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Climber Mark Synnott

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Big-Wall Warrior Mark Synnott
Answers Your Climbing Queries

Q: I am new to climbing and would like some pointers for not only getting started, but for moving to the next level. My experience is limited to indoor gyms, but I am anxious to get outside. Can you give me tips on techniques and strength?

—Brenden Fitzgerald
Louisville, Kentucky


The safest and most traditional way to learn how to climb outside is to hire a guide. Climbing on real rock is a lot different than climbing plastic and it is also significantly more dangerous. Unfortunately, a lot of people inadvertently get in over their heads when making this transition. A guide can teach you ropework, belaying, protection placement and most importantly, mountain sense. Take my advice: it is well worth a few hundred of your hard earned dollars to spend a couple/three days getting some private instruction from a guide before branching out on your own.

If you have NO money, or already feel quite confident about your abilities, the best place to start on your own would be with either bouldering or toproping. With both of these activities you can grapple with real rock and work your technique, without undertaking much of a commitment.

As for strength training, what you're already doing in the gym is probably great. Climbing plastic is a great way to get strong for the real thing, and you should probably keep it going even after you begin climbing outdoors. In addition, I like to do routines on my finger board at home—mostly dead hangs (not pullups) because they are easier on the tendons and joints. I also do a lot of trail running, situps, dips and pushups. When it comes right down to it, the best training for climbing is climbing, and it's obviously also the most fun.

Most importantly, get out onto the real rock as soon as possible. Gym climbing is a great foundation, but it really can't compare to pulling down in the great outdoors.

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Photograph by Gordon Wiltsie

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