for your belayor, he didn't have to put up the quick draws, which is sort of a pain. After a long day of climbing, you're ready to go home. Hold on there pal, you don't want to forget your stuff, do you? You didn't think that you had to buy new quick draws each time, did you? That would get to be a little pricey, so us climbers devised a way to safely retrieve all of our equipment from a set of fixed anchors at the top of a route. This is called "Cleaning" the route. In my opinion, cleaning is the most dangerous part of any day when you're out climbing. Why? Because cleaning involves things that must be done perfectly and any error results in you hitting the dirt a hell of a lot faster than you want to. Cleaning is just another reason to get professional assistance when climbing. Failure is not an option, and you're not going to get a second chance if you screw up. Cleaning should always be done precisely and exactly the same every time it is done. There are a few rules of thumb that will help you to do it correctly
Now that you've successfully cleaned the anchors, it's time to retrieve the rest of your gear from a route. This is much easier and safer that cleaning the anchors. All you have to do is have your belayor lower you slowly and as you go down, all you do is grab your quick draws and head to the dirt. Do a quick count of your quick draws; in our example you should have 10. If you don't have ten, then it sucks to be you. You can either do the entire climb over or just leave it.
The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Sport Climbing
You'll soon find that Rock Climbing is a lot harder than you thought it was. I can easily say that it's the most challenging and intimidating sport I have ever done. Not only does it push your body to physical levels unknown to most people, it also requires a very level head and the ability to stay calm and focused under pressure. One of my favorite quotes pertaining to climbing was said by a good friend of mine-
"Climbing is ninety percent mental, ten percent physical"
This could not be any more true. Ask any good climber how many times they have been unable to go any higher because they were too scared or intimidated. The ironic thing is that there really is no reason to be scared, especially if you're doing everything right and you have a lot of experience. But that doesn't always seem to be the case when one actually starts climbing and accumulates experience. I have seen too many good climbers held back by their mind to come to any other conclusion. Fear is a powerful thing, and it's also a warning your body gives off when it feels threatened. If you're not comfortable doing something, then you shouldn't do it quite yet. The more experience you have, the less fear you will encounter. Learning to deal with fear is an integral part of becoming a better climber. If you're afraid on a route, you're going to be "over-gripping," which is the tendency to hold on much tighter than is necessary. This means you'll probably be totally blown by the time you get to the third bolt. You're also going to have a much harder time pushing yourself to your own physical potential. The key to success in climbing it to just have fun. If you're not having fun then why are you doing it in the first place? Eventually, if you're looking for a challenge, then try something a little more difficult. Don't be afraid to push yourself; a little fear is a good thing. If a route is too scary or too exposed for your liking, then do something else that is more suitable for you. If you don't think you can get to the top of a route then you probably shouldn't try it, because you might have a really hard time getting your gear back. Common sense is really important, and without it you're not capable of climbing with any safety or success.
- Don't scream and cuss at the bottom of any crag. People are trying to climb in a peaceful, tranquil environment and you're disturbing that peace. If you have no way to vent your frustration besides screaming like a lunatic, then climb something less frustrating. Remember, climbing is about having fun, not being grumpy
- Never "hoard" a route, or in other words, stay on it for a long time while somebody is waiting to try it. If you're going to be on the route for a while, offer to let the people use your equipment. The crags are getting more and more crowded, so do your part and share!
-Never leave your rope hanging from the anchors; people might want to try it and you're hoarding the route. Not to mention the UV light you're subjecting your rope to is breaking down the fibers and weakening it. Just don't do it.
- Always yell "Rope" when you're pulling your rope and make sure that it's not going to hit anybody. If you hit someone, they're going to be pissed because it hurts like hell.
-Don't go up a route with a lot of dirt on your shoes. This causes the rock to become "Polished". There are routes in France where you can see your reflection in the holds because they have been so polished. A route called "Hubble, 5.14d", is now considered to be impossible because one of the handholds got polished right off. This wear is inevitable, but you might as well do your part and try to get the dirt off of your shoes. Besides, your shoes will stick to the rock better if the dirt is off of them.
- NEVER EVER take other people's gear off of routes. If someone left their quick draws on a route, that does not mean they are for you to steal. If you're a thief, I hope something you stole fails and you crater into the dirt. It's called Karma, and if you steal from people then you're going to regret it. If the draws are on a route you want to try, then it's usually considered ok to use other peoples gear without their consent. By leaving your gear on a route, you need to accept the fact that you're letting other people use it for free. Beware, you don't know how long those quick draws have been hanging and they might not be safe from wear and tear of the elements. If you don't want to use those quick draws, then replace them with yours and put them up again when you're done.
-Never top rope off of the chains. It's hard to replace the chains and other permanent protection, so help conserve them. If you want to top rope, then thread the rope through some quick draws attached to the chains, or carabiners on the chains.
- Don't litter. If you don't understand this, then don't go climbing because you're ignorant. If you don't understand this, then you're lacking in the common sense department anyways and are probably unfit to climb. By the way, cigarette butts are also litter. I don't know when smokers stopped considering them to be anything but litter, but they are. Pack out all of your trash.
- Never chip or modify a route so you can do it. Just because you can't do it, doesn't mean it's impossible. If you think something is unsafe and needs to be changed, consult some climbers who you think are better than you before you do anything. Ideally, one should consult the person who bolted the route. A general rule of thumb is that it's not ethical to add new gear, remove existing gear, or modify any holds on the route. If you feel something should be changed, please consult an experienced climber.
- If you have to use the bathroom, please go FAR away from the crag. Nobody wants a pile of shit next to his or her project. This has been a major problem in some of the French crags, and some of the more popular crags. You mom isn't here to clean up after anyone. Do your part, and dig a hole at least a hundred feet from the climbing wall and any water source.
- CONSERVATION, Use all specified trails. Never harm or cut down trees, even if they're in the way. Never make fires by the walls. Never dig away anything to uncover a route. If it's that important, you need to find a new hobby. I go to climbing areas to get away from problems one usually associates with the city, but lately the city problems have been catching up with the climbing areas. Do your part and help keep our climbing areas pure.
- Leave your Boom Boxes at home or face the consequences...
There are more, but if you'll notice that these are all things that COMMEN SENSE would dictate. Don't be ignorant, use your brain. Too many people these days only live for the now, not giving a care or thought to future climbers and their experience.
- Lastly, say hi to people! Part of the best thing about climbing is you can always find a friend. Generally, people who also climb are going to be friendly to you also. Return that courtesy, and help out others.
TIPS FOR THE BEGINNER TO GET STARTED IN SPORT CLIMBING
The single best thing you can do is go to your local climbing gym and receive professional instruction. You'll also meet people with similar interests, and you might even make some lasting friends. Maybe if you're lucky, those friends will even take you outside and show you some stuff. I know that's how I learned to Sport Climb (Thanks, Sean Kenny). Either way, the important thing is to learn to be safe and in control. For this, there is no substitute for structured instruction. Please, be careful- Climbing is inherently dangerous and even professionals die sometimes because they were not thinking. Your brain is the single most important thing you can take with you to the crag. Without it, I'll be honest and tell you that you're fucked. I guarantee you that climbing is harder than you think; but don't get frustrated. It just takes practice and dedication. When I started climbing, 5.12 seemed impossible because it was so HARD. Later in your climbing experience, you'll find that the only thing that holds you back is your MIND, because if you tell yourself it's impossible, then it might as well be. Likewise, if you tell yourself that you can do it, then eventually you will succeed. Of course, don't bite off more than you can chew. If you haven't red pointed a 5.11, then you probably shouldn't be gunning for a 5.14. Don't try to advance in grades until you've done numerous grades easier in all forms. For example, before you try a 5.12a, do a bunch of 5.11c's and 5.11d's in all different forms. This has worked for numerous climbers, and every climber I know. Work towards your goal, don't be stupid and try to do everything at once. Always remember to be safe. I cannot say that enough. The most important thing I can tell you is to have fun; that's what climbing is about, not sending hard grades or talking it up. Climbing is the ultimate form of expression with nature, and you should enjoy it for all it's worth.