Why Hiring a Guide Is The Best Way To Start Rock Climbing

Max Lurie is an AMGA certified Rock and Alpine Guide, as well as an accomplished alpinist. Max has been climbing since 2004 and traveling to the world's greatest mountain ranges in pursuit of his passion.
Written by
Max Lurie

Learning how to start rock climbing has become increasingly sought after as the sport has become more and more popular over the past few decades. 

Back in the 60s and 70s at the beginning of American rock climbing movement in Yosemite, it was a counter-culture and fringe sport. An extreme activity for the brave and depraved that few people know about much less took seriously. 

Since the First ascent of El Capitan in 1958 by Wayne Merry, Warren Harding and George Whitmore (which took a mind-numbing 47 days on the wall, compared to the modern-day speed record of 1 hour 58 min and 7 seconds by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell in 2018) a lot has been learned in the past 60 years that has pushed the sport forward. 

With climbing in the Olympics and climbing gyms becoming popular in mainstream athletics, the sport has gone through a series of transformations. With the help of professional coaches and modern training methodologies young talented climbers are breaking records left and right. 

But even with all that advancement, learning how to start rock climbing is still fundamentally different from other activities. 

Ernest Hemingway once famously said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” 

Unfortunately, people die while climbing every year, and many more are seriously injured. It is an inherently dangerous pursuit and as such is distinctly different from more traditional “sports”. 

That being said, it is also deeply rewarding and fulfilling for those who participate in any form of climbing or mountaineering. 

Don’t you owe it to yourself to get the proper training and mentorship from a certified guide? Someone to show you the ropes and how to use them properly as you learn how to start rock climbing? 

What To Know Before You Begin Learning To Rock Climb 

Photo of man climbing the flatirons in Boulder, CO

One of the greatest things about rock climbing is that it can be so many different things to so many different people. 

Even under the discipline of rock climbing, there are a multitude of sub-categories and lots of terminologies to learn. It can be quite overwhelming and discouraging for any newcomer. 

Here are a few distinctions you should know before you embark on learning how to rock climb.

The vast majority of climbing is called free climbing which means that the climber uses their hands and feet to ascend the rock. However, a rope is used in case the climber falls, but it isn’t used for upward progress. 

Free climbing without a rope is called free soloing, which is very different and incredibly dangerous.

How To Start Rock Climbing 

Most people start their rock climbing careers in the climbing gym because that eliminates most variables. It is also likely the most easily accessible jumping-off point into the sport to begin learning how to start rock climbing and lends itself to a busy life. 

Bouldering is the simplest form of climbing because it deploys the use of thick pads that cushion the climber when they fall. 

Needless to say, this form of climbing doesn’t allow the climber to go very high off the ground. But it does allow you to get familiar with the movement of rock climbing. 

However, because bouldering is so condensed it is often very hard and discouraging for beginners. 

The next step would be to learn how to top rope. 

This requires some infrastructure and a climbing partner. Basically, the climber is attached to a rope that goes up, through an anchor and back down to their partner or belayer. As the climber goes up the belayer pulls in rope until they are ready to be lowered from the top.

The Benefits Of Hiring a Guide When You Start Rock Climbing 

Photo of Max Lurie providing rock climbing instruction in Boulder, CO

You Will Learn How To Rock Climb The Right Way 

In rock climbing, context and application of skills or techniques reins supreme. 

Learning how, when and most importantly why to do certain things is critically important for your safety. 

Hiring a guide or instructor when you are first learning how to start rock climbing is an excellent way to develop those skills. They will be able to show you the necessary skills to perform at whatever level you desire. 

With enough training and experience, you can take your climbing to new heights.

You Will Learn How To Rock Climb Faster 

Sure the legendary climbers of the 50s and 60s invented many techniques and equipment to help them scale the cliffs of the world. 

But that was a long long time ago. 

We can stand on the shoulders of giants and learn the lessons of those who came before us. By hiring a climbing guide you’ll shortcut the trial and error of the past. You will learn modern rock climbing techniques to get you climbing with more confidence.

Ensure A Safe Experience 

Climbing is inherently dangerous, especially when we are learning a new technique or practicing something we haven’t done before. 

By doing that under the direct supervision of a trained and certified guide you’ll get invaluable feedback and insights that will positively change your climbing career forever.

How a Rock Climbing Guide Can Help More Experienced Climbers 

Rock climbing is a sport, hobby, lifestyle and obsession for a lot of people. For many people, it is something that they do for their entire lives. 

As such they are constantly pushing themselves either physically or with new disciplines. Having a mentor who knows you and your goals will help facilitate that process. 

No matter what level you are at, a talented rock climbing guide will be able to help you get to the next level more easily. By developing a long-term relationship with someone who you trust, you can more comfortably push the boundaries of your rock climbing.

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Start Rock Climbing 

Rock climbing can be extremely enjoyable and rewarding even though it has some serious technical components and consequences. Those things don’t have to hold you back, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. 

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions regarding to how to start rock climbing. 

Is Rock Climbing Hard for Beginners? 

Yes, and also maybe no. 

It really depends on what your previous level of athletic ability is and what you are attempting to climb. There is climbing for everyone and everybody. 

Hiring a guide is an excellent way to find your baseline abilities as a climber. They will give you some pointers and you’ll be amazed at how fast you can pick up the basics.

Is It Better To First Start at an Indoor Rock Climbing Gym? 

Most people have their first rock climbing experience in the gym because of convenience. 

However, this isn't necessary, it is completely ok to have your first rock climbing experience outside. 

Of course, you’ll want to have someone to set up the ropes for you and teach you the necessary basics to stay safe. 

Can You Teach Yourself How To Start Rock Climbing? 

There is nothing stopping you from learning how to climb on your own. Many educational books, websites and social media accounts have some really high-quality content. 

However, nothing is a substitute for actual experiential education. 

All the theory in the world cannot replace the context or nuances of certain skills or techniques.

How Long Does It Take To Get Good At Rock Climbing? 

It really depends on what your goals are. People can spend an entire lifetime trying to climb harder and more challenging routes. 

However, most people of moderate athletic abilities will find that they progress relatively quickly. Until they reach a plateau or difficulty that requires significantly more effort to overcome. 

This is partly one of the most rewarding parts of climbing. To climb something that you previously thought impossible. 

Can Climbing With More Experienced Friends Replace The Need For a Rock Climbing Guide? 

No. Climbing with more experienced friends is great and will afford you an excellent opportunity to accumulate experience that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to at your level. 

However, your friends might be talented enough to seem like they know what they are doing, but where did they get those skills from? How old are the practices they are employing? Just because they are confident and seem to know what they are doing doesn’t mean they are good educators or that they do truly understand the principles at play. 

Be skeptical and ask questions often. If your friends cannot answer why they do something a particular way that makes sense to you that is a red flag. 

It is best to get an independent education from a certified guide so that way you can contribute new and efficient techniques to your friend group.

Final Thoughts 

Rock climbing is a deeply rewarding activity that can help you in many arenas of life outside of the vertical world. To ensure that you get the most out of your experience, hiring a guide early on in your climbing career will greatly benefit you. 

Developing the basic skills and having the confidence to know that your education is backed by a certified guide will accelerate your climbing. 

Learning how to start rock climbing is challenging and hard enough - don’t make it any harder on yourself.

If you have any additional questions about how to start rock climbing, please contact me at info@alpinetothemax.com so that I can answer them for you.

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