The road to trad climbing is littered with lingo, gear, and a very specific set of skills. But don’t let that put you off! If you want to get into trad climbing but aren’t sure where to start – look no further!
What even is trad climbing anyway?
‘Traditional’ climbing: rock climbing where climbers place all gear required to protect themselves against falls, and remove it once a pitch is completed.
Trad climbing has a strong ‘leave no trace’ ethic, as climbers tend to leave nature ‘unblemished’ once they are done climbing – that is, they don’t leave in-situ gear, or drill bolts into the rock as in sport climbing. This also creates an amazing sense of adventure and wildness in a day out trad climbing.
It’s worth noting that across the climbing community, trad is recognised as more dangerous and more mentally challenging than other types of climbing. However, if you equip yourself with the right knowledge and safety training, you can feel comfortable taking yourself out for a good old traditional day of traditional climbing.
OK, but what even is a ‘pitch’? Or ‘gear’?
It can definitely seem like outdoor climbers (actually, climbers in general) have a language of their own. But that’s because we do! It would be a bit dull to list absolutely everything here (and I’d probably miss things out anyway) but here are some key bits for you:
- Gear (or ‘protection’) – the absolute wide variety of equipment climbers can place in the rock and attach their rope to during a climb to prevent them hitting the ground should they fall.
- Pitch – The length of a rock climbing route. Climbers stop after one pitch to set up an anchor and belay their partner up. For single-pitch routes, this is the end of the climb, but for multi-pitch, this process is repeated until the top of the route is reached.
- Belaying – this is what climbers do to secure their partner when climbing, involving running the rope the climber is attached to through a belay device, so the belayer can ‘catch’ the climber and stop them falling to the ground.
- Anchor (sometimes referred to as ‘the belay’) – A system of protection at the top of a climbing pitch set up by the lead climber to secure the lead climber as they belay the second climber up, in case the second falls.
How can I prepare?
Before you head outside to learn trad climbing, there are a few things you can do to make the most out of your first outdoor trad experience.
Get yourself down to your local roped climbing wall, and learn the basics. Learn how to belay (both for lead and top-rope climbs) and how to tie the rope in to your harness. Get comfortable sitting in your harness, learn to trust your gear and practice falling safely. Try some outdoor bouldering if you already boulder, to feel what it’s like climbing on real rock. The more comfortable you feel, the more fun you’ll have and the more you’ll learn on your first trip outside! I didn’t do this, I didn’t have any trust in my harness or the rope, and I bailed on the first pitch (of three) on my first ever outdoor rock climb. I’m not saying these tips are foolproof, as the outside brings a whole new set of challenges you don’t face inside, but it’s the best way to prepare yourself.
Who can teach me?
Again, get yourself down to your local wall! They will have recommendations for everything from local climbing instructors, local climbing festivals to Facebook groups of local climbers looking for the odd partner or car share. The safest, but most expensive, option is signing up for a course with an instructor. Most instructors offer group sessions at a cheaper price than one-on-one instructing.
Climbing festivals are also a great, social place to learn, and to meet potential climbing partners. One of the most notable is the Women’s Climbing Festival, where everyone is welcome, from complete beginners to qualified instructors, with the added ‘peace of mind’ of some form of vetting of ‘teachers’. At most other festivals across the UK, instructors provide discounted courses to attendees, ranging across all levels.
Lastly, the internet! However, be careful when finding people to climb with from unregulated climbing groups. Make sure whoever is taking you out is experienced and ensure that you trust them (try climbing indoors with them a few times beforehand). There will be people out there who pretend they know more than they do, or who climb unsafely. These groups are more useful for when you feel comfortable with climbing outside and want to find a partner for the day.
So what now?
Be pro-active, be informed, stay safe and have fun! I’ve had some absolutely amazing weekends trad climbing with wonderful climbing partners in the most stunning locations. I wish you all the best embarking on your trad journey – keep an eye out for my next article in the series!
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