If you’re a climber—whether you remember it or not—you had a first day. Maybe it felt natural and fun right away. Or maybe it was miserable but something about it still captured your attention and you gave it another try. And the person who took you out on your first day climbing likely had a big influence on your experience, which is something to keep in mind when you’re introducing other friends to climbing for the first time. So if you want to share your love of climbing and build your group of belay buddies, here are five things to avoid doing on their first day of climbing.
Don’t: Try to take them up a more difficult route.
It might be tempting to bring your friend on a more difficult route, something you think might be more fun (for you), especially if it looks like people are queuing up for the routes with easier grades.
Try this instead: Make it a priority to go out or to the gym at a less crowded time. Easier climbs can get crowded quickly. But it’s worth the time and effort to climb something more straightforward if it can help your friend feel comfortable and successful at the end of the day, instead of frustrated at flailing on a route that’s not beginner friendly.
Don’t: Wait until they’re halfway up a pitch, or all the way to the top, to explain how they’re going to get down.
Try this instead: Go over belaying and lowering, along with the basics of how the anchor works before your friend starts up the wall. It might be difficult for them to comprehend until they’re in the moment, but it’s better to give them an idea of what to expect while you’re still standing next to them than try to shout it to them from the bottom of a crowded crag or gym.
Don’t: Expect them to be comfortable weighting the rope right away.
When you’ve been climbing so long that yelling “take,” falling and weighting the rope feels like second nature, it’s easy to forget how unsettling that sensation can be for someone who’s never experienced it before.
Try this instead: Ease them into trusting the rope.
While you’re both on the ground, explain how it will feel when they weight the rope. Remind them that dynamic ropes are designed to stretch to absorb the impact of a falling climber. Then, when they’re only a little ways off the ground, you can talk them through putting their weight on the rope, feeling it sag, and then feeling it support their weight. You may also consider having them practice walking their feet up to waist level and then pushing away from the wall with their feet, letting go with their hands and stepping to the left or right a little to grasp what it will feel like when they reach the top of the pitch and then lower from the anchor.
Don’t: Spray them with nonstop beta if they don’t ask for it.
We’re not talking about safety instructions and belayer communication here. We’re talking about those little technique tips you’ve picked up over time: for example, how to shift your weight for that sloper or when to gaston. Constantly offering tiny bits of instruction is an easy way to confuse or frustrate a beginner.
Try this instead: Tell them to ask you for help when they feel stuck, and you can help them with ideas of how to move their body upward more easily.
If your friend is climbing for the first time, they likely don’t have the body awareness or strength to make many of the moves you might be comfortable with. If the route is sufficiently easy and straightforward, their hand-and-foot instincts should mostly carry them up the wall. Eliminate the word “just” from your vocabulary for the day. As in, “Just grab that jug that looks just out of reach,” or “Just kneebar then you can just mantle onto that tiny ledge.”
Don’t: Get summit fever.
Climbing has a clear objective: to get to the top. But pushing someone to keep going when they’re upset or very uncomfortable is a surefire way to mar their fun first day of climbing with pressure and frustration.
Try this instead: Change the focus to fun.
Consider clipping the chains or topping out as a cherry on top of an already wonderful day. After all, you’re outside or at the gym, away from work, enjoying time with your friend. Give them room to explore first, going at their own pace.
Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you practice proper techniques and safety guidelines before you climb.