Rock Climbing Safety for Outdoor Climbing

No matter your skill level or knowledge base, rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. Yes, risk can be minimized but never eliminated. 

That’s why establishing a base of knowledge and know-how when it comes to outdoor climbing is imperative to help you have the safest outdoor climbing experience possible. 

It is better to be more prepared and well equipped to handle any situation when it comes to outdoor climbing. If you’re new to climbing, the safest way to get outside is to hire a guide or take an instructional course to teach you the ropes.

Photo by Jon Hieb on Unsplash

Dangers of outdoor rock climbing 

What’s more is that most rock climbing accidents and deaths are due to human error of some kind, not a gear failure. That means that most of the dangers involved in outdoor climbing are under our control, and we can do our due diligence to prevent them. 

Things like 

  • knowing how to use your safety gear properly, 
  • learning how to land safely when bouldering,
  • doing your safety checks,
  • being aware of climbing and weather conditions, and
  • climbing within your skill level is somewhat within your control as a climber. 

There are always natural risks, such as falling rocks, sudden weather changes (common in the mountains), or gear failure that can cause severe injury or even death. 

But rock climbers are far more likely to experience a minor injury versus a serious injury in their climbing career. These will be things like scraped knees or elbows from the rock wall or maybe a sprained ankle from landing on the edge of a crash pad. 

Most of these minor injuries tend to be reported by sport climbers, trad climbers, or boulderers. So, if you are venturing into outdoor climbing in pursuit of top-roping, your risk has already decreased because you won’t be lead climbing or bouldering.

Minimize risk when climbing outdoors with these safety tips

Severe injuries and minor injuries can be minimized with the proper knowledge and attention. Here are our top tips to improve your level of outdoor climbing safety. 

1. Climb within your ability level

It is great to get outside and push grades, but this should be done in a controlled manner. It is one thing to go out to the crag and push grades with a group of experienced climbers, and it is something else to jump from lead climbing in a gym to trad climbing a multi-pitch. 

We aren’t saying that you should never challenge yourself when climbing outdoors, but be aware of your physical boundaries and technical knowledge. 

In some cases, you may be strong enough to climb something, but you may lack the technical knowledge (i.e., how to build a trad anchor or clean a sport anchor) to do it safely. To overcome these barriers, enroll in an instructional class on anchor building, climbing technique, or climb with more experienced people. 

You can also hire a personal trainer to help you build up your climbing endurance if you’re preparing for a big climb and want to be physically prepared. 

2. Have the proper safety equipment (and know how to use it!)

You need to know the gear necessary to complete a climb safely when you head outside. This knowledge can be found on online resources like Mountain Project or guidebooks for the area you plan to climb. These resources also provide you with approach information, and if you use online platforms, they may also provide weather updates.

Knowing what you need before you go can save you a lot of time, trouble, and potentially an accident. Just having the safety gear will only get you so far, though. You need to know how to use it too!

If you’ve climbed in a gym before, you likely already know how to wear your harness and tie a few knots. But do you know how to clip draws when sport climbing to avoid back clipping or z-clipping?

Can you build a toprope anchor using your own gear?

Do you know how to place solid gear?

You need to ask yourself these types of questions when you are investing in gear and when you are heading outside to climb. There are several resources to learn how to do these things, such as articles online, videos, books, courses, and friends. 

Simply taking the time to practice these skills under the supervision of someone who already knows the ins and outs of climbing safety will help you feel more confident when climbing outdoors, and it will be much safer when you go on your own. 

Other safety gear to always use outdoors: helmets.

Helmets should ALWAYS be worn by both the climber and belayer.

3. Understand belay systems and knots

A big part of knowing how to use your safety gear is knowing how to belay correctly and tie your knots. On top of that, always do safety checks for your climber and belayer. Even if you are experienced as a climber, a safety check can save your life. We are all human, and humans make mistakes. Double-checking helps us catch those mistakes before it is too late.

Lead belaying and toprope belaying differ, so know how to do both if you plan to climb in both styles. 

There are a few ways to tie into your harness as the climber. The most common way is to use the figure-eight follow-through knot. Know how to tie this knot with proficiency and perform checks on your partner. 

Other knots should be learned and practiced for anchor building, self-rescue, and other climbing skills. 

Knowing how to tie knots is essential. Take the time to learn about anchor systems and how to clean anchors. While sport climbing tends to be less technical than trad climbing, plenty of accidents occur when cleaning anchors due to a lack of knowledge and know-how. 

4. Have experience or climb with someone who does 

If you read the above tips and were thoroughly confused, then the best tip to apply is this one: climb with someone more experienced so they can teach you best practices for outdoor climbing safety. 

You don’t necessarily need to book a guided trip with a professional or enroll in an instructional course if you have a knowledgeable friend. Still, the benefit of booking with a certified climbing guide is that they’re professionally trained. 

They’ve not only done these things themselves, but they’ve gone through classes to learn best practices and how to teach rock climbing safety to people of all skill levels.

In the end, while some risk in rock climbing is left up to nature, a lot of it is up to you. With the proper education, practice, and safety equipment, you can minimize some risks.

Not sure if you’re ready to climb outside on your own yet? Hire a guide!

Best Beginners Rock Climbing in Colorado Springs, CO

The Centennial State is a paradise for any outdoor enthusiast, with seemingly endless options for recreational activities for residents and visitors alike. While each corner of the state has its own brand of exciting outdoor opportunities, Colorado Springs is conveniently located to offer access to just about any activity you could want to pursue in the Rocky Mountains.

From world-class hiking and fishing to mountain biking, skiing, and rock climbing for those more fueled by adrenaline, The Springs boasts unrivaled access to it all. If you have always wanted to try rock climbing but were unsure where to go, some of the best beginner climbing in Colorado is right here in our backyard.

Many of the best places to climb near Colorado Springs are very beginner-friendly while simultaneously offering terrain to excite even the most experienced climbers in your party.  

Photo by Intricate Explorer on Unsplash

What to Look for in a Beginner’s Climbing Area

If you are new to the sport, seek out guided rock climbing in Colorado Springs to safely learn about rock climbing. If you want to give it a shot on your own – or perhaps are taking out a friend for their first time – here are a few things to consider when identifying beginner climbing in Colorado Springs:

The Approach

Avid rock climbers know that some of the most rewarding climbs may require many hours – or perhaps even an overnight – on a trail to access the routes they seek to climb. When looking where to climb near Colorado Springs for beginners, consider crags that require a minimal approach to access.  

Type of Climbing

There are a variety of types of rock climbing ranging from beginner-friendly to expert.  

Bouldering is performed on small rock formations – often boulders – without the use of ropes or harnesses. Routes generally do not get too high off the ground, and crash pads help protect from a fall. Bouldering is a beginner-friendly style of climbing but often requires considerable strength to navigate the more dynamic moves.  

If you are hoping to use ropes and harnesses, top rope accessible routes are the most beginner-friendly options available. When top roping, the rope runs from the climber through anchors at the top of the route and back down to a belayer at the bottom. This offers the most protection should the climber fall or need a break during the climb. 

Sport climbing utilizes preplaced bolts in the rock, which a climber clips with a quickdraw on their way up the wall for periodic protection. This type of climbing is more consequential, as coming off the wall will usually result in a larger fall. 

Traditional climbing, or trad climbing, requires climbers to place gear and protection as they navigate a route and remove all gear upon completion. Leading a trad climb is not recommended for beginners.  

Ratings

When seeking beginner climbing in Colorado, checking route ratings is imperative. Using the Yosemite Decimal System, ropes are recommended for all 5th class climbing. Beginner rock climbs then fall between 5.0 – 5.8 in rating, and climbing areas with many routes in that range are great for novice rock climbers. Bouldering uses the V Scale, with beginner routes ranging from V0 – V3.

Photo by Alexis Gethin on Unsplash

Best Beginner Climbing Areas in Colorado Springs

Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Location: 10 Minutes from Downtown

Type of Climbing: Mostly sport climbing with some top rope options available 

Recommended Routes: Head to The Whale for the biggest selection of beginner sport routes

This young park located just outside of downtown Colorado Springs is owned by the city and managed by a dedicated team that aims to protect and preserve this natural and recreational asset for many generations. With nearly 100 unique routes between the east and west canyon walls, Red Rock has one of the best selections of beginner and moderate routes in the region. 

Given its proximity to Colorado Springs, Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Not only is the park virtually located in town, but most of its climbing areas boast incredibly easy access as well. Whether you have a full day to explore or just a morning or afternoon, Red Rock Canyon Open Space is undeniably one of the best places to climb near Colorado Springs. 

Shelf Road

Location: North of Canon City

Type of Climbing: Mostly sport climbing with accessible anchors to set up top rope routes

Recommended Routes: The best beginner routes can be found at  The Bank and Cactus Cliff 

If you were to ask a local where to climb near Colorado Springs, they would likely point you to Shelf Road. Located just a little over an hour southwest of Colorado Springs, this climbing hotspot has well over 1,000 unique routes to explore. Climbers from around the world come here to test their mettle, but there are many beginner-friendly routes at Shelf Road as well. While sport climbing is the modus operandi, many of the bolted anchors can be used to set up a top rope with relative ease. 

As a bonus, many of the walls on Shelf Road boast very friendly approaches, and the quiet and beautiful backdrop is worth a visit alone. Coupled with excellent camping options nearby, Shelf Road has quickly become one of Colorado’s premier climbing destinations. 

Garden of the Gods

Location: Off of US Highway 24

Type of Climbing: Mostly traditional and sport with some quality bouldering and a few top rope options

Recommended Routes: 

Big Sky (5.7 Sport) and New Era (5.7 Trad, 2 pitches) at Kindergarten Rock

The Prow (V0+) and West Face Left (V2) at The Snake Pit Area

We would be remiss to discuss rock climbing in Colorado Springs and not mention Garden of the Gods. This is the area’s most famous destination. In addition to over two miles of hiking trails, ample road and mountain biking options, and easy access right out of town, this National Natural Landmark is also a great place to go rock climbing.

While not as beginner-friendly as the other places on our list, the conglomerate sandstone, and limestone formations beckon to be climbed. Routes range from easy bouldering problems to complex traditional climbing routes. With just a little sleuthing, you can find something for everyone.  

No matter your outdoor interests, The Centennial State has you covered. If this is the year you decide to give rock climbing a try, some of the best beginner climbing in Colorado is located right here in Colorado Springs. Explore the area on your own or with the best guided rock climbing in Colorado Springs, and prepare to rope up and have the time of your life.