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How to start climbing outdoors

The idea of learning how to start climbing outside can potentially be a bit daunting, with new skills, “rules” and equipment often required. That said, climbing outside is incredibly rewarding and for lots of people it’s a lifetime habit that's hard to break!

an instructor helping a new climber learn to mountaineer

General Ethics and access

Before breaking down how to start different disciplines outside, all of which have slightly different skill sets required, it's important to mention the things we need to be aware of in order to be responsible outdoor users.

As a starting point, the countryside code is a great resource for understanding the general rules and principles for accessing the outdoors. The general principles are; respect everyone, protect the environment and enjoy the outdoors. The full code can be found here and is well worth reading

Elements of the code that might be especially relevant for us as climbers involve leaving the crag or boulders as you found them or better and being socially aware. These include;

Not leaving any litter,

Not using excessive chalk,

Making sure that tick marks and chalk are removed with a brush after a session.

Clean shoes well before getting on the rock - this helps limit erosion and keeps the rock clean.

If you need to go to the loo (number 2), consider using a WAG bag and taking it home with you to dispose of it later rather than going at the crag.

Avoid climbing on wet rock if the rock is porous (Sandstone, Gritstone), holds are weaker when wet and can be easily damaged.

If you are struggling on a problem, don’t hammer it into submission. Repeated failed attempts can quickly wear problems, come back rested and try again.

Be socially aware - playing music and being excessively loud is not appropriate the majority of the time, especially when other users of the outdoors are around.

The same applies for light pollution, some crags are close to residential areas or have sensitive access, think twice before switching the lamps on!

Where next?

Once we have the principals of how to access the outdoors in a sustainable and responsible way we have to choose which crag we will go to. This largely depends on what discipline we plan on trying and what skills and equipment we have because although there are some crags with a mixture, most crags only lend themselves to one or two disciplines. Guidebooks are a useful resource for helping us to work out where to go and for people in the has a massive database and online map to help make crag choices.

Calling for help

Calling for help isn’t something we ever really think about when we are climbing indoors, a simple walk to the desk or a phone call for an ambulance is easily achievable. Outdoors is a slightly different kettle of fish and there are some important bits of information we need to know in order to facilitate help arriving.

Who ya gonna call?

Not Ghostbusters. When called for help at and inland crag you need to ask the call 999 and ask the call handler for the Police, once you are through to the Police then ask for Mountain Rescue. If you are climbing on a sea cliff you call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

Once you have called one of the first bits of information you will be asked for is your location. Guidebooks often have the GPS co-ordinates which can be useful, but the best way of communicating location is using a 6 figure grid reference which will look something like SH 677 364. This can be found using a paper map (a skill that needs to be learnt and practised, key to remember along the corridor and up the stairs, tricky in a stressful situation) or by using a location app like OS Locate. Ideally if you have time cross reference these two to double check the location is correct. When you make the call, the call handler will have a script to work through to best decide how to help you and how urgently the help is needed. This can feel slow, but be patient and listen to their instructions

In the next instalment I'll be breaking down advice into the different disciplines, starting with bouldering.

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