Climbing is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the world and one of the reasons is the artificial wall. Indoor climbing gyms, offering a safe and controlled environment, allow new climbers to quickly grasp the needed skills—belaying, rope management, climbing equipment, and movement—to make the jump to the great outdoors. But climbing is, of course, serious business. Very serious business.
Climbing is Risky
Every time you go climbing outside, you are potentially risking your life and limb. Stuff happens at the cliff. Loose rocks fall off. Climbers fall off. Gear rips out. Ropes cut over sharp edges. Lightning strikes cliff-tops. Rain slickens descent routes. Belays are improperly rigged. Rappel anchors are old and worn out. I don’t want to scare you, to make you think that climbing is a death-defying feat, because it’s not most of the time.
Learn to be Safe
Everything a wise climber does outside on the rock is oriented toward being safe and ensuring both the climber and his partner’s safety. Every piece of gear a wise climber places in the rock mitigates the dire effects of gravity. I always stress to my beginner clients that your climb begins when you park your car and start walking to the cliffs and it doesn’t end until you and your partner are off the summit and safely back at the parking lot.
Outdoor Climbing Experience Needed
It’s really important to remember that indoor climbing on an artifical wall is no substitute for real experience outside on real rock. I always consider indoor climbing, while a worthwhile pursuit in its own right, as physical training for climbing outside in the wide world. Indoor climbing, even at the most realistic rock gym, does not provide all the preparation, experience, and judgment for a safe outdoor climbing experience.
If, after getting started climbing at the gym, you want to venture outside and put those hard-earned gym skills to work on the vertical cliffs, the best thing is to find a reputable guide service and take a couple classes from a skilled instructor. This is something we often do at Front Range Climbing Company, the guide service I regularly teach classes and lessons for in Colorado.
After those classes, your guide might give you the go-ahead to set up some top-rope routes at a local crag or crank a few sport climbs. Or perhaps you will find a local climbing club like the Potomac Mountain Club in the Washington DC area or the Colorado Mountain Club and join one of their weekend outings or hook up with a more experienced climber for regular days at nearby cliffs. When I started climbing in the mid-1960s there were no indoor climbing facilities. Instead most budding climbers climbed with older, more experienced mentors, serving an apprenticeship to learn all the nuances of outdoor climbing skills, the tricks of rope management, and the ways to stay safe on the rocks.