Going from Hiking to Climbing: Your Guide to Transitioning from the Horizontal to Vertical World

Looking up at those high peaks and rock walls from the valley, have you ever wanted to get up there and see the view? Or maybe you just want to challenge yourself and have some new experiences? 

 

Taking the step from hiking to climbing is a common one. I started that way along with almost everyone I know. After all, getting to the top and having those new experiences is something inherent to being human. It’s what drives people, taking to the seas to discover new lands in times past, or now into space in the new frontier. We want to explore and challenge ourselves.

 

While climbing may seem dangerous, it’s no more dangerous than spending any time in the outdoors. Not sure about that?

 

Have a read of this post:

Why do people climb? Is climbing dangerous?

Climbing can be done by all genders and at all ages. The last few years has seen a whole crowd of female adventurers who have pushed limits and generally been bad-asses in the outdoors. It’s awesome to see! And people are still getting into climbing in their later years and achieving impressive grades and feats! There's hope for me yet when I look at them!

 

So are you keen to break into the vertical world but not sure about how to do it?

 

It all begins with a first step and a choice…

 


 

CHOOSE YOUR PATH

 

One of the first things to think about is what sort of terrain you would like to get into.

 

Here are some of the choices:

 

Alpine

You want the real deal: full on mountainous terrain with snow and ice. A high degree of knowledge and skill is usually required as objective hazards like weather, avalanche risk and terrain are very real and need to be assessed seriously at all times.

 

Sub-Alpine Peaks

Generally these peaks are low enough (or in countries with warmer climates) that snow does not form on them therefore eliminating some of the objective hazards found on snow capped versions. They can also be the snow capped versions in summer months, turning into rocky spires, buttresses and slopes after the snow has melted away. With a lack of snow and ice this does not mean they are completely risk free however. Staying safe still requires good knowledge and skill.

 

Scrambles

Many hikes often have scrambles to get to ridges or summits. While scrambling may seem tamer than actual rock climbing with ropes and gear, it’s the lack of this equipment (for various reasons) that can make it slightly more dangerous than rock climbing. If you aren't sure what scrambling is, have a look at this:

 

How to improve your scrambling ability

 

Rock Climbing

This is the typical style involving ropes and gear to stay safe while ascending vertical rock faces with hands and feet. You get great views and an amazing experience along with a sense of well being. 

 

 

After you have chosen your terrain, you can begin with those first steps to getting vertically skilled and experienced. And remember, just because you start on one doesn’t mean you are limited to it.

 

You can start wherever you want and see where it leads!

 


 

FIRST STEPS TO GETTING VERTICAL

 

There are many ways to get into climbing, but here I will cover the easiest and safest ways to get you into the terrain of your choosing.

 

Alpine

Being the most challenging terrain you can get into, it’s important to take the right steps to ensure you do it right. There are many objective hazards that need heeding, and this makes it one of the tougher areas to break into.

 

But don’t let that put you off. Mountains of the snow capped variety are absolutely incredible and well worth visiting!

 

Your best way of getting into this terrain is with a comprehensive alpine skills course, often referred to as a ‘technical mountaineering course’ (TMC). Ranging from 7 to 10 days, this will consolidate all your training you receive to be able to continue the path yourself by teaching all you need to know to get started.  

I did my TMC with Alpine Guides in Mt Cook, New Zealand. Though I had the rope skills from rock climbing already, I needed confidence on snow and ice, a terrain I was unfamiliar with. The course covered everything, so even people not familiar with rope skills will be taken care of with excellent instruction.

 

To reinforce the skills and experience learnt, make sure to get out as often as possible to practice. Ideally, and at the minimum, it might look like this:

 

Weekly: Read or further your knowledge by following along with websites or magazines that have good reading material on all the different aspects of mountaineering and rock climbing.

Once a month: Outdoor climbing with a club or friends to use rope skills and gain ‘mental training’ to deal with exposure.

Every 6 months: One peak at your ability level, or one which can be done with other experienced partners.

 

As mentioned, this would be a minimum. The more you can do, the better. Join appropriate clubs to keep in the loop and have partners and club trips you can go on.

 

 

 

Sub Alpine Peaks

While lacking the big objective hazards, sub alpine peaks or peaks with no snow or ice still require some careful planning to ensure safety. Often these can have exposed scrambles or short, vertical rock steps that may need ropes and gear.

 

Your best way of getting into this terrain is by joining a outdoor climbing group or club. Learn the basics and if you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to do a short 1 or 2 day climbing skills course that covers the ‘hard’ skills of rope-work and gear, and not the ‘soft’ skills of climbing. You can gain the soft skills easily by keeping regular practice and getting tips and pointers from partners of club members.

 

To reinforce the skills and experience learnt, make sure to get out as often as possible to practice. Ideally, and at the minimum, it might look like this:

 

Weekly: Read or further your knowledge by following along with websites or magazines that have good reading material on all the different aspects of mountaineering and rock climbing.

Once a month: Outdoor climbing with a club or friends to use rope skills, learn the ‘soft’ skills, and gain ‘mental training’ to deal with exposure.

Every 6 months: One peak at your ability level, or one which can be done with other experienced partners.

 

As mentioned, this would be a minimum. The more you can do, the better. Join appropriate clubs to keep in the loop and have partners and club trips you can go on.

 

 

 

Scrambles

Scrambling may be the limit for many people and that’s OK. Scrambling can get you to some beautiful places and makes for some grand adventures. To understand scrambling, you can have a look at this post which has great information on getting better at scrambling:

 

How to Improve Your Rock Scrambling Ability. The Ultimate List of Tips to Help Make Scrambling Safe, Fun and Easy

 

To reinforce the skills and experience learnt, make sure to get out as often as possible. You have 2 options:

 

Once a month: Outdoor climbing with a club or friends to learn the ‘soft’ skills of climbing techniques, and gain ‘mental training’ to deal with exposure.

 

Or

 

Once a month: Go on a scramble! You can get better by just doing it! Make sure to research the route and only take on something within your ability and skill level.

 

This would be a minimum. The more you can do, the better.

 

 

 

Rock Climbing

This might be what you came here for. You want to get on the true vertical terrain! Rock climbing, in all its forms, is incredibly fun and rewarding.

 

Frightened of heights? I was too! And still am to a degree. I remember the first time I had to abseil. I was nervous, palms sweating with a whirlwind of vertigo spinning in my head. But you what? You can overcome all that with repeated exposure and giving it a go!

 

So what’s the best way to get into it?

 

Joining a established club will set the best groundwork, give you lots of climbing partners, and hone your skills safely. Some people may pick up the ‘hard’ skills of climbing rope-work and gear quicker than others. If you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to do a short 1-2 day climbing skills course that covers the ‘hard’ skills of rope-work and gear. You won’t regret it and will feel much more confident!

 

To reinforce the skills and experience learnt, make sure to get out as often as possible to practice. Ideally, and at the minimum, it might look like this:

 

Weekly: Read or further your knowledge by following along with websites or magazines that have good reading material on rock climbing and its techniques.

2-4 times a month: Outdoor climbing with a club or friends to use your rope skills, learn the ‘soft’ skills, and gain ‘mental training’ to deal with exposure.

 

To get better at the soft skills in rock climbing, that is, the ones that actually get you up the rock, start with 3 times a week for 2-3 months to get good, solid skills. Most of this time can be spent in indoor climbing gyms to practice the technique and gain the strength and endurance, but don’t forget to get outdoors and do your rope-work!


 

 

KEEP IT GOING

 

Your journey into the vertical world from the horizontal never stops. It’s always important to keep learning and reinforcing what you've learnt. Too often, people do a course or learn a skill and just… forget it.

 

They leave it too long before practising again.

 

Dangerously, this can also lead to a false perception that you think you know a skill, but actually don’t. I have seen this with people having accidents when they hadn’t practised in years and had to re-learn on the fly (which never ends well).

 

So keep up the practice and put the skills into use whenever you can!

 

With some instruction, commitment and a sense of adventure, you’ll love the transition from hiking to climbing! Hiking is still a huge part of accessing many climbing areas so you get the best of both worlds.

 

The vertical adventures await!

 

Check out this post for some further tips:

 

Your Guide to Starting Outdoor Adventure Sports-Easily! The Key to Starting Any Activity!

 

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