65770696 477008372859564 8167562867732061738 n

Chris’s Guide to Rock Climbing

Get your draws ready

Welcome to our (soon to be) ultimate guide to rock climbing. Rock climbing is a huge topic, but I’m going to share with you all the knowledge you need to get you off the ground in this incredible adventure! If you don’t know when to use a quad anchor vs a sliding X  or if you don’t know how to pick out the right rope, this guide is for you.

 I’ve seen too many climbers at the gym or the crag who know little beyond what they can observe from others in the area and I want to change that. 

This guide is here to help you be more prepared for your next climbing adventure. It will teach you all the skills, knowledge, and techniques and give you the motivation you need to get you off the couch and on belay.

The guide is under development, so check back often as we add additional content.

Intro to Rock Climbing

Most of us as kids had a natural inclination to climb up and on top of all sorts of things. Just look at any playground and you’ll see ladders, chains, climbing walls, and all kinds of other objects designed specifically for climbing. Some of us never lose our natural desire to climb. I write this guide for all of you! Those of you who still want to go climb every rock and mountain are in the right place. Keep reading my vertical loving friends and learn more about this amazing sport. We’ll cover all the basics you need to get started at the local crag confidently and safely.

Yosemite Decimal Rating System (YDS)

The YDS was developed in the 1950s by the Sierra Club in California to help climbers and mountaineers know what they’re getting into before it’s too late. Here are the basic classes:

  • Class 1: Easy walking on a trail or level surface
  • Class 2: Hiking with steep hills or simple scrambling; occasional use of hands may be helpful
  • Class 3: Steep scrambling with some exposure; requires hands but may usually be descended facing outward
  • Class 4: Steep scrambling or simple climbing with exposure; must be descended facing inward but often does not require a rope
  • Class 5: Steep, technical climbing that requires a rope for protection

 Class 5 is where we spend most of our time as rock climbers and it’s subdivided into parts from 5.0 to 5.15. Ratings of 5.10 and above are subdivided again into 5.10a-d. Sometimes you’ll also see a + or – sign next to a route if it’s borderline in classification. 

In addition to these divisions, the YDS also grades routes based on the time a route is expected to take:

  • Grade I: 1-2 hours
  • Grade II: Less than half a day
  • Grade III: Half day
  • Grade IV: Full day
  • Grade V: 2-3 days
  • Grade VI: 4-6 days
  • Grade VII: 1 week or more

The last part of the YDS is the protection rating. The protection code indicates how well the route can be protected using gear and looks like movie ratings. 

  • G: Solid Protection 1-2 hours
  • PG: A few sections of poor or no gear placements.
  • PG13: Decent protection, maybe some long runout sections up to 13 feet, but not too risky if you fall.
  • R: Runout with limited protection, dangerous falls possible even with the best pro placements. 
  • X: No protection, extremely dangerous with fatal falls possible. 

Sometimes you’ll see stars or thumbs up ratings next to the YDS rating in guidebooks. This is a popularity or quality rating and isn’t a part of the YDS system, but can be helpful in deciding what route to send.

Climbing Vocabulary

Here are the basic terms used in the climbing world. You’ll hear many more terms, but this is a good start. 

  • Arete- The corner of a rock face. Can be sharp or rounded.
  • Ape Index– The ratio of your height to armspan.
  • Chipping– Using tools to alter or create holds. REALLY not good climbing style. 
  • Choss/Chossy– Rock that is not solid and likely to fall off under pressure. Rock like this is chossy.
  • Crater- To hit the ground when falling on lead.
  • Crimp/Crimper– A small hold that only accommodates the last joint of your handt. A hold like this is crimpy. Crimping is a method of holding onto a crimper where the climber places their thumb over the fingernail of the index finger to increase strength.
  • Crux- The hardest part of a route. If a route is rated 5.10c, at least one move on the route is of 5.10c difficulty; that move is the crux. That move is cruxy.
  • Deck/Deck out- To hit the ground when falling on lead.
  • Dirty– A section where the rock is not washed clean by water or human use. Gullies and corners are often dirty. Dirty sections can be dangerous.
  • Finger pocket/Monopocket- A hold that only accommodates one or two fingers. If only one finger, it is called a monopocket. 
  • Flag/Flagging– Placing your foot against the rock to counterbalance against swinging. You don’t need a hold to flag.
  • Flake – (1. noun 2. verb) 1. A thin, plate-like outcropping of rock; generally provides good handholds; 2. To uncoil a rope into a pile on the ground in order to prevent kinkage and knots getting in the way of the belay during a climb.
  • Knuckle Dragger- A climber with a high Ape Index, i.e., long arms.
  • Jug- A very large hold.
  • Picnic stop– A rest that doesn’t require use of your hands.
  • Pinch– A hold with no horizontal elements that has distinct vertical elements. You pinch (v.), or grip, a pinch (n.) by placing the fingers on one side and the thumb on the other. 
  • Positive- A hold that is good or easy to hold on to is positive.
  • Pumped/Pumpy– The state of being exhausted from climbing to the point of fear of falling. A section that makes you feel like this is pumpy.
  • Rap– Short for rappel.
  • Sandbagged– A route rated easier than it actually is is sandbagged.
  • Sharp End- The end of the rope that goes up first. When you are leading a route, you are on the sharp end. 
  • Slab/Slabby- A section of un-featured rock that is less than vertical. Usually slabs have very few features and require a specific style of climbing. Slabby sections are on slabs.
  • Sloper/Slopey- A large hold with no horizontal elements, so the climber relies mostly on skin friction to hold on. A hold like this is slopey.
  • Dihedral- Two faces that form an angle to each other, like an open book. Dihedrals can also be curved.
  • Splitter- Adjective or noun. A crack with mostly parallel sides with no other holds around. The crack ‘splits’ a smooth face.
  • Stem/Stemming– Using both arms and legs on two separate faces to hold the body up. Imagine placing your feet on either side of a narrow hallway…
  • Whipper- A fall, usually big, when climbing on lead.
Climbing Gear
  • rock climbing rope Ropes – Rock climbing ropes come in a few different varieties that are designed for specific scenarios. Most gym, toprope, or sport climbers will want a dynamic rope of moderate diameter to add durability. Ropes come in single, double, and twin; dynamic, semi-static, and static; dry and wet; and numerous other varieties.
  • rock climbing harness Harnesses – Harnesses also come in many varieties, but a modern sport climbing harness will work for almost any climbing scenario. If you get into more specialized types of climbing like big wall or alpine climbing, you’ll want a more specific harness, but a sport harness will do. Just be sure you know how to use it properly.
  • rock climbing helmet Helmets – Rock climbing helmets are pretty easy to get right as long as you get one that’s UIAA certified. Find one that’s comfortable and fits you well and you’ll be fine. You can get a ultralight helmet later when you decide to take on bigger objectives. 
  • 71mAM87ZbwL. SL1500 Carabiners – Any outdoor climber is going to need at least a handfull of carabiners, both locking and non-locking. Any well-known brand makes good, reliable carabiners. Just be sure not to get any carabiner not specifically designed for climbing. Hardware store biners won’t do the job. 
  • Belay Devices – Belay devices come in a few styles. Tube style devices are the most common and are versatile enough to be used just about anywhere. An assisted braking device such as a Grigri can be the next step up from a tube style device, but I recommend not getting an assisted braking device until you’re comfortable with the tubular device. 
  •  Protection – Rock climbing protection comes in a variety of styles and types, but the general idea is that protection is a way for you to secure your rope, yourself, and the climbing system to the wall. Nuts, cams, and hexes are most commonly used, but many specialized pro can be purchased for various applications. Don’t worry about purchasing protection until you’ve figured out the basics. It’s expensive and most useful by someone who knows principles of anchor building and rope dynamics.
  •  Shoes – Rock climbing shoes are essential to anyone wanting to climb seriously and will improve your climbing abilities instantly. Pick a comfortable but snug shoe. You don’t want extra space in the toe box. For your first pair of climbing shoes, get one that’s not too aggressive and it will be more comfortable to wear all day at the gym or the crag.
  •  Belay Gloves – Belay gloves are totally optional but make it much easier to belay or rappel without getting rope burn or getting your hands all dirty from the rope. Pick a pair designed for belaying and they’ll have a hole to clip a biner to, but any pair of leather gloves will work.
  •  Chalk and Chalk Bags – Chalk is optional as well, but can be very helpful if you tend to get sweaty hands when you work out or when you get nervous. You’ll be doing both when rock climbing. The chalk improves your grip on the rock. You don’t need much but having it can make the difference between topping out and lowering early.
  •  Slings – Slings are useful for connecting all kinds of things while climbing and you should get a few 120 cm (double length) slings to have handy when you need to extend a draw or an anchor.
  •  Prusiks & Accessory Cord – Prusiks are loops of accessory cord set up for quick use in rappelling or other scenarios where you need a “third hand” to hold the rope tight i n case you lose control or need to lock off. Accessory cord is a 6 or 7 mm diameter nylon cord that’s useful for all kinds of things, but mostly you’ll use it as an anchor material to build quad anchors, cordolette anchors, or other rigs.
  •  Webbing – Webbing is useful for building ground anchors, safety anchors on a toprope route, or other anchors. I like to carry at least 50 feet of webbing with me so I have many anchor options at the top of a cliff.
Managing Risk

Risk is inescapable for anyone who ventures into the vertical world. Faulty equipment, improper equipment use, ill fitting equipment, falling from heights, blows to the head, exposure to the elements, inexperienced climbers or others in the area, injury from falling or belaying, and animal encounters are all real risks you’ll encounter any time you go climbing outdoors.

Knowing how to recognize and mitigate risk makes a potentially dangerous activity, relatively safe. Take time to study the potential risks you’ll encounter at the crag and learn steps to reduce the risks. Here are some tools you’ll need to keep risks from becoming dangers. 

  • Learning how to do trip research by finding beta
  • Climbing site selection
  • Proper training on all gear and systems being used
  • Use of checklists at routine times to asses risk
  • Continual vigilance while climbing

If you’re prepared for the situations you may encounter while climbing you’ll be ready to mitigate all the risks you could encounter and climbing will remain a relatively safe activity for you for many years.
Every climber needs to know how and when to tie and assess a set of knots for each of the various situations you could encounter during climbing. Learn to tie the following knots by memory. Learn when the right and wrong time to use them is and learn how to inspect each one to ensure it’s tied correctly no matter who tied it.

  • Figure Eight Retrace
  • Figure Eight on a Bight
  • Double Loop Figure Eight
  • Clove Hitch
  • Munter Hitch
  • Munter Mule
  • Prusik Hitch
  • Girth Hitch
  • Basket Hitch
  • Alpine Butterfly Knot
  • Overhand on a Bight
  • Choke Hitch

Whatever type of climbing you’re doing, a primary element is proper anchoring of the rope system to the wall. In top rope climbing, the anchor is set at the top of the cliff. It often uses pre-placed bolts, but not always. You may end up needing to anchor on a nearby rock feature, trees, or even a car bumper. know how and when each is correct and how to set up an anchor to achieve the best rope line you can.

On sport routes, you’ll be using pre-placed bolts and hangars, but knowing how to connect to them while hanging off the side of the cliff is paramount to a safe descent.

On trad or multi-pitch routes, you’ll need a whole different set of anchor skills including placing directional gear and setting up for rope management and multiple climber scenarios. 

I hope to teach you all about these anchor components here at Adventure School. We’ll start with basics.

  • Types of Anchors
  • Building anchors by the book and in the field
  • Bolt and Chain Anchors
  • Natural Anchors
  • Artificial Anchors
  • Placing trad gear for anchors
  • Directional anchors

Belaying is a key component of any rock climbing. To be a good climber, you must be a good belayer. Learn all these basics of belaying in this article:Belaying: Everything A Beginner Needs To Know

  • Physics of Belaying
  • Tying in to Belay
  • PBUS Belaying Method
  • Rope Management
  • Lowering a Climber
  • Climbing Commands & Communication
  • Belaying Tips
Toprope climbing

Most climbers just starting out learn at the gym or outdoors on a top rope setup. This is the right way to learn rock climbing, but it still requires that you know what you’re doing. That’s why I put together the Top Rope Climbing: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide. In it you’ll learn all about the following:

  • Tying in to Climb
  • Basic Climbing Techniques and Movements
  • Staying Safe on the Wall
  • Lowering After Completing the Route
  • Belaying
  • And more
Additional Skills

Come back and as I have time, I’ll be adding more content about all the following topics:

Recent Articles on Rock Climbing

Additional climbing resources I love and use often

climbing magazine

Climbing Magazine is a great all-around resource for all things climbing.


Rockclimbing.com is another great all-around resource for learning about climbing and getting involved in the online community.


Mountain Project is produced by REI. It’s my number one go-to site for climbing beta. I have the app on my phone so I can get beta when I’m at the crag.

training beta

Training beta is a site dedicated to nothing but rock climbing training and fitness.

adventure junkies logo

The Adventure Junkies is a great site with lots of content related to climbing as well as other adventure sports.

evening sends logo

Evening Sends is a typical climbing counter-culture site that stands for all things dirtbag. They share entertaining climbing stories and news.

copy cropped AMGA web logo header

AMGA is the definitive resource for climbing best practices and skills.


Petzl is a climbing gear manufacturer I like to buy gear from. There are others, but Petzl also has great content on their site.

Rock Climbing products I love

Want to test your adventure skills?
Take the Adventure Skills Assessment now to find out if you have the right skills and knowledge to adventure safely and confidently.
Want to test your adventure skills?
Take the Adventure Skills Assessment now to find out if you have the right skills and knowledge to adventure safely and confidently.
Scroll to Top