Once you decide you are ready to move outdoors, the first piece of equipment to consider is a helmet, as you are more likely to be struck on the head from something falling from above, as rocks etc. are dislodged by weather, birds, animals and other climbers. You could also bang your head on protruding rocks as you climb or if you fall, as the rock face is more multi-faceted than indoor walls.
There are 2 main types of helmet available: soft and hard shell and both have their pros and cons. Soft shell helmets have thick polystyrene padding and are similar to cycle helmets, they are not very durable but have the advantage of being light and comfortable.
Hard shell helmets are made from plastics and polycarbon material and will withstand more harsh treatment. However, although wearing a helmet will be safer, it doesn’t make you invincible. Choose a helmet that has a close fit and is easy to adjust, and suits the type of climbing you do. For example hard shell helmets are more suitable for Alpine climbing, but are regularly used for large groups.
There are many styles and manufacturers to choose from and the best thing to do is try on as many as you can and choose the best fit.
Top Rope Anchors
Moving outdoors for the novice climber is a big step, but a necessary one if you are to develop your climbing skills to become a trad lead climber. Climbing outdoors is very different and obviously has more potential dangers.
It is recommended that your introduction to outdoor climbing be with an experienced and qualified Instructor – one who displays the AMI logo. An Instructor will teach you all the basic skills to keep you safe, how to use a guide book , as well as all the essentials of crag etiquette. Alternatively you can join a climbing club, details of which can be found on the internet, from the British Mountaineering Council and from climbing magazines.
Some climbers moving outdoors for the first time often set up bottom and top ropes, not only on the easier climbs but the more difficult ones too, and this should be discouraged. Setting up top ropes outdoors, especially on routes that are harder than you actually climb, will result in classic routes becoming polished which will make it difficult for thos who wish to lead it. However, if this is a step you feel you must take before you contemplate lead climbing then it is essential you follow a series of guidelines:
- Keep your climbing group to a minimum, 2 or 3 to reduce your impact on the climb and the base and top of the crag.
- Climb routes that are within your capabilities so the integrity of the route is maintained.
- Learn to identify climbs by using a climbing guide book written by local experts.
- Keep yourself safe whilst creating your belays. A long sling attached to a tree, spike or block clipped via a screw gate to your belay loop will give you enough room to work.
- Initially you should keep the bottom rope belays simple by using a large tree, block or spike. The screw gate karabiner should be visible from the ground and screwed shut.
- It is easy to convert a bottom rope belay set up to a top rope by clipping yourself into the sling. You must sit forward and tight on the belay so you are in line with the climb.
- You should be aware that setting up bottom and top ropes may be frowned upon by other crag users who may wish to lead your climb. It is good crag etiquette to offer to move on.
- Wear climbing shoes only when climbing and ensure they are as clean as possible. Dirt on your shoes affects friction and has the affect of polishing the rock.
- Keep your impact on the environment to a minimum, by taking ALL your rubbish with you including fruit peelings and nut cases.
Communicating when Climbing
Communication between climber and belayer becomes essential outdoors, particularly if the belayer is at the top of the crag.
Always look in the direction you are shouting so your voice carries well, and don’t do anything unless you have had confirmation. The climber shouts up ‘That’s me’ which informs the belayer that the rope is not caught on anything and can put you on belay. ‘Climb when you are ready’ has a greater significance as you may not be able to physically see the belayer or if he/she has you on belay. Windy conditions will often make communication more difficult and outdoor climbers must shout clearly and loudly.
It is worth noting that not all trees make good belay points – Yew and Oak have extensive roots, their crown is equal to their root system and is a good option. However, Cottonwoods, Beech, Birch, Poplar, Willow, Pine and Spruce have very shallow root systems often spreading out sideways to no more then 2m in depth. The type and depth of soil available also makes a huge difference. At the top of crags it is likely there will not be a great depth of soil and the roots have to either spread sideways or grow downwards through the rock strata. If you are unsure use more than one tree or build a belay using cams, nuts and hexes.