If you’re wanting to visit a climbing wall for the first time – do! Centres are very welcoming of beginners and staff are usually enthusiastic climbers, eager to share their love of climbing. This blog includes lots of information for someone wanting to visit a climbing centre for the first time.
Junior climbers will need to be accompanied by an adult until the age of 14, after this age the climber can register themselves. The supervising adult will need to show that they are competent and understand the safety rules of the centre, and there will be a registration system. Many centres allow registration in advance via online forms, others need to be completed in person. Usually this will also involve receiving instruction or watching a video and answering questions to show that the safety aspects and centre rules have been understood. Some centres may do a simple verbal quiz for bouldering to check knowledge.
For roped-climbing there is usually a practical assessment to show that the adult is capable of putting on a harness, tying in a rope, can demonstrate the ability to belay, lower and arrest a fall. For those who don’t have this knowledge, centres offer induction sessions, sometimes for a small fee, to get up to this level. For this reason, unless confident of passing, it maybe better to register in advance of going to climb.
Don’t let this put anyone off, it’s just to keep everyone safe as all forms of climbing are classed as dangerous sports due to the potential risk of injury. The BMC has a participation statement that is quite blunt in this respect. However, as long as the safety rules are followed and care is taken to be aware of dangers in the centre, it’s a safe, fun sport. Don’t walk under climbers, be aware of what’s happening around you, falling has risks so climb down where possible and behave safely.
Equipment to take
We’ve written blogs on equipment needed for indoor bouldering and roped climbing, though for a first visit most centres will be able to rent or provide you with everything you need to just have a go. The exception would be for lead climbing where centres will require you to provide your own rope.
Some centres require helmets for under 14s, some say this is at parent’s discretion. Usually no helmet is allowed for bouldering or auto-belays but rules do vary by centre. Where helmets are required they are often loaned out free of charge.
In the Centre
Cost of entry varies between around £5 to £12 depending on the centre, the types of climbing or peak/off-peak time. Most centres also offer forms of membership or monthly payment options, which can work out cheaper for regular visits.
Facilities do vary between centres, some specialise in bouldering so may not have any roped climbing. Some will have at least a few auto-belays to allow climbers to clip in and climb roped routes without a partner to belay. Top roped routes will have ropes already attached to just tie in to.
Most climbing centres have climbing gym area. These may look like walls covered in holds with no colour scheme (that’s a training board), contain some gym equipment and other things like finger boards or lattice boards. These areas shouldn’t be used without prior instruction as done incorrectly they can result in injury. Children are not usually allowed in these areas or only with an accompanying adult.
Children’s climbing is very popular and many centres will have a special area set with children’s climbs. These will be easier routes, set so that even younger children can reach and drops will be lower. Many make it fun and include slides or other play equipment. Children should still be supervised.
Centres will have changing areas but some may also offer full shower facilities. Most have shops or at least sell a few basics that you might need. Lots have cafes – climbers seem to like nice smoothies, coffee and cake, judging by what they all sell.
Where to start?
Looking around it may be tricky to get an idea of where to start, but first warm up! From the first climb the body will be ask to stretch and pull and hold in directions it’s not used to. From the ground it might look easy, but little used muscles will suddenly be under intense strain during a climb and so it is essential to fully warm up.
Next find a board with how routes are marked and graded. It may look like the one in the picture. In bouldering centres there is usually a key based on hold colours or tags. For roped climbs a plaque at the bottom of the routes will indicated what grades the climbs are. For a first visit, start with low numbers. The lower the number, the easier the route.
In a bouldering centre the start and finish holds are marked. Start by having hands and feet on the holds, then touching only the wall or the correctly coloured route holds work up to having both hands on the final hold. That’s it, the route is completed.
Work up and find a level that is something almost achievable – a bit of challenge is fun, too much challenge is frustrating.
Alternatively, start by making up a few routes and just having a go. Get to know how it feels and become comfortable with dropping on to the mat (or climbing back down).
Expect to be tired after climbing each route, so take it easy and rest lots. It’s very easy to over-exercise whilst climbing and then cause injury. Taking it easy with breaks, a snack/coffee and completing 10 routes might take 2-3 hours.
Note the layout and see where the walkways are. They’re usually marked. Walking off this path may take you under climbers overhead who have no control over where they land if they fall. Therefore to keep everyone safe, stick to the paths and never, ever walk between a belayer and the wall. Remember belayers are looking up at the climber they’re responsible for keeping safe, they probably have no idea where you are if they need to move quickly to arrest a drop.
Climbers are a really friendly bunch who will talk to anyone about climbing and holds and routes and absolutely anything climbing related. However, don’t interrupt people in full concentration mode, belayers or anyone on the wall – otherwise anyone else is usually fair game if you have a question or need help.
Climbing centres don’t generally have formal queues. Climbers will find an interesting route that no one else is trying and have a go. If other climbers are on a route you want to use, wait for them to finish or join their group. At least half the time whilst climbing is actually spent sat on a mat, staring at a wall or chatting with other climbers about how to do a route so, work out the rotation and ask to have a go. In some centres routes cross – this is like sharing, don’t start a route someone else is likely to cross – take turns.
Climbing is great exercise, fun, sociable and friendly. The rules may seem strict, but they are there to keep everyone safe – they just want you to be able to come back and love it as much as they do.