Climbing Tips for Beginners

From Ibex Athlete & Climbing Guide Karsten Delap

Karsten works as a rock and alpine guide at Fox Mountain Guides. He has been pursuing mountain adventures for over 20 years; follow him here.


Most of the people I talk to love the outdoors or at least some aspect of it, however, almost in the same breath tell me they “could never go rock climbing.” They proceed to list all the reasons why it is scary…that they don’t like heights…and on and on, and then go on to describe a beautiful overlook that took them 10+ miles of hiking to get too.  

As an avid rock climber and advocate of getting outside to climb, I’m here to tell you that climbing is just like hiking, just a little steeper, and with that great overlook view the entire way up. In fact, I find it more engaging than hiking which is what makes it a meditative activity. When done properly, the pure act of rock climbing is by far safer than the act of driving to the grocery store. Read on for common fears, at least from my point of view, and how to overcome them.

Heights schmeights
One of the main reasons I find that people are scared to go rock climbing is their fear of heights. Most people who are afraid of heights get a feeling of uneasiness when next to an edge because they fear they may not be able to keep themselves from jumping, or might become dizzy and fall off. For beginners, when climbing, we are tethered to the mountain at all times. In fact, climbing rock with a rope is more secure than climbing a ladder; at any point you feel uneasy, you just sit back in your harness!

Trust your gear
Another reason I see people apprehensive about climbing is not trusting the gear. With the climbing culture becoming huge around the world, more money has been put into testing gear. As a result, the gear is very, very strong if used in the right application. That said, you will want to make sure the gear has a UIAA or CE rating; good thing is that almost all gear sold in the U.S. has these. In most cases, your gear will hold 10 times the amount of force you could possibly exert on it.

No need for guns of steel
Many folks think that climbing is all about upper body strength. Just because all the photos show climbers barely holding on to anything does not mean that is how they started out climbing. Most easier climbing is done on your feet. So if you can walk up a trail, you will likely have no problem moving up an easy pitch of rock.

Go the guide route
Another great way to experience outdoor climbing, and what I recommend for beginners, is to go with an AMGA certified guide. Not all guides in the U.S. are certified, but the ones that are have had training in dealing with not only safety but also client comfort to help you overcome your trepidations in moving up the rock. You can learn many tools and techniques that can help you start to develop as a climber you can use for adventures on your own.

A group of friends climb the Nose of Looking Glass in western North Carolina using the skills they gained from instructional courses. Photo credit: Karsten Delap

Learn the lingo
Knowing some terminology can help you understand a bit more about what you are doing and make you more comfortable with the tasks at hand. Here are a few terms and their meanings you will want to know:

Belay: Dictionary meaning is to hold fast, or secure. This is how you will move rope to hold your climbing partner on the rock.

Belay Device: This is the object that creates friction on the rope so that we do not have to have much strength to hold the rope in our hands.

Piece of Protection: These are objects that are put into the rock that can hold enormous amounts of weight. They can have more specific terms like cams, nuts, and bolts.

Anchor: This will be made up of two or more pieces of protection and will hold you on the wall.

Holds: These come in all shapes and sizes and are what you use to move up the rock. Some beginners call them grips or grabs but the proper term is hold, as in “climbing hold”.

Bomber: Despite this sounding like something might blow up, it is actually the opposite. Bomber means super strong. So if you hear someone say something is “bomber”, it is strong!

Here I’m resting so my forearms don’t get too pumped, and thinking about the moves to my next piece of protection. Being comfortable with your surroundings and your gear affords you a more relaxed time on the rock. Photo credit: Austin Schmitz


Rock climbing is a fantastic way to recreate and enjoy the outdoors while gaining different viewpoints. It’s also a great family activity that can build trust as you work through perceived fears, and become a relaxing form of exercise for outdoor lovers of all ages. So, why not give it a try?