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A beginner's guide to rock climbing

A beginner's guide to rock climbing

(Photo courtesy of Momentum Indoor Climbing)

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Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS — There must be something about climbing considering its popularity.

Recent publicity around climbing has made more people aware of and want to try it, but we understand it can be daunting to make sense of the jargon, equipment and climbing styles that are associated with this sport. Not to mention, the mysterious culture and ethics that exist.

Here is a basic guide to rock climbing, put together by the coaches at Momentum Indoor Climbing, for anyone interested in starting the sport:

How did climbing start?

Climbing started with outdoor enthusiasts, particularly mountaineers, who desired to scale steeper and steeper terrain until they found themselves climbing sheer faces with the use of their feet and hands.

At one point, it was simply a means to an end and the goal was only to get to the top by any method necessary. However, the sport has diverged into a vast array of styles and disciplines. The great part about this is that no matter who you are, there is probably a type of climbing that will speak to you.

Some pursue adventurous outdoor climbs that require planning, long days and a broader set of skills, but it is all worth it for access to beautiful settings and awe-inspiring sights and experiences. Others pursue indoor, bouldering or sport climbing with an emphasis on problem solving and athletics which have physical and mental benefits of their own.

The different styles or disciplines of climbing

Sport climbing

This involves climbing routes that have pre-existing hardware to make attaching a rope quicker and easier. It generally allows a climber to pursue more physical sections of climbing.

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Traditional climbing

These are climbing routes that do not have fixed hardware. The climber is required to put various types of hardware into the rock as place protection. The climber can then attach their rope to it.


A style of climbing which involves climbing shorter boulders without the use of a rope. Instead, a climber lays down foam ‘crash pads’ to fall on. A spotter is often used to help move pads and control falls.

Single pitch climbing

Climbing cliffs that only require one rope length of climbing. While endurance is involved, it doesn’t take as long as a multi-pitch and you don’t spend as much time on the cliff.

Multi-pitch climbing

This style involves taller climbs that are more than one rope length and require the climbers to use mid-point anchor stations to climb the full distance.

Free climbing

Free climbing refers to climbing that is done by utilizing only the body for movement up the rock. It also incorporates ropes and hardware for safety, but a climber does not generally pull or stand on the equipment. It is a common misconception that this is climbing without a rope.

Aid climbing

This is climbing by pulling or resting on gear that is either placed or fixed into the rock. This is in contrast to "free" climbing, which only utilizes the body for moving up the wall.

How to Start?

Now that you know a little bit about how climbing started and the types that exist, how do you get started? In the early days of climbing, most beginners learned from experienced climbers in some sort of mentorship and apprentice relationship. Now plenty of options exist.

There is a huge increase in the amount of indoor climbing gyms and guide services that exist near most major climbing areas. The benefit to this is that the information is more reliable, consistent and reflective of the most modern techniques and methods.

In the Salt Lake Valley, there are four major climbing gyms, including Momentum Indoor Climbing, and many guide services such as Red River Adventures that teach everything from beginner lessons to more advanced techniques.

Suggested learning steps for a beginner

Ethics and etiquette guidelines

It can be hard to understand all the ins and outs of such a diverse and in-depth sport, but with time it can be a very fulfilling endeavor. Just be aware that within the climbing community there are some different opinions on various topics surrounding ethics and courtesy.The best thing to do is talk to other climbers and be open to a variety of perspectives and opinions.

In the end, you will have to make some of your own decisions, but there are some basic principles that you should follow — many of which come from simple outdoor ethics such as Leave No Trace Principles. For a good place to start learning about climbing ethics and crag etiquette, check on The Pact from the Access Fund.

Some basic terms and jargon

  • Anchor: The point where a climber's rope is securely attached to the rock or other secure object.
  • Belay: Use of a rope to protect a climber against a fall. A climber is generally belayed by another person who is managing the rope and is prepared to catch the climber.
  • Belay device: A small device that attaches to the belayer's harness and acts as the brake on the rope. Some examples are figure 8's, ATC's and GriGri's.
  • Problem: A short climb or sequence when bouldering.
  • Route: A longer climb using a rope could be multi-pitch or single pitch.
  • Bolt: A bolt drilled into the rock face for protection.
  • Jug: A large hand hold. It feels very secure and is usually deep enough to fit your entire hand.
  • Carabiner: An oval or D-shaped link of metal that serves as the climber's all-purpose connector.
  • Clean: The act of removing any non-fixed protection from the rock.
  • Crag: An established climbing area such as a cliff or canyon.
  • Crux: The hardest move, or series of moves, on a climb.
  • Deadpoint: A move which involves the climber to propel their body upward, almost like a jump, and catch a precise hold at the peak of their upward motion.

Jonathan Vickers is the Digital Media Manager for Momentum Indoor Climbing. In addition to managing Momentum's online presence, he also coaches as part of the Momentum Climbing School and is an American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA) certified guide for Red River Adventures. His personal climbing is dictated by seasons and whims.



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