One day I was climbing outdoors with a partner who was less experienced but physically very strong. I climbed first, putting up the draws and figuring out the moves.
Then, when it was my partner’s turn to lead she decided to start further right than I had. Even though the rock was more overhanging, the holds were bigger, so she thought the climbing would be easier.
However, when she got to the crux at the second bolt, she was completely pumped. As she tried to clip she fell with the rope out. Luckily I was able to run downhill as she fell and take in slack quickly enough to keep her from hitting the ground.
If I had not been familiar with this outdoor climbing technique she could have cratered.
As summer rolls along and you look to outdoor climbing to test the movement skills and fitness that you’ve practiced and gained in the gym, please remember that there are a number of differences between indoor and outdoor climbing.
From Leave No Trace ethics, to reading the rock, to belay and anchor systems, to understanding the limitations of gear, outdoor climbing is not the same as indoor climbing!
We teach outdoor climbing skills and more at climbing Mecca’s across the country like Rifle, CO, Devil’s Lake, WI, Maple Canyon, UT, City of Rocks, ID, Red River Gorge, KY and others!
Climbing Outdoors – Tips for Outdoor Rock Climbing
- Make sure your rope is long enough – Unlike the consistent height of a gym, natural cliffs are variable. One route can be longer than the next. Either have the belayer tie into the end of the rope, or tie a knot into the end. This way the climber can’t get lowered off the end of the rope.
- Someone should know how to set up and clean the anchor. In the climbing gym, you top-rope through fixed anchors. At the crag, it is not proper to top-rope through the fixed anchors because this causes undo wear on the anchor. Instead, it is expected that you will top-rope off of your own gear clipped to the anchor. Therefore, the first person has to set up the anchor and the last person has to clean it.
- Practice clear communication. Verbalize your plans with your partner. Who will clean the anchor? Will they rappel or lower?
- Learn to read a guidebook and recognize features like dihedrals and arêtes.
- You need experience reading sequences on rock. The holds are not color-coded outside!
- It is handy to know how to use a stick clip and also how to clean an overhanging route.
- Be wary of loose rock – both leading and belaying. Know how to test the rock and how to use it if you must. Know where to safely position yourself for the belay if there is rock fall hazard.