How To Become a Rock Climber: 6 Simple Steps

Have you ever been to a park on a beautiful day and stood on the edge of an overlook, only to have someone’s head pop up by your feet?

Maybe it’s not so common, but the first time it happened to me I was in awe. Someone just climbed up here? On their own hands and feet? The idea that someone could be so powerful and daring was intoxicating. I had to try it! But how? Below, you’ll read what the process was like for me, and how it can be for you.

(Note: This is based on my own personal experience. There are other ways to learn, including starting outside. However, this should always be done by first learning from a professional.)

Step 1. Do some online research

Get on your computer when you get home. Look up a variety of searches, such as “rock climbing near me”, “how to rock climb”, and “am I gonna die rock climbing”. Decide that maybe you’d rather try indoor climbing first.

Look up the nearest climbing gym. Convince a friend to sign up for a class with you, and promise them it’ll be fun (although you’re not really sure).

Step 2. Take an Intro Class

You arrive at the gym and are immediately assaulted with images of rock-hard bodies in colorful clothing doing things you didn’t know were possible. The walls stretch super high in all directions and are full of climbers, and you can’t help but feel intimidated. The air smells like shoes and chalk. Go to the class area. Sit down with the other newbies and feel relieved when they all look sort of like you; nervous but excited.

Listen closely as the instructor goes over knots. Ask repeatedly for him to show you one more time. Stare down at your rope and wonder how you could possibly do the same. Copy the person next to you. Feel impressed when you get it right.

Learn the various speech commands, like “take” and “gotcha”. Be surprised when your instructor yells at you for not using them. Grip your rope with iron fists as your friend inches their way up a wall. Lower them a little too fast, and then a little too slow.

Now it’s your turn. Triple check your knot. Look back at your friend a few times. Grab the first holds and realize it won’t be so hard. Grab the second holds and realize it’s actually kind of complicated. Feel your arms shake as you get to the halfway point. Yell “take” in a voice that you don’t recognize. Sit back really slowly into the rope, not fully trusting if it will hold you. Feel relieved when it does.

Get climbing again. Feel anxious sweat trickle on your temples as you reach for the final hold. Feel outrageously proud as you are lowered back to the ground.

Leave the class beaming. Be perplexed when you learn your friend didn’t like it as much as you.

Step 3. Go to The Gym Yourself

Try to convince your friend to go back. When that doesn’t work, go back by yourself. Walk through the door a little unsure. Rent some shoes and chalk and stick to the bouldering walls. Listen to the other climbers use strange terms like “beta” and “volume”.

Realize the bouldering numbers are different than the roped numbers. Try the easiest one. Be surprised when you’re able to do it. Try the next hardest one. Feel your face flush when you bomb it and land awkwardly on the mat. Realize no one is looking at you, and relax.

End the day early. Go home and scour Facebook for the one friend of a friend you know who rock climbs. Reach out to them and wonder if they’d like to go with you.

Return to the gym with a new partner. Be relieved when they tie the knot first and you can copy them. Be a little disappointed when they’re so much better than you, but their enthusiasm is contagious.

Step 4. Sign up for a membership

You stare at the price on the screen in front of you and make a face. You think about it… and sign the agreement. You quickly follow that up with a brand-new harness and climbing shoes. You find the harness you like easily. You try on one…. two… three pairs of shoes. How tight are they supposed to be again? Should you be able to wiggle your toes? You ask.

To make the membership price worth it, you start going two or three times a week. Soon there are faces in the gym that you recognize. You strike up a conversation sometimes, and realize the people climbing beside you are actually really friendly.

Soon you are climbing beyond the beginner grades. You begin eating up all the online articles you can find about climbing. You search for things like “how to climb a 5.10b”, “how to gain finger strength”, and “world’s best rock climbers”. You are daunted, but awed at how strong and talented climbers can be.

Struggle to not bring up climbing in conversation with non-climbing friends.

Step 5. Take an Outdoor Class

It’s finally warm outside, so you sign up for an outdoor class with your gym. You arrive at the crag with your own gear and a healthy dose of overconfidence. You follow the instructor’s steps on knots and crag safety. You are surprised by how safe climbing outside can be.

You begin your first climb and realize that it is COMPLETELY different than climbing inside. Your fingers begin to ache immediately. You struggle to find any identifiable holds. You flounder to the top of the rock and wonder if the knots are going to hold you. When you reach the carabiners, you feel a sense of relief and growing sense of empowerment.

You climb another route. And another. Your brain starts to recognize the natural holds in the rock. You enjoy the warm sun and food between climbs, and realize how great outdoor climbing could be.

Take a knots and anchors class, so that you can climb outside with your friends. Learn how to set up SERENE and the importance of redundancy.

Step 6. Climb Outside On Your Knots

You spend an hour researching the night before; where to climb, the best routes, and where to set up. You check the weather. You assemble your gear.

The next day, you and a friend head to the location, and it takes you longer than you’d hoped to find it. You spend twenty minutes agonizing over your knots and getting the lengths just right.

When you finally climb, you are nervous. What if you didn’t tie the knots right? But they hold you. You struggle to complete climbs, still getting the hang of climbing outside. You end the day completely exhausted. You friend is worried you didn’t like it, but you are ecstatic.

You climb outside more, planning trips tailored to you. Weeks turn into months as you learn the best areas to check out near you. You visit the same spot multiple times, trying to nail that dyno move that seems just out of reach. A climber sets up next to you and looks the crag over. They ask you about the route, as it’s their first time and they’re nervous.

You realize suddenly that you can give them an answer. It occurs to you that you are a rock climber, and have been for some time. It hadn’t seemed that long ago that you were nervous yourself. You answer them warmly and offer to give them tips if they’d like. You take a break and watch the sun climb the sky. You know there is infinite room for growth, but looking back, you are proud of how far you have come. Rock climbing has given you not only physical but mental strength, and the ability to realize you are stronger than you seem.


Interested? Check out these potential classes.

REI’s Outdoor School

Climbing Gyms By State