• JoJo

Advice for New Climbers

I’m back! Thank you for returning to my little corner of the internet after my short break.


I’d be lying if I said I’d spent the last three weeks considering new blog ideas and crafting linguistic masterpieces. Mostly I’ve been continuing to sort out the house, remembering how to ride a bike, and regretting my decision to cycle 11km to work and back. My poor quads don’t know what they’ve done to deserve this fresh new torment.


What I have realised is that I have a somewhat busier schedule than I did when I started this blog, which is going to influence the kind of posts I put together. As much as I love producing hearty bowls of word soup every week, it’s not something I think I can sustain long-term. However, I’d like to keep my writing muscles frequently flexed so things may take a turn for the experimental over the next few posts as I work on some smaller morsels for you to nibble on.


Starting right now!


This post is a quickfire list of pieces of advice I think would be useful to a new climber. Hopefully there are some beneficial pearls of wisdom in here as well as some myths that need busting about what it takes to be a happy climber.


Climbing is not all about upper body strength.

I have a post about why being strong is not important when you start climbing, but a quick summary is that strength will come as you climb more. Starting off with vast amounts of upper body strength can even, in my opinion, make learning good technique more difficult as a new climber. Focus on climbing well rather than getting stronger.


Anyone can climb.

Climbers come in all shapes and sizes and climbing is not solely the preserve of burly men with their nipples out. More diversity in climbing can only be a good thing.


Yes, the shoes are weird.

You will get used to them and you will learn which brands and models work best for your own unique concoction of heels and toes.


Fall off. A lot.

I wrote about this in an article for the wonderful Beta magazine called Learning to Fall. Please go and buy all their issues and support this excellent and inclusive piece of climbing media. Once again, to summarise the point, falling off from the word go helps to normalise falling as an integral part of climbing and makes falling less scary. If you’ve fallen off a boulder, you’ve found something worth challenging yourself to climb.


Try weird beta.

Routesetters are wise and clever people but their moves exist to be broken. Get creative. Face out. Try it feet first. Use your knees, head, and elbows. Go your own way.


Everyone is scared at some point.

You’re not a coward for feeling fear on the wall.


Progress and success look different for everybody.

Not everyone cares about climbing hard projects or progressing through grades at a speedy pace. Depending on how your body is feeling, the time of year, whether you’ve recently been injured, or even how hungry you currently are, your idea of success will vary. The great thing about climbing is you can clearly define goals or progress markers and work towards them at your own pace, regardless of what anyone else is doing.


Your skin will get tougher and so will your forearms.

It’s a rite of passage we all have to go through.


Everybody wants you to succeed.

Climbers can be competitive but more often than not the competition is between one climber and the wall, not with another climber. I have, on occasion, topped a boulder in a gym and let out a very loud victory scream of joy. When I return to the ground and look around, everyone around me is generally grinning or giving me a high five, strangers included. Climbers are a ridiculously supportive bunch and love seeing their fellow climbers achieve their goals. If you’re feeling self-conscious in the gym, hold onto this point and remember that nobody thinks you’re shit, they just want to see you thrive.


Chalk your hands and brush the holds.

Friction is your friend.


You will meet wonderful people at the gym/crag.

It’s an excellent way to make friends and having a supportive partner or group to climb with can really add to your motivation and even pulling power.


Being tall is not always an advantage.

If climbing was just about height, all the pros would be giants, which they most certainly are not.


Not all boulders with the same grade are created equally.

Grades are very subjective. I personally would expect to have a good chance of climbing a 6b+ on a vertical wall first go but would fully expect to spend a decent amount of time projecting a 6b+ on a steep overhang. Grades are guidelines, not Gods. Use them as helpful indicators but don’t let them get you down.


Climbers almost never get tired of talking about climbing.

Ask questions. Politely accost people for beta. Discuss projects with others.


You will discover muscles you didn’t know you had and they will all hurt at some point.


Smile, or better yet, laugh when you fail.

This may sound like a strange piece of advice, but I’ve found smiling or even bursting into discreet fits of laughter extremely effective when it comes to preventing frustration with difficult moves. In the past, I often got angry with moves I couldn’t do and had the odd hissy fit over a boulder. Forcing myself to smile rather than swear at a rock/hold has helped me avoid falling into this grumpy mindset. Initially it took a lot of conscious effort to smile or laugh rather than sulk when I fell off a move multiple times but now it comes quite naturally to me. I was giggling jovially to myself as a lay on the mat below a big overhanging boulder just this morning. Which leads me neatly onto my last point . . .


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the best climber is the one having the most fun.

If you have any questions about giving climbing a go feel free to drop them in the comments below. As mentioned above, I never get tired of talking about climbing, so if there’s something that I’ve missed or anything you’re not sure about I’d be happy to chat about it.

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