How to Start Climbing Outdoors

Find out how to get sending outside in South Africa, whether you're a climbing noob or a visiting traveller in need of the local beta...

South Africa is home to many incredible climbing destinations and whether you’re an experienced climber visiting from outside SA, someone who has moved to a new city, or a gym bunny looking to take your skills outdoors, it can be tough figuring out how to get started. 

Luckily, there are many opportunities available to make some friends and meet outdoor climbing buddies who will get you sending on rock, from the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) which has sections all over the country and hosts outdoor meets and social events, to local gym communities and WhatsApp groups, to outdoor guides and big annual events like the Rock Rallies and Tradathon. 

Ultimately, you’ve just got to take the leap, put yourself out there, and the rest will follow. Here are some things to consider when starting your outdoor climbing journey…

VISITORS VS NEWBIES

Before we dive in, we’ve got to address the difference between international visitors, or people who have relocated to a new city, and beginner climbers…

Experienced Climbers

If you have the skills and experience needed to climb safely outdoors but you’re new to the area, you really just need to (a) find people to climb with and (b) figure out where to go. This is actually pretty easy because the climbing community is full of friendly, passionate people who will be happy to give you a belay, share crag beta and show you around. 

A great place to start is heading to your local climbing gym/s and just talking to people. Chat with the staff and ask about local forums, social media groups, upcoming events and their personal crag recommendations. 

Then get your climb on and strike up a conversation with the folks around you (particularly people who seem to be climbing the same grades/styles as you). Some people won’t engage, and that’s okay – move on and find someone else! You’ll have the best luck with groups that seem to be laughing, joking around, building each other up and generally having a grand old time during their session. 

The bouldering gym/section is probably the best place for connecting and making friends since everyone spends 70% of their time on the mats staring at the wall. You could try asking for beta on a problem, complimenting someone on their climbing, or joining a group that’s figuring out a problem together. Don’t write off the bouldering section because you’re only interested in outdoor sport climbing – plenty of climbers do both disciplines and you’ll likely find some sport buddies among the pebble-wrestlers.  

Outdoor Newbies

Climbers that have thus far only climbed in the gym need a little bit more guidance with getting into the outdoors, since climbing on rock really is quite a different experience.

Not only will you need to find climbing partners and the right crags, but you will also need to make sure you have all the gear and skills needed to keep yourself and your partner/s safe out in the mountains.

There are definitely people out there who will be happy to just take you out to the crag and show you the ropes (heh heh) during a casual session, but if you are completely new to outdoor climbing we’d recommend hiring a guide or joining a course/event that is designed to equip you with the skills you need to climb safely and confidently on rock. 

It should also be mentioned that it will be much easier (and safer) to find adventure buddies for sport climbing and bouldering than for trad climbing, although it’s still possible to find some trad buddies if you look in the right places.

With the above in mind, here are some tips for getting out into the great outdoors…

JOIN THE MCSA

Climbing is a partner sport, and the only way to get climbing on real rock is to put yourself out there and get in touch with fellow climbers who will take you out with them.

As mentioned above, a great place to start is the MCSA, which has 15 sections around the country (and one in Namibia) and offers a network of outdoor climbers to connect with. Some sections are more active than others, and the number of meets (i.e. outside adventures) and events will depend on where you are. Bear in mind that many of the meets will be hikes rather than climbing days, but it never hurts to make more friends (some of whom are probably climbers too)! Just make the connection and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

A big perk is that the MCSA membership card acts as a TMNP Activity Permit.

which is very useful considering SANParks manages several popular crags. Joining the MCSA also connects you with what’s happening in the climbing community and keeps you up to date with news and events. 

Other benefits include a 10% discount in the CityROCK Gear Shop and online on Mountain Mail Order (email info@mountainmailorder.co.za for the discount code), access to MCSA-owned properties around the country, and becoming a part of a historical club that has done a tremendous amount of work for the outdoor community.

To join the club you can click here and select a section, then click the red button in the top right corner of the screen and follow the instructions on the joining page. 

Each section operates a little differently, but all the instructions and relevant fees can be viewed on each section’s website, along with contact details should you need any assistance. You will need to pay a once-off joining fee and an annual membership fee, which is fairly priced and well worth it!

GET CONNECTED

You find adventure buddies by joining local gyms, along with Facebook and WhatsApp climbing groups. You can find the info for a few of them below, and leave us a comment if you know of any other groups we can add to the list!

● Cape Town Sport Climbers WhatsApp Group
(Message +49 170 4822209 to join)
● Cape Town Trad WhatsApp Group
(Message +49 170 4822209 to join)

If you’re a student at an institution that has a mountain/climbing club (such as UCT, Stellenbosch, WITS, TUKS and Onderstepoort) there will most likely be WhatsApp groups you can join to link up with other club members. Many local legends got introduced to the sport through university or school climbing clubs, so use that resource if you can.

You can also check out the posts on our Adventure Buddy sub-forum and/or make a post of your own – we recommend including your location, your preferred climbing discipline, your current climbing grades and what sort of adventures you’re interested in. 

If you’re a new climber, sign up for a course at your local gym – unless it’s specified that you will need a partner, you can join by yourself and leave with a bunch of new skills and friends. Engage during the session, exchange contact details with your coursemates and consider hiring a guide together!

You can also meet adventure partners and get your outdoor climb on by looking out for local events such as the Montagu, Boven and Rocklands Rock Rallies and the annual Black Diamond Tradathon. Gym events like friendly competitions are also a great placee to socialise and find some cool humans. Keep an eye on our events calendar for upcoming jols and don’t be shy to ask around at the gym about social media groups, events and people who might be looking for a belay buddy.

When you’re trying to find new climbing partners, it’s important to be a good partner yourself! Being reliable and punctual, following correct safety procedures and contributing to transport costs are just a few ways to keep in your buddies’ good books and show your gratitude for their willingness to show you the ropes.

GET OUT THERE

A surefire way to meet climbing partners and get to the crag is to just pick a crag and go there! We recommend choosing one that’s safe and popular with a clear path so that you won’t get lost. You can check out our guide of the best beginner crags in Gauteng and the Western Cape here.
A surefire way to meet climbing partners and get to the crag is to just pick a crag and go there! We recommend choosing one that’s safe and popular with a clear path so that you won’t get lost. You can check out our guide of the best beginner crags in Gauteng and the Western Cape here.

Make sure to take along the usual water and sun protection, along with the all gear you’ll need (helmet included) and maybe some extra draws and snacks to share if you want to get into people’s good books. A gym belay tag is also good to take along so that you can assure your soon-to-be buddies that they’ll be in good hands. It takes some courage to put yourself out there and introduce yourself to a bunch of strangers, but 99% of people will welcome you with a smile and it will absolutely be worth it. 

If you’re not sure which crags will be best for you, ask! Get onto the aforementioned forums, WhatsApp/Facebook groups, ask the staff and climbers at your local gym and gear shop, and consider picking up a guidebook for the crags in your area. Make sure to also ask about weather conditions and the best time to visit your chosen crags.

FIND A GUIDE

Whether you’re a newbie looking to learn how to climb on real rock or a seasoned visitor looking to be shown around, you can’t go wrong with one of the many excellent outdoor adventure guides in SA, who offer both guided outdoor expeditions and climbing courses.

Guides are a great option for beginner climbers who would like to learn basics like belaying and abseiling, intermediate climbers who would like to learn trad, self-rescue and other specialised skills, and experienced climbers (especially tourists) who would like to climb in a specific area that they are unfamiliar with.

You can check out a list of guiding companies in South Africa on our Guidebook page.

GEAR UP

It’s way easier to get climbing outdoors if you have your own gear, even though you can get by on borrowing, sharing and/or renting for a while. Outdoor climbing generally requires more gear than indoor climbing, and you’ll need to invest in the following:

Sport Climbing

● Helmet 
● Rope
● Quickdraws
● Belay device
● Slings & accessory cord
● Carabiners
● Rope bag & tarp

Trad Climbing

● Helmet 
● Rope
● Protection (cams, nuts, hexes)
● Quickdraws
● Belay/rapelling device
● Slings & accessory cord
● Carabiners

That being said, you definitely don’t need to break the bank and purchase a full rack before you can climb outside – start with the most important bits and slowly build your way up. You can once again rely on your friendly gear shop staff to help you pick out the right gear for your goals and budget. 

If you are a tourist travelling lightly you can rent selected gear (boulder pads, harnesses, shoes and helmets) from CityROCK, Vertigo Gear and Roc ‘n Rope. Alternatively, you can purchase some second-hand gear from Vertigo’s 2nd Ascent collection or through our Gear Marketplace sub-forum and sell or donate the gear at the end of your visit (assuming it’s still safe to use).

You are unlikely to find gear such as quickdraws, carabiners, slings, ropes and other essential safety pieces for rent due to the risk involved.

We hope the above information can help you get on some rock – feel free to leave a comment or email us at info@goodbeta.co.za if you need any help finding adventure buddies, and stay safe out there!

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