Those of you who keep a regular eye on the adventures of eTramping will know that I have recently (in the past year or so) developed a passion for rock climbing. The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of Lydia, fellow travel blogger, partner and climbing enthusiast extraordinaire. We have been spending more and more time together scaling rocks in Spain and Thailand, and with plans afoot to continue this trend in Greece, it was high time (literally) I learned the ropes (literally).
Anyone can enjoy rock climbing with little or no training. You might participate in a supervised day of the sport while on vacation. Climbing friends might take you up with them sometime. Maybe you do it as part of a team-building exercise. It’s easy to get into and very accessible for the first-timer. However, if you really want to step up your game, you’re going to need to learn how to lead climb at some point, and that’s exactly what we were doing at the Rock Domain Climbing Gym in Bangkok. And when I say “we,” I really mean me because Lydia can do it very well already!
Climbing in Bangkok
We were met by our host Sukkakij Sirirat-usdorn, the owner and founder of Rock Domain, a purpose-built indoor climbing centre in Bangkok. Thankfully, he goes by his nickname “Pack,” and both he and his team offer personal lead climb tuition to anyone who is getting more serious about the sport.
The gym also provides instructors to those who have never even set foot on a rock before and their passionate enthusiasm is inspirational – it will definitely rub off on you! The introductory course is free of charge and mandatory when you come for the first time.
Right, let’s get down to the nitty gritty – I was here to learn stuff. First thing’s first, you’re going to get to grips with the terminology. Understanding the differences between “top rope,” “lead climbing” and “bouldering,” as well as a thorough grasp of what “belaying” is. By the end of such a course, you’ll know all this information upside down, inside out and backwards. You’ll need it too – because it could save a life.
Perfect for beginners, bouldering is the term given to climbing small rock formations or artificial (indoor) hand-holds. It ’s done without the use of ropes or safety harnesses because you’re climbing or traversing across the wall up to a level where a fall wouldn’t hurt you (and you should have a safety mat below).
Bouldering isn’t as thrilling as climbing with the full equipment, but it’s very important if you want to improve your climbing technique and/ or don’t have someone to belay you.
Simply put, belaying is assecuring someone who climbs. If you are to belay, you are on the other end of the rope, making sure that you catch the climber if they fall. Regardless of your climbing level, you will fall off the wall a lot, which makes belaying the most important skill.
It is vital for successful rock climbing that you learn how to belay safely and effectively. Your climbing partner’s life is very much in your hands, and vice versa. All the terms and techniques can get a little tricky – especially for a beginner.
Learning the ins and outs of proper belaying might take some time – but there are no shortcuts. It’s important that you can comfortably support the climber and that they trust you. Their life is in your hands and some mistakes while belaying can be fatal. A course like this will definitely give you a good start though – so listen and listen well!
Top Rope Climbing
Top rope climbing is literally how it sounds – there’s a rope attached to the top of a climbing route. An anchor has already been securely attached somewhere up the rock face. As you would expect then, someone needs to climb all the way to the top first to attach the rope for you to do top rope.
By the way, this first trip to the top would be called lead climbing.
Remember the successful belaying you just learned? Well, now you put it into practice, as the belayer stands at the foot of the rock face and keeps the rope slack or taught as required. Should the climber fall in this situation, they’re only likely to fall a few centimetres, providing the belayer is focused. You need to stay sharp for this game – that’s for sure!
Now, this is where things get somewhat trickier – and a lot scarier! With lead climbing, you’re clipping onto fixed points (bolts) up the rock face as you go. The rope which is attached to your climbing partner (belayer) is below you instead of above you as in the top rope. Every time you clip into a bolt you’re safe. However, if you venture above your latest bolt to clip into the next one up, a fall is likely to be a much greater distance because your safety clip is below you. If you fall off the wall between the bolts, you will fall between 2 and 4 meters, and that’s super scary!
The belayer’s support and focus are crucial here. The more slack they allow for the rope or the longer it takes them to react, the further you will fall. It’s belayer’s job to tighten the rope and make sure that if your partner does fall, it’s as safe and as comfortable as possible.
What the lead climbing course looks like
As with most things in life, it all starts with the evaluation of the learner’s level, learning theory, and practising the newly acquired knowledge. While the first two are uneventful things, practice means falling on purpose!
Oh, don’t be fooled by thinking that it’s not as scary if you know you’re going to fall. It’s probably even harder! As part of the course, you need to climb above the bolt and then fall off the wall just before clipping into the next bolt. It is designed for you to practice the theory and moves you just learned, and also for you to see how you will behave in such a situation – under a careful eye of an expert.
Another part of practice is belaying for a lead climber, which is a very responsible task. It is different than belaying for a top rope (which needs just a few minutes of training). If you learn to belay lead climbers well and they trust you, they will be able to achieve more while climbing!
Learning how to lead climb was an epic adrenaline rush, especially all the falls we did. I had to experience a fall a few times, which was extremely nerve-wracking as you’re falling for what seems like a lifetime. It’s almost like a very short, intense bungee jump. Learning how to safely belay a lead climber was just as exciting and intense though – and every bit as important. Previously, Lydia had been reluctant to trust me with such a responsibility because I lacked the training, after this lead climbing course – we have become proper climbing partners!
Now in Search of Rocks
Our day was crammed with tricks, techniques, and tips for learning how to lead climb, and even Lydia – the seasoned pro that she is – picked up a few things too. Many thanks to Pack and his team for such a memorable and knowledgeable experience, and now we can go confidently in search of new climbing challenges.
If you’re thinking of taking up the sport, a course like this is highly recommended – whatever your skill level. For us, climbing in Kalymnos awaits – the rock climbing capital of the world. It might be a good time to learn some Greek!
Let us know your experiences when it comes to rock climbing!