Planning Your First Outdoor Rock Climbing Adventure

Some rock climbers are satisfied standing in line at the gym’s check-in desk, squinting to distinguish between colors of faded tape routes, and making do with overused rental gear. However, most climbers I know crave the freedom of the outdoors, the challenge of the uncertain terrain, and the serenity you can only find in the mountains.

So you and your friends have been scampering up the walls at your local rock climbing gym for awhile now, eh? There’s been some chatter about doing one of those outdoor climbing trips you all keep seeing posters about behind the check-in desk. With a little research and a lot of guts, you can be well on your way to your first outdoor summit. Here are a few things to consider…

LOCATION: SO WHERE DO YOU WANT TO CLIMB?

Some of the best rock climbing in the United States is in Kentucky, Colorado, California, and Utah. However, there is great climbing in unexpected areas, such as Southern Illinois and Western Pennsylvania. Discuss how far your group is willing to travel and how much time you have to spend on your climbing adventure. One of the best online resources to browse and find climbing in your area is Mountain Project.

SKILL LEVEL: BE HONEST, ARE YOU ANY GOOD?

Once you decide on a location, be sure to read about the terrain and conditions to determine if the location has routes that are within your skill level. If you like, you can go the old-school route and pick up a guide book to read all about the ratings, pitches, elevation, and comments from other climbers. Many guidebooks can be found on a Amazon.

If you’ve never climbed anything harder than a 5.7, you probably don’t want to take your first climbing trip to the Eiger. The important thing is to not be intimidated by outdoor climbing because the many mountains offer something for everyone at every skill level. Be mindful of each person in your group so that everyone can be challenged and enjoy themselves.

GUIDE COMPANIES: CORPORATE VS. LOCAL

There are usually several guide companies in popular climbing destinations. For your first few outdoor trips, you should definitely be accompanied by experienced climbing instructors. A simple Google search for climbing guide companies in your chosen destination is a great starting point. Some guide companies are more like corporate institutions that crank out guided tours on a daily basis. “Mom and pop shops” are family-owned small businesses that have made a living out of their passion.

Corporate guide companies generally have more informative websites, offer fixed rates with scheduled times, and guarantee certified guides.  Smaller family-owned guide companies can be friendlier to work with, more accommodating for groups schedules, and offer a more intimate glimpse into the climbing culture. After reviewing and comparing what a couple different guide websites have to offer, one member of your group should email or call the company directly to introduce your group and ask specific questions.

COST: NOT EXACTLY THE CHEAPEST SPORT IN THE WORLD

You should verify with the guide companies that you are researching if there are any discounts or additional costs based upon your group size. Most companies offer trips for half days, three-quarter days, full days, or multiple days. You should assess how hardcore your group is and what your overall budget allows. Does your crew have their own gear? If not, you will need to ask the guide companies about rental fees for climbing shoes, harnesses, carabiners, belay devices, chalk bags, and rope.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS? WHERE THE HECK WILL YOU SLEEP?

So you’ve gotten the details squared away!  You’ve picked your location, assessed your skill level, chosen your guide company, and selected the most cost-effective climbing package for your group’s needs. Congratulations, the hard part is over!

Now, does your group like to camp? Or would they rather stay at the Holiday Inn down the road for a soft bed and hot tub time after an exhausting day? By now, you probably know your climbing buddies well enough to answer these questions, but it never hurts to ask. Definitely make campsite and/or hotel reservations as soon as you’ve confirmed your location because no one wants to be homeless or sleeping in the car after conquering the world.

Once you’ve experienced climbing in the beauty and challenge of nature, I’m guessing you’ll find it as difficult as I did to drag yourself up to that check-in desk with your punch card and spell your last name three times until you’re located in the computer. Although organizing an outdoor trip for the first time can be intimidating, climbers tend to be the kind of people who are willing to offer useful tips and help guide you to immerse yourself into the sport and the culture.