Hiking is generally a staple of every camping trip. It gives you the opportunity to explore nature and see new things. Why not take that exploration to new heights? Rock climbing can get you to many new places and give you a view of the world unlike any hike you will ever take. But, before you hit the side of the mountain, there are some things you need to know first.
Learn the Language
You’re going to need some basic terminology to get you started on your rock-climbing journey. Below are a few common terms you will want to know before you set out to climb:
Anchor: Where the rope is secured to the rock
Backstep: Using the outside of your shoe on an edge
Bight: A loop made in a rope by folding it over
Belay: Using a rope to protect against a fall
Chimney: A large, wide crack that the majority of a climber’s body can fit into
Free: Wearing no gear at all
Hold: A place to grab onto with your hand
Pitch: Section of rock between belays
Quickdraw: Pair of carabiners connected with webbing
Rack: Full set of gear needed for climbing
Rappel: Using the rope to descend
This is one activity where gear substitutions are not recommended. Substitutions or not having gear could lead to serious injury or possible death. Plenty of places rent out gear and offer instructions and assistance with learning to use it, so don’t gamble with your safety because you don’t want to buy climbing shoes. If you’re just testing out the sport to see if you like it, rent the gear, don’t make substitutions!
Climbing helmets are specifically designed for climbing and impact with hard rock. In the event you were to fall, this helmet would protect your head from serious injury. Make sure that you have the proper size. It should fit snugly against your head, but not so tight you struggle to get it off and on. The design of these helmets protects both the top and side of your head, unlike a bike helmet. Bike helmets do not count as rock climbing helmets.
Harnesses are what hold you to the rope. In the event of a fall, or if you don’t feel like climbing back down once you’re up there, this harness will hold you while you rappel down the rope. They are specifically designed to hold you around the waist and legs so you cannot easily fall out of it. Be sure you are properly buckled into your harness before you start climbing to make sure it is working properly.
Rock climbing shoes are probably one of the most important parts of a climber’s gear. These are not like normal tennis shoes. They have smooth soles with sticky rubber to help your feet grip the rock. Bring your tennis shoes for walks to and from the car, as walking in climbing shoes can get very uncomfortable, but don’t even think of wearing them for climbing!
Climbing ropes are the most important piece of equipment you’ll need when climbing. They hold you to the rock and keep you safe. Ensure you are using climbing rope and not just any rope. The main type of rope used in climbing is Dynamic Rope. This flexible rope has some elasticity to it so it will catch you if you fall but will cushion the impact a little.
Carabiners are the metal rings that connect the rope to the climbing protection such as cams, chocks, and nuts that are connected to the rock to hold you up if you fall. They have a spring-loaded “gate” that you can open to slip it onto a new piece of protection as you go up. The shape of the carabiner and the gate styles can vary on these but the most common and easy to use is an oval shape with a straight gate. These are most likely what you will use as a beginner.
Climbing protection consists of devices that are used to attach the rope to the rock. These are placed in cracks and holes and then the rope is fastened to them with the carabiners. There are two different types of climbing protection: active and passive. The active protection devices are versatile and have moving parts. They are typically spring-loaded and built to fit many types of cracks and crevices. The passive type of protection is just a single piece and includes things like bolts and hexes. These need to be placed just right, as they will not adjust for any movement.
Belay devices are used as a break. Their job is to help keep the tension on the rope and they will bring a fall to a stop quickly. They will also help in the event the climber wants to just rappel down the rock when they’re finished.
Types of Climbs
There are a few different types of climbs when it comes to rock climbing. The difference between them is the equipment used, length of the course being climbed, and the speed at which you ascend the rock. The different types include Traditional, Sport Climbing, Bouldering, and Free Soloing. The Traditional climb is the most standard and the one a beginner will start with.
Traditional Climbs are the safest type of rock climbing. With this type, you are wearing all the safety gear possible. While climbing the rock, the climber will place the climbing protection as they go. Typically those participating in a traditional climb are doing it to explore and view nature. Unlike sport climbing, there is no competition or rush to get to the top and generally the climber will remove all trace of them being there when they leave.
Climbing protection is permanently placed in the rock ahead of time for Sport Climbs. They are placed a good distance apart to make the climb a bit more difficult for the climber. They must then rely on their strength and physical abilities to reach different protection points in order to make the climb. Most sport climbs include a competition to see how fast one can complete the course. This may be a competition between climbers or a goal set by a climber to see if they can beat their previous time. Unlike a boulder climb, the sport climb still utilizes all of the safety equipment available.
A Boulder Climb is a bit more dangerous. This type of climb uses no ropes or harnesses. The only equipment used is climbing protection, climbing shoes, and what is called a boulder mat, or a crash pad. A boulder mat is simply a mat placed at the bottom that will slightly cushion the fall if it were to happen. Generally with a boulder climb the climber will only ascend a maximum of 20 feet.
The last and most dangerous type of climb is the Free Solo Climb. This type of climb uses no safety equipment, no climber protection, and no mats at the bottom. This climber is generally climbing alone which makes it even more dangerous as there is no one there to assist them if they find themselves in trouble. This type of climb goes well above the 20 feet the boulder climbers stick to, making it even more dangerous if they were to fall.
There are many different types of knots that avid climbers need to know, but the basic ones are described below. Read these step-by-step instructions on how to tie each one and what each one is typically used for.
Figure Eight Knot on a Bight
- Make a bight.
- Cross it over.
- Bring it underneath.
- Put the bight through the hole.
- Pull it tight.
- Now you can clip your carabiner through the bight.
Figure Eight Knot with Follow Through
- Make a bight.
- Bring the short end of the rope around the bight and back to the front.
- Feed the end of the rope through the bight.
- Bring the end of the rope up through your harness, leaving the 8 you made below the harness.
- Flip your 8 over and start your end piece in through the top loop on it.
- Bring the end of the rope up and around and in the top loop again from behind it.
- Bring the end around the back of the 8 and then down into the bottom loop from the front.
- Tuck the end of the rope into the top loop going upward and tighten the 8.
- Make 2 loops, one with the short end of the rope in front, and the long end in back.
- Place the loop with the short end behind the other so they’re stacked on top of one another.
- Place your carabiner through both loops and pull tight.
- Lay your rope out and coil a loop with the short end in front.
- Bring the end up from behind the loop and in through it.
- Wrap it around the long end to the left of the loop and then back down.
- Tighten the knot where it is leaving a big loop under the knot.
- Tie a loose overhand knot in the end of one rope.
- Thread the end of the other rope in the opposite direction following the same path.
- Pull tight on both ends.
- Create a bight in the working rope.
- Lay the non-working rope over the top of the bight.
- Bring the rest of the working rope up through the bight.
- Repeat the last step to double it.
- Pull it tight.
Double Fisherman’s Bend
- Overlap the two ends you’re working with.
- Wrap one end around both ropes twice.
- Pass the end of the rope through the loops you just made around the ropes.
- Pull it tight.
- Wrap the other end around the two ropes twice.
- Pass the end through the second set of loops you just made.
- Pull it tight.
- Pull on both long ends of the ropes to bring the knots together.
Before you head out to the first cliff you can find, you may want to first try out an indoor climbing wall. This will give you the opportunity to try it out in a controlled environment with plenty of safety equipment and professionals around. Do a few climbs here first to get the feel for the footing and climbing in general. Here you can get to know the gear and meet other experienced climbers who can guide you.
Once you have a few practice climbs in on an indoor wall, and you’re feeling comfortable and confident, it’s time to take it outdoors! Chances are you will meet someone at the climbing wall who will be able to tell you where the best beginner courses are, where you can rent or buy the equipment, and maybe even accompany you on your climb to help keep you safe.
When you’re first starting out, remember to use all the safety gear and start slow. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation you’re not ready to handle and end up injured (or worse!). Once you get the hang of climbing, your camping adventures will soar to a whole new level!
Are you a rock climber? Where are some of your favorite places to go rock climbing? Tell us in the comments!