Before you start climbing, it’s important to know what kind of climbing you would like to do, who you will climb with, what basic equipment you need, and, finally, where the beginner routes are so you can start climbing safely! In this article I’ll fill you in on all the details.
I joined the climbing world last year. Before, I always saw climbing and mountaineering as two completely separate passions. And personally, the mountain was what called me. My feet were on the ground, walking through the mountains in admiration of the jagged peaks around me and the clouds sitting on top of them.
I started with trekking, then a bit higher, then a lot higher (and well, now I’m preparing for my first 8000 meter mountain!)… anyways I eventually got the itch for mountains a bit more technical. And with that, I found myself looking at pictures and reading articles about mountains that I wanted to climb, but that included, for example, 50 feet of climbing in order to reach the summit. Oooof, all of a sudden, climbing and mountaineering weren’t so separate.
Retumbadero Alto, Cajon del Maipo, with my friends Luis and Dani, also part of my mountain club Wechepun. This was my first mountain that required climbing in order to reach the summit.
So that’s how I arrived into this beautiful world of rock climbing. And now that I’ve uploaded pictures climbing in beautiful places, many people have asked me how to start climbing.Awesome, I love it!
In this article, I sought out the expertise of my friend Ignacio, a runner and mountaineer, an Outdoor Facilitator with Nols, and a total expert in outdoor life, on important topics like Leave No Trace. I met Ignacio when I participated in one of his presentations on “Leave No Trace” practices.
Step 1 to start climbing: Safety first, find a facilitator and a group!
If you have never rock climbed, it is necessary that you take a course. Or, if you’re like me and you took a course a year ago but then only went out to practice a handful of times… it’s important that you take a course again or go out with experienced people who can and will take time to remind you, teach you, and get you back into the roll of things.
Like in all outdoor sports, the risks are high if you don’t have the knowledge or technique necessary to do it safely. You don’t just get to the rock and start climbing!
One of the barriers to start climbing is having someone to climb with. Here are some ideas on how to meet other nature lovers like yourself, so that you can join the community and get in on the fun!
Join a mountain club
I am part of the mountain club Wechupun, which was key to helping me build a network of other climbers who I could go out with, learn from, and practice with. They have groups of climbers of all levels and even organize outings just for beginners. I did my Climbing Basics course with them as well as a workshop on practicing falls (also known as flights!).
Joining a club is a great way to meet people with similar passions, and often they offer different types of courses with professors that are part of their network. Here in Santiago, I can confidently recommend Wechupun and Club Universidad Andino. They are both awesome clubs with a lot of experience and tons of great people.
Join other types of groups
- Los Silos is an open air park with a monthly membership. They have the club 20 de abril and also organize various activities and courses.
- Rockeras is a fantastic option for all the rock climbing girls who love to be out breathing the fresh mountain air. This is a group of girl-only climbers, that organizes courses, outings and share great information on their instagram.
- Gimnasio el Muro has classes and a solid community of climbers; their outings with students and professors are very integrated and easy to go there, even alone, and meet people and have a great time.
- Escalando en Penumbras in the National Stadium in Santiago.
Step 2 to start climbing: decide what type of climbing you want to do
When you start climbing, you can choose between indoor, boulder, outdoor in top rope (or everything in between!). The nice thing about indoor and boulders is that, while getting started, you don’t need much equipment. Just some climbing shoes and you’re good to go!
I asked Ignacio if he recommended starting with indoor or boulder:
Totally! Indoor gyms are easily accessible and you can start to build relationships within the local climbing community. There are classes for beginners and, once you start meeting people, you learn a lot of valuable information. However, it’s important to mix it up and for every two or three times indoor, go out at least once to the rock itself. Why? It’s easy to get used to one style and, as a climber, you need different viewponts… and motivations!Ignacio Inder, (su Instagram)
Indoor: Climbing gyms have artificial hand and footholds of all different sizes and grips, which creates routes of different difficulties. Here you can practice techniques and learn to better move your hands and feet. One obstacle to the gyms is that they can be a little expensive. At gyms, you can practice in top rope or boulder style.
Boulder: This is the option that requires the least amount of equipment and money. A boulder is a rock / a face of a rock / a climbing wall in a gym that is smaller and doesn’t require safety equipment like rope, harness, carabiners, etc. Generally, boulders are max 7 meters in height.
Top Rope: Climbing in top is when someone climbs first, equips the route, and anchors the rope to a spot at the top so that climbers that follow can climb with the rope right. The rope is kept tight by a belayer below, who is watching the climber and giving / taking rope as needed. This ensures that, in the case of a fall, it is reduced in distance and impact. As you advance, you will also have to learn to belay, as it is a critical part of climbing.
As you get more confident, you can become that first person to climb and equip the route. That is called “lead climbing.” So far, I’m not there yet either and have just done lead climbing a few times on beginner routes. Little by little!
Step 3 to start climbing: Buy basic equipment
It’s tempting to borrow equipment from your friends. But that can be dangerous because you don’t know the use or history of that equipment. It could have small tears or breaks that you can’t see, due to exposure to the sun, humidity, cold, etc. If you take a course, they will probably provide you with the basic equipment or you can rent from a secure place.
Anyways, it would be good to buy the basic equipment, which I list here with some pro tips from Ignacio:
Climbing shoes – they aren’t very comfortable and should be quite tight (without causing you pain). They have a more pronounced arch and put pressure on your toes. The purpose of climbing shoes is to provide the friction and structure you need to support yourself on the rock. You only use climbing shoes when climbing, so you’ll always need to bring tennis shoes for the hikes into where you’ll climb, for while you are belaying, and for using during the day.
- PROTIP Your FIRST climbing shoe might seem very tight and uncomfortable. You’ll be tempted to buy a shoe a size bigger, but remember that in a couple weeks they will wear in. In the beginning, don’t buy a shoe too tecnical with a very high arch. Also, NEVER put your shoe directly into the sun when they are wet or they will shrink!
Harness– The harness is what connects you to the rope and where you will hang your carabiners, cords, chalk bag, etc. For comfort, I like the ones that open completely on the thighs, as this gives you more flexibility if you want to change pants or go to the bathroom. Look for a harness that has multiple loops, on both sides, to carry material.
- PROTIP Think about what kind of climate you will be climbing in, since the number of layers you will be wearing will affect what size harness you need. For your safety, don’t forget to check the manual for the expiration date (just as with your rope and all material!)
Carabiners– It’s always good to have a few of your own carabiners when you start climbing. Buy a few locking HMS, asymmetrical ones with locks, and also quickdraws.
- PROTIP Separate the carabiners and quickdraws that go directly on the rope from the ones that go on the anchor system up top. Also look out for any little cuts/breaks that can cut your rope like a knife!
Helmet– always use a helmet when you climb on rock, to protect yourself from any material that can fall.
- PROTIP A basic helmet can resist a few impacts. The ultra-light helmets with foam (like the ones you use on the bicycle) are designed for only one impact.
Belay Device – the ATC is the most common belay device and what you will also for rappelling.
- PROTIP There are so many types of belay devices. It’s best to choose one with various ridges or “teeth” to aid in the friction, which aids in braking. In this way, later on, you can also belay a second or even third climber . The famous 8 has been obsolete for a long time due to the friction it causes to the rope and because it is less intuitive / has more room for error.
Clothing – get comfortable clothing so that you can easily move and fully extend your arms/legs. You’ll need pieces that dry quickly, keep you warm and protect you from the sun.
- PROTIP It’s convenient to have one of the large puffy jackets that you can easily throw over yourself when you’re belaying or when in colder temperatures. In outdoor environments it’s better (and cheaper) to get synthetic material vs down, due to precipitation, non-extreme temperatures and short hikes to get to climbing zones.
Step 4 to start climbing: everything is ready, now it’s time to find a route!
There are different methods for measuring the difficulties of a route. One of the most common is the Yosemite Decimal System used in USA, which goes between 5 and 5.15. These numbers are frequently followed by the letters “a,” “b,” “c” or “d” and even a “+”, which adds more detail and idea around the level of route difficulty.
You will start climbing with beginner routes, climbing between 5+, 5.6 – 5.10, and then advancing to harder challenges little by little. Eventually, you’ll be a total expert climbing rock faces of 5.15. Woooow, just imagine!
Here is a link if you would like to know more about the different methods for measuring route difficulty. It will take a long time to understand them all and be able to make comparisons between methods, so don’t get frustrated and give yourself time!
Here are a few places in the Santiago region that have beginner routes, as well as routes of other difficulties. You can click each link for more detail on the area.
- Chacabuco – note! many of the routes do not have shade and the sun beats down very hard during summer time. So sunblock, hats, water, and appropriate clothing is needed!
- Piedra del Indio – Quebrada del Alvarado, Olmue
- Las Chilcas
- Piedra Romel
- Manyos, Cajon del Maipo
- Pared de jabbah
- Piedra rajada, los dominicos
- Lo Curro
- Roca oceanica, Viña del Mar
- Punta de tralca
- La Palomera (there’s a turn-off en route to Farellones…on the way to the mine)
- Los Trapenses – another place with no shade!
And because no outdoor activity can lack this critical detail…
Be a good, responsible nature lover! Take care of it!
- Don’t leave trash. Everything that you pack in, packs out with you!
- If you find trash, take it with you!
- Only walk on established paths, don’t look for shortcuts and don’t cut flowers to take home with you.
- Don’t spraypaint or leave marks on rocks, trees, etc. Think about the next visitors and let them appreciate nature’s raw beauty too!
- If you have to go to the bathroom, do not do it close to water sources. You should be a minimum of 60 meters away. If it is not just urine, dig a hole, at least 20cm deep, and cover it completely when done. Ideally, it should be in a place that receives direct sunlight / UV rays.
Okay, now that you’re ready to start climbing… see you on the rock!