How To Learn To Rock Climb In Colorado

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

One of the greatest things about learning how to rock climb is that it can mean be a great many different things to a great many different people. 

It is a lifelong hobby that can change as you grow and change yourself. Many people have found meaning and purpose in their climbing. Learning how to rock climbing can also help us confront things like insecurity, anxiety, and depression and is a great form of physical activity. 

With all those great benefits, it is surprising that more people don’t climb. Getting into the sport and learning how to rock climb safely presents its own challenges. In this article, I will shed light on a few key points to help you get started. 

A Quick Overview of The Different Types of Rock Climbs Available In Colorado

Photo of a man rock climbing in Boulder County, Colorado

Indoor Rock Climbing 

While Colorado has its fair share of outdoor venues that make it a perfect place to learn how to rock climb, it is also fast becoming a hub for indoor rock climbing facilities as well. 

Be it either the convenience that works with people's busy lifestyles or the training benefit of a dedicated climbing facility, climbing gyms are an excellent place for your first experience to help you learn how to rock climb. 

Generally speaking, climbing gyms offer a much more friendly and easier access for someone looking to learn how to rock climb by having their first climbing experience indoors than trying to get outside. 

Especially because you can arrive with minimal to no experience and still participate.


The simplest form of rock climbing is bouldering. This involves no ropes at all, but don’t worry because you won't be going very high either. 

The movement of bouldering is protected by thick specifically engineered crash pads or mattresses that catch the climber when they fall. This is also the least gear or knowledge intensive climbing discipline because it only requires rock climbing shoes to participate. 

Bouldering can also be done alone, while all other forms of climbing require a competent partner. 

However, because bouldering is such a condensed form of climbing it is often very difficult to complete a route. This can be discouraging or frustrating to newcomers looking to learn the basics.

Top Rope Climbing 

The first form of climbing that requires ropes and the basic knowledge of how to use them for safety, is top rope climbing. 

As its name suggests, a top rope is a rope draped through an anchor with both ends on the ground. A top rope is already installed before anyone leaves the ground. 

It is a team sport that requires two participants; a climber and a belayer. The belayer holds the rope and pulls in slack as the climber progresses up the wall towards the anchor at the top. 

Once the climber reaches the top or whenever they’d like to come down, they simply sit back on the rope and the belayer lowers them back down. Top roping requires a harness, belay device, rock shoes and the knowledge of how to belay/tie into a rope. 

A quick class at a climbing gym will teach you these basic skills and have you climbing in no time at all.

Lead Climbing 

For people who haven’t been bouldering/top roping for a while, lead climbing incurs a bit more risk. 

That risk also offers a higher reward in the completion of leading a route. As opposed to top roping where the rope is already at the top of a climb, in lead climbing the rope starts at the bottom. 

As the climber progresses up the while they clip the rope into intermediate anchor points. Moving above those points means that the leader can take a larger fall depending on how far above they are from their last protection. 

Lead belaying and lead climbing requires significant movement skills as well as technical knowledge to adequately protect oneself while climbing.

4 Steps To Learn To Rock Climb in Colorado

Photo of someone climbing in Boulder, Colorado

Unlike lots of other traditional sports, learning how to rock climb doesn’t necessarily have a linear progression through the sport. 

Sure, there is a lot of basic knowledge that crosses sub-disciplines of the sport. But there are professional-level sponsored athletes for every discipline who might not even know how to safely participate in other sub-disciplines. 

For example, an elite-level boulderer will likely never learn how to ice climb or become a mountaineer. 

From climbing gyms to outdoor venues, Colorado offers everything anyone would need to learn how to rock climb and become an avid rock climber pursuing the sport for a large portion of the year.

Step #1 - Try Out Rock Climbing at a Local Indoor Rock Climbing Gym

For many people climbing at a gym is enough to fulfill their vertical ambitions. 

This is absolutely fine as the climbing gym is convenient, has air conditioning and regularly changes out the routes for new ones so you never get bored. 

Even for people who often climb outside, the gym is where they train. Learning to climb at a climbing gym is a great way to test the waters and see how much you want to invest in this new activity.

Once you learn the basics in a climbing gym, it is also a great place to meet other climbers.

Step #2 - Find a Certified Rock Climbing Guide 

For many people learning how to rock climb and becoming a proficient climber is a way to enjoy physical activity outside. But in order to do that some basic knowledge is necessary. 

Unlike the climbing gym where everything is already set up for you, if you go outside you’ll be responsible for those things yourself. To either learn how to become self-sufficient or to hire someone else to do it for you, you’ll need a rock climbing guide

Finding a guide is a bit like hiring any other professional for a job, you’ll want to make sure they are a certified guide from the American Mountain Guides Association

This ensures that you are getting the best possible experience and instruction. You’ll also want to find someone whose personality you get along with because you will be spending time recreating with them.

Read: 4 Tips For Making The Most Out of a Guided Rock Climbing Experience

Step #3 - Choose What Type of Climbing To Pursue 

You certainly don’t have to pursue all the different forms of rock climbing. 

In fact, most people have a specific focus like bouldering, sport climbing, traditional climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing etc… 

Although lots of people participate in multiple sub-categories of climbing, I generally suggest that everyone try the different types of climbing at least once or twice before deciding. 

Lots of the different disciplines are also great cross training for other climbing goals as well. 

Some people have specific mountains or objectives in mind that they are working towards, other people want to climb harder grades that aren’t attached to a specific mountain.

Step #4 - Get Out There and Do It

The best part about any form of climbing is the discovery. Discovery of the world around us and discovery of our own internal landscape. 

The process of climbing is why people participate, it isn’t standing on top of a mountain, but the reward of tackling a previously impossible challenge. 

Going to the climbing gym to hone techniques and climbing outside on the weekends is what most people are able to do, besides the occasional longer trip.

Frequently Asked Questions About Learning How To Rock Climb

Photo of person climbing in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado

Learning how to rock climb can be an intimidating proposition. However, it doesn’t have to be. 

By finding the discipline(s) of climbing that best suits you, you can have a wonderful and prolific climbing career.

Can You Teach Yourself to Rock Climb?

To a certain extent, you can teach yourself to rock climb. There are many resources out there in the form of books, online videos, websites, and guides sharing content on social media. 

However, many of the fundamental concepts have context and nuances that will be lost without direct experiential education. By hiring a certified guide you will drastically accelerate your climbing career. 

Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport and you owe it to yourself to learn how to do it safely and with care from an expert.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Rock Climbing? 

How long it will take to learn how to rock climb really depends on what time of climbing you are trying to learn.

In order to learn the basics of climbing and enjoy a few routes, it is quite quick. It only takes an hour or two to get someone top rope climbing. 

This makes climbing quite accessible to everyone with minimal investment.

Do You Need To Be Strong To Rock Climb? 

When we think of climbing we think of shirtless muscular dudes flexing in front of a massive rock wall. 

The reality is very different and climbing is for everyone. 

There are blind climbers, climbers missing an arm or a leg and also paraplegic climbers. 

Everyone can climb at their own level. That being said we do often think of strong upper body strength is necessary for climbing, however, a lot of the strength and stability comes from our legs and lower body.

Is Rock Climbing a Safe Sport To Learn?

Yes and no, rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. There are always variables outside of our control that can cause us injury or worse. The type of climbing we engage in and the style in which we do it will be dictated by our individual risk acceptance threshold. 

In recent years climbing has exploded in popularity and this is in part to advances in technologies to make it safer. Modern ropes, carabiners, harnesses and belay devices are all incredibly resilient. Often the weakest link is human error or the misuse of equipment. Many of the double checks we do before climbing are to catch our mistakes before anything bad happens.

Who Can Learn To Rock Climb?

Anyone and everyone can learn to rock climb. It is as simple as that.

What Gear Do You Need To Begin Rock Climbing?

The equipment needed to climb depends on the type of climbing you’ll be doing. For example, bouldering only requires rock shoes and a chalk bag. 

For anyone who has learned how to rock climb and is going to be out climbing on a consistent basis, I would suggest buying your own rock shoes, harness, belay device, helmet, and chalk bag. 

Is Hiring a Guide Necessary To Learn How To Rock Climb? 

Hiring a guide is not necessary to learn how to rock climb, plenty of folks have done it on their own. 

However, it will give you peace of mind that you are getting the best education you can on the topic. 

Rock climbing isn’t something you want to take shortcuts on because it can have serious consequences. Most people certainly don’t hire a guide every time they go climbing, but doing so to become a self-sufficient climber is highly advisable.

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

Final Thoughts 

Hopefully, that explained a lot and answered many of your questions about learning how to rock climb. 

Most importantly climbing should be fun, it is an enjoyable experience even if at times it is a serious struggle. If you have any other questions or want to get rock climbing instruction in the gym or outside please contact me at and let’s get you climbing.

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