Rock climbing is dangerous, but so is driving a car or crossing the street. In fact, statistically you are more likely to be injured by driving, riding a bike, or walking then climbing. You need to remember that climbing, like any sport and outdoor activity, is only as safe as the person participating in it.

Everything we do in climbing as well as all of the climbing equipment that we use is designed to lessen the risks of climbing and gravity. A rope and protection gear like cams and carabiners are used to keep you from falling to the ground. Your climbing shoes stick to the rock and your harness attaches you to the rope.

Some types of climbing, like lead climbing and bouldering, often have more risk of injury than toprope climbing. As a climber, you will learn to reduce the risks of climbing and chance of injury by climbing smart and practicing safety techniques.

There are five basic types of climbing: sport climbing, traditional climbing, toprope climbing, bouldering, and mountaineering. As a beginner or novice climber you will primarily want to go toprope climbing, which is when the rope protects you from above, and bouldering on small outdoor rocks and in a climbing gym.

After you become skilled at climbing movement and learn the essential climbing skills, including belaying, lowering, and rappelling, then you can begin sport climbing and trad climbing under the guidance of a more experienced climber or a climbing instructor.

It’s best and easiest to begin climbing at an indoor climbing gym. Most major cities now have indoor climbing gyms so it is easy to try climbing, take lessons, and rent equipment. Indoor gyms are a controlled climbing environment so they are safer than starting outside.

If you have little or no knowledge of climbing skills like rope handling, knots, belaying, and basic climbing safety, then you really shouldn’t start climbing outside unless you are under the watchful eye of a more experienced climber or climbing instructor.

If you want to climb, head to your local gym, sign a waiver, rent some shoes, and go climbing. It’s easy and it’s fun!

Bouldering is simply the art of climbing small rocks, usually less than 15 feet high and usually without a safety rope. When you go bouldering you can work on difficult moves and train for doing longer routes. Most climbing gyms have a bouldering area so if you go by yourself you can get a good workout by bouldering solo.

You can also find boulders, large blocks of stone, near your home that you can climb on. Just be careful that you don’t climb too high and fall off since it is easy to sprain an ankle or knee. Most outdoor boulderers use a crash pad, a thick foam pad below the boulder problem, to land on as well as have a buddy give them a spot to make sure they land safely.

If you can climb depends on how much you weigh. People of all sizes and fitness levels, however, enjoy rock climbing, plus it’s a great way to lose weight. If you can climb a ladder, then you can climb.

Be aware that sometimes you fall when you’re climbing, and while the rope holds you and keeps you safe, you can also stress your joints, spine, and bones so if you have a high Body Mass Index (BMI) then you have the potential to be injured. It’s recommended that if your BMI is greater than 29 that you don’t go rock climbing.

Figure out your Body Mass Index with the following formula:

BMI = (Weight in Pounds / Height in Inches, Squared ) x 703.

Falling and the fear of falling is a part of climbing. When we attempt to climb something harder than what we can do, then there is a good chance that we will fall off the rock or the climbing gym wall. The good news is that as a beginner climber you will be climbing on a toprope that is anchored above you.

The normal set-up for a toprope climb is having the belayer standing on the ground below the route and the rope threaded through locking carabiners attached to a belay anchor at the top of the cliff. The rope then goes down to you, the climber, who is tied into the rope with a figure-8 follow-through knot, the preferred tie-in knot.

When you climb up the wall, the rope is always above you and is held by your belayer. If you fall, the rope and the belayer will catch and hold your fall.

Belaying is the process of safeguarding a climber during a fall by using the rope to hold the climber’s weight. The climber and the belayer or the person holding the rope, which is threaded through a belay device, is a team that is linked together by the climbing rope.

Belaying, an important part of the climbing chain of safety, is one of the most important skills that a novice climber will master. It is easy to learn how to belay in an indoor climbing gym and all gyms require a belay test in order for you to belay another climber.

Top-rope climbing, the most common type of rock climbing by beginners, is climbing a rock face or an indoor wall with the rope anchored above the climber.

When you toprope climb, the climbing rope is clipped into a belay anchor above the route, either a couple bolts or some gear like cams and nuts. The two strands of rope that hang down from the anchor are attached to the belayer with their belay device and tied into the climber with a knot like the figure-8 follow-through knot. This type of toprope set-up is called a slingshot belay.

Toproping is a safe way to climb because there is less chance of a climbing injury from a fall because the rope is above the climber rather then if the climber is lead climbing from the bottom to the top. The routes in most indoor gyms are toprope climbs, making them ideal for novices to learn climbing in a laboratory-safe environment.

No, you do not have to climb to the top of a cliff, to the belay anchors, or to the top of an indoor wall. When you are a beginner climber you do not always know what to expect. It’s easy to get scared, to be afraid of falling, and to have a fear of heights and a fear of getting too high above the ground. If you get scared, there is nothing wrong with asking your belayer to lower you back to the ground. You might want to rest then and watch someone else climb it before attempting another ascent.

Remember that “you’re the boss of you,” so don’t let your belayer or someone else on the ground urge you to continue up or refuse to lower you back down until you have reached the top. It’s no fun being scared and that feeling can cause you to decide that climbing is not for you. Take it slow and climb as high as you want. Climbing has to be fun.

Excellent question! Lots of people want to take their children climbing but are unsure how old they should be. If a child can climb is usually dependent on their physical size and ability rather than strictly age. The earliest age that kids can go climbing is 3 or 4 years old. Both my sons, who eventually became 5.14 climbers, went bouldering with me when they were 3 years old. I found small kiddie-sized boulders for them to scramble around on, all the while spotted by me to keep them from being hurt. If you take little kids, keep it fun.

You can take kids that are 5 or 6 climbing on a rope, preferably on easy routes at a small cliff. Make sure, however, that they have a full-body harness so that they stay upright if they fall (kids are top heavy) as well as wear an approved climbing helmet. Again, keep it fun.

If you want to take your kids climbing at an indoor rock gym, check first to see what their minimum age requirement is. Many gyms require kids to be 6 years old and 12 to 14 to belay another climber. Some gyms have a specific children’s climbing/play area.

“I’m afraid of heights” is one of the most common fears encountered by climbers, especially beginners. The fear of heights and high places is a natural human fear. We’re hard-wired to be afraid of heights for self-preservation. We instinctively know that if we fall from a high place that the result is not going to be good. That fear of heights, however, keeps you alive when you’re climbing.

Understand the Safety System

Overcoming a fear of heights is one of the biggest climbing challenges for lots of people. Often times that fear comes from an ignorance of the climbing safety system. Once you understand that every precaution we take as climbers, including tying into the rope, clipping the rope to anchors in the rock, and using belay devices to hold the rope and safeguard a climber, is to protect you from the dire consequences of falling then the novice climber is able to begin to let go of that fear of heights.


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