The setting sun’s heat warms you as you reach for one of the last holds at the top of a climb. A gentle breeze cools the sweat from your body. Your hand sticks to the rock like a spider. Your heart beats ferociously and your muscles scream as you make the final push to the top. As you turn around, the lights of the city below begin to sparkle one by one, like fireflies on a summer’s night. A smile is inevitable and beams across your face. You did it, and it was amazing.
Challenging, exciting and renewing, rock climbing is a rewarding and adventurous sport. However, it can be dangerous or even fatal if the proper training and safety precautions are not taken. There are several good safety tips beginners can keep in mind to make their rock climbing experience fun, safe, and made in confidence.
First, find a reputable outdoor or rock climbing store that has a knowledgeable staff to aid you with your selection of gear. Gear selection, inspection, and treatment are very important for safety. You can start climbing with as little as a harness, belay device, and climbing shoes. Climbing gyms and rock climbing stores may hold classes for beginners or will be able to recommend one. Or, recruit a seasoned friend to give you hands on experience. You can read a hundred books on how to rock climb, but nothing beats the skills you will acquire by actually performing the tasks. Stick to roped and top-roped climbing in the beginning. Move to lead, sport lead, and traditional (often referred to as “trad”) climbing after you’ve mastered the basics.
Consider starting your climbing journey with bouldering. Bouldering will not only give you a great introduction to climbing, but it will also improve your skills on the wall or rock face. Be sure to have a friend spot you.
Always communicate with your partner clearly and frequently. There are a few basic safety phrases that you should be familiar with:
• On belay: Used by the climber to ask the belayer if he is ready.
• Belay on: Used by the belayer to ensure to the climber he is ready to belay.
• Climbing: Used by the climber to signal to the belayer he will begin the climb.
• Climb on: Used by the belayer to ensure he is ready for the climber to begin.
• Watch me: Used by the climber to signal to the belayer he may fall.
• Halfway: Used by the belayer to let the climber know half of the rope has been used.
• Rope/Rock: Used to warn people at the bottom the rope will be coming down, or a rock is falling.
• Take: Used by the climber when he is finished a climb and wants the belayer to take up any slack of the rope in order to support his weight to let him down
• Off-belay: Used by the climber to signal he has tied into anchors and no longer needs the belay
• Belay off: Used by the belayer to signal the rope is off the belay device.
Now that you have your gear and have learned the basics of rock climbing communication, you are ready to climb! There are a few other things to remember to make your experience the best it can be. Use your legs for most of the power in your moves. Your leg muscles are bigger and stronger than your arms and you won’t tire as easily if you use them. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different moves or holds. What works for your partner may not work for you. Trust yourself and your belayer. If you fall, you will be caught. Stretch daily. Flexibility can greatly improve your climbing ability as well as prevent muscle injury.
Before starting a climb, always check your equipment as well as your partner’s. Have your partner double check your equipment as well. Use the phrases listed above to ensure everyone is ready. Breathe. Don’t rush and stay alert, both when you are climbing as well as belaying. To avoid falling rocks or stray gear as the belayer, do not stand directly underneath the climber. Wear a helmet as both the climber and belayer.
Pack water and snacks such as trail mix or bars to keep your hunger low and your energy and strength up. You will also want to bring a first aid kit. If your shoes are laced, bring an extra pair of laces in case one breaks. A map and compass or GPS and extra batteries will help you should you get lost. Don’t forget the sunscreen. A flashlight is always a good idea. Always be prepared before you head out. This means knowing where you are going, the temperature and type of rock you will be climbing, the weather forecast, and the approach terrain.
Be respectful to the environment. Rock climbing is a wonderful sport that will connect you with nature. Pack out what you packed in. Practice good common sense. With the right gear and knowledge, your climbing experience will be thrilling, gratifying, and safe.