Climbing outdoors is to many people, what it’s all about. Enjoying nature, the outstanding grip and friction that real rock offers, the exposure, and of course climbing in fantastic natural surroundings.
There are a number of different ways that climbers prefer to climb outdoors. People new to climbing tend to prefer top roping, where the rope runs through a series of secured anchors at the top of the climb, in much the same way that you would climb indoors. Providing the anchors are secure, this is the safest method of climbing outdoors, especially for anyone new to climbing. The type of equipment required with top roping is as follows. A pair of rock shoes, a harness, a belay device, some karabiners, a selection of slings to set up the anchor and of course a rope.
Some outdoor climbing venues have metal bolts which have been drilled and glued into the side of the rock. These are used for “sport climbing”. When sport climbing the climber takes the rope up with them as they climb. Each time they reach a prefixed bolt a quickdraw can be connected and the rope clipped through. This is continued all the way to the top of the climb. Sport climbing is a relatively safe method of climbing outdoors, however it is important to consider that in the event of a fall, the climber will fall at least the distance from the last bolt they clipped the rope through. This normally results in a larger fall than top roping, however provided the bolts are secure, the fall should be held successfully. Sport climbing is very popular, especially across Europe, in America and Canada, however it’s less popular in the UK. There are a number of locations for sport climbing available in the UK, particularly in quarries, however there are very strict moral values regarding any damage caused to the natural rock face. The equipment you’ll require for sport climbing is a pair of rock shoes, a harness, a belay device, a selection of 10 – 15 quickdraws (short) and a rope.
Another popular method of climbing is Trad climbing (short for Traditional). This again involves the climber taking the rope up with them except rather than clipping into quickdraws connected to prefixed secure bolts, the climber must place the protection, be it nuts, hexes or cams along the way. Quickdraws are then fastened to the secured protection and the rope clipped through. If the protection has been placed correctly then a fall will result in the climber falling as far as their last piece of placed gear. If the protection isn’t placed well, or the location of the placement is slightly sketchy, there is a chance of the protection ripping out. Once at the top of the climb, the person belaying will usually “second” the climb, climbing up, whilst being belayed from the top by the first climber. The person seconding the climb will then remove the placed protection on the way up. If the gear becomes stuck, as is pretty common, a nut key can be used to loosen the gear. Trad climbing is seen by many as the most natural and ethical way to climb. If you fancy this type of climbing, then it is certainly worth learning to placing gear on low sections of the rock. Again unless you are able to be “shown the ropes” by an experienced climber, it is definitely worth considering professional tuition. Many climbing walls offer “days out” tuition, not to mention the numerous climbing guides available in the back of climbing magazines and on the web. Along with a pair of rock shoes, a belay device and a rope, for Trad climbing, a basic “leader rack” is required. This consists of a selection of quickdraws (typically 4 short ones and 4 long ones), a selection of wired nuts (usually sizes 1-10 and if possible two sets), some hexes (sizes 5 to 8 are common) or a few SLCD cams (again sizes 2 to 3.5 are common). You will also require a selection of slings. 2 short ones and 2 long ones should be adequate when starting out.
Predetermined, graded climbing routes exist outdoors just as they do inside. The many different routes can be found in climbing guide books or on the web. Guide books are a great help though as they show the route of the climb, usually with a white line tracing a photo of the rock face. As the book can be taken to the crag, it helps to identify the specific routes and locations. Just about every rock face you will see, will have many different routes. These will have been climbed many times, and given a name by the person who first completed the climb.
Although there is no legal requirement to wear a helmet whilst climbing outdoors, it’s a good idea to think about purchasing and wearing one each time you climb. Helmets will protect you from small rock falls, equipment which may be dropped, not to mention a fall which may result in a bang to the head.
Climbing outdoors is different to climbing indoors in many ways. It can be quite intimidating, especially when starting out, however don’t let that put you off. Climbing outdoors can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience and is well worth a try!