What to know as a new rock climber

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I remember being a new climber back in the late 1990s, my first session was at Joe Rockhead’s in Toronto.

I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing, what the climbers were talking about or how to move on the wall. There was no Instagram where climbers shared stories and photos, there were only magazines and journals. With no hashtags or social media, the world of climbing felt much smaller than it does today.

I climbed regularly at gyms and went to Mount Nemo and Rattlesnake near Toronto, but I didn’t invest much time into learning about the history of climbing or advanced rope techniques. I had a few posters with climbers hanging from the edges on tall walls by their fingertips and I went to Mountain Equipment Coop (now MEC) to peruse the climbing gear section. I felt like a new climber for a few years and didn’t consider myself a real climber until I started to take my friends to the crag, lead the pitches and rig the anchors. ​

Being a new rock climber in 2020 is much different than in the late 1990s, as you have access to much more information. However, just because you follow hardcore climbers on Instagram, that doesn’t replace practice and experience.

There are some basics things that you need to know to start your life as a climber. Firstly, if you just discovered climbing and have been in the gym all winter, take a course before heading outdoors. Lead climbing on real stone is different than on plastic, as there are more hazards, the bolts can be run-out and belaying is more difficult due to fall factors and direction of pull.


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While many professionals don’t wear helmets in their online images, they do wear them behind the cameras. I’ve been on dozens of photoshoots where a pro climber hides their helmet for those cover-shot moments. Wear a helmet.

Every good rock climber understands the basics of how to build an equalized anchor, how to rappel and how to clean a route. Every year, inexperienced climbers die because they didn’t understand basic rope techniques, so do your mom a favour and be safe. Be a good communicator with your climbing partner and the others at the crag.

To be a rock climber also means that you understand the basics of access and crag ethics, like don’t play loud music at crags like Grassi Lakes, don’t leave your gear stashed at the base of the wall, like at Acephale, and if you’re a van-lifer, then know the rules.

Have a plan-b because the regular route on Ha Ling might be busy. Bring the appropriate clothing for the day, such as a down coat and rain shell, and have a phone in case something goes wrong.

Climbing is much bigger than it was 20 years ago, but to be a new climber is the same, so be safe, learn about the sport and have fun.

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