Looking Back After One Year of Climbing — 10 Lessons Learned

a year into climbing

It has been a little over a year since I started climbing, so I decided to sit down and think about some of the most important things I have learned over the past year. Some of these may be obvious but others not so much. I hope these tips are useful to not only novices but people who have been climbing for a while, too.

1. Climbers are an accepting group of people

Climbers encompass a large group of people from all walks of life and are accepting of just about anyone. Never be afraid to ask fellow climbers for help; ask why they do things a certain way or their thoughts on the various gear they are using. Climbers are almost always willing to talk.

Don’t have a partner but itching to climb? Go to Mountain Project or join a Facebook group. I have visited these forums countless times and have ended up climbing with some awesome people and learning a variety of new climbing skills.

2. Gym climbing and outdoor climbing are different worlds

Understand the behavior that is acceptable at the gym and at an outdoor crag—they are not the same. Some places offer a gym-to-crag class that teaches the differences between the two. The cheapest and best way to learn, however, is by going with a friend who is more experienced than you. It is also important to understand the local ethics of the area, which can typically be found online.

Your first time outdoors is likely to be a humbling experience if you have been climbing indoors for a decent amount of time. The routes are going to feel harder than they did inside, and that is completely normal! Your holds aren’t marked and figuring out the moves will feel a little more difficult. The more time you spend climbing outdoors, the more you will be able to quickly identify the holds and know the right sequence of moves to make.

3. Expect a drop in grade when moving from top-rope to lead

Moving from top-rope to lead climbing is an obvious progression as a climber. Lead climbing inherently means you are going to take bigger falls. This is enough to get most people holding onto the rock tighter than usual their first few times.

For this reason, it is completely normal for the grade you are climbing on lead to be lower than what you were climbing on top-rope. Practice clipping—it is an important skill to have! The less time you spend trying to clip into your protection, the less tired you will be.

4. The best way to learn is to get out and practice

Freedom of the Hills, The Mountain Guide Manual, or whatever climbing skill book you have been reading cannot substitute real-world experience. It is perfectly acceptable to learn new techniques and other skills from reading books, but go out and practice them with your climbing partner to ensure you are doing everything correctly.

It is best to have a mentor teach you new skills, but sometimes that is not possible, and learning from books or online sources is the only option. Always practice in a safe environment and ensure that you are safe in case you end up doing something wrong.

5. Assisted-braking belay devices are worth the investment

Learning to belay on an ATC is usually the standard. It is easy to teach and ATCs are very affordable, especially in comparison to devices like the Petzl GriGri or Trango Vergo. However, using an assisted-braking belay device is extremely valuable. It increases the safety of the belay and prevents you from wearing out your hands when you hold a friend who is resting on his or her project.

Important: always make sure you load your belay device correctly.

6. Trad climbing is safer than you think

Trad climbing can scare climbers off for several reasons: it is expensive, and it can be intimidating to place your own protection. In addition, if your piece isn’t in a good placement, it can fail, and you must rely on your next piece to hold so you don’t hit the ground.

However, if you learn to place your protection correctly, identify good placements, and lead routes responsibly, trad is reasonably safe! The best way to learn trad is through the guidance of a mentor who has experience leading traditional routes.

7. If you buy a good pair of shoes, get them resoled

Climbing shoes are expensive, especially when you start buying more aggressive or specialized pairs. It is not uncommon to spend almost $200 on a single pair. If you spent the money on a nice pair of shoes, get them resoled once you start noticing some wear. Also, make sure you get them resoled before you start seeing leather! Sending your shoes out for resole can save you a good amount of money.

Yosemitebum.com is a great place to get your shoes resoled and is pretty cheap; only $30 for a resole, as long as your shoes aren’t in too bad of shape.

8. Double check your tie-in knot and rappel setup

After climbing for a few months, tying in and setting up a rappel become second nature and require very little thought. However, do not become complacent with these easy tasks because a mistake could cost you your life. Even the best climbers can make a mistake … Lynn Hill fell 70 feet in 1989 when she didn’t check to see if her tie-in knot was done correctly.

9. Climbing is supposed to be fun

If you are getting mad about not sending that route you’ve been working on, that is completely normal. Pushing yourself to climb harder and harder is what every climber strives to do. There is no better feeling than sending a project that you have put countless hours of effort into.

If a climb is starting to really stress you out, however, stop and take a breath. Remember: you are climbing to have fun, and you will send that route with a little more time.

10. Push your limits but know when to stop

Don’t be afraid to push it sometimes. Lead that route that might make you take a giant fall, so long as you do it safely. Don’t, however, jump on your first big wall when you have never done a multi-pitch climb before. Understand your limits and don’t be afraid to push them—just make sure you know when to draw the line.


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