The Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter
The Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

Fun on the Rocks: Top Tips on Learning How to Climb

Rock climbing is a relatively young but hugely popular outdoor sport. The best place to do it is in the majestic mountains of Tirol. Check out our top tips for learning how to climb.

Have you always dreamt of climbing up a sheer rockface with only your hands and feet? Achieving something which appears at first sight to be impossible? Or do you get a funny feeling in your stomach just thinking about dangling on the end of a rope? It might sound strange, but climbing is often the best way to overcome a fear of heights. This modern sport challenges the mind, body and willpower. Climbers Paradise Tirol, a collective of 15 top climbing regions in Tirol, has a comprehensive list of the best places for beginners, intermediates and experts to climb.

Below we have put together a few tips on getting started with rock climbing. However, we recommend that all beginners take part in a course to learn how to use the equipment and have fun while staying safe.

Step 1 · The Right Preparation

Climbing course at the Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

These days almost all large towns and cities have indoor climbing centres and high-rope adventure parks, with rock climbing experiencing a huge boom in recent years. Some visitors to Tirol will have already taken a climbing course and be familiar with the technique and safety equipment. If you haven't, then don't worry. There are plenty of friendly and experienced instructors in the region who will be happy to show you the ropes and introduce you to the fascinating world of rock climbing.

Visitors who have not climbed before have two options. The quickest and best way to learn how to climb is by taking a course at an indoor climbing centre. There you will learn about the basic techniques, movements and safety equipment. Indoors centres are safe environment where conditions can be controlled, so they are a great place to develop your skills and confidence. The second option is to learn to climb outdoors. This should always be done in the company of an experienced friend or a qualified instructor. Groups courses are also available. Please do not risk your safety by climbing without the help and supervision of an experienced climber. Generally, learning to climb outdoors is considered more difficult than in a climbing centre. This is because the routes are often easier to follow indoors and the distance between the safety carabiners is smaller.

Step 2 · Find the Right Climbing Area with Easy Routes

The Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

Those with no experience of rock climbing outdoors should start with easy single-pitch routes (rated 3 to 4 on the international difficulty scale). The best climbing regions in Tirol offer an incredible 5,100 sport climbing routes catering for all ages and abilities, including families with children. Choose an easy climb to start with, ideally one where the rockface is not completely vertical. It is very important that the route is well-secured, which means that there should be plenty of carabiner hooks placed close together (roughly every 1.5 metres) where the rope will catch you if you fall. Start small and work your way up to longer routes. Make sure you only use officially marked climbing routes. There are some areas where climbing is not allowed for environmental or safety reasons. Before you start, check the weather forecast and take a close look at the surrounding area to identify any potential dangers.

Step 3 · First Steps with a Climbing Instructor

Climbing course at the Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

We recommend that all beginners take part in a group lesson or book a private session with an instructor. In Tirol there are experienced and qualified instructors available in almost every region ( Some of the best places to enquire are the Austrian Alpine Club and the German Alpine Club. There are also climbing camps held throughout Tirol in the summer months. The SAAC (Snow & Alpine Awareness Camps) are free of charge but require participants to have previous climbing experience.

The most common way to start climbing is with what is known as a "toprope" course. Participants are introduced to the most important safety techniques while using the toprope technique, which means they are secured at all times by a rope threaded through a carabiner at the top of the climb. Once they feel comfortable doing that, the next step is "lead" climbing. This means that as they progress up the route the climbers must clip a rope into carabiners. Other basic skills taught in beginners' courses and lessons include how to use different knots and how to fall correctly. Attending a course run by an experienced and qualified climbing instructor is an absolute must for all beginners. Rock climbing without learning the basics first can result in serious injury or even death.

Step 4 · Learn the Basics

Falkenstein rock climbing area in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

As with all sports, it is important to warm up your muscles before you start climbing. The good thing about climbing is that generally you have to walk a little to get to the climbing area, so this often serves as a good warm-up. If there is no walk required to get to the climbing area, we recommend that you warm up by skipping using a climbing rope. It is also important to warm up your hands and wrists. The muscles and tendons in this part of the body are subject to the highest levels of stress during climbing.

Never climb alone. You should always be in pairs, with one person climbing and the other person belaying the climber. This also helps to develop mutual trust. Climber and belayer communicate using simple commands which both must be familiar with. One of the most important principles of climbing is that technique is more important than strength. Using the right technique you can save you a lot of energy. A good way to do this is by using your legs as much as possible in order to relieve pressure on your arms. Your hands should mainly be used to balance yourself on the rocks. Keep your centre of gravity as close as possible to the rockface by pushing your stomach and hips towards the wall. The inner part of your climbing shoe should be used to push on as you make progress up the route. Always check you have a secure footing before shifting your weight.

When it comes to using your hands, try and be as precise as possible when finding safe and solid handholds. Do not cling onto the rock with all your fingers at the same time. Instead, use only the number of fingers you actually need. This may feel strange at the start, but it will help you save strength and energy. And remember that most of your weight should always be on your feet anyway and not on your hands. For the same reason, keep your arms stretched out as much as possible. This will also help you save energy.

TIP!  Video tutorials with world champion climber Angy Eiter (German)

The best way to train for climbing is ... by going climbing! This will help you to improve your technique, motor skills and strength. Make sure you climb plenty of different routes. Training your finger strength will also help. You can do this using special rubber bands or a device known as a campus board.

Step 5 · Special Climbing Techniques

Climbing course at the Falkenstein climbing area near Matrei in East Tirol, © Tirol Werbung/Robert Pupeter

Climbing outdoors requires a certain number of basic techniques, but there are also some special, more advanced techniques which you will need as you become better. That is why your instructor will show you techniques such as how to use a rope and carabiners for lead climbing, how to build a secure "stand" on the rocks in order to belay other climbers, how to fall correctly and how to use advanced devices such as nuts and hexes to anchor yourself to the rockface on routes where there are no hooks drilled into the wall.

One of the main differences between indoor and outdoor climbing is that out on the rocks the distance between the hooks drilled into the rockface is normally larger. Therefore, an important advanced technique is the skill to plan ahead by identifying places where you can rest and which parts of the climb might be particularly tricky. In short, you will learn to "read the rock". It might not work out perfectly the first time, but the more you climb the easier it will get.

Before you start climbing, the most important thing is to carry out a "partner check". This is a process where the belayer checks that the climber has tied the knot connecting the rope and the safety harness correctly and that the belaying equipment is in working order. It is also essential to check that there is a knot tied in the end of the rope. If everything is okay, then it's time to start climbing!

Step 6 · The Right Equipment

Climbing equipment, © Tirol Werbung / Manfred Jarisch

Right at the top of your equipment list should be climbing shoes, also known as "slicks". They are designed to be very tight and have a smooth rubber sole. We recommend that beginners use a pair which are comfortable and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Other items of basic equipment include a harness, to which the rope is attached to when climbing, as well as quickdraws (two carabiners connected by a semi-rigid material). These are used to clip the rope into the hooks anchored to the rockface. Experts recommend having around ten quickdraws to start off with. It is also important to have a number of carabiners with a screw-lock opening. The Austrian Alpine Club recommends the use of semi-automatic belay devices.

Another very important item of safety equipment is a helmet, especially when climbing in areas where there is a high risk of rocks falling from above. Some experienced climbers prefer to climb without a helmet, but we recommend that climbers should wear one at all times. Attached to the harness is a bag of chalk which climbers dip their hands and fingers into in order to dry them and increase grip on the rock. A rucksack and first-aid kit are also basic essentials.

There are plenty more pieces of equipment which can be used when climbing. Ask in a specialist shop for more information. Make sure that you use a belay device which you are familiar with and trust. It is recommended to use your own equipment at all times. Otherwise you cannot know how old and in what condition the equipment you are using is.

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