Why Go Climbing?

Why Climb? Explore the Risks and Rewards of Climbing

Dennis belays Martha Morris on Lizard Rock at the Fisher Towers, Utah.
Rock climbing is not only a lot of fun but a sport you can do with your friends. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Climbing is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the world. One of the reasons is the artificial climbing walls that are now in every major city, schools, universities, and even fitness gyms. Indoor climbing gyms, offering a safe and controlled environment, allow new climbers to quickly grasp needed climbing skills—belaying, rope management, climbing equipment, and movement—to make the jump to the great outdoors. But rock climbing is, of course, serious business. Very serious business.

Climbing is Risky

Every time you go climbing outside, you are potentially risking your life and limb. Stuff happens at the cliff. Loose rocks fall off and can hit you in the head. Climbers fall off and break legs. Gear rips out during a leader fall. Climbing ropes cut over sharp edges. Lightning strikes cliff-tops. Rain and snow cause descent routes to be slick and dangerous. Belay anchors are improperly rigged. Fixed rappel anchors are old and worn out. I don’t want to scare you, to make you think that climbing is a death-defying feat, because it’s not most of the time but you have to be careful and learn all the important climbing skills to have a safe adventure.

Learn to be Safe

Everything a wise climber does outside on the rock is oriented toward being safe and ensuring both the climber and his partner’s safety. Every piece of gear a wise climber places in the rock mitigates the dire effects of gravity. I always stress to my beginner clients that your climb begins when you park your car and start walking to the cliffs and it doesn’t end until you and your partner are off the summit and safely back at the parking lot.

Outdoor Climbing Experience Needed

It’s really important to remember that indoor climbing on an artificial climbing wall is no substitute for real experience outside on real rock. I always consider indoor climbing, while a worthwhile pursuit in its own right, as physical training for climbing outside in the wide world. Indoor climbing, even at the most realistic rock gym, does not provide all the preparation, experience, and judgment for a safe outdoor climbing experience.

Getting Outside

If, after getting started climbing at the gym, you want to venture outside and put those hard-earned gym skills to work on the vertical cliffs, the best thing is to find a reputable guide service and take a couple classes from a skilled instructor. This is something we often do at Front Range Climbing Company, the guide service I regularly teach climbing classes and lessons for in Colorado Springs.

Join a Club to Go Climbing

After those classes, your guide might give you the go-ahead to set up some toprope routes at a local crag or crank a few sport climbs. Or perhaps you will find a local climbing club like the Potomac Mountain Club in the Washington DC area or the Colorado Mountain Club and join one of their weekend outings or hook up with a more experienced climber for regular climbing days at nearby cliffs.

Hook Up with an Experienced Climbing Mentor

When I started climbing in the mid-1960s as a 12-year-old boy there were no indoor climbing facilities. Instead most budding climbers climbed with older, more experienced mentors, serving an apprenticeship to learn all the nuances of outdoor climbing skills, the tricks of rope management, and the ways to stay safe on the rocks.

8 Climbing Articles with more Information

Read these articles for more basic information about learning to climb:

How to Stay Safe from Lightning While Climbing

Learn How to Belay

Learn to Climb at an Indoor Gym

5 FAQs about Climbing

5 More Climbing FAQs

What Gear Should a Beginning Climber Buy?