Start Your Summer Rock Climbing With Lee Payne’s Beginner Tips

Time to climb.


Austin Geiman went for a meaningful climb at the Denver Bouldering Club’s annual Heart & Soul charity competition. Courtesy Denver Bouldering Club

With summer right around the corner, there’s never been a better time to pick up a new outdoor hobby. We talked to Lee Payne, co-founder of Denver Bouldering Club, about why rock climbing is the sport to try out this year.

How long have you been climbing?

I’ve been climbing for about 17 years. We founded Denver Bouldering Club 7 years ago this June to establish a better climbing community in Denver.

What is the difference between bouldering and rock climbing?

Traditional rock climbing can get harder. It’s also called “rope climbing,” which means you’re using rope and you’re anchored to the rock. With bouldering, it’s distilled to maybe a 20-foot rock face. You don’t need rope, it’s more technical and more powerful and you should plan to fall while you’re bouldering. It’s about problem solving and thinking.

What gear would you recommend for rock climbing?

The difference is in the ropes. You need equipment based on what kind of climb you’re going to do. That could mean a harness, rope and carabiners. With bouldering, you just need shoes and a chalk bag. You could also bring a pad to land on when you fall if you’re bouldering. That’s a modern development for comfort.

What are your favorite climbing spots? 

For me, it’s going further and further to stuff that hasn’t been climbed before. I like to get up into the altitude at spots like the Indian Peaks, Rocky Mountain National Park or the Mount Evans Wilderness. I’m drawn to places where there is not as much developed climbing. For me, it’s about getting out and testing yourself.

How should beginners get started rock climbing?

I didn’t have the option of a climbing gym so I’m inclined to tell people to get out and have fun. But with so many strong communities, I think you should go to the gym. Our gym offers a class. Learn the basics, meet people and figure out how to get out as a team. Community is what helps beginners.

Where would you suggest a new rock climber go, once they’re ready to get out?

Clear Creek Canyon near Morrison is great. Down south there’s Castlewood Canyon, which is also really accessible. In Boulder, all you have to do is hit the Flatirons. Flagstaff in Boulder is another good one. Those are all about a 30-45 minute drive until you hit a good spot.

Do you have any tips for beginners?

You can do it! That’s kind of one of the tenets of rock climbing: you can do it, by yourself. It’s one of those things that used to be so intimidating, and now the biggest barrier is trying. Also, talk to people at the gym! It’s a friendly community and you’re guaranteed to run into someone who can help you out.

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