Although the absolute best way to learn to rock climb outdoors is from an experienced mentor in the field, we understand that a lot of young climbers don’t have access to a person to serve as that mentor. In a world where there are many, many more young climbers than older climbers, the math just doesn’t work out. Additionally, many many gym climbers live in flat, Midwestern states, where they might not even know where to find the nearest crag.
But just because you don’t live in Boulder, Colorado, doesn’t mean you can’t learn the skills to climb outdoors!
Although a mentor is useful, if you can’t find one, you’re not destined to pull on plastic forever.
The first thing you should do is buy a copy of Mountaineering: the Freedom of the Hills. This book contains anything you could ever possibly want to know about rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. It has instructions for sport climbing, trad climbing, alpine climbing, ice climbing, mixed climbing… any other sort of climbing you can possibly imagine. This is the seminal text for climbers and climbing instructors alike. Buy it, read it, and then read it again.
It includes a huge number of useful diagrams and illustrations, explaining everything from common knots to advanced rescue techniques.
The Freedom of the Hills is an immensely useful text for everyone to own: from newbie climbers to experienced alpinists—the book is a timeless reference. It’s a lot easier to look something up in your copy of The Freedom of the Hills and have an answer in seconds, than it is to Google the same issue and spend hours sifting through contradictory information and pedantic arguments in climbing forums.
Skip the squabbles—go straight to the authority.
John Long’s Climbing Anchors book is also considered essential reading for those looking to avoid death. Anchors (the way in which your rope system is attached to the cliff) are addressed in The Freedom of the Hills, but Long’s book goes into much more detail, and discusses many more possible problems and solutions. Especially good for those beginner climbers who want to learn to rig effective top-rope anchors.
There are an unlimited number of instructional videos on YouTube, explaining almost any system in rock climbing. Many of these videos are high-quality and produced by either gear manufacturers or guiding companies. These videos can be an extremely helpful resource if you’re unsure on how exactly a techniwque you’ve read about looks in real life. The downside, of course, is you can’t ask questions to a prerecorded video. If you venture into the YouTube comments section, expect to get a dozen different conflicting answers; some of which may be safe, some of which may not be.
Useful channels to check out:
- AMGA (American Mountain Guide Association)
- Climbing Magazine
- Outdoor Research
- Just search YouTube for your specific question and something relevant will almost always come up
Class at the Climbing Gym
Most climbing gyms will offer at least a lead climbing class, focused on the basic techniques of leading sport routes. This can be a great place to start: learn the basics and get comfortable lead climbing indoors, before heading outdoors. Many gyms also offer “gym to crag” classes or something similar, which often involve at least one trip to an outdoor crag. These classes are a good way to get your foot in the door of outdoor climbing, and possibly find some friends in your area who share your climbing goals.
Hire a Guide
The most expensive option on this list is also the best. While book learning is great, and YouTube is a powerful tool, nothing beats being shown what to do in a real-life situation by someone who has been doing it for years. One day with a climbing guide can get you acclimated to working with a rope, using safety systems, and assessing risk in outdoor setting. Two or three days will get you all the skills you need to venture into the outdoors with confidence.
Check out the video above to see how qualified these guys and girls are.
Downsides: this is an expensive proposition, with the need to pay an agency and then tip your guide on top of that. If you live in an area with no guiding services, travel to a major climbing destination may also be required.
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