Rock Climbing Equipment and Techniques
Getting Started
A CLIMBER NEEDS a place to climb, skill, equipment, and knowledge of safety. Below, I list some of the ways to acquire these.

Places to Climb: Guidebooks

Not all rock is suitable for climbing. Rock that easily crumbles or breaks, for instance, is poor for climbing. Despite this, there are many places to climb.
The best way to find a place to climb is to read one of the many guidebooks. Here are some guidebooks relevant to climbers living in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA.
  • J. Thornburg's Bay Area Rock Climbing (Potlicker Press, 1992) is a standard reference on local rock climbing around the Bay Area.

  • Pinnacles National Monument, about forty miles south of San Jose along U.S. 101, has excellent lead climbing year-round. Dave Rubine's Climber's Guide to Pinnacles National Monument (Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, 1991) lists over 450 climbs there.

  • Yosemite National Park, about 120 miles east of the Bay Area, is one of the best places to climb in North America, although its weather prevents year-round climbing. Meyers and Reid's Yosemite Climbs (Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, 1987) list hundreds of climbs in the valley, some at high as thirty pitches, requiring two or more days to complete.

  • The first volume of J. Harlin III's Climber's Guide to North America (Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, second edition, 1987) lists seventeen areas with excellent climbing along the west coast of the US (Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California).

Guidebooks contain information about how to get to climbing routes, maps describing the routes (which crack to follow, where to place belay stations, etc.), and a rating of each route's difficulty. In the U.S., routes are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System. Its six classes are
  1. Walking
  2. Hiking
  3. Scrambling: hands required
  4. Dangerous scrambling: falls can be fatal
  5. Technical free climbing: specialized techniques and equipment required
  6. Aid climbing: equipment required to aid ascent

The climbing described in these pages is all fifth class, which is further divided into a number of difficulty levels: 5.0 to 5.14d. When it was first developed, the Yosemite Decimal System had ratings from 5.0 to 5.9, with 5.9 being the most any climber was expected to be capable of. Since then, climbing techniques have improved, and the 5.10a, 5.10b, ..., 5.10d, 5.11a, ..., 5.11d, ..., 5.14d ratings were added.

Climbing Skill

Like other physical skills, climbing is best learned through practice. Watching experienced climbers and reading books, such as John Long's How to Rock Climb! (Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, second edition, 1993), R. Bridge's Climbing : A Guide to Mountaineering (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977), or the classic Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills (E. Peters, editor, The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington, fourth edition, 1982) can help. But the best method is to go and climb with an experienced partner.


The only thing a beginning climber really needs is a pair of climbing shoes, and these can be rented. All other equipment can easily be borrowed from other climbers, but since the shoes must fit very exactly, they are usually difficult to borrow.
At least three stores in Berkeley sell climbing equipment: REI, Marmot Mountain Works, and Wilderness Exchange. REI has one of the largest selections.


An experienced climber is the best source of information about safety, although books can be a good supplement.
Most climbers begin by accompanying an experienced climber to a local climbing area. Surprisingly, a pair of shoes puts most simple climbs within a beginner's reach.
Beginning to climb is exciting for most people. Any fear soon gives way to the sheer joy of ascending. Perhaps because of this report, more people will consider experiencing this joy.


Last updated 970501

Written by Stephen Edwards.