rock climbing, climbing gym, ropes, holds

101: Learn to Climb

December 19, 2015

by — Posted in 101: The Basics


99 Things to do in Vancouver this Winter

rock climbing, rope, belay, outdoors, course
Me, at a rock course about a million years ago.

So. You want to be a climber. Maybe you’ve seen tiny flecks of human on the Chief on your drives through Squamish, or you’ve heard that lots of attractive people congregate at the crag, or the climbing gym (they do). Maybe you’re looking for a reason to start living in your van,  or you want to up your sexy back muscle game, or you’ve got a New Year’s resolution to uphold.

Whatever your reason, it’s never a bad idea to learn how to climb.  Be careful, though: there’s a good chance it will become a lifelong addiction/obsession and that you will soon find yourself thinking, “Yeah, but does s/he climb?” when you go on dates. Hazards of the sport.

Where to Start

rock climbing, hold, rock, tape, 5.10
T marks the start of the climb.

Once you’ve decided that the risks are worth it, there are a number of ways you can learn -some more safe than others.

There is, of course, always the option to show up at the crag with a bunch of brand new gear, and some youtube videos fresh in your mind, and just kind of wing it. I’ve seen some sketchy behaviour out there that makes me wonder if people actually do this. Don’t do this. DON’T DO THIS.

Lots of people learn from friends. This is great if you have patient friends who know what they’re doing, and a dry, warm crag nearby to learn at. If either of those things aren’t available, though, (and sometimes, even if they are), your best bet is a professional.

One option is to learn outside, hiring a guide to show you the ropes (hehe). If you’re going to go this route, Squamish Rock Guides is a great option.

 

Gym for the Win

rock climbing, climbing gym, ropes, holds
This is what Cliffhanger looks like on a Friday afternoon. Add 100+ people for a Tuesday night.

 

If you’re not quite that adventurous, or you want to start climbing before the rock starts to dry up sometime around April, the climbing gym is the way to go. I learned how to climb at a gym in my home town, 16 years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Here in Vancouver, you have a few options for climbing gyms. There’s The Hive, which is exclusively for bouldering (climbing stuff that isn’t too high up, without ropes). There’s The Edge, in North Vancouver, which, true to its name, is a bit edgier and grittier than the other gyms in the city, and has a good reputation amongst experienced climbers.

Then, there’s Cliffhanger, which probably offers the widest range of course options for beginners through to advanced climbers. Cliffhanger has been my gym since I moved to the city; back then, it was located in an old warehouse building where Olympic Village now sits in all its giant brew pub glory.

Get Schooled (Or Just Get Belayed)

rock climbing, gym, belay
Devon giving a solid belay.

If you just want to try climbing out, because you think it looks cool, but you’re not convinced you won’t hate it, you can call ahead and have one of the staff belay you (meaning they will hold the rope and make sure you don’t die -pretty sweet).

If you already know you want to go more than once, definitely take the Intro to Climbing course. You’ll learn how to belay safely, tie knots, and make sure you’re not putting yourself or anyone else at risk. It’s a two hour course, with two weeks of free climbing thrown in once you’re done, all for $69.

Once you’ve got the basics, the sky’s the limit. From there, you can take skills and techniques courses, a lead belaying course, or just show up and climb to your heart’s content.

Find Cool Friends

rock climbing, climbing, gym
My new friend Trysten making easy work of this climb.

Now that you’ve got your belaying skills down, other people can feel good about climbing with you. If your friends don’t climb, or are all busy having babies/pursuing demanding careers, there are a few ways to meet new climbing buddies.

1. Hang out at the gym and ask people if you can join them. People actually do this fairly often. It’s not a bad way to make new friends. Try to look for either groups of 3 or other individuals who might be needing a belay.

2. Climb without a partner. If you don’t find a partner, Cliffhanger has auto-belay stations (meaning you don’t need a belayer) and a bouldering area, so you can still get your session in. The Hive is all bouldering, which means you never need a partner (except to chat with when you’re resting).

climbing gym, rock climbing, auto belay
An auto belay station at Cliffhanger. Clip in and go -no friends required!

3. The Internet. I’ve recently met some lovely people through the Vancouver Rock Climbing Group.  A friend has met several climbing buddies on Climb Find , which is available in several cities. In Canmore, I joined a local climbing group on Facebook and made a few great friends that way. Just make sure your new partner knows what they’re doing. (The beauty of gym climbing is that the person has to have proven they can belay in order to climb there, which is something, anyway.)

rock climbing, climbing gym, belay, overhang
Climbing friends.

4. Give me a call. You can never have too many climbing friends.

climbing shoes, climbing harness
Climbing shoes and harness -fashion + function.
climbing rope, figure eight, lead area
Don’t step on the rope!