Priscilla LamHow To0 Comments

Ready for a new adventure? Try top-rope rock climbing, it’s an activity that motivates you to go outdoors, use your strength, and have fun doing it. Not to mention, you feel like a rock star when you get to the top! (See what I did there?)


The Essentials

For beginners, we recommend starting off by purchasing rock climbing shoes and a chalk bag. If you want to take it a step up, you can add to your rock climbing collection with a harness and an ATC belay device. You can find these online or at REI stores.

Rock Climbing Gear

Pictured from top: Harness, Rock Climbing Shoes, Chalk Bag, ETC Belay Device

Once you are prepared to go rock climbing outdoors, you might want to buy rope (length varies), a helmet, at least six roll lock carabiners, and slings. These will get you set up for top roping. If you are still debating whether or not you want to invest in the sport, indoor rock climbing gyms offer rentals. If you have friends who are already avid climbers, BORROW! But once you make the investment, these should last you a while.


Indoor Rock Climbing

If you want to get some indoor practice before climbing outdoors, there are several indoor gyms. If you’re in the Los Angeles or Orange County area, check out Sender One Climbing. This gym offers a variety of lessons in rock climbing, bouldering, as well as yoga and youth programs. There are several beginner programs and memberships available for those who want to practice for the next adventure. The more you practice, the stronger you get!

Having fun at Sender One Gym in Santa Ana, CA

Having fun at Sender One Gym in Santa Ana, CA


Top-Rope Rock Climbing

If you have had practice indoors, you will find the skills you acquired come in handy. However, don’t be afraid to get a few calluses, bruises, and scratches outdoors. Be careful and make sure your friends are attentive at all times.

In the United States, rock climbers usually use YDS, or Yosemite Decimal System, to rate rock climbing difficulty. The free climb ratings range from 5.0 – 5.15 and subdivided by a, b, c, and d levels. Novice rock climbers (like myself) usually begin at a 5.0 – 5.7 rating. Increase your difficulty range when you become more comfortable and can ensure your safety.

Rock climbing can be dangerous, and safety begins at the anchor.  An anchor point is a device that attaches a climber to any climbing surface. Most rocks that are equipped for top-roping have bolts attached at the top of each route (usually at the top of the rock) that you can attach your anchor point to. Make sure you create a solid equalized master point, meaning the weight should be spread equally to all anchor placements. Thread your rope through double carabiners and lock them. Drop the rope to the bottom of the rock where you will start climbing from. When you drop the rope, yell “ROPE!” to make sure people down below don’t get “rope lash” (Is that a real term?).

Learning the basics of rock climbing from Nathan Krugman

Learning the basics of rock climbing from Nathan Krugman

Once an anchor has been set up, head to the bottom of the rock and start climbing! You can either repel down or walk around to start climbing up. The harness should be sized proportionately and attached to the rope by a carabiner using a bowline or double bowline knot (Click here for tying instructions). Establish a belayer, someone at the bottom of the rock that secures the climber while he/she ascends. The belayer does this by letting out slack in the rope using the ATC belay (shown above).

Cover your hands with chalk. Keep a chalk bag attached to your harness in case you need more. Chalk helps climbers dry their hands and fingers to allow them to grip the rock surface easily. Get a feel for the rock texture, finding your grip is important. Look up and take a mental note of the route you want to take before you begin. In my experience rock climbing is harder than it looks, so feel free to take breaks. Let your belayer know if you want to rest on the rope. He or she will secure the ATC belay device and you can safely let go from the rock to rest.

Friends and strangers on the ground level have a better view of climbing holds so listen to their suggestions and do your best. If you don’t make it up to the top, it’s okay! Try again if you have the strength, or go back after more practice indoors to accomplish your goal. The most important part of a new adventure is to have fun!


Southern California Rock Climbing

If you’re in the Southern California area, here are some great places to try the sport:

1. Malibu Creek State Park, Malibu (Planet of the Apes Rock)

Films and TV shows have been filmed here including Planet of the Apes and M.A.S.H. The park offers a variety of trails to get to the rock (Click here for more information). You will see fellow rock climbers from novice to expert levels gathering around the rock having a great time. Beginner routes begin at a level 5.9 and increase to 5.12b.

Malibu Creek State Park Rock Climbing

Planet of the Apes Rock in Malibu CA


2. Stoney Point, Los Angeles

Stoney Point offers a mix of bouldering and sport climbing options along with plenty of top-rope routes. There are various top-rope levels that range from 5.6 – 5.12a. The rocks at this city parks are sandstone, so be cautious during rain seasons. Do not climb 3-4 days after rainfall.

Stoney Point by Los Angeles, CA

Stoney Point by Los Angeles, CA (Photo courtesy of


3. Point Dume, Malibu

Point Dume is a seaside cliff right off the beach with spectacular views and beginner climbing routes. All the face routes are 5.9 and under with bolted anchors at the very top for top-rope climbing. Nothing beats climbing by the ocean waves and resting by the shore after.

Rock Climbing at Point Dume in Malibu, CA (Photo courtesy of

Rock Climbing at Point Dume in Malibu, CA (Photo courtesy of


Keep in mind that there are dangers involved in the sport of rock climbing, so safety is always important. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.


Written by Priscilla Lam

Special thanks to Nathan Krugman


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