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>Climbing - how to get started

If you would like to start rock climbing, please note that every year loads of beginners, as well as very skilled and experienced climbers, are killed whilst climbing. Don't climb unless you are under the supervision of a qualified climber. Climb at your own risk.

Good luck.

To begin with there are two broad categories of climbing:

a) Free climbing and b) Aid climbing.

Free Climbing: There is a pureness about free climbing as the climber relies solely on the use of his or her own skills to ascend a rock face. Equipment can be used, it's done so strictly for safety reasons (i.e. to offer protection during a fall).

Aid climbing: this involves the use of equipment to ascend a rock face, which under normal circumstances wouldn't be possible to free climb. From an ethical perspective it is worth pointing out that you should always leave the rock face in the same condition as we found it.

Climbing has continued to evolve and now we have categories such as:

  • Bouldering (technical, fun, good way to get started)
  • Traditional climbing (i.e. 'Trad'), (challenging, scary, knackering, but great fun)
  • Indoor climbing, (safe, great for practice or introduction to climbing)
  • Ice climbing (unpredictable nature of the ice structures make this inherently riskier than many other forms of climbing)
  • Sport climbing (uses existing fixed gear which speeds climbing pace, not as risky as some other types as climbing)
  • Alpine climbing (Matterhorn anyone? Strictly for the advanced climber who is very skilled in rock climbing, ice climbing, wilderness survival and meteorology)
  • Mixed climbing (er... it is what it says it is. Climbing on mixed terrain, snow, ice, rock...)

We shall deal with each type of climbing in turn, although priority will be given to the types of climb best suited to novice and intermediate climbers. As this site develops we will include more content on advanced level stuff

Bouldering

Bouldering is perhaps the purest forms of climbing where the climber stays relatively close to the ground and does not use ropes or other protection to climb. Bouldering can be practiced on indoor walls, along the bottom of a route but perhaps best when performed on a proper Boulder (which are usually under 12 foot).

A portable crash mat (i.e a bouldering mat) is often used to protect fallers and the climber should stay within a height where is safe to fall from without injury. Bouldering is great fun, requires little in the way of equipment, can be a very good introduction to the sport of trad climbing, and provides an ideal way to practice technique and build strength.

Traditional climbing (Trad climbing)
Trad climbing is damn scary, physically knackering and extremely challenging so I suppose that's why it continues to be one of the most popular forms of climbing. Trad climbing puts the climber in direct contact with the mountain or crag. Climbing gear is used for protection purposes only (not to aid climbing) and is designed to be inserted and removed in such as manner as to not mar the rock face in any way. Obviously if one of the prime objectives is to leaving the rock face in the same condition as when nature created it - the fixing a permanent bolt is not an option so you'll quickly learn the art of placing gear (or protection) and if you get it wrong, you won't last long.
Indoor climbing: indoor wall

Indoor climbing walls provide a safe, comfortable climbing environment, which can be used year round by beginners through to advanced climbers. Indoor climbing centres continue to gain popularity, as they are a convenient venue for the provision of climbing lessons/courses.

Indoor 'competition climbing' is also becoming more popular as climbers go head to head and compete in a variety of different disciplines such as: bouldering, speed climbing and in some instances ice climbing

Ice climbing
Ice climbing is inherently riskier than many other forms of climbing due to the unpredictable nature of the ice structures they climb. Ice climbers must accept risks of avalanches, falling ice, and that the ice may be too soft to provide secure protection for the ice screws, ice hooks and pound-ins. Climbing frozen waterfalls in sub-zero temperatures with the use of a couple of ice axes an some crampons may not be everybody's idea of a fun day out, but is good and dangerous.
Sport climbing
Sport climbing is centered around climbing to ones physical potential. Basically sport routes have fixed protection (i.e 'bolts') already in place, which enables the climber to quickly snap a rope in, and get on with climbing rather than having to stop and place removable protection. Making use of the fixed certainly gear makes sport climbing less risky than other forms of climbing (such as 'trad climbing') but it does quicken the climbing pace. Sports climbers are therefore able to climb more routes in a day than say 'trad climber, and if you look at it from an 'ease to get started 'perspective, its requires hardly any gear. I guess I should mention the bit about fixed gear being uncool because… hmmm… it does permanently knacker the rock face, and therefore in some parts of the world its seriously frowned upon, whilst in other parts of the world its accepted.
Alpine Climbing: "Ahhh…the Matterhorn anyone?"
Alpine climbing is strictly for the advanced climber who is very skilled in rock climbing, ice climbing, wilderness survival and meteorology. Alpinists are not only faced with massive climbs, but they battle against below freezing temperatures, severe weather conditions, and altitude sickness. Speed is vital in alpine climbing and the climber can't afford to waste time since it is necessary to carry a backpack (which zaps climbing energy), the climbers hands can go numb, and the weather can deteriorate rapidly. Snow-covered glaciers and lightening storms can be exceptionally dangerous for the alpine climber.
Mixed climbing
Mixed climbing encompasses climbing routes of mixed terrain (typically ice, snow and rock) which and can be multi-pitched, and vary in length (from a short demanding climb through to an Alpine route of several thousand feet). Mixed climbers need to be very skilled in traditional climbing techniques, ice climbing techniques, wilderness survival, and meteorology.