Climbing For Rookies

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Learn the Ropes of This Rising Sport

With its own lexicon of jargon, and a plethora of mysterious-looking and sounding equipment like carabineers, Grigris, ATCs, and prusiks, sport climbing can seem daunting to jump into. After all, you’re setting out to conquer slabs of rock that are many, many times larger than you. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s a sport that meets you where you’re at, challenges you, and helps you grow.

We’re fortunate along the Wasatch Front—and the whole of Utah—to be in a bed of world-renowned climbing, available all year round. And sending a climb here is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, and gives you the tangible accomplishment of standing atop a rock wall. With a little bit of learning and the right gear, you can master the basics of climbing quickly. It won’t be long before you understand why this sport is rapidly gaining loyal followers of all ages and abilities.

Starting from scratch? That’s ok; here are some thoughts from this semi-novice to you.

GEAR UP

If you’re starting to sport climb, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up in a gear shop. You can find everything you need, from harnesses to shoes, and lengths of rope to quickdraws. But beyond retail sales, you can get a host of knowledge about how the products work, and even where to climb. Don’t go into a shop in a hurry; take the time to learn from the experienced climbers and gearheads that are almost always there, planning their own next route. Your nearby climbing gym can also offer a wealth of knowledge and give you a more controlled learning environment to practice skills and techniques.

Having the proper gear and equipment is really important, but don’t stress about spending hundreds of dollars right away on it. If you’re starting indoors, you can easily rent gear from the climbing gym. For outdoor climbing, you’ll need to buy a harness that fits you well, a couple of locking carabiners, a good rope, and a belay device. YouTube can be a great source for learning about equipment, but your most valuable sources are guidebooks written by experts, and the skilled knowledge from local climbing shops and gyms. Some of our favorite shops to get gear and learn from are International Mountain Equipment (IME), Black Diamond, and Wasatch Touring in Salt Lake City, or The Gear Room in Cottonwood Heights.

GET EDUCATED

The best way to learn how to climb is through the experience of others. Find friends. Jump into the community. Many climbing shops, gyms, and even local schools and universities offer climbing classes for all levels. The climbing community is incredibly warm and eager to help other climbers learn how to improve and stay safe. Ask lots of questions and be teachable; it’s a sport that can have drastic consequences if you aren’t educated thoroughly.

You need a belayer, so you literally can’t go it alone—put yourself out there and have fun becoming part of a sport that encourages helping others along the way. Find a climbing partner and learn from one another. In a world with ever-decreasing human interaction, there’s something incredibly communal and connecting about climbing together.

If you don’t have a buddy or just want some extra instruction, try a group class like Ladies Nights at The Front, non-credit climbing classes from the University of Utah, or outdoor education with Utah Mountain Adventures.

Looking up at a rock climber way up on a cliff face

Photo Credit: Jake Hamblin

Extra Info: Apps and Guidebooks

Apps and websites like Mountain Project offer excellent information on climbing areas and routes. They’re updated regularly, and include comments from other climbers on changes have occurred in the area, or if the bolts are looking a little worn.

But you’ll want a good guidebook too. Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills is often touted as the best for beginners and experienced climbers alike. There are also many that have been published to give you in-depth information about a specific area: the type of rock you’ll see there, numerous routes, and safety information specific to the geographic location. And a big plus—no WiFi is required for it to work. You won’t find yourself in a remote area, outside of cell service, clamoring for info on a route that you can’t seem to find.

I still feel like a rookie, even though I’ve been climbing semi-regularly now for two years and recently sent my first lead route. I’m a top-rope champ and can build myself an anchor and clean it without any major blunders, but there is still a lot that I don’t know. Some days, I crush a 5.11 and feel on top of the world, while others, a 5.6 kicks my trash. I guess that’s one of the appeals of climbing to me; there is only one way to go: up (no pun intended), and an infinite number of ways to get there.

I can tell you one thing—this crazy sport is laid-back and inclusive, with some of the raddest people amongst its ranks. They’ll welcome you and help you along your way, no matter where you are on your journey.

Woman rock climbing on a red rock cliff

Photo Credit: Jake Hamblin

WHERE TO PRACTICE

Before you climb, hone your skills and get comfortable with the gear at these local gyms:

The Front Climbing Club
1470 S. 400 West, SLC
225 20th Street, Ogden

Momentum Climbing
3173 E. 3300 South, SLC
220 W. 10600 South, Sandy
401 S. 850 East, Lehi

The Mine Bouldering
1680 Ute Boulevard, Park City

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About Author

Heather was born and raised in northern Utah, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Utah. Currently, Heather is a Strategy Writer for the University of Utah Health Sciences. She also teaches Italian language courses and manages the social media presence for the non-profit Italian Club of Salt Lake. When she does have free time, you can find her cooking, doing yoga, rock climbing, or exploring the hiking trails and ski runs in her native state.

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