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Beginner Rock Climbing: How to Get Started

A rock climber smiles for the camera high on a route at Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Beginner rock climbing can be filled with fun and adventure… and challenge your fitness level! It’s such a rewarding endeavor to progress through the sport from bouldering indoors to top roping, sport climbing to trad climbing. And then progressing outside here in Colorado, or other climbing destinations like Yosemite, Portrero Chico, Moab, Zion, Denali…Everest!

It’s great to set a lofty goal of climbing bigger objectives, but to get started as a beginner rock climber, here are 5 steps to help you successfully progress in the sport:

  1. Take a Class
  2. Practice at a Local Gym
  3. Get the Gear
  4. Visit a Local Crag with a Guide
  5. Find a Mentor
A large group of rock climbers listen attentively to their guide on a group climbing trip near Denver, Colorado.

1. Take a Beginner’s Rock Climbing Class

It’s essential to begin your climbing pursuit with experienced guides to show you the ropes. CMS offers a myriad of courses led by AMGA trained/certified guides to ensure safe and fun climbs that will empower you to take it to the next level.

The IFMGA International Federation of Mountain Guides Association and the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) are the top tiers for guide training and certification, and guides at CMS are AMGA or IFMGA certified.

Here are some great classes to get you started — no experience required!

Intro to Rock Climbing

Covers the basics of outdoor climbing in one day, including knot tying, belaying, rappelling, climbing techniques, and climbing.

Price: $199

Duration: 8 hours

Half Day Fun Climb

Perfect for beginners, an individual, or family looking to spend a fun morning climbing in Estes Park!

Price: $149

Duration: 4 hours

Rock Climbing Development Series: Level 1

A complete introduction over five days, turning first-timers into intermediate-level climbers. 

Price: $1249

Duration: 5 Days

Back to the Basics: Start with a Hiking Course

However, if you’re not even certain you’re ready for all the hiking that might come along with a beginner rock climbing adventure outdoors, join us for a Hiking Course!

As part of our Fundamental Mountain Skills programs, we offer Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking Development courses in the late Spring and Summer months. These classes will give you the confidence to navigate safely in the mountains before you begin rock climbing. And you will learn how to plan short day trips of your own!

A corporate group prepares for an outdoor rock climbing activity near Denver, Colorado.

2.  Get the Gear

While many classes, guides, and gyms provide the necessary gear to get you started, eventually you will want to have your own climbing gear. As a beginner climber, here’s what you will need to start:

  • Climbing shoes
  • Climbing Harness
  • Belay Device
  • Chalk

The most important piece of gear to invest in is a pair of climbing shoes. Climbing shoes protect your feet while providing friction to grip holds. They should fit quite snugly on your foot, but not painfully. Scarpa and La Sportiva are two of our partners that offer several beginner shoe options at good price points. Typically, a neutral shoe is recommended for beginners as they tend to be most comfortable.

Unless you’re bouldering, you’ll also need a climbing harness, which is what you’ll use to securely tie into the rope before climbing, as well as securely attach a belay device to properly control the rope while belaying a partner. Climbers also use chalk to improve their grip on holds by reducing sweat and keeping routes dry and tacky.

As you reach new heights and begin taking your climbs outside the gym, additional gear—like a helmet, carabiners, a climbing rope, or crash pads—will be necessary to keep you safe and secure. 

If you’re not sure which gear is right for you, head to your local outdoor recreation equipment shop. We love our friends at Neptune Mountaineering, Boulder’s locally owned mountain equipment shop, where they’re always happy to help!

rock climbing ropes

3. Practice at a Local Gym

Once you feel comfortable with the foundations of climbing, the best way to turn your newfound interest into a hobby is by practicing at a local climbing gym. Here, you’ll be able to practice top-rope climbing and bouldering with more freedom, while still being surrounded by a community of experienced climbers, guides, and other enthusiastic beginners to support you in your climbing journey.

Popular gyms in the Boulder/Denver area are The Spot Bouldering Gym, Boulder Rock Club, and Movement Gyms.

Not in the area? Check out this directory of climbing gyms across the country to find one local to you!

A group of women from a mountaineering club have fun rock climbing near Denver, Colorado.

4. Visit a Local Crag with a Guide

One of the best things about climbing is getting outside and exploring new terrain. Climbing a wall under open skies is an invigorating experience! But remember, the outdoor walls are not climbing gyms, so extra vigilance is key; draws are not in place, routes are not color-coded, the floor is not padded, and holds can break off. 

When you’re new to outdoor cragging, it’s best to learn with an AMGA-Certified Rock Guide, who can provide important lessons on what to do and what not to do in terms of etiquette, stewardship, and technical skills.

Many people at the gym have learned from friends and family members. And while exchanging knowledge with fellow climbers can be invaluable, it is crucial to learn from certified guides with years of experience to ensure proper training, technique, and safety practices.

Guides at Colorado Mountain School are AMGA or IFMGA certified, which is the top tier for guide training and certification. We take safety and qualifications very seriously here at CMS so you know you are in good hands!

As the premier guide service in the Rocky Mountains, we offer custom rock climbing adventures every day of the year. Easily book a trained & certified guide and pursue your aspirations throughout some favorite climbing locations near the Front Range:

  • Eldorado Canyon
  • Boulder Canyon
  • Flatirons
  • Rocky Mountain National Park

For those looking to expand into outdoor lead climbing, four of our AMGA-Certified Rock Guides shared their recommendations of local sport routes.

hiking and camping rock climbing

5. Find a Mentor…Never Stop Learning

The world of climbing is vast, with a wide range of disciplines worthy of pursuit. From trad climbing and sport climbing to bouldering and mountaineering, there is always another level you can take your climbing curiosities! Finding a climbing mentor who inspires and supports you is a great way to make sure you never stop learning.

At Colorado Mountain School, we’re all about building on our existing knowledge. Founded in 1981, we have four decades of experience that we pass down to all of our certified mountain guides!

Whatever your climbing goals may be, from just getting on the wall for the first time to achieving your wildest climbing dreams, our team is ready to lift you up. Browse our courses here, or learn more about what we do.

Now get out there and climb on!

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