Maybe it’s the recent influx of rock climbing movies like Meru, The Dawn Wall, and Free Solo. Maybe it’s the activity’s elevation to an Olympic sport. Regardless, it’s clear that climbing is on the rise: From 2012 to 2017, climbing activity is estimated to have grown nearly 4% per year in the United States, and 43 new climbing facilities were built in 2017 alone.

If you’ve always been curious about rock climbing but are intimidated by all the people toting carabiners and throwing around lingo like “dyno” and “crimp,” this article’s for you. Here’s what you need to know to get started.  

Basic equipment

Harness: Also called a climbing belt, the climbing harness includes a belt that sits snugly over your hips and leg loops. This allows you to tie into the rope as either a belayer — the person on the ground ensuring that the climber is safe — or a climber.

Carabiner: This is a strong, ear-shaped metal ring with a hinge. It has many uses, including attaching the climbing rope to the climber’s harness and the belayer.

Belay device: Also called an air traffic controller (ATC), the belay device is a small mechanical piece of equipment that the belayer uses to safely control the rope.

Rock climbing shoes: Climbers need special shoes to protect their feet and effectively grip footholds. Shoes should be snug, so choose the smallest size that isn’t painfully tight.

Rope: This is usually provided in an indoor climbing area, but you may need to provide your own for an outdoor expedition.

A climbing partner: While one person is climbing, they need a certified belayer to keep them safe. If you and a friend have both passed the belay exam, you can take turns belaying each other at Crags Climbing Center in the IMA without special equipment or assistance as long as you both purchase a pass.

IMA members can rent a harness for $2.75 and shoes for $3.85 per use. Alternately, members can choose to purchase a quarterly equipment pass for $25. The rental harness includes a carabiner and belay device, and rope is provided in the climbing area.

Basic knot technique:

The figure eight follow-through (FEFT) knot is the standard knot for tying in as a climber. Here’s one way to tie it:

1)   Bend the rope in half about three feet from the end, or the distance between your outstretched hand and your nose.

2)   Cross the tail over the other strand of rope, then wrap underneath and pull the tail through the loop you’ve created. Keep the knot somewhat loose. This is the standard figure eight.  

3)   Run the tail through both tie-in loops on your harness and pull the rope tail so the knot sits close to the harness.

4)   Retrace the knot you just tied with the tail you have left. Pull tight.

5)   To check that your knot is tied correctly, make sure you can count five parallel lines, including the top and bottom of the knot. The knot should resemble a doubled figure eight.

Belay communication:

Before beginning a climb, the climber and belayer should always check each other’s knots, buckles, and the belay device. Then they’ll communicate using specific terms like these:

Climber: “On belay?” This is the climber’s way of asking if the belayer is ready.

Belayer: “Belay on.” This means the slack in the rope is gone.

Climber: “Climbing.” This means the climber is about to begin climbing.

Belayer: “Climb on.” This means the belayer is ready for the climber to begin.

If the belayer is belaying faster than the climber is climbing, the climber will ask for more rope by calling “slack.”

If the climber wants to rest for a moment and needs the belayer to pull in all of the rope’s slack, they’ll call out “take” or “tension.” The belayer will respond with “gotcha.”

If a climber is about to fall or has just fallen, they will shout “falling.”

At the end of the climb, the climber will signal that they are ready to come back down with the phrase, “Ready to lower.” The belayer will reply with “lowering” and reposition their hands to brake.  

Climbing Slang

If you hang out with boulderers — devotees of a special rope-free and low-equipment form of rock climbing — you may hear a few odd phrases like “shredded tips” and “frogging.” Here are a few key slang terms you may enjoy.

Frogging: Moving your hips close to the wall with your knees pointed out to the side, resembling a frog.

Crimp: A small edge on a rock that requires pressing the thumb on top of the index finger and pulling with the fingertips.

Problem: A bouldering route.

Flash: To climb a problem on the first attempt.

Send: To successfully ascend the rock.

Shredded tips: Fingertips injured from climbing.

Dyno: A full leap in which the boulderer has no contact with the rock and is briefly airborne.

Learning to climb

The UWild Climbing program, which is based at Crags, offers two options for introductory classes. Basic Climbing is a two-day, $30 course that covers basic climbing technique, belaying, knots, and equipment. Belay Techniques is an abbreviated version of Basic Climbing designed for people who need a quick refresher.

Both course options include the cost of the belay exam, which you need to pass if you want to belay at Crags. Without the course, the exam costs $5. It’s a good idea to take the exam as soon as possible so you can go climbing with your friends and take turns belaying each other. But if you haven’t passed the exam, you can still practice bouldering or ask someone else to belay for you. Regardless, you’ll need to purchase a pass ($3.50 per day or $41.25 for the quarter) to climb.

After taking one of these introductory courses, students can take further courses on footwork, crack climbing, glacier travel, lead climbing, and other advanced techniques. IMA members with the Crags Top Rope Belay Pass or Crags Lead Belay Pass can also sign up for Real Rock Climbing outings, which involve day trips to climb outdoors.

Reach writer Leslie Fisher at Twitter: @lesliefish3r

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