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FAQ: Getting started in rock climbing

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
5 min read

Peeps… bear with me. I owe you the last of the romance stories, part two of my Outdoor Retailer Summer Market coverage, a ton of cool gear reviews including a detailed review of the pack I’m putting through serious paces, the Osprey Mutant 38, which is VERY newly available in the U.S., as well as the Black Diamond Aura harness, and my just-received La Sportiva Womens’ Miuras and Mantis which I get to try out for the first time tonight.

Whew!

But first… I’m going to answer two questions that I get asked all the time:

How did I get into rock climbing?

and,

What’s my advice for people who would like to get into climbing?

Keep reading, for the answers to those questions.

How did you get into rock climbing?

My dear friend Amy was the real instigator. Amy took up climbing — I can’t even remember what actually triggered it for her. She’d come back from trips and the climbing gym just brimming with energy and power, and enthusiasm… I’d honestly never seen that side of her before. After awhile, my ex signed me up for an intro class at our local gym, Kitsap Vertical World, as a “present.” I was so pissed… the idea of climbing was terrifying to me. I was afraid of heights, and had all sorts of health history that made me a very unlikely climber. But, the minute I touched the plastic, and worked my way up that wall, I was hooked. Hooked unlike anything else I’d ever tried before. I used to dance — ballet, mostly — and climbing was a little like dancing… only better.

My love of climbing grew from there… I became a regular at the gym, and then a regular tagalong on trips with my climbing mentors including Amy, Sarah, and a long list of boys who were willing to trade their knowledge for a reliable belayer and gear cleaner, and maybe a half tank of gas or a ride to the crag. I’ve taken very little formal training — only a class or two here and there on fairly specific skills — but have benefited greatly from the generosity of my mentors. This summer, I’m expanding my toolkit into some mountaineering and glacier travel skills (also, with the help of a mentor I’m incredibly thankful for) so I will be doing some formal training in those areas, but really — I’ve been lucky to be brought up by competent, fun partners, who have opened doors for me I never would have imagined even five years ago.

What’s your advice for getting into climbing?

The best advice I can give you is to find a good, safe place to try it, and just try it. Gyms offer a slightly more controlled setting, usually with some sort of “Experience” package or a day pass, to let you try out the movement of climbing on an artificial wall. To find a climbing gym near you, take a look at Climbfind.com, and the folks at Phoenix Rock Gym have a pretty current list for the U.S.

Getting outside, you’ve got options, too. One is to take the route I did, and build relationships and identify mentors, then make yourself useful and get out when you can. That works better in some climbing communities than others, and works better for some people and geographies than others.

Another option is to employ guides. I’ve never thought much about hiring guides until recently, mostly because my schedule’s been plenty full of time out with my friends and mentors, and also partly, because I do some trips with less experienced climbers so I have a really strong identification with how HARD it is to guide and be the one that everybody’s counting on to find the routes, get the rope up, and create conditions of safety and fun. But, I’ve talked with a lot of friends and acquaintances who’ve had strongly positive experiences with trips with guides.

And, after spend numerous days in a new / unfamiliar place doing more routefinding than rock climbing, I can definitely see the appeal of having a day or two with a “local” to help you get oriented, and, to help communicate the ethics and norms in a given area.

The American Mountain Guides Association is a good resource for finding guides in locations near you, or that you might want to explore.

UClimb.org
Finally — and definitely not least — check out UClimb.org. UClimb is presented by the great folks at Mountain Gear, with support from a long list of industry leaders in the climbing market. I recently got a chance to speak with Phil Bridgers, Events Coordinator for UClimb, in more detail about the program, and I was seriously excited about what I heard.

UClimb is an “experience” program, intended to cover the basics of climbing outdoors, including safety, basic gear use (harness, shoes, belay device, etc.), voice commands, knot tying, and belaying, as well as climbing techniques and etiquette. What’s different about this program? It takes place outdoors, in world class climbing destinations (and, destinations close to home) in some of the most beautiful settings imaginable. Red River Gorge, Devil’s Lake, New River Gorge, Joshua Tree, Donner Summit … the list goes on.

According to Phil, they aim to have at least one female guide on any given trip — something I think is very cool. While I’m forever in debt to the boys who’ve brought me up as a climber, spending time around other women is what made me a lifer. Spending time learning from and climbing with other women has been invaluable to me, in my own climbing development.

It can be intimidating, or difficult, to break into a climbing community. What I like about the idea behind UClimb is that it eliminates that difficulty for those who can afford the price of entry. From the UClimb website for the upcoming Spokane, WA trip:

“All UClimb packages include professional climbing instruction, camping for Friday and Saturday, dinner on Saturday, and Sunday breakfast.

Register for the “Weekend with Gear” package and we’ll provide the basic equipment you’ll need to get up on the rock – a package valued at almost $300, but yours to keep for $130 (included in the registration price).”

And, the various levels of participation range from $49 for festival attendance to $329 for the “Weekend with Gear” package, and special pricing for youth participants.

Thanks to Phil and the UClimb folks for getting in touch, and I’m excited to hear from participants in the program. I really love the idea of people getting a chance to try climbing, in as safe of a setting as possible, close to home, with guides that they can then potentially work with in the future, in their own backyards.

For more information about UClimb, you can contact Phil at:

Phil Bridgers, Events Coordinator

phone: (509) 340-1151

pbridgers@mountaingear.com

Or visit Uclimb.org.

If you’ve had a particularly good experience with an outdoor experience provider — be it a guide, or a program like UClimb, please share in the comments. I’d love this post to be an ongoing resource for folks looking for information about getting a start in climbing, especially outside.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.