11 Obstacles for New Climbers to Overcome

When my mind started to ponder the idea of climbing as a physically challenging hobby or pastime, I would be lying if I told you there weren’t what seemed like a thousand questions that flooded my mind simultaneously.  It was overwhelming enough to nearly make me quit my newfound interest!  I thought of how hard climbing is without the added hassle of purchasing gear, dealing with mental hangups like a fear of heights, and one heck of a steep learning curve.  Should I even bother?  However, with a bit of diligence, pride and maybe a bit of luck, I asked my good friend “Google” to help me out.  That wasn’t the final answer, but it sure was a good start.

In the hopes that it may help you, I decided to write down my top 14 questions that needed to be answered.  Here’s a quick outline of both questions and basic answers to get you started.

  1. Learning the lingo – from dyno to belay, etc.

I know for me this was an intimidating obstacle that took me weeks to overcome enough to slowly start being involved in my climbing community. You’ll find that many climbers will be gracious enough to help you learn the lingo and pass on their knowledge.  Unfortunately, there are others who tend towards the “snobbish” side of the spectrum who have derogatory terms (names) for new climbers.  Any way you cut it, you’ll have to learn at least a percentage of the terms used in everyday climbing.  We have an excellent list to get you started.  It’s not exhaustive (doesn’t cover every single term used in climbing) but it’ll get you off to an excellent start.  Check it out right HERE.

  1. Using arms more than legs

    Remember that your arms are not the strongest body parts to use when climbing. Use your legs as much as possible!

This one made sense to me (as a newbie) because I saw all the photos of ripped backs on thin guys, and big, muscular arms on girls!  To me, that shouted “CLIMBERS USE THEIR ARMS!”  Well, it’s true that climbers use their arms more than practitioners in many other sports, but it’s also true that new climbers may overuse their arms and underuse their legs.  Legs are your biggest single asset when climbing, and we can’t overstate the importance of using your legs as much as possible during a climb.  They contain your body’s strongest muscle, and are responsible for the vast majority of moves on the rock.

  1. Fear of heights

Here’s a biggie!  If you dread the words “don’t look down”, then I’ll be the bearer of bad news.  You’re afraid of heights!

Acrophobia is the official name given to this condition, and the dictionary defines it as “the extreme or irrational fear of heights”.  I know that many of you sufferers would say it’s not irrational at all!  If you’re hanging by the tips of your toes jammed in a quarter-inch of ice on the top of a mountain, with the canyon of death below you, there’s nothing irrational about that fear.  The only irrational thing in that picture is the act of climbing itself!   Okay, but here’s a counter-argument:  without the little bit of Acrophobia in all of us, there would be no thrill on a roller coaster, no fun in a hot air balloon ride, and no attraction at all to downhill skiing!

If you’d like to experience the thrill, exhilaration, feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie of any hill-climbing pursuit, there are some things you can do to help your fear.


unlike your parents’ brilliant idea of chucking you into a lake to teach you to swim, we suggest approaching your “mountain” (literally and figuratively) slowly. Use a rational, methodical approach to conquering your fear by taking a series of hikes higher and higher up the mountain, or watch a 3-year old, then a 6-year old, then a 10-year old child do some rock climbing in an indoor gym.  Don’t look at them and say “they’re too young to have a healthy fear”.  Instead, you’d be surprised at how much they are aware of potential dangers, but take the precautions to minimize them.

To conquer your fear of heights, take it slowly, breathe deeply, and get professional help if necessary!


Especially in high altitudes, a lack of oxygen can trigger all kinds of negative things from asthma attacks to irritability or even nausea. It can also trigger your fear of heights to an abnormally high level.  We suggest resting and breathing heavily.  We are also big proponents of bottled oxygen for times just like yours.  We caution the use of oxygen only in situations where you could die without it (like a hike to the top of Everest without acclimatizing).


With nearly every discipline and pursuit in the world, visualizing success can play a big part in getting you there.  I’m living proof of that in the world of high school basketball.  My coach told us all to lie in bed at night and just before we fall asleep, we were to visualize a perfect jump shot in slow motion.  We were to never visualize the ball MISSING the hoop but always scoring.  Then do it over and over and over as many times as possible.  It had obvious and immediate effects on me as I played my highest-scoring game the day after, and from that time onward, my level of play was upped a notch!  So, visualize yourself doing all the scary things that you would never do because of the fear of heights, but imagine you’re not scared at all.  I can tell you that if it doesn’t help you, it surely won’t hurt you!


I’m a lover of coffee, but I drink a very strong, steeped decaf with no ill side effects like withdrawal or addiction.  Caffeine is no friend of any recovering acrophobics!  Caffeine is a contributor to anxiety issues, and without it, you will feel more relaxed (in the long term – not the day you quit!)


This may sound extreme, but it’s really not as uncommon as you may think.  There are LOTS of options for therapies that target acrophobia including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as therapies that include technology like Virtual Reality.  Imagine rappelling down the edge of a steep cliff – in VR without the risk of injury.  It’s helped countless people.  It could be worth a shot if your fears are debilitating.  In addition to conventional pharmaceuticals which can help decrease anxiety, other non-conventional options have potential like acupuncture, aromatherapy and meditation.

  1. Fear of falling, learning to let go

    Fear of Heights or fear of falling are big issues. Thankfully, they are surmountable obstacles!

This fear is so common, that we thought it deserved its own heading.  However, it would be treated the same way as the fear of heights.  You can use a variety of self-help methods, followed by professional care in extreme cases.

  1. Trusting your gear – refer to article on “preparing to climb”

Here’s another issue that is mostly psychological, and can be overcome largely by actually experiencing a climb with your equipment which does NOT fail.  Assuming your equipment is in decent shape and especially if it’s new, the odds of failure as infinitesimally small.  Here’s our recommendation;  if you carefully read through this article which outlines a checklist of actions and preparations, you’ll know how to approach the climb.  If you follow the advice carefully and properly, the fear you have should diminish.  If it does not, there are likely more serious issues related to psychology which may be better addressed by a professional therapist.

  1. Trying to go too fast – you need to problem solve – work out the trip before you start

This is never a good idea.  We love enthusiasm, but as a newbie climber, it’s a good idea to fantasize about your potential accomplishments, but proceed with caution.  Here’s a good case in point;  I love sports and the outdoors.  When I decided to start a website dedicated to the sport and passion of climbing, I resisted the urge to immediately search online for a cool website theme and then just buy it, install it, and jump right in.  I was mature enough to realize that there was so much information I didn’t even know that I should know about, that I decided to seek the help of a number of professional website builders, marketers, writers and technical wizards before I even made my first move.  That’s a great approach to climbing.  Surround yourself with at least 1 or 2 veteran climbers who can tell you all the potential problems you may face on your climb, and then how to address them.

  1. Don’t be a lone ranger – ask experienced climbers, take tips from others, find friends, find partners, join a group

Yup!  See issue #6.  It’s all related!  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to meet fellow climbers who were far less prepared than you are when they started, but they overcame the BIGGEST hurdle, which is actually taking actionable steps to climbing (like seeking advice, practicing “baby steps” on a starter wall in a gym, etc.)

  1. Not knowing how to use your gear

Yes, this can be an actual killer!  When I started researching all the gear you can spend your money on, it was scary!  Only after talking to someone who knows what they are doing, did I realized much of the available equipment was either redundant (meaning that there were a dozen different products you could buy, but you only need one of them to do the task), or completely unnecessary.  Some equipment was so specific and specialized, that only a very few climbers would ever need it, and then only once or twice in their entire lives!  If you eliminate, super-specialized equipment, redundant options and unnecessary gear, you end up with a manageable, learnable quantity of items that a good climber with experience can help you with buying and learning about.  You can even head to your local climbing gym to ask for advice, and for sure you’ll find it in a climbing club.  However you get the information you need, this is one topic you don’t want to skip.  It’s absolutely crucial that you learn what equipment you absolutely NEED, and then exactly how to use it.  If you don’t, then your fear of not knowing how to use your gear, is a very valid one which would even freak me out!

  1. Don’t climb above your level

I really hope this is not something about which you’ll be blinded due to your pride or arrogance.  You have nothing to prove to anyone (well, you might actually – but even if you do, it’s not worth your life!).  I’m guessing that most of you reading this blog post have the sense to follow your own common sense and logic.  Stay within your limits, and avoid becoming a statistic!

  1. Letting panic take over

Wow!  The stories I could tell about panic.  Panic is often worse than an actual gun as far as the danger it poses to its unwitting victims.

A girl I know from college once did a triathlon for the first time in upstate New York about 10 years ago.  Her name was Karen, and Karen was READY!  Her story is captivating!

She had been training for over 6 months doing swims at the local pool, 10K runs in her community and bike rides for years!  She felt her body was in better condition than it had ever been.  As she waited for the start of the race, tiny little apprehensions started to invade her confidence.  She couldn’t hear the announcer over the loudspeaker as the competitors started to crouch for the gun.  Only about 1 in 4 words were clear enough to understand.  She started to feel her wetsuit was a bit too tight as was her cap and goggles.  She was told that her suit was her perfect size by the shop owner, but she was sure it was too tight now.  But it was too late to do anything about it!  As the gun went off, her group of swimmers began to move like a herd of buffalo to the water.  The cold water in the dark lake sent shock waves up her ankles and then into her arms and torso.  The water was getting deeper – quickly!  When should she stop running and start swimming?  She couldn’t turn back now.  She was surrounded by hundreds of black suits with yellow caps, all moving her along.  She had to jump, there was no more lake bottom beneath her feet!  The wetsuit seemed suffocating now, and she felt like she might drown!  No time to think about that after she felt a slap on her ankle by a swimmer to her rear.  No time to think about that as a previously hidden heel emerges from the lake just beneath her chin and does not stop its ascent from the murky water.  As her jaw if forcefully snapped shut, her goggles are filled with water, and she cannot see where she is going.  She cannot see her destination, and she cannot find anyone in a boat who might help her if she were to start drowning.  PANIC was her only option!  In less than 30 seconds Karen was…. was…. well, actually, Karen is not a real person I know, but her story is a perfect example of a panic situation which can take over an otherwise calm and rational person.

I tell this story only because it’s not a climbing story, but it fits perfectly.  Karen was prepared by all counts, except for one BIG thing;  she had no practice in open water swimming (especially in cold water with 300 competitors surrounding her).  When it comes to climbing, it’s no different.  You can be “prepared”, but you never are actually prepared until you’ve at least tried some climbing scenarios in a safer environment, and rehearsed some potential emergency situations or mishaps.  If you practice the unlikely, you’ll feel way more prepared.

If you are prone to panic attacks, see point #3 pertaining to treatments for fears and phobias.  Panic attacks can be addressed in many ways, but we suggest a professional counselor or therapist.  If you suffer from panic, you are NOT ALONE and you’re not weird!  Treatments are common and most often effective.

  1. Cost for equipment

This one is real for sure!  I’m not rollin’ in it, so I’m good with used equipment wherever I can find it.  I’m also a bit more of a risk-taker, so I’d be the one to buy used gear.  However, I’d get it checked out by a pro at a gear retailer, or by a veteran in my climbing club for sure!

  1. Knowing where to climb

Yes, this is a problem, but it’s one that is easily addressed.  We’ve searched the world over, and we have a great starter list for anyone interested in knowing where to go on a number of continents.  Check out our list for the best places in the U.S.A. here, and you’ll also find areas around the world in the same drop-down menu.

  1. Where to start

Ah, this one is easy.  If you’ve just been bitten by the climbing bug (they’re infesting the entire globe these days!), there are lots of places to “start”.  The first thing I did was Google like I’ve never Googled before!  Once I saturated my mind to the breaking point, I found a local climbing club (we only have a rock-climbing club nearby, not mountaineering) and signed up.  I let everyone know I was a newby (no pride here!) and everyone was glad to help.

  1. Do I need a permit or license to be qualified to climb (like drivers need a license after passing a government-mandated examination)?

Admittedly, this question is one that I HAD before I was ready to take the plunge!  I’m not sure if many others have this question, but it’s not a bad one to address.  The good news is that the short answer for us climbing enthusiasts, is generally NO!  The only licensing involved at this point is certifications for mountain guides, top-rope climbing instructors and gym climbing instructors and the like.  As you plunge into this sport you’ll know if it becomes an obsession for you, and if it does, you can pursue certification to teach others (we won’t deal with those details here since this blog is mostly for beginners).  Until that point, no worries about getting a “climbing license” to start enjoying an afternoon hike up a slope!

I’m sure there are dozens of other questions you may have that make you apprehensive about getting started mountaineering or rock climbing.  Please let us know what they are and we’d be thrilled to tackle them!  Climb on my friends!



Peter Stec

Hey Knife Up gang!  I'm Pete and I'm just a small man in a small rural town who loves the outdoors as much as the other million internet users that cruise sites like Knifeup.com every day.  The difference is that I like to share what I know, and research what I don't totally know, so that YOU can have all the info you need to feel confident and prepared for all things outdoors related! And, for those who care, I have 42 years of wilderness canoeing and bushcraft experience in Northern Ontario and spend most of my Summers covered in mosquitos and fish slime, but hey, it's a lifestyle choice eh?
Peter Stec

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