Taking It Outside

How to transition from the gym to real rock

By Meggan Wenbourne

Author Meggan Wenbourne checks her gear at Shuteye Ridge (Nikolas Martinelli).

Author Meggan Wenbourne checks her gear at Shuteye Ridge (Nikolas Martinelli).

So you’ve been a gym climber for a while and you’re ready to try climbing outside. You have gained some confidence in knowing what your body is capable of and you are ready to take it a step further. However, the transition from climbing indoors to outdoors seems daunting and often times, climbers have no idea how to start the process. What is the best way to proceed?

Before climbing gyms and climbing schools, there were not as many options for learning how to climb. Sure, before climbing gyms, a person could work through a progression of grades, but there wasn’t much of a safety net in place and a “sink or swim” mentality prevailed. With the advent of climbing gyms, there are better options open to people of all ages, styles and abilities that were not available in years past.

Climbing gyms and climbing schools have made an impact by offering an environment where climbers can practice and learn under the supervision of trained instructors. You want to learn to belay? Easy, there are classes for that. You want to learn how to lead climb? Great, there are classes for that too. There are classes to teach you just about anything you want to know about climbing: anchor building, protection placing, rappelling, and even the art of falling.

Climbing schools offer a setting that can help any climber hone their skills with other climbers of similar ability. This method of learning helps an aspiring climber gain confidence. Walk into any gym or search online for the nearest climbing school location and you are sure to find plenty of class options and opportunities to gear up for the great outdoors.

Above all don’t go climbing outside with random strangers you meet online. A lot of people worry that classes will cost them an arm and a leg, when in reality, this is probably one of the least expensive investments in safety you will ever make.

When you do go climbing outside with a partner you trust, make sure to be very honest about your experience level. Good climbing partnerships take time to develop so plan on testing the waters with a few different people before you do anything committing with a single partner. Again the group setting that is provided by your local gym or climbing school is a tool that can prove indispensable.

When you do decide to take that next step, remember to ask questions and keep the communication between you and your partner(s) going as much as possible. This is a new learning experience, so be patient with yourself and your partners, for you never stop learning in the vertical world.

Other Ways to Prepare

  • Know your basic safety equipment: belay devices, helmets and personal anchors. All should be included in your kit.
  • Make sure you can tie in to a rope without help. If you’re not confident tying a figure eight follow through knot then don’t climb outdoors – you are not ready.
  • Familiarize yourself with anchors and the concepts behind S.E.R.E.N.E.
  • Learn about the place you are planning on going climbing and remember that outdoor grades vary quite a bit.
  • Ensure your partner is attentive and reliable every time you start up a route.
  • Visit supertopo.com for route information, beta and lively climber’s forum.

Pacific Edge Climbing Gym in Santa Cruz.

Pacific Edge Climbing Gym in Santa Cruz.

8-year old Zachary “Z” Beckerman practices crack climbing at Puppy Dome (Dani Beckerman).

8-year old Zachary “Z” Beckerman practices crack climbing at Puppy Dome (Dani Beckerman).

Check out Meggan Wenbourne’s weekly blog Mountain Monday.

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1 Comment

  1. Walt Wadlow

    Or, if you get really lucky like I did, the instructor of your introductory gym climbing class (in my case, the author of this article) is so willing to help a neophyte that she spends a couple of hours outside of class patiently answering all your questions about outdoor trad climbing, introduces you to her awesome boyfriend who is an experienced trad leader, and the two of them take you on multiple outdoor climbs over the next couple of years. Thanks Meggan and congrats on this article!


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