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How to Climb

The First Sport – Getting a Grip on that Thing We Do

“There are only three sports—mountain climbing, bull fighting and motor racing—all others being games.”

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“There are only three sports—mountain climbing, bull fighting and motor racing—all others being games.” Ernest Hemingway wrote
that a half-century ago, when climbing as we know it didn’t even exist. Nevertheless, while equipment, technique and even the medium we climb have changed, the spirit of climbing has endured, making Hemingway’s observation as relevant today as it was back then.

Welcome to our updated How To Climb, the third edition to climbing instruction by the editors of Rock and Ice. This manual was first published in 1994, updated and republished in 2005, and updated again in 2016 with an eye toward how most climbers are now entering the sport (through a gym), and how gym climbers can make the move to real rock.

Rock climbing is a diverse sport. Whether you’re psyched about tackling a big wall of golden granite or simply amped to mash crimpers on a steep boulder problem in the gym, you’ll accelerate your learning curve by studying this tome.

As you’ve probably surmised, clawing up cliffs can be dangerous if you aren’t versed in the basics of rope management, gear and rigging. Not only will this guide help you hone your physique with chapters on training and technique, it will help you cover your butt through detailed  instruction on knots, gear, belaying, leading and rappelling. And if you’re just starting out, it will prepare you to crush plastic in the gym.

Of course, no guide, however detailed and well-written, can substitute for experience. Only by taking these techniques and tips to the crag, or to the
gym if that is where you prefer to climb, can you truly hope to glean the savvy and wisdom necessary to master this most excellent sport.

Climbing, like swimming and writing, is a broad activity that can be distilled into specialized disciplines. At its core, climbing is “going up.” The mediums we choose to ascend, along with the tools and techniques we use for the climb, comprise the specifics. It’s natural to focus on just one or two areas of climbing. You may be the type who enjoys fast movement in the mountains, and will want to focus your energy on less technical peaks, where you won’t be slowed by equipment and difficulty. Perhaps you enjoy the exposure and grandeur of living on a big wall for days, toiling upward ever so slowly, piecing together a route by aid-climbing from one incipient crack to another. For some, the athletic challenge of a hard boulder problem may be the ticket.

Rarely do we see a climber who excels at a high level in all disciplines; climbing is simply too challenging and complex for most to master every aspect. However, the varied disciplines keep the sport interesting and our psyche up. There’s always somewhere new to go, or something bigger or harder to explore. Upwards!

Next Types of Climbing