Learn To Rock Climb

Beginners: This is the place to learn the ropes. You'll find helpful articles to guide you through the basics of climbing skills and equipment, along with in-depth instruction on how to buy your first shoes, harness, belay device, and more. Plus, we'll demystify the unique language of climbing with a helpful glossary. And our Basic Rock Skills video series will help you learn to belay, tie knots correctly, and much more.
  • HPStuckRapRopes

    Learn This: Free Stuck Rappel Ropes

    When I look back on my 30-year tenure as a climber, I realize that I’ve spent as much (or more) time descending than ascending. After all, knowing when to turn around is what keeps us climbers alive and climbing. All that “downtime” easily adds up to several thousand hours of dodgy anchors, scary raps, and uncertain ends. That stuff would make any grown man nervous, but by far the scariest experiences of all were the few times I’ve gotten the rappel rope hopelessly stuck. This scenario can cause even the hardest of climbers to break out in a cold sweat. When your rope is stuck, you ain’t going nowhere. Here are my hard-won tips for getting your rope unstuck and—even better—preventing it from happening in the first place.

  • HPTopouts

    Learn This: Master Topouts

    With most outdoor problems, it isn’t considered finished until you’re standing on top. At that point, you’re often pumped and high off the ground, so it isn’t the ideal time to experiment with the finer points of technique. Learn how to do these maneuvers in a safe and easy environment so you can nail them on harder terrain.

  • HPBelay

    25+ Ways To Be A Better Belayer

  • HPAutoBlock

    Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices

    This setup, which is also called “guide mode,” automatically stops the rope from moving through the device—or “catches” the follower—if he falls. It’s a must-have tool and technique for anyone who wants to tackle multi-pitch climbs.

  • HPRope

    Learn This: Alpine Rope Management

    Managing the rope at belays and rappels on multi-pitch routes can be a smooth operation that leads to quick transitions and more climbing. Or it can be a headache-inducing rats’ nest of chaos that means wrestling with yourself every time you try to feed out slack. Instead of spending your summer alpine season untangling a rope, learn a few simple methods that will help you spend more time sending. Try out these tricks on shorter routes so that when you’re faced with 15 pitches or 10 long rappels, you’ll have these techniques dialed in and ready to put to use.

  • Big-Wall-Kit

    Big Wall Kit

    Depending on the type of pulling down you’re doing, climbing can vary from minimalist to “everything but the kitchen sink,” and big wall climbing is very much the latter. We asked Colorado climber Paul Gagner—who has done more than 50 wall routes around the world, including first ascents on Baffin Island and in Utah’s Fisher Towers—to detail his packing list and the experience-driven tricks that go along with it.

  • Figure 3

    Build an Anchor in Poor Rock

    Learning how to build an “anchor in-series” will not only give you a solid option for bad rock, but also offers numerous solutions if you run into any other tricky anchor scenarios.

  • Drop the bight of rope behind your entire body and step backward out of it. Then pull the strands (not the bight) tight.

    How to Tie an Alpine Girth-Hitch

    Unlike the butterfly, this method doesn’t require using an extra locking carabiner, and it relies on a basic technique that most climbers employ regularly. You simply girth-hitch yourself into the rope.

  • Rappel-Without-Belay-Device

    Rappel Without a Belay Device

    You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device.

  • How to Simul-Rappel

    Simultaneously rappelling, or simul-rapping, is an advanced skill where two climbers descend one rope at the same time (or two ropes tied together: climbing.com/skill/rappel-knots), and one climber’s weight counterbalances the other. The margin for error is small, but it’s a good trick to know. It’s useful for bailing during a sudden, dangerous storm, or for rapping off opposite sides of a fin or spire where there are no anchor points, which is common in places like the Needles of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

  • Opposed-Nuts-Placement

    Nuts 101

    When many people start trad climbing, cams become their new best friend. They’re easy to use and contract to fit a variety of crack sizes. But don’t underestimate the benefits of their counterpart: the nut. With no moving parts (hence, “passive protection”), nuts are inexpensive, lightweight, sturdy, and it’s easy to judge a placement by eyeballing— many will fit a variety of spots because they can be positioned in four different orientations.

  • FPFall

    How to Fall

    Falling is essential for advancing as a rock climber. The saying goes, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough.” To progress, you need to try moves that are at the edge of your ability—or beyond—and when you try that hard, you will fall. Toprope falls are the safest, but falling also can be quite safe on well-protected lead climbs, as long as you have good technique and a solid belayer.

  • Ice-Screw-Rappel

    Low-cost Rappels on Ice

    Long rappel descents, whether planned or as a matter of sudden necessity when the weather goes bad or an injury occurs, can quickly turn into expensive ordeals when you have to leave a few pieces of gear at every rappel. Plus, you might need that gear later on. Fortunately for those seeking terra firma, the ice abundant in winter and/or mountain terrain typically provides a much better medium for descent than bare rock, because there’s less chance of rock fall, and you can build gear-free rappel anchors with just the frozen stuff.

  • Rappel-to-Ascend-Fig-3-660

    Rappel to Ascend

    The shadows are growing long across the desert as you rappel off the neo-classic Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock, Nevada, after a successful ascent. In your haste to beat darkness (and avoid the resulting expensive ticket at the park gate), you forgot to grab the rack off the ledge before you started the rappel. Midway down the rappel, you realize your blunder. What to do? Time to go back up—and fast!

  • Save-Yourself-660

    Save Yourself! A Guide to Self-Rescue

    Climbing is dangerous. And that's part of the fun, isn't it? We learn many standard steps to manage risk and prevent bad things from happening: Double-check knots! Pack a headlamp! Back everything up! But someday the shit may hit the fan, and you’ll be faced with a scary and dangerous situation. Do you have the skills to get yourself and your partner back alive?

  • Long-Rappel-Short-Rope-158

    Long Rappel, Short Rope

    Do you always know the exact length of every rappel? At some point in your climbing career, you will probably encounter a rappel that is unknown but looks too long for your measly single line. Instead of tossing the rope, crossing your fingers, and getting to the ends of your rope only to discover that, yes, your rope is too short, there is a simple technique to deal with such a situation.

  • Illustration by Chris Philpot

    Improvised Rappel Anchors

    Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every rock climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.

  • The Butterfly Knot

    This is the preferred knot for tying into the middle of a climbing rope, as you’d do on a three-person rope team. (Clip into the loop with a locking carabiner.) This knot is also great for rappelling when your ropes are too short. (See Climbing's November issue, no. 310, for more on rappelling on too-short ropes.

  • Climbing Dictionary

    Presenting the 50 most important (and common) climbing terms, the words you need to know in order to speak the language at the cliffs. All have been excerpted in part or in total from the Climbing Dictionary by Matt Samet, published in 2011 by The Mountaineers Books and with illustrations by Mike Tea. Check out the book, an illustrated and historical reference to more than 650 climbing terms, for the world’s most “mega” climbing slanguage.

  • HPRapKnots

    Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

    The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized.

  • Steady Yourself

    Steady Yourself

    Along with a good pair of shoes and a positive attitude, balance is crucial for successful rock climbing. Without it, your body won’t move naturally on the rock, thus eliminating efficiency and style. We tapped into trainer and hardman Eric Hörst’s knowledge of climbing performance (How to Climb 5.12, trainingforclimbing.com), and he gave us three fun exercises to improve your balance.

  • RappelHP

    Essential Skills: Pre-Rigging Rappels

    Imagine you're at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise.

  • Two-Rope-Raps-Chopped-660

    Two-Rope Rappels With One Chopped Cord

    Rockfall happens, and sometimes ropes get chopped. If you're 1,000 feet up a route with one rope that's badly damaged, there's a trick you can use to keep doing full-length, double-rope rappels. It's sometimes called the Reepschnur rappel—I have no idea what that means, but I know from experience that it works.

  • HPBelay

    Learn This: Belaying A Heavier Climber

    People whose partners outweigh them by 25 pounds or more routinely get yanked off the ground when catching sport-climbing leader falls. Although this phenomenon is disconcerting at first, it can be perfectly safe with a few simple precautions—and it provides a nice, soft catch for the climber.

  • PreThreadTR

    Learn This: Save Yourself An Ascent With The Pre-Threaded Toprope

    You're climbing outdoors with novice friends, and you want to rig a toprope from a fixed-chain anchor. You're the only one in the group who can safely install and clean a toprope setup, but you loath having to climb each route twice—once to hang the rope, and once to clean the anchor and rap from the chains.

  • Anchors Away

    Traditionally, climbers have anchored to the belay by tying in directly with the rope. Now, many prefer the convenience of personal anchor tethers specifically designed for this purpose for belays, as well as for cleaning the top anchor on a sport climb or anchoring during multi-pitch rappels. When used properly, these systems can be safe and strong, but when used improperly, they can lead to fatal accidents.

  • Friction Facts

    Friction climbing—holdless slab climbing—can be effortless or desperate, or both at the same time. Strength plays no role; there’s nothing to pull on. Technique and mindset are paramount.

  • Speak Up!

    Attitude affects your rock climbing, and the right attitude can be worth two letter grades or more. The solution to a performance plateau may be as simple as rephrasing the things you say—out loud or to yourself—so you apply energy toward your goal, instead of allowing your words to create doubt. Climb harder by “speaking up,” not down.

  • Escaping the Storm

    Escaping the Storm

    The single most important thing when retreating in a storm is to maintain steady downward progress. Foremost, this means avoiding a stuck rope. As you descend, be mindful of rope-eating blocks or flakes. If you encounter a rope-eater, set your next rappel anchor on or near it, instead of continuing down to a lower stance.

  • Relaxed-Fit Rapping

    A friction-hitch is popular among climbers who desire maximum control and safety while rappelling. The most common back-up is to link a harness leg loop to the rope with a prusik hitch. Your brake hand holds the friction hitch to keep it from locking while you rap, but in the case of lost grip, the knot will lock, keeping you from sliding down the rope.

  • Munter Magic

    Munter Magic

    Of all the tools in my climbing and guiding toolbox, the Munter Hitch is one of three I rely on the most: it’s fast, requires little gear, and is multifunctional. It should be second nature to all climbers.

  • Whispers of Wisdom

    Whispers of Wisdom

    Nothing is more frustrating than falling because your foot slipped. It's not frustrating because you passed the crux, were still fresh, or had just one move to finish your project. No, it's frustrating because it's preventable. Here, tips to improve your climbing footwork.

  • Cheater's Banquet

    Cheater's Banquet

    Climbing holds in gyms have become more innovative, complex, and skin-friendly, with volumes, outsized holds, and macro features introducing a rock-like chaos. Gyms also feature a few semi-constants: movement is point-to-point, and the climbing surface is much more monolithic than your average rock route.

  • HPFlail

    50 Common Climber Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

    Here are some all-too-common climbing mistakes that could kill, hurt, beat, or delay you—or at least ruin your image. And, of course, how to prevent them. I’ve been climbing for more than 15 years, and the mistakes I’ve made cover the gamut. My knot came partly untied while I was climbing at Joshua Tree; I’ve threaded my belay device backward; partway up El Capitan, my partner once completely unclipped me from a belay. Worst, I dropped a dear friend while lowering him off a sport climb in Rifle with a too-short rope. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, your mistakes result in close calls that help keep you vigilant. If you’re not, the results can be tragic.