Your First Visit to a Climbing Gym

So you’ve decided to embark on a new adventure and try your hand at rock climbing. Rather than spending this article validating the excellent decision you’ve made, I’ll do you one better help paint a picture of what that might look like. Visiting your local climbing gym is the easiest way to experience climbing for the first time. The potential of an entire lifetime of adventures could be waiting for you, so let me walk you through what to expect when walking through those gym doors for the first time.


We’re starting our exciting adventures off with some good old fashioned paperwork. Thankfully this is a quick process (a few minutes at most) that you can even do here on the Climbmax website if you want to get started quickly the day you show up to the gym. This just asks for your basic information and states that if you happen to get hurt Climbmax Climbing can not be held liable. Gym policies, climbing systems, and padded floors exist to reduce the potential for accidents, but climbing is inherently dangerous regardless, so, like all things fun in North Carolina, a waiver is legally required to climb at the gym.


Once you’ve arrived and have filled out a waiver, a kind staff member will be present to check you in, ring you up, rent you any gear you might need, and orient you on the policies and gym geography. With Climbmax Climbing, you can expect to pay anywhere between $12 and $25 for a single drop-in depending on the gear you need and the location you chose (more information about rates can be found here on the Climbmax website.) If you’re renting gear, the kind staff member will gladly help you get set up with it so that you’re secure and have a basic understanding of how it works.


After checking out and getting set up with gear, you will receive an orientation from a staff member about the gym’s basic rules and policies, dos and don’ts of the gym, and the lay of the land. This orientation should only take a few minutes if everything said makes sense, but if you don’t quite understand something they’ve covered and would like further explanation, don’t be afraid to ask. The gym staff is more than happy to get you comfortable with climbing and would be happy to answer any questions you might have at any point during your visit.


Now that you’ve been oriented, you’re off to the races! You’re ready to start climbing and having fun. Climbmax Climbing offers both climbing and bouldering. What’s the difference? Let’s cover that.

Climbing in general often refers to climbing while attached to a system with a rope backing you up. At Climbmax Climbing at SMAC you’ll find top-rope and lead climbing. Top-rope refers to the climbing while the rope is suspended from the top of the wall, while lead climbing is a much more advanced form of climbing in which the climber clips the rope into gear as they climb up. If it’s your first time climbing, you’re assuredly going to stick with top-rope climbing as there’s much less experience required than there is with lead climbing. At Climbmax Climbing at SMAC, you’ll also find devices called “auto-belays” which allow a climber to climb top-rope routes without an experienced partner managing a rope for them. These devices are ideal for any new climber who doesn’t yet have the resources to climb with ropes.

Bouldering is climbing adapted to shorter distances. Rather than using ropes and harnesses to climb extreme distances, the routes only go up 8 to 12 feet high above reinforced padded floors, so when you fall you do fall to the ground rather than being backed up by a rope, but the padded floors will be there to cushion your fall. With bouldering, since the routes are shorter they’re traditionally more difficult. Where climbing with ropes requires more endurance, bouldering tends to call for more physical strength.

There’s no right or wrong type of climbing to choose. Most people like to try both for their first time, then decide later which one they like more; others prefer to take it slow and try things one at a time. As far as preference goes, some people prefer bouldering because they have a primal fear of heights, where some people prefer ropes because they don’t like hitting the ground when they fall. Some people have no preference and dabble in both. There’s no way for me to tell you that you should stick to a certain way to climb. All I can say is broaden your horizons, but don’t be afraid to gravitate.


Once you’re done climbing it’s time to call it a day! Clean up after yourself, wash your hands, and return any gear you may have rented to the front desk. Hopefully you’ll have had a rich and fulfilling experience, but know that the experience doesn’t have to end there. Consider asking the staff about membership rates and retail costs for gear. Some people consider a climbing gym membership to be the first big stepping stone to a lifetime of memorable outdoor adventures. If you decide that climbing is something you want to make your passion and you want to start learning more about it, consider reading some of the other blog posts here. The resources here are a fantastic place to start. I hope you find them insightful the same way that this post here was.

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