How to Get Started in Rock Climbing

You've seen the pictures, heard the stories, watched the tantalizing footage in a movie or TV show. But then you look around and nobody seems to know any climbers, and you haven't a clue about where to begin.

Years ago, rock climbers started out as hikers and mountain climbers. Technical rock climbing was a natural extension for them. Today, lots of rock climbers are coming from indoor climbing gyms. These are steep-terrain athletes, not necessarily seasoned outdoors people. Many of these climbers don't even venture outside. They find the indoor world rich enough to satisfy them without going further afield.

To an outsider, the culture of climbers might seem elitist and closed; and if not, it's at least mysterious. There are all those gadgets, all those terms. Lots of climbers tell stories about being intimidated, not by the climbing itself, but by the culture and the technology. All it takes is one day out on the rock and, I assure you, any sense of intimidation disappears. Mystery turns to understanding.

Most important for any beginner is to find others who share the interest. If there is an indoor climbing gym, you are all set. Simply visit, get a lesson or two, and don't be shy. Everyone in the place was once in your position, and most climbers will be enthusiastic about bringing another into the fold.

If you live in an area with some natural cliffs, there will probably be an outdoor gear store whose clerks are in the know. Ask them every question you can think of: Who are the local instructors? Are there any climbing clubs? Is there a network of climbers? Check the board for posted notes from other climbers seeking partners.

I won't recommend getting instruction from just any friendly stranger. Even though many of us did just that, some of us are lucky to have survived the apprenticeship. The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) will give you an extensive listing of certified guides and accredited programs. So will the two main publications, Climbing and Rock and Ice. All have Web pages.

And from the department of shameless self-promotion, check out my own book, Rock Climbing: A Trailside Guide (W.W. Norton, Inc.). The book was written specifically for someone entering the sport. It covers gear, technique, history, culture, and jargon. It is widely available and continues to be my mother's favorite text on climbing.

Start-up costs? Here are some approximations:

Shoes: $125
Harness: $50
Chalk and chalkbag: $20
Belay device and locking carabiner: $25
Helmet: $75

Do not buy a rope or any anchoring gear until you know what you are doing. If your guide or new partners can't supply these items, then they too are rookies. Have fun.

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