When I started climbing, I actually started with bouldering in a gym. I didn’t know how to find a rock climbing mentor, and for that meant no outdoor bouldering, let alone rock climbing with a rope and harness. For me it felt like the safest way of starting and made me independent from other people, as I have a busy schedule with frequent late-night work, making long trips to the crags during the week almost impossible.
But at some point, I wanted to go outside and climb real rocks, and when I picked up rock climbing, it became apparent I needed a belaying partner.Thankfully my wife is into rock climbing, so she was the obvious first choice as a belaying partner.After some hairy situations lead climbing some easier routes, with not-so-great first anchors (think of first anchors in 15+ feet), I quickly realized that I needed not only a belaying partner but a mentor as well. Someone with experience and skill to pass on to you and started to also climb with more experienced climbers.
An experienced mentor for outdoor climbing techniques is like a knowledge gold mine, but how to find a rock climbing mentor? Someone willing to share this knowledge, without you being burden to them? Let me share some thoughts with you, as I try always to make climbing a win-win situation for the mentor and me.
What’s a mentor?
A mentor is an experienced climber who is willing to take you under his or her wings, teaching you while you go climbing with them. It can be a paid coach or someone you know personally and who is willing to train you. Mentoring usually starts with you asking someone for advice and might become a regular thing after a while.Don’t be a flake if you make plans to climb with a more experienced climber – or anyone in general!
Where I come from, many experienced climbers love to share their knowledge if you’re respectful and reliable. Some older climber once told me it’s ok to be a newbie but don’t be an asshole. And it stuck with me, as I noticed myself a lot of climbers being incredibly flaky sometimes. So, if you make plans to go climbing with someone SHOW UP, or at least give them a call and notification if you have to cancel upfront. Nothing annoys climbers more than making plans to climb and being stood up in the last minute.
There are a ton of people passing on shit for knowledge. Sometimes this sketchy advice is downright dangerous. That’s why you should read up, educate yourself, and learn about climbing. Read blogs, books, and watch how-to-guides. Become critical and ask questions if you feel unsure about something. But make sure to do your best figuring out stuff on your own, as it shows respect for peoples time and resources. Practice what your mentors teach you and train at home, then after training, ask them to evaluate if you’re doing it right. To a potential mentor, this shows willingness and self-reliance, which is an excellent skill to possess not only in climbing but anywhere in life.
If you want a book recommendation, get the Book “Self-coached climber” – it’s the best place to start. I read it, and it has a ton of really valuable knowledge to self assess your climbing. Many actually consider it to be the one book you should read if you try to train for yourself, so definitely have a look at it.
Don’t be a know-it-all.
You should read and educate yourself not to be an annoying know-it-all, but to recognize if someone is passing bullsh*t to you, and politely ask them about it. Never do things you feel uncomfortable with, and if you’re in doubt then ask your mentor why they did it that specific way.
Learn to belay a lead climber and socialize.
If you want to climb with experienced climbers, you need to be able to belay a lead climber. This is usually not negotiable, and many lead climbers are taking this especially serious. Read this excellent reddit thread for more info. If you socialize with the local crew at the gym and show them you’re a competent lead belayer, it won’t be hard to find someone to mentor you. Most experienced climbers love fast learning new talent as it’s a great feeling to help someone new in the sport.
Sweeten up the deal for the mentor!
Most people like to climb with more experienced climbers then them. But if you pick someone older who maybe even has a family, there might be a good chance they don’t always find themselves a partner with time on hands to climb. It won’t take a lot to convince them to climb with you. Yes, you might be inexperienced and ask a lot of questions, but you’re a competent lead belayer and decent human being. Plus three are some other things you can do to make climbing with you attractive. If you own a car, offer to drive, everyone likes to save gas and chill while driving out to the crags. You could also buy a good rope and other gear and suggest to use it.
If your mentor is inclined, you can also offer them to carry the gear while approaching, which might be a nice gesture. Extra hiking training for you, convenient for your mentor.
If you can, bring some food and drink or even bake some cookies, take them out to dinner after climbing, anything really to make them have a good time with you.
Bring stoke – and beers!
If you’re out to climb, make sure to be motivated and stoked and fun to hang around with. Don’t be a mood kill, but rather make sure to lighten the mood up and maybe even bring a beer or two if you and your mentor like to have a few after sending it.
Learn how to clean an anchor.
Cleaning an anchor is important, even for experienced climbers as they need to get their gear back. By learning to do it, you basically offer them to do the time-consuming tasks for them, which is always lovely.
Go out and ask more experienced climbers. I know a ton of excellent and experienced climbers who invited newbie climbers who were to shy to ask because they felt they were not good enough. Most people actually just enjoy climbing with helpful and friendly people. And there are only so many pro climbers who need to send the hardest routes continuously. The rest of us is perfectly fine with climbing a grade lower than usual if it means to have fun company.
Keep these points in mind, and it will be easy to find a rock climbing mentor. Also, if you have feedback leave me a comment, and make sure to read some of my other guides like my guide to find good rock climbing spots around you, whether to buy climbing shoes or not and my little guide on finger taping.