I wrote an article for the British Mountaineering Council magazine a while back.....
Starting to climb outdoors can be a daunting prospect and there are lots of additional factors to take into consideration. It may be you start by finding yourself and instructor or attend a course, join a club or partner up with someone who is experienced. Whatever you choose to do here are some top tips:
1. Before heading to the crag, make sure you get a weather forecast, this might stop a wasted journey and force you back into the wall! It may remind you to take sun protection, extra fluid for the day or a warmer jacket and flask!
2. Guidebooks these days are fairly straight forward to understand with their generally excellent photos and descriptions of how to get to the crag and the route lines. When visiting a new crag or area ensure you park your vehicle where recommended and take note of any access considerations, it is then worth taking your time to familiarise yourself with the crag and the routes. Make sure you read the description for the route and that it matches the line of the topo shown. Sometimes we're so keen to get climbing we forget to check on the descent advice and end up taking a long painful walk in our rock shoes!
3. Sport climbing is a good intermediate step when you head outside to lead for the 1st time. You still get to lead but without the apprehension of where the next placement is or will it be any good? You can concentrate on the joy of moving on rock for the 1st time and just focus on reaching the next bolt and clipping it. Start on the lowest grades and work through them. Consider how to lower off, there are a couple of ways to do this, so ensure you practise this before you start climbing and reach the top of the route!
4. Practising how to lead belay is a vital skill. Initially you might need to spot your partner as they step off the ground continue watching them and when they place gear anticipate when they require more rope to clip into the gear and pay out. Once the rope is clipped, sometimes you may need to take a little slack in. Make sure your stance is in a good location at the base of the crag, closer to the crag will reduce the chance of interfering with the 1st placement and also if the leader does fall you won't be pulled "into the base" with the risk of losing your footing.
5. When you go climbing with your partner, a primary way to keep you both safe is to have a systematic way of checking each other at every opportunity, 2 sets of eyes are better than 1! This may start as both a verbal and physical check at every stage. For example prior to climbing check each other for:
Correctly adjusted helmet
Harness fitted correctly
Tied into the harness correctly using an appropriate knot
Belayer has oriented the plate correctly, attached it to the rope loop or harness and the screwgate is done up
or when a 2nd reaches the belay (especially in a multi pitch environment) check the whole anchor system that your partner has created, don't assume it is adequate, Is it IDEAS?
Independent- if one anchor fails, it won't shock load the other parts of the system
Direction- of the climber (use ABC)
Equalized- tension on all strands of the sling or rope
Angle - ideally 60' but max 90'
Solid - gear and rock
ABC - A belay should also be set up so that the Anchors, Belayer and Climber are all in the same line. If your climber needs to rest or falls off, the rope will naturally pull all 3 into a straight line, so it's ideal to start off in this position.
6. When visiting new areas, especially a new rock type, climb some routes that are well within your grade. Firstly you'll be able to comfortably adapt your gear placements as required and secondly get a feel for the style of climbing.
7 Think about getting your feet in balance before you place gear, it will feel more comfortable and generally be less tiring on the arms.
8. Never pass a good placement! who knows when the next one will appear or how good it will be, so don't miss that opportunity.
9. Big is best! Try not to rush placing gear and always aim to place the largest piece that the rock will accept, often that 1st piece that you try will be the right one. However if you haven't got solid contact, then consider going up or down the size range to find the ideal placement. Spending time at the bottom of crags exploring and practicing gear placements is time well spent, try identifying a potential placement in the rock and then guess the correct size prior to placing it. This will help you "get your eye in" and when on route save precious time fiddling with gear.
10. Always back up your belay plate when abseiling. Generally a prussik does this job well, there are a couple of appropriate methods so it's important to practise this set up and skill in a safe place before committing to some large sea cliff! As always don't rush your set up and double check that your prussik will stop you before your launch over the edge!
11. When you purchase a new piece of climbing kit, ensure you take the time to read the manufacturers instructions on how to use it appropriately. Also take the time to read how to care, maintain and store that item along with their recommendations as to the lifetime of it.
12. Don't rush. Climbing is a physical and mental challenge for us all to enjoy, however it has its risks so take the time to continuously check each other, have an awareness and respect for the environment you're in and don't rush anything you do, even if it's raining and you're trying to get off the crag!