Washington State is a playground for climbers; here is an introduction on how to start climbing


With alpine granite, towering basalt columns and gargantuan boulders, Washington has no shortage of varied climbing terrain.

And if you add glacier or ice climbing to your repertoire, our state offers the widest variety of climbing in the Lower 48.

The success is relative: The towering roads, such as the “Flyboys” near Mazama, Okanogan County, will require a scaling of 1,800 vertical feet. A visit to most local bouldering areas will not get you 18 feet from the bridge.

Many aspects of sport are dangerous. It can take years to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to manage the risks of escalation. But sport is also more accessible than ever.

Olympians will soon be climbing the pixels of our TV screens, and climbing gyms have grown in the Seattle area faster than the Himalayan mulberries.

Here’s how first-timers can set foot in a safer environment and develop their skills to climb the routes of their dreams.

Types of climbing

Bouldering involves climbing short sections without ropes on walls or rocks less than 20 feet high. Bouldering issues, or routes, are often relatively physically demanding or involve difficult movements. Most rock gyms in the Seattle area feature bouldering areas with thick mats to prevent dangerous falls. Boulderers bring their own foam mats – called crash pads – when they’re outside.

Rope climbing refers to climbs in which an anchor has already been established on a route, allowing climbers to attach to a rope at the base of an ascent and then ascend. It is the most common form of rope climbing at local gyms and can be done outdoors as well.

In sport climbing, a leader climbs a route with a line of pre-existing steel bolts with hangers. The leader uses quickdraws – two carabiners connected by a strong fabric – to clip the bolts and their rope, which should prevent them from hitting the ground in the event of a fall. Some gyms allow people to practice leading.

In traditional – or traditional – rock climbing, climbers climb and place their own protective gear in secure cracks or crevices in the rock face, cutting their rope through the carabiners attached to the equipment in the event of a fall. Leading a traditional ascent is an advanced skill that can take you up the alpine or on longer climbs with multiple lengths or sections of route.

Bouldering problems and roped climbing routes use separate rating systems for difficulty. The problems range from V0 to V17. Sports and shopping routes go to 5.0-5.15. New climbers often find that indoor grades are assessed at many levels harder than their digital counterparts outside.

What you need for the climbing gym

At the climbing gym, climbers just need a pair of climbing shoes, which usually fit a climber’s foot well and have grippy rubber soles.

In addition to shoes, upper rope climbers need a harness and a partner with a belay device, which is usually provided by the gym.

Climbers chalk can be helpful for grip, but is not strictly necessary. Most gyms have shoes and harnesses for rent, and it’s a good idea to try before you buy in case rock climbing isn’t right for you.

You need more equipment to lead sporting and traditional routes outdoors and to establish your own anchors, but let’s not get carried away.

Start at the gym

Summer is here. No one wants to hide in a stuffy gym, but this is one of the best places to gain confidence, learn basic safety skills, and start understanding the climbing movement.

If you are new to rock climbing, you can try indoor bouldering first. Consider taking a class, joining a friend, or just lacing up your shoes and walking up the lanes, usually marked with tape or the color of the plug.

Work on trusting your feet as you move down the road. They often only need a millimeter of contact to hold. Keep your hips close to the wall and your body balanced. New climbers often spend 90% of their time worrying about their hands. Instead, focus on your feet. Between movements, keep your arms straight, as if you were hanging onto your skeletal structure, to save energy.

Climbing the top rope at the gym involves a similar movement, but a bit more technical knowledge. You must be able to tie off the rope properly, and your partner must be able to use a belay device to grab the rope as you climb and then support your weight.

Belaying is a basic climbing skill and most climbers expect to have returned the favor. Local gyms offer training on how to deliver, usually in an introductory class. Take one. Then find a partner and get used to being high. (Local climbing clubs and guide services also offer similar introductory courses, which are also worth considering.)

Beyond the basics (and getting out)

Climbing in the lead and belaying a leader are more advanced skills. It can take several months to develop fitness, comfort, and movement before it is appropriate to lead. The consequences of a fall – or an error in mowing, for example – are significant. When it’s time, take a leadership class at the gym or look for other instructions.

Many climbing halls offer classes for other skills such as leading, rappelling (descending on a rope), building and cleaning anchors, and yes, even falling.

Guiding services, which offer tailor-made group and private lessons, can help you advance these skills faster, affordably, and get you climbing outdoors.

Volunteer-run climbing clubs such as The Mountaineers, Washington Alpine Club, and BOEALPS (the Boeing Employees Alpine Society, which is not exclusive to Boeing employees) also offer basic and advanced skills education courses. , such as leading, using traditional equipment and rescuing. Some offers are aimed at more experienced hikers and climbers looking to put their skills to use in alpine environments.

These groups might also persuade you to try glacier or ice climbing.


Rock climbing in the Northwest has thrived on mentorship. Experienced climbers are often eager to pass on their skills and love of the sport. There are few better ways to learn, once you’ve mastered the basic skills and can assess safety considerations, than by following a route led by an experienced climber.

You bring emotion (enthusiasm) and patiently listen to their memories. They bring graying know-how.

Spending a day at the cliffs, an outdoor rock climbing area, with experienced and trusted climbing friends is another great way to develop your skills.

Classes, guided group climbs and clubs can help you connect with the climbing community and find your crew. Another way to meet rock climbing partners is Facebook groups like “Seattle Rock Climbers”.

Carefully assess any climbing partner. Your life will depend on them.

Have fun and follow your climbing progress at your own pace!

Here are some resources


Vertical world has locations in Seattle’s Magnolia District, Lynnwood, and Redmond, offering rope climbing, sports, and bouldering. Gyms offer a wide variety of classes for most skill levels.

Stone gardens features sites in Seattle’s Ballard District, Tacoma, and Bellevue that offer rope climbing, sports, and bouldering. Gyms offer outdoor guides and a wide variety of classes for most skill levels.

Seattle Block Project offers bouldering in locations in Seattle’s Fremont and near Seattle’s Central District.

Halfpipe boulder (Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood) and Momentum indoor climbing (Sodo neighborhood in Seattle) offers block.

Guided tours and instruction

Pro Guiding Service in North Bend offers private lessons and guides.

Kaf Adventures in Seattle offers a variety of rock climbing courses.

Alpine Ascents International offers weekend workshops and multi-day rock lessons.

Mountain Madness offers rock climbing lessons on local rocks.

Northwest Mountain School offers introductory and advanced courses.

She Moves Mountains offers guides, retreats, and classes for all skill levels. The organization aims to increase opportunities for women in rock climbing.

Climbing clubs

The Mountaineers offer a wide variety of courses for all skill levels.

BOEALPS organizes climbing and mountaineering courses.

The Washington Alpine Club runs courses for those interested in mountaineering.

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