Adventure holidays have never been more popular, and rock climbing is the perfect adventure. It combines adrenaline with stunning scenery and (under the right circumstances) provides a physical challenge is much safer than it really feels. With a guide or an experienced and qualified instructor, climbing is actually a very safe sport. The hazards can be managed and controlled, and kids as young as five can try it without risking more than a scraped knee at worst.
You can try climbing almost anywhere. There doesn’t even have to be any natural rock in the area- indoor climbing gyms are popping up all over the world, and most major cities have at least one or two. Almost all are more than happy to offer instruction to beginners and families, so you can take the kids down on any Saturday and have a go. The downside is that indoor climbing doesn’t offer the incredible views that outdoor climbing does. It’s fun, but something is missing.
To really get the most from a climbing experience you have to go outdoors and get on real rock. That might mean the cliffs and crags of your nearest National Park or it might mean picking a vacation destination where climbing is king. But where? Here are some of the best places to try rock climbing – beginner’s welcome.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park might be the most exciting rock climbing destination in the world. It has truly huge rock domes, sheer cliff faces, and pinnacles, and some of the longest and most challenging routes on the globe. There is a downside- it’s crowded with hopeful climbers and non-climbing tourists, and most of the really stunning routes are off-limits to beginners- but Yosemite is worth is just for the atmosphere alone. The best time to go is either in the April to June period or September-October, when it’s not too hot and not too wet.
Most of the climbs in the Yosemite area are not bolted (ie there are no specially-placed metal safety points). That makes it a little less beginner friendly than some other places, but wherever you go, a beginner climber should always hire an instructor to show them the ropes. They’ll have all the necessary gear and will be able to keep you safe and show you the best places and the best routes for less experienced climbers. The other major factor that separates Yosemite from other climbing hot spots is the height- this is not the one to choose if you might be a little nervous a long way off the ground.
Thailand’s Railay/Krabi Area
The beachside climbing in Thailand’s Railay/Krabi area is very different. Here, the routes are comparatively short and your instructor will be able to simply lower you to the ground if you get scared and want a rest. Take your safety harness off, wander across the beach, paddle in the warm blue sea for a while, and then climb some more later. Thailand has a reputation for beautiful limestone cliffs situated right on white sandy beaches- not a mountain view, but just as attractive and a whole lot less work.
Krabi might offer the most relaxed learn-to-climb experience in the world, but do make sure your instructor is fully qualified. The stringent regulations that apply in Europe, the UK, and the USA are not quite so tough in South East Asia. There are plenty of excellent guides available, just make sure yours is suitably experienced, or pick one of the climbing schools.Then you can relax and enjoy the rock, the culture, the (incredibly) cheap food and accommodation, and of course, the sun and the beaches.
The French Alps combine the best of both worlds. There is short, safe sport climbing in the valleys around Chamonix but the skyline is dominated by the huge snowy peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif. You get the absolutely stunning views and the beginner-friendly, safe climbs too. And if you really enjoy your experiences on the valley crags, you can hire a guide who’ll take you up high and give you a taste of real Alpine rock and ice climbing.
Chamonix and the other Alpine resorts aren’t cheap, even in the summer off-season– it’s much too cold and icy for beginner climbers in winter- but they are very well set up for visitors. There may be more outdoor stores, hire shops, and climbing guides here than anywhere else in the world. Campsites, bunkhouses, hostels, bed and breakfasts, and hotels line the streets so you won’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay. Kids are welcome at most of the climbing schools and English-speaking childcare is easily available if the grown-ups want to try something a little tougher and closer to the summits.
Spain’s Costa Brava and Costa Blanca
Spain’s Costa Brava and Costa Blanca are two more fabulous places to learn to climb. Few of the crags have the easy beachside feel that makes Krabi so special, but the weather is generally warm and dry and the climbing is first class. Rather than take the informal, once-off approach of most lessons available in the Alps, the Spanish coast tends to be the destination of choice for learn-to-climb courses. If you’ve got a weekend or a week and want to really learn some skills rather than just try climbing for fun, Spain is a very good choice. It’s cheaper than in the Alps, too.
Most Costa Brava and Costa Blanca climbs are bolted, which makes it easier for beginners to pick up skills safely, but you can also try something a little different and leave off the rope altogether. Deep Water Soloing or DWS is the art of climbing ropeless above the sea, so if you fall, you get wet rather than hit the ground. There are still risks, but easy DWS is great fun and local instructors will be able to show you safe places to try it.
Almost every country has outstanding places to learn to climb. The US has Smith Rock, the ‘Gunks in New York State, King’s Canyon, Joshua Tree National Park, and many more. The Greek Islands have incredible coastal cliff climbing and New Zealand, Switzerland, Wales and Norway have excellent mountain routes. Wherever you are there is great climbing not too far away. Get out there and try it!