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My partner and I were approaching the base of Whitehorse Ledge when I noticed a father and son team just ahead. Their harnesses still had tags. As we got closer, we saw the kid carefully sliding down the slab on his butt from about 30 feet up. Once he was on the ground, I could see that he was tied in via a biner on his belay loop with about 10 half hitches. The dad saw our rack and said, “You guys have a lot of stuff, you must be pretty good at this.” He then asked how you get the rope up to the anchor. We pointed out an old slung tree and explained how to build a safe anchor. The message didn’t make it through; he asked us if we could take his rope up and wrap it around the back of the tree. We then explained why that was a bad idea. He was quick to suggest that we cut off a piece of his brand new climbing rope for an anchor and tried to hand us two new lockers that he would leave behind at the end of the day with it. We ultimately explained that we would not build an anchor for him, and that he’d be putting his son’s safety at risk with his inexperience. At that point he understood and packed up his gear.—Kyle and Jake, via email
LESSON: There are many ways to learn elementary climbing skills, but you can’t just show up and wing it. The consequences for a mistake are too great. Our sport is relatively safe if you know what you’re doing.It’s important to get the basics from a trusted source.
If you, the reader, are brand new to climbing and want to learn the necessary technical skills to go outside safely, here are some options:
• Hire a certified guide—This is the most efficient, but also the most expensive option. By hiring a certified rock guide, you can be sure that you’re learning what you need and learning it right.
• Find a mentor—Many climbers would be happy to teach you how to engage in the sport safely. You can find potential mentors in the gym, at the crag, or consider posting on the forums at Mountain Project. If you go this route, it’s a good idea to supplement your climbing education with some book learning so you can verify that your mentor’s techniques are sound. Just because someone climbs, it doesn’t mean they do it correctly.
• Read books—There are a ton of great climbing skill books out there. Depending on what kind of climbing you intend to do, Rock Climbing: Mastering Basic Skills, Climbing Anchors, and Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills are all solid sources. If you go this route, be sure to practice in a controlled environment before taking your techniques up on the wall.
•Watch videos—Youtube is full of climbing skill videos, and watching someone perform a skill can be more informative than reading about it in a book. Just make sure you’re getting your information from a trusted source like the AMGA or, ahem, a certain awesome climbing publication. Internet videos are great for learning or fine-tuning a skill here and there, but not ideal if you’re starting from scratch. You’ll be much better off with a guide or mentor that you can ask questions, and who can double check your work.
•Read instructions—You won’t learn to climb by reading those little info sheets that come with your gear, but you will get a lot of good information. Look them over.
Ideally, you should use a combination of the above options. Start by reading a book so you have a basic understanding of climbing skills. Follow that up with a few Youtube videos so you can see how these skills are performed. Then meet up with a guide or mentor and practice the skills yourself with expert supervision. Before you know it, you’ll be taking your own group of friends out climbing, and you won’t need to tie 10 knots in the rope because you don’t know how to tie one knot properly.