100 things you learn from experience

© Alan James, ROCKFAX

Experience, it's said, is the teacher that won't let you skip classes. While there are truckloads of books that will explain what a rockover is and how to tie a Figure 8, how many are there which honestly give beginners the information they need - the sort of thing that somebody who's been at it for years just knows?

That's right. None.

The plain fact is, stacks of people are turning up at crags who can crank 6a indoors but have no idea where to find the ideal cleaning device for boots or why they can't get up Severes.

Until now. For those starting out in this great sport, UKClimbing selflessly offers a handy list of 100 things which will help you survive at the crag, in your tent, on the moors and most importantly in the pub when you come to tell your tale of why it all went wrong.

And you're not allowed to blame us when you do - that's No. 101.

HISTORY, NAVIGATION AND FAMOUS NAMES (because we couldn't think of a better title)

  1. The reason those chimneys are graded V.Diff is so nobody has to do them - if they were given HVS everyone would have given up climbing ages ago.
  2. These routes were all done before sticky boots, you know.
  3. Actually, some climbs are easier in big boots. Especially V.Diff chimneys.
  4. Next time, bring a proper map like they sell in shops, not your mate's friend's sketch that he did in the pub after a couple of pints.
  5. And a compass.
  6. And an extra fleece and a head torch. Surprisingly, it gets cold and dark at night in Britain.
  7. John Dunne really does weigh more than 12 stone.
  8. Routes put up by Joe Brown are always hard for the grade.
  9. When Johnny Dawes wears a hat like that, he doesn't look like a prat. You, however, are not Johnny Dawes.
  10. Ben Moon tried dreadlocks and cut them off. Ben Bransby tried dreadlocks and cut them off. Any message coming through here?


Abseiling in to Rowland's Magical Mystery Tour


  1. It takes less time to check the abseil anchor again than to recover in hospital.
  2. No, it isn't stupid to make sure your harness's belt is looped back through.
  3. Twist-lock krabs have been known to untwist and unlock. Use a screwgate.
  4. Just check the anchors one more time.
  5. And your harness.
  6. Make certain before you start that you are actually clipped into the system.
  7. And that you haven't got the rope going through a gear loop instead of the belay loop.
  8. Learn the Munter Hitch before, rather than after, you drop your belay device down a cliff and are forced to use it.
  9. If at all possible, weight the anchors before you commit to the abseil.
  10. Don't stand around gawping at the end of a long, rapid abseil unless you want to see how quickly a hot Figure 8 or HMS krab can melt your nylon rope.



  1. When abbing in to sea cliffs and carrying a rope, it's a good idea to knot it more tightly than usual.
  2. Besides loose ropes, the sea also like to eat cameras. But you can claim them both on your household insurance.
  3. Insurance companies get confused when you put "Stance on the second pitch of abseil" in the box asking "Where were you at the time of loss" in the household contents claim form.
  4. On tidal cliffs, do the low-tide climbs when the tide is going out and the non-tidal ones when it's coming in, rather than vice-versa.
  5. Tide tables are always in GMT but between April and October your watch isn't.
  6. If your prussik loops are always clipped to your harness you won't ever find yourself at the bottom of a cliff in the dark with the tide coming in wishing you'd taken them out of your rucksack and clipped them to your harness this morning.
  7. Seagulls know what a vendetta is and will happily give demonstrations.
  8. "Following the chalk" can be a mistake on cliffs which are frequented by seabirds.
  9. Take care how close you get to the sea when having a pee, especially if there's a swell.
  10. Left alone, uncoiled ropes always seek out hidden pools of water.


Graham Lynch on the Mincer (HVS 5a).


  1. When wearing a helmet, you will bang it on every overhanging piece of rock on a route.
  2. You will always spend more time avoiding falling than falling.
  3. Never underestimate the psychological value of placing an RP0.
  4. A confident attitude and a full rack will get you to places that you may regret.
  5. Skilful use of tongue and teeth will get you the wire that you want from the krab when you're hanging from one hand...
  6. ..but try not to think how clean the wire's last placement was.
  7. You will always find a mega-jug and sinker placement just after you have struggled endlessly and nearly fallen off trying to place some fiddly pro, which even when it finally went in you were a bit doubtful about.
  8. Flexible Friends are a gift from God when you're in a bad situation.
  9. If you're wobbling on the crux and a passing tourist shouts "Oi! Are you doing Everest next week?" it's considered impolite to tell them to fuck off.
  10. Rusty belay stakes can easily be mistaken for branches, and vice-versa.


Belaying on Pool Wall (E5 6b) at Lawrencefield


  1. When belaying, keep standing up until the leader has clipped the first bolt or piece of gear. It's then much easier to dodge out of the way if he or she falls off than if you're sitting down.
  2. You will always spend more time waiting to climb than climbing.
  3. Leaders always place gear at just the place where you want to put your hand/finger/other bit of yourself, and they always put it there after they've climbed that bit so it doesn't trouble them.
  4. When you then have trouble making the move they get grumpy at the length of time you're taking, or accuse you of aiding the route when you have to use the gear to make the move you'd otherwise be able to do.
  5. The gear you had to yard up on will then get stuck.
  6. When you buy your replacement nut key, vow that in future you will clip it to the quickdraw while seconding on sea cliffs.
  7. Don't look up when someone above you shouts "BELOW!!"
  8. Hexes make excellent hammers for hitting nut keys while extracting stuck gear.
  9. Flexible Friends are the spawn of the devil when your fingers are tired and you're in a strenuous position and they've walked into the crack.
  10. Leaders will always blame you when they fall off and give themselves rope burn.


So you know now (you think) about history, abseiling, sea cliffs, leading and belaying/seconding. But there's more, oh so much more, to discover that climbing has in for you....

Peak Gritstone East Example Page


  1. Just because the guidebook says a route's there doesn't mean you'll be able to work out where the line goes.
  2. Just because there's chalk on it doesn't mean you'll be able to work out where the line goes.
  3. Just because there's someone leading it doesn't mean you'll be able to see where the line goes.
  4. Routes that feel easy for the grade are.
  5. Routes that feel hard for the grade aren't.
  6. For any grade, the easier it looks from the ground, the harder it will be once you're on it.
  7. The guidebook statement "A popular choice for a first E1" tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but doesn't necessarily mean it's easy.
  8. People who say Left Wall is a piece of piss are either Jerry Moffatt or lying.
  9. The new editions of a guidebook will have nothing new at your grade, but will have upgraded loads of VDiffs to VSs and downgraded E7s to E6s.
  10. You never actually see anyone doing the routes pictured on guidebook covers.


The amazing curved pillar of Excalibur at the Bjoeks wall in Groningen, the Netherlands.


  1. You're outdoors now. You don't need all that chalk.
  2. Nor did the person before you. What were they, a teacher?
  3. Just because there's chalk on it doesn't mean it's a hold.
  4. Despite all the time you've spent honing your body, it's actually colder outside than indoors, so you'll have to keep your shirt on.
  5. Having shiny new gear doesn't actually impress anyone except the bloke in the shop you bought it from. He's on commission.
  6. Just because you've learnt how to do an Egyptian doesn't mean you can find a VS where it's required.
  7. Just because you haven't learnt how to do a hand or fist jam doesn't mean it's not necessary on thousands of VSs.
  8. Few things are more amusing to watch (and listen to) than people who have "led an E1 indoors" trying to lead their first VS jamming crack.
  9. There is no such thing as a painless hand jam on Cornish granite.
  10. Laybacking hurts less than jamming until you fall off.


Wild camping in Knoydart


  1. There is no comfortable way to sleep on a slope.
  2. Petrol stoves are a bad idea in a tent.
  3. So are paraffin ones.
  4. People in the pub who know every last detail of the crag's history and who first did which route and how are always crap climbers.
  5. Drinking Snakebite the night before does not improve your chances of pushing your grade next day.
  6. Drinking lemonade the night before, however, is just feeble.
  7. Drinking alcopops the night before is not a "happy medium".
  8. When camping, take an empty two-litre orange juice bottle with a screw-on cap with you. You'll understand why when, having drunk seven pints and passed out, you wake up and realise it's pissing down and freezing cold outside.
  9. Never drink out of orange juice bottles at camping sites in the morning, especially if you have a hangover.
  10. Sleeping bags and tents never fit easily back into their packaging.


Chere Couloir


  1. Being uncomfortable is what it's all about.
  2. You will always spend more time walking to the climb than climbing.
  3. Alpine crevasses are much easier to find if you're not wearing a rope.
  4. When you buy your first pair of gloves for winter climbing, buy an identical pair at the same time.
  5. If you take the spare pair with you climbing, people won't ask why you're wearing odd gloves after you've dropped one 1000 feet down Ben Nevis.
  6. Don't hold krabs, pegs, or in fact anything metal in your mouth when ice climbing.
  7. If the locals are turning back at the end of the walk-in, it's for a reason - particularly if you're aiming to do Cinderella on Creag Meagaidh, which the guidebook says is "notorious for avalanches".
  8. No amount of cosy ice-axe arrest practice prepares you for the reality of somersaulting down a steep slope at high speed with a long drop at the end of it.
  9. If you're relying on a car before or afterwards, make sure it does start in the cold.
  10. Driving fast on icy roads can injure your no-claims bonus.






  1. Good climbers make hard climbs look easy. Bad climbers make easy climbs look hard.
  2. Being tall really is an asset on gritstone.
  3. Make sure you have your car keys when leaving the crag, especially if it's a downhill walk.
  4. The last route of the day always takes longer than you think.
  5. Family and non-climbing friends will find it hard at first to understand that visits and other social engagements are strictly conditional on a crap weather forecast.
  6. Expensive clothes will not make you climb better, though they may keep you warmer (or cooler, or dryer) while you're failing.
  7. You can hit someone harder with a large Hex than a large Friend.
  8. Owning every climbing video ever made may seem impressive to you, but it says bad things about your sex life.
  9. Beer towels really are the ideal size for cleaning climbing shoes, which is why pub landlords are so attentive if you're wearing a fleece.
  10. Tales of your success will travel slowly, if at all. Tales of your failures/accidents/epics will develop a life of their own and spread faster than you can deny them.


This list couldn't have been compiled without the laughable honesty and combined (in)experience of Andy Etheridge, Debbie Matthews, Mark Winfield, Miles Barker and the rest of the Marylebone Mountaineering Club.

Charles Arthur has been climbing for longer than it took him to learn these 100 things.

This article first appeared, rather shorter, in On The Edge.

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