Bouldering, Rock Climbing, and Getting Started Written by Mike.G on July 7th, 2011

City of Rocks, Idaho

City of Rocks, Idaho

Recently, I’ve just begun rock climbing and bouldering. Both sports offer great exercise escapes requiring total focus. However, rock climbing is more intimidating and gear intensive than bouldering. It also requires serious knowledge and skills to enjoy safely. Two years ago, I wiggled my way onto trips with friends to boulder at Horsethief in the Columbia River Gorge, and climb at Smith Rocks near Bend. This year, I begged my way onto a climbing trip at the City of Rocks in southern Idaho. Since I never thought I’d ever be able to get started rock climbing, I can offer some advice if you are considering it.

Buckets, Smith Rock

Buckets, Smith Rock


Gear was my number one concern because it is so crucial to safety and it is expensive. Therefore, bouldering is a very good place to begin. In bouldering, you can get by with a harness, chalk bag, and a pair of climbing shoes. Check your area to see if there is a bouldering gym. In Portland, we have The Circuit bouldering gyms. They have two locations and offer many packages for varied levels of involvement. Additionally, they have classes and promotions to help anyone get involved. The Circuit was instrumental in getting me ready for actual rock climbing.

To start rock climbing, tag along on a trip with anyone who will take you. Your gear from bouldering will allow you to join a person who has most of the other gear required. All you need to add to your own personal collection is a couple of carabiners, a sling or two, a helmet, and a belay device. The knowledge required increases as you get into rock climbing. As long as you study and practice you can be a fine partner for someone else. Be considerate of the fact that your friend has invested more money in their gear, will lead most of the pitches, and will take charge of managing the rope during climbing. In a very real way, you can be a burden on some level. The best way to make up for this is to pay attention, pick up expenses of when you can, and be a contributing force during the entire trip.

Horsethief, Columbia River Gorge

Horsethief, Columbia River Gorge


If you learn bouldering first, then rock climbing will be just a few skill sets and pieces of gear away. The Circuit bouldering gym can provide great preparation for hand strength, technique, and mental readiness. However, nothing can prepare you for managing rope, belaying, and the conditioning required for real rock climbing except for getting out there and doing it. Beg a friend to include you, buy the minimum of gear required, and enjoy a new way to experience outdoor adventure. Build your gear slowly, and you may find some day in the future that you are the one who is taking another beginner along. Special thanks go Doug and Josh for including me in their passions and US Outdoor for helping me gear up.

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