Safety is your responsibility. This article is not a substitute for qualified in-person training.
Note: Many climbing areas include routes that are purely sport climbs, right next to “mixed” and traditional climbs that require gear other than quickdraws. Read your guidebook carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask other climbers before jumping on a route. If a section of a route seems dangerously run-out between bolts, you might be expected to place traditional protection there.
WHAT TO BRING
- Climbing shoes
- Belay device(s)
- “Third hand” with small locking carabiner
- Personal tether (optional—for clipping direct to anchor when cleaning; can improvise with slings or quickdraws)
- Rope(s) and rope bag/tarp
- Some areas and routes may be safer with the addition of a stick-clip
- Bags for garbage
- If no toilets are available—”toilet kit” (TP, wipes, trowel, zip-lock bags for used TP and wipes). Wag bag(s) if going to an area where human waste must be packed out.
- Extra clothing, rain jacket, sun hat, sunscreen, etc.
- Headlamp with extra batteries
- First-aid kit
FLOW OF THE DAY
Read the guidebook, talk to other climbers, consult online resources, and choose your climbing area—ideally a place with at least one easy warm-up route and some more challenging routes nearby.
Find and follow existing trails—read the guidebook, look for signs and clearly marked paths, and don’t be afraid to ask for directions!
Unlike in an urban environment, it is customary to make eye contact and say hello when encountering other humans in an outdoor recreation area. Most climbers will be friendly and helpful if you slow down and say hi. This makes it easy to ask for directions and route recommendations.
Upon arriving at a climbing area, choose a spot to put your gear. Don’t “explode” your packs all over the place—this tends to result in other climbers’ stuff getting mixed in with yours, and then you or someone else is likely to leave something behind and not realize it until later. Even if you’re the only ones there, keep your stuff contained in case more people arrive.
Don’t sit or put packs on top of vegetation—stick to durable and previously-impacted surfaces.
When arriving at an area where other people are already climbing, it is polite to check with the other climbers about their plans. Ask climbers on adjacent routes what they intend to do next. Don’t roll in hot and jump on the route they were about to do next—wait and do the route they just finished!
Do your pre-climbing warm-ups—arm circles, finger warm-ups, etc. Start slowly and listen to your body!
The most dangerous part of sport climbing is making the first few clips. Assess fall potential and choose the belayer’s position carefully. Good spotting, a crash pad and/or a stick clip can help you get safely off the ground. Don’t “just go for it!” A broken ankle will keep you from going for anything for quite a while. Erosion (due to the destruction of vegetation) has lowered ground level at the base of many popular climbs. Others were just bolted by very bold climbers. If you don’t feel safe getting to the first, second, and/or third bolts, don’t be foolish—choose a different route, or use a stick clip!
Consider building ground anchors for smaller belayers so that they are not pulled around by larger climbers—it’s nice to get a soft catch, but not so soft that the leader hits the ground or the belayer is pulled into a dangerous position.
Flake your rope onto the rope bag so it feeds out smoothly while the leader is climbing. This is your job, belayer! You should have the rope flaked and be ready to belay by the time the leader is ready to climb. Before the leader starts climbing, the belayer should tie in to the bottom end of the rope, or tie a stopper knot in the bottom end to close the system.
A couple of possible flows exist once you actually start climbing. The first climber can lead the route, lower off, and then belay the follower while he/she cleans the route. Or, if each person wants to lead the route, the leader can lower off, pull the rope, and then belay subsequent climbers while they re-lead the route.
Whichever way you do it, it’s very important to communicate clearly before the last climber goes up to clean the route. Decide before leaving the ground whether you are lowering off (this is okay in areas where the local custom allows lowering directly from the fixed anchors) or rappelling (this generates less wear on the fixed anchors, because the rope does not slide through them during a rappel—and then when you pull the rope, it is not weighted). If the climber who will clean the anchor is planning to rappel, he/she will tether at the top and call “off belay.” If the climber is planning to be lowered, he/she will stay on belay, but may call for “slack” in order to thread the rope through the fixed anchors. Miscommunications about this have resulted in fatalities.
Be safe, be respectful of other visitors, drink water, wear sunscreen, have fun!
At the end of the day, it’s a good idea to spend at least 10-20 minutes stretching so that you don’t wake up super tight and sore the next day. It will also lengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility.
Each time you get ready to leave an area, “sweep” the area to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Pick up trash and chunks of chalk, even if they’re not yours. Try to leave this shared space better than you found it! If you “ticked” any holds, please brush away the tick marks so the next climber has the fun of figuring it out for him/herself.