Am I ready? Top tips to get you started climbing outside
“Let’s head to Seneca!”...or Red River Gorge or Yosemite...if this text pops up on your phone and your heart starts to race, you know you’re ready to take your skills outside.
Making the transition to outdoor climbing is more involved than just learning about the shiny new gear, it also requires an evaluation of your skillset. Staying safe outside presents its own challenges and factors that may be foreign to you. It is vital to respect the risks that are unique to climbing outdoors.
Here at Movement, we have so many members interested in outdoor climbing that we’ve compiled a list of things to think through if you're considering heading outside to climb!
We'd also recommend hiring a certified instructor from a local guiding company or checking your gym's calendar to see if there are any upcoming outdoor climbing courses being offered that will help ease your transition to the outdoors.
DO I NEED TO CLIMB AT A CERTAIN GRADE TO BE "QUALIFIED" FOR OUTDOOR CLIMBING?
Fear not! Climbers of EVERY level will be able to find something outside that will be fun and challenging.
However, it is worth noting that climbing inside the gym is different than climbing outside. One key difference is that outside there aren't any brightly colored holds clearly guiding your movements up the route. Learning to read routes outside takes some getting used to, so don't be surprised if you don't climb outdoor routes that are as hard as the ones you're climbing in the gym.
DO I NEED TO KNOW SAFETY SYSTEMS? (i.e. anchoring and rope systems)
Yes! But don't worry - here at the gym, we are literally surrounded by people with tons of expertise and the desire to share it - all you need to do is reach out! There are a plethora of videos (AMGA videos are super informative) and great blogs like this one from our friends at the American Alpine Club.
And again, we also recommend hiring a certified instructor from a local guiding company (you can chat with our front desk staff or do a quick google search for reputable ones) or checking your gym's upcoming calendar to see if there are any upcoming outdoor climbing courses being offered that will walk you through these important safety measures.
IS THERE DIFFERENT ETIQUETTE?
Actually, it’s not much different than in the gym (or your grandma's house). Leave the place cleaner than when you arrived, respect those around you, do your research and be prepared.
WHAT DRAWS PEOPLE TO THE OUTDOORS?
One of my favorite things about rock and gym climbing is the ability to climb completely on your own terms.
From climbers in World Cup competitions, dirtbaggers who travel the world looking for fresh rock, old-school mountaineers, gym climbers who are looking for a novel way to get in shape, climbing outside gives everyone an opportunity to connect with the outdoors.
As a person who started out as a gym climber, I’ve found that climbing outside has made me stronger inside. I am so much more comfortable understanding how my body moves when I can’t just reach for the next brightly colored hold! Something about needing to read a route for myself put me in a mindset of thinking like a climber. I found myself getting mentally AND physically challenged on harder climbs.
WAIT...“READ ROUTES”? HOW DOES THAT WORK?
Yes, as I mentioned, there are no brightly color holds in the great outdoors. Get familiar with the crag you are visiting by reading up on the area and the specific routes you plan to climb. This will help you determine what to wear (is the crag shady or sunny?), what shoes to bring, what gear you need and a ton of other very important information. Check out the local guide book or Mountain Project.
HOW DOES INDOOR CLIMBING HELP PREPARE ME?
The many categories of climbers have one thing in common: the movements we make are inspired by real rock. At Movement, expertly creative routesetters present us with different movements and styles to keep gym climbing interesting and fun. In the gym you're able to climb as long as you wish and quit a route whenever you'd like with no consequences.
When you climbing outside, you'll need to think through your plan in case you decide to bail on a climb mid-route. Make sure you're communicating with your climbing partner(s) about expectations throughout the day.
Another good tip for your first few times climbing outside is to choose routes that are a little easier than the grades you regularly climb at the gym and then ramp up grade-wise from there.
At the end of the day, remember to focus on the FUN. Why are we doing this if not to enjoy ourselves? Take advantage of the resources around you, and get outside to feel like a part of something much bigger than you or me.
Ali Bullock is a team member at Rockville and an outdoor school instructor. She has been climbing and sharing her passion for climbing at Movement for 5 years.