Sep 28, 2019
Learn How to Climb Like Alex Honnold (but with a rope!)
With the success of Free Solo and climbing's admission into the 2020 Olympics, interest in this sport has never been higher, so here are 5 simple steps to do it for yourself.
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You’ve just finished watching Alex Honnold’s Free Solo on El Capitan. Your hands are sweaty from holding onto the armrest so tight, your jaw is sore from clenching your teeth together, and you feel slightly nauseous from the knot that has formed in the pit of your stomach. But despite all the physical symptoms of anxiety you are experiencing, you still feel that aching urge for an experience. It doesn’t need to be exactly what Honnold is doing… a rope and belay partner would be nice! But you are curious. You start by googling “Rock Climbing”. Then “Yosemite”. Then “Yosemite Rock Climbing”. You soon realize you are in way over your head.
So, how do you start? How do you get into rock climbing?
Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out where to start.
Step 1: Find a local climbing gym
Google “rock climbing gym in _(your hometown)_”. Find a friend who also wants to try it out, and go! Don’t bother buying any gear yet. You can rent it there.
When you arrive at the climbing gym, make sure to express to the gym employee that it is your first time, that you have no idea what you are doing, but you are excited to learn! They will most likely be able to point you towards a class, clinic, or private lesson that will teach you how to tie into the rope for safety, how to belay, and several simple climbing techniques.
Your first time climbing (before you take a class) will most likely be a bit of an ego hit. The gym employee will most likely give you a pair of rental climbing shoes and lead you towards the easier bouldering routes. These routes are shorter walls over padded flooring. You don’t need a rope for bouldering, which makes it more accessible to beginners. However, due to the walls being shorter, the routes are often set to be more challenging. They are often more powerful and require better technique than roped routes. For this reason, your first time climbing might be difficult. But don’t be discouraged! This is how it goes for everyone.
Step 2: Take a clinic
Your local gym will most likely host various classes and clinics throughout the week to teach belay skills, climbing techniques, and strength training. Sign up for a belay class, take a technique clinic, and go from there!
Step 3: Buy some gear
Climbing gear can be bought in phases. Phase one is the beginner gear kit – shoes, chalk, and a chalk bag.
Go to your local gear shop – preferably a climbing-specific shop if there is one near you, get an employee to help you, and try on as many different brands, sizes, and models as you can. Every style of climbing shoe will fit your foot differently, which is why it is important to try on different styles and sizes to make sure you get the right one for your foot shape and size.
Phase two of climbing gear is buying a harness, belay device, and locking carabiner. Do this after you have taken a belay clinic, so you know how to safely tie in and use the ropes at the gym, and how to use a belay device.
Next stop, El Capitan!
Phase three will happen once you start leading and climbing outside. You might start out by just buying a rope and a set of quickdraws, but as you develop your climbing skills, you will slowly start buying more gear. Helmet, more shoes, a new carabiner, a rope bag, more shoes again, daisy chain, a new backpack… and eventually you will start building a trad rack, and your simple life as you know it will be over and all you will think about is climbing.
Step 4: Get a membership to the gym (and hopefully make friends while you are there)
The best way to get good at a new sport? – Do it a lot!
Get a climbing gym membership and go 4-5 days a week. Boulder, top rope, lead, whatever you want to do while there… just go! Try all the routes – not just the ones that you can easily finish – but all of them. Challenge yourself to step outside of your V0-V2 comfort zone and hop on a V4 or V5. Watch how other climbers move their bodies and position their feet to make the moves, and copy them. You might learn some cool techniques that make the routes easier and more fun.
While at the climbing gym, try to make some friends! Maybe post in a local climbing Facebook page that you are a newer climber looking for belay partners at the climbing gym, and possibly looking to learn how to climb outside as well. Most climbing communities are very friendly, and people are often stoked to take out new climbers and show them the ropes (pun intended)!
Step 5: Go outside!
Now that you have found a solid group of friends to climb with, get outside!
Next stop, El Capitan!
Cover Photo: The author, Brook Hess. Photo by Gillian Ellison.