Rock climbing or “technical terrain” is a sport where participants climb up, down, or across natural rock formations — or artificial rock walls — to reach the summit without falling. While archaeologists believe that early humans would climb for safety, modern humans do it for the thrill and health benefits. You might think that this ancient sport is only for the young, but you’d be surprised to see older adults thriving from it.
To rock climb in your 60s or above, all you need is passion, a healthy mind and body, patience and courage, a good teacher, the right gear, and different climbing grades for which to practice. Your age shouldn’t stop you.
This article will show you how to start rock climbing in your 60s and the benefits and challenges of rock climbing. We’ll also share some tips on how to train your endurance. Read on to get the complete guide to rock climbing in your 60s and beyond.
Getting Started With Rock Climbing
Rock climbing may seem intimidating at first, but the truth is, you should be able to do it if you’re not too overweight or if you’re in an excellent cardiovascular condition. Both people with disabilities and older adults can enjoy the sport. Francisco Novato Marin, the world’s oldest person to send 5.14a at the age of 61, or Kitty Pokrzywinski — a climber from Iowa who climbs at age 74 — can be an inspiration for you.
Before venturing into rock climbing, follow these steps to help you get started:
- Decide which type of rock climbing you want to try first. You can choose between indoor and outdoor rock climbing. To climb indoors, you need to find a gym that offers indoor rock climbing.
- Choose your school and teacher. You’ll want a school that has more experienced teachers or teachers who have experience teaching older adults. Having the right teacher is essential to ensure you get the best learning experience.
- Once you’ve found a teacher, the next step is to start climbing. Don’t let negative thoughts like “I’m too old” or “I can’t” defeat your purpose. Remember that you’re a beginner who’s on a journey of becoming a rock climber.
Before you start climbing, you need to decide whether you want to climb indoors or outdoors. Some people begin with indoor rock climbing first as they feel it is safer than outdoor rock climbing. You’ll want to do the rock climbing that you’re most comfortable doing.
Indoor Rock Climbing
Indoor rock climbing usually takes place in a gym, sometimes at the mall. Rock climbing schools use artificial rock walls, handholds, and footholds to make rock climbing possible indoors. Climbers have to choose the routes that eventually take them to the top.
The routes usually have specific colors to match particular levels of difficulty. The routes will also have numbering labels to show climbers that they become more difficult as their numbers increase. Climbers will climb according to their current level — so a 60 years old beginner climber will have to start from the most comfortable route first, just like all other beginner climbers.
There are several types of indoor rock climbing: bouldering, lead climbing, and top-roping. They are all different climbing techniques but with the same objectives: to reach the wall’s peak.
Bouldering is a form of rock climbing. Climbers have to climb small rock formations or artificial rock walls without any rope or harness. Bouldering can take place in both indoor and outdoor settings.
Bouldering may seem dangerous at first, but you can always do this rock climbing technique indoors. Indoor bouldering is excellent because it allows people to climb indoors in places where natural borders are absent. To prevent injuries, you’ll need:
- a good pair of climbing shoes
- chalks to keep your hands dry (for a firmer grip)
- bouldering mats (in case you fall)
When you first start, your teacher will be watching and guiding you on overcoming your routes (also known as “problem” in bouldering). The routes are usually less than 6 meters (20 ft.) tall. In North America, boulder problems go by grades (exclude level of fear or danger), with Vo being the easiest and V16 being the most challenging.
Bouldering is becoming more popular now, hence more gyms dedicated to indoor bouldering.
Also known as Sport climbing, lead climbing is a form of rock climbing whereby climbers use fixed bolts for protection when going through a predefined route. So when you do lead climbing, you use a rope (that you tie to your harness and clips into each bolt) to ascend a path, and you quickdraw to prevent falling.
If you find bouldering a little too intimidating, perhaps you could try lead climbing first. It might feel safer since it uses special equipment to help you climb, and lead climbing is more comfortable on the joints, making it great for older people. Indoor climbing gyms have quickdraws already in place with the bolts so that climbers (like you) only need to clip their rope in as you ascend the route.
In lead climbing, a lead climber can do the “whipper,” which is a drastic fall because the fall distance will be twice the rope’s length between the last clipped bolt and the climber. Falling correctly on the ground is essential for any rock climber, and that takes skills. You’ll need to practice a lot.
Top roping is another form of rock climbing that you practice indoors. Top roping uses a rope (anchored from above) to protect climbers and belay them from the ground. One reason why you might enjoy top roping is that, unlike other types of climbing, it lets you fall without taking a drastic fall.
At the rock climbing gym, you might notice that the gym marks their routes using plastic cards. The marks display the name and grade of every route. The routes also have color-coded holds.
Outdoor Rock Climbing
What’s excellent about outdoor rock climbing is that the sport takes place outside, in nature. Most people will eventually end up climbing outdoors after getting used to climbing indoors. Indoor rock climbing is just the beginning.
Sure, indoor rock climbing seems safer, but many people who do indoor rock climbing will eventually climb outdoors to up their challenge. When you’re climbing in the outdoors, you’re going to have to deal with the odds — changing weather, for example.
There’s nothing wrong if you only want to stick with indoor climbing, but if you’re going to climb outdoors next time, you’re going to need a lot of practice. While both indoor and outdoor climbing are quite similar, beginner climbers should go with more experienced climbers. The reason being our environment is always changing, and there are ethics to consider.
You’ll want to bring portable crash pads with you for protection when bouldering outdoors. Without proper crash pads, you could injure yourself or have a single fall ruin your climbing day. Fortunately, many crash pads are easy to carry; some even act as a backpack.
Bouldering outdoors can be dangerous with a lack of preparation, help, or knowledge. Your age isn’t a problem at all if you’re fit, patient, ready, and confident. You need to take the first step, which is to start climbing slowly.
If you’re venturing into your first bouldering adventure, you’ll want to bring along some friends or a teacher for spotting. Spotting is a technique for guiding a falling climber to get to the ground safely. Spotting is just as crucial as belaying; therefore, you must perform spotting with care.
You can boulder alone, although we don’t recommend it to beginners or older people. But if you do want to boulder alone after you’ve become more experienced, you can do it even in your 60s or above. And moisturize your hands because bouldering will be rough on your hands and can cause flappers (which happen when you rip a big chunk of your skin).
When the lead climber puts removable protection along the route to protect from falls, we call it traditional climbing. Once everyone in the team completes their final ascends, they remove the protection. Traditional climbing is a challenging type of rock climbing because it has no boundaries and carries more risks than other climbing kinds.
What’s great about traditional climbing is it’s more environmentally-friendly than sport climbing (that uses bolted routes). That’s because traditional climbing allows climbers to remove their protection.
Lead (Sporting) Climbing
In lead climbing, you permanently clip protective pieces into bolds along your route and then establish an anchor at the summit while belayed from the ground. Unlike traditional climbing, lead climbing doesn’t require you to carry protection along the journey. For that reason, lead climbing is safer, quicker, and less expensive than traditional climbing.
Top roping is handy in places where the rock quality doesn’t allow for enough leader protection, where bolting is not ethically allowed, or where you’re not allowed to tie top ropes to trees. You can also hike to the top of the bolted anchor for sport-top routes, set the rope, and then go back down to climb. You do the same with traditional top-rope routes, except you use removable protection for the anchor instead of setting the rope off a bolted anchor.
When top-roping, you’ll need to get all your gears ready. You’ll need:
- a helmet that is comfortable to wear
- a dynamic rope that can last for years
- at least two comfortable harnesses, one for the climber and another for the belayer
- a few 120 cm Slings to help you belay anchor
- good climbing shoes
- a belay device like a Petzl Grigri belay device that can secure you better than how traditional belay device would
- a few carabiners for setting up anchors and belaying from
- cordelette of 6 or 7mm nylon cord. Buy longer ones, if necessary
- at least 30 feet of tubular webbing for your top-rope anchor, safety anchor, or bottom belay anchor
Popularly used for ascending big walls like in Yosemite, aid climbing is a type of rock climbing where a climber stands on or pulls themselves upward using devices attached to fixed protection. Aid climbing is usually necessary when climbing steep, long, or difficult walls. Some people do Aid climbing to study their route before free-climbing.
Free climbing doesn’t have any equipment to support climbers to make upward progress. Instead, free climbing requires climbers to rely on the natural features of the rock heavily. Climbers can only use ropes and other equipment to protect them from a fall or provide a belay.
Unlike free climbing that still uses ropes and climbing equipment, free soloing doesn’t use any ropes, harness, or protective gear. The climber has to complete the ascent on their own using their ability only. Free soloing is not the same as bouldering because free soloing usually involves hazardous heights.
In 2017, Alex Honnold became the first person to do a free solo climb at El Capitan.
Rappelling is a technique used by climbers when they control their descent on a vertical wall. Rappelling is not the same as lowering because when the climber pulls the rope after rappelling, it is not weighted. Lowering, in contrast, causes the rope to be weighted when lowering a climber.
Is Rock Climbing Dangerous?
Indoor rock climbing is usually safer than outdoor rock climbing. That’s because indoor rock climbing will give you safety rules to follow and remember, whereas outdoor rock climbing will not be able to guarantee your safety should there be faulty equipment or a lack of equipment. It’s best for people in their 60s or above, and those who are new to rock climbing to try indoor rock climbing first for safety reasons.
If you know your routes or have other people guide you, rock climbing is not as dangerous as many people might think.
How to Train Local Endurance
Having good stamina is essential if you want to rock climb. The sport is intense and enduring, so you’ll want to practice your climbing skills always to ensure your body is fit for the activity. Rock climbing is good for keeping you in shape.
When you first try out rock climbing, you’ll find the journey to the top rather long. You might also feel tired in the middle of a route. And the most straightforward route might feel very difficult.
People in their 60s can rock climb as long as they have good local endurance, which is the ability to stay on the wall for a long time at a particular grade. Don’t rush to move on to a higher grade. Take your time to train your body.
As your grade increases, so does the difficulty level at which you can rest. For example, if you can do the 5.10 climbing without feeling too tired, you’ll have more time to relax and regain your energy. But if you complete the level feeling very tired, then the next level will be even more difficult.
It would be best if you got used to doing easier climbing grades first, from 5.0 to 5.7. Then, you can proceed to do intermediate grades, from 5.8 to 5.10. Try doing every grade as long as you can to improve your local endurance.
When you have high local endurance, you can climb below a particular grade for 45 minutes at a time, or longer, without fatigue. Bear in mind that climbing grades don’t include the danger factor but only the climb’s route or physical difficulty.
To improve local endurance, you should do the ARC training — Aerobic, Respiration, and Capillarity. What the training does is create more capillaries in your forearms. You can achieve this by climbing a lot of challenging terrains.
When you climb, your existing blood vessels will become more expansive. When you have more blood vessels in your forearms or broader blood vessels, you can climb longer and regain your energy quickly.
Having a Good Diet
It would help if you also practiced an excellent diet to give your body all the nutrition it needs. There are many foods good for boosting stamina. All the food you consume should have essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, proteins, complex carbs, and irons.
Foods that are good for you are:
- Beans. Beans are good for stamina because they have many minerals and iron, which help your body produce red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen that helps you exercise and improve your stamina.
- Oatmeal. Oatmeal can keep you full for a longer time because it’s an unprocessed carb. In other words, oatmeal breaks down slowly in your body; hence plenty of sugar in your body.
- Bananas. Bananas are rich in carbs; therefore, you should eat them a few hours before training. Bananas also trigger your body to produce dopamine that helps you focus.
- Meat, fish, and eggs. Foods that are high in protein like meat, fish, and eggs are good for muscle building, growth, and development. The meat will keep you full all day as it breaks down slowly.
People in their 60s or above can do rock climbing as long as they are interested in doing it, fit to climb, undergo a lot of training, and are patient with their progress. Climbers can improve their skills with the help of good teachers, too. It’s also essential that climbers decide whether they want to do indoor or outdoor rock climbing — both are good choices, with indoor rock climbing being more suitable for beginner older adults.
Climbers should improve their local endurance so they can complete a challenge without feeling too tired out.
- Wikipedia: Rock Climbing
- NationalGeographic: Rock climbing: from ancient practice to Olympic sport
- Wikipedia: Bouldering
- Wikipedia: Quickdraw
- Climbing: How to Fall
- RockClimbingCentral: Is Bouldering Harder Than Rock Climbing
- Wikipedia: Belaying
- Wikipedia: Spotting
- NationalGeographic: How Alex Honnold made the ‘Ultimate Climb’ — without a rope