Imagine yourself at a climbing wall: you head straight up, carefully grasping each handhold and foothold, a rope connecting a harness around your hips to a pulley above. The only problem: you don’t know who’s going to be on the ground holding the other end of that rope. And so, like many would-be climbers, you stay home. Alone.
But you don’t really need a partner before you head to the gym. Besides bringing somebody to hold and operate your rope—a simple but critical skill known as belaying—you have other options. Here are four ways to get into climbing even if you know zero other climbers:
1. Start with bouldering. Bouldering doesn’t require a rope, because you’re never very far off the ground. (There are mats on the floor, just in case.) You may like it well enough that you forget all about looking for a belaying partner. The bouldering area typically contains marked routes, or “problems,” that you’re supposed to figure out. Try, fall off, rest your arms a minute, and then try again. In between attempts, try chatting with other people who are doing the same. They’ll help you figure out ways to climb, while also setting you up for the next tip:
2. Make friends. Once you’re at the climbing gym, try talking to the people who are there. If somebody looks bored, ask if they’ll belay you, or vice versa. If you’ve never belayed, the gym will probably require you to take a class or lesson first, and you can also meet people during that class or ask your instructor for tips on approaching the regulars.
3. Find a gym with auto-belay. Some gyms have an auto-belay machine that will hold on to your rope and let you down slowly if you fall. You’re on your own when you use it, though; if you forget to clip in, you don’t have a partner who will notice and stop you.
4. Find a group or a class. If your gym offers a climbing class, take advantage, and meet people! You can also look for Facebook groups or meetups online, so you can make friends before you go.
Every climbing gym I’ve been to has felt like a pretty social place (especially the bouldering areas), with people chatting and happily belaying each other. It’s not considered weird to go alone, either. Before your first trip, check out the gym’s website, or call ahead, to find out if they have a large bouldering area or if they offer group classes. Then head off on your own, and have fun!
(Author: Beth Skwarecki)