By Michael Astran
I want to share some of the things I wish I knew when I first started climbing and some things I still have to work on today or recommend climbers should consider.
I have added the recommendations and clarifications provided by Andy Weinmann, Tom Cecil, Darwin Castillo, David Knowlton, Bethany Gresser, Damon Yeh, Barbara Jensen Blau, Conway Yao, Sean Gourley and Chris Davis.
1. Climbing shoes shouldn’t hurt.
I wish I had not listened to the sales person that said it was normal for climbing shoes to be painful! I can wear the shoes I use now all day and climb just as good as I did with the painful shoes I wasted money on when I started.
There are individuals that will want to use some bone crushers but for the most part you can save the bone crushing shoes for when you’re crushing the 5.12s which is not my goal. I do recommend spending the extra coin to get good shoes from the start.
2. Define your own success.
Understand from the start that success looks different for everyone. For some working a tough route on rock or winning a local comp is a big goal. For other like me it is just getting off the ground and seeing how many friends I can get off the ground with me. I can climb 5 fun on TRAD all day and have just as much satisfaction as summiting one of the hardest peaks.
3. Be ready to rescue yourself.
I wish I would have at least sought out formal rescue skills training at the beginning of moving to outside climbing and before going on my first long multi-pitch trip. I still need to practice these skills to stay efficient. Focus on learning two ways to do everything: a primary way and a backup method, and the pros and cons of each. Such as Grigri vs. ATC, direct vs indirect belay, rapping with ATC vs Munter, personal tethering via PAS vs clove hitch, etc. Stuff happens—you drop your ATC, etc.
Do not put your life in danger because you only know one option. I had a rope get stuck on my first traveling multi-pitch climb at Red Rocks. It was an adventure!
4. Keep refining.
Stay current on your technique and safety systems and keep an open mind to change. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way or for many years doesn’t make it the safest. There is always something new to learn.
5. Knowledge is power!
I believe all new climbers should educate themselves. For some, this can only come from a Guide that has all of the correct answers without having to think about it, for others this comes from mentors, reading through climbing “how to” books, VDiff, and watching videos online. For me it was a combination of all the above.
6. Listen to your body.
Listen to how your body fells after training and climbing. Tendons take a long time to develop. Pushing too hard while it has gains comes at a price. True gains in ability come with time and injuries can set you back for months.
7. Learn to clean.
I am glad I had someone teach me how to clean a sport Anchor from the start of outside climbing. Cleaning a route should be mastered at ground level. Do not be shy just ask a fellow climber to show you on a wall at the gym. Or learn at your first group event. This is a skill all new outside climbers should learn. A leader does not want to lead and set several routes to only have to do them again because an individual has not taken the time to learn such a crucial part of outside climbing. That being said, do not be pressured into cleaning a route because of that fact. What I am saying is seek out training to know how because it is a crucial part of moving outside to climb.
8. Communicate the clean.
8. Once you can clean a sport anchor make sure you communicate with your belayer “in advance”. There is more than one way to clean, and you do not want a surprise because you are not on the same page (cleaning slack vs taking off belay), or the crag etiquette is to be lowered instead of rappelling down.
9. Know your limits.
Do not let anyone push you on a route that you do not feel comfortable with. Climbers have a tendency to be both encouraging and competitive and in this sport that can unintentionally cross a safety/comfort line. Conversely, know your limits and consolidate your knowledge before checking a box and going onto a harder challenge. Both of these are recipes for falls.
10. Technique matters.
I wish from the start of climbing I would have known the true importance of body positions, movement, balance, flexibility and momentum. These are items I still struggle with.
11. Learn to fall.
Learn how and when to fall safely while on TR and lead. There are severe difference and consequences in falling on Sport and TRAD. No one is advocating practice falling on TRAD gear but you must be aware of your surroundings and how they affect you when falling. The earlier in your climbing you get comfortable with this, the better. You do not want bad habits or unnecessary fear ingrained.
12. Master the Clove Hitch.
Learning a one-handed clove hitch greatly speeds anchor set up and increases safety factors for the newly inspired TRAD climber. To be honest I still use two hands because I have not gotten it down yet but I see how fast my partners do it. I think once a leader learns it and gets it down pat, you will tend to use it almost every time.
13. Stay connected.
I highly recommend staying connected throughout the climbing community. Without fellow climbing partners climbing would have never moved forward into what it is today. The best way to grow as a better climber and person in the climbing community is to stay connected and communicate. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others!!!!
14. Read the route.
I truly wish I knew from the beginning how important it is to read everything you can on a route from the approach to the climb. There were some points that I gave up looking for a route and just looked up and started climbing thru frustration.
There were also times a 30 minute approach took over an hour and a half. Also on my first Multi-Pitch climb at Red Rocks I got way off route. I ended up at the end of my rope which was a 70 M rope with nothing but small flaring cracks for the next 12 feet, I was at least 15 to 17 feet above my last piece and had no place to build an anchor. I got on the walkie with my belayer and we decided that he could move upward on the ledge he was on so I could reach a good ledge about 12 feet above me. Obviously there were lots of pieces between us and we both climbed til I reached the ledge to where I could set up an anchor.
This skill is crucial to develop; some of the sketchiest stuff climbers have done have been a result of being off route. It is fun to be or act like you’re the first but that is rarely a strong beginning move.
15. Always return gear.
You should always return gear you borrow at the “crag wall.” Individuals that have loaned you gear should not have to chase you down. Climbers like to be ready for the next day! Just take the 2 or 3 minutes at the wall and exchange gear there. When done at the crag do a “stupid check” to make sure you got all your stuff. You do not want to get home and realize you’ve left your guidebook, clip stick, or climbing shoes at the crag.
16. Honor the crag.
Take the time to pick up trash or move rocks and limbs to help maintain the Crag. There are over 1600 climbers in this group. If we moved 5 rocks or limbs to fix the trail every time we climbed and only climbed the location 5 times in a year that is over 40,000 rocks or limbs to help that Crag stay maintained in a year.
17. Own your gear.
Ensure you know how to maintain and clean your gear and make sure everything is working properly. If you are questioning a piece of gears safety it probably is time to send of for repair or to replace it. Your life depends on this gear.
18. Collect your stuff.
18. Do a double check of where you stayed and of the car you ride in. Ensure you get all of your items out of the building/camp and car. This will save you time in the future and will keep whoever drives from having a car full of others clothes and gear piled in car.
Recommended Reading by members of the [DC Area Climbing Community] group for new climbers: