Top Rope Climbing: Learning How to tie knots and fight fears.

Chris Tse Wilson Climbing Centre University of Alberta.jpg

Climbing sixty feet is high. Really high. I generally don’t have a fear of heights, but when I’m suspended by a knot that I just learned how to tie less than an hour ago and I hear it creak – let’s just say the palms get a little sweaty. I’ve wall climbed before but this was a little different; the high wall at the Wilson Climbing Centre maxes out at an astonishing sixty feet – look up, way up. Most of my experience has been in bouldering which is climbing a few feet high off the ground without harnesses or ropes. Bouldering generally emphasizes more power, strength, and dynamics over a short sequence of moves. The routes can be a little more difficult than other forms of climbing because of the shorter distances. Vertical wall climbing which includes top rope and lead climbing provide a different set of challenges: they are more endurance-based as you have the ability to climb higher but also requires a partner to guide the safety rope that’s attached to you to avoid falls (belay). Top rope climbing is the most common way of introducing someone to climbing as there’s very little risk of injury from big falls and the problems have a very dynamic range of skill levels. Lead climbing is generally for more skilled climbers, the climber clips their rope into a carabiner as they head up the wall.  In lead climbing you are typically climbing above the safety of the carabiner so the falls can be a little higher and more intense.

I was invited to try a Belay Course at the Wilson Climbing Centre to enhance my climbing experience and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. The course brought the user through the basics of setting up a harness, tying figure 8 knots, belaying, and top rope climbing. The instructors are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the sport and did not hesitate to help out especially when I was staring at a knot like it was a Rubics Cube. Building confidence in anything you do is important especially when it comes to building the basic skills in an activity like climbing. Confidence isn’t a blind trust in your actions; it is built through repetition and learning that after double, and triple checking your work and those of the people you are with, you’re good to go. The entire event went smoothly, the walls were reserved for the course so there was no interruptions. There was never a feeling of being rushed to accomplish something. Ultimately I feel prepared to take the belaying exam and head to the high walls for even more fun times! My one recommendation is to bring a partner or a friend if it’s your first time top roping or going to any of the climbing gyms to top roping. Life’s always better when you share it with someone you know and it also takes a bit of the nerves out when you already know the person that’s belaying you!

All climbing gyms do offer this program at varying costs:

Wilson Climbing Centre (2 Hour Course): Ranges between $45 (students) to $55 (public)

Vertically Inclined (3 Hour Course): $59

Rock Jungle Fitness (2 Hour Course): $50

And it’s a requirement to pass their individual belay tests (knowing safety checks on harnesses, tying all the appropriate knots, and knowing how communicate while climbing or belaying) before top rope climbing.  Check with the facility for class schedules since most of these happen on a specific day and the courses do fill up!

Keep exploring!

If you have any suggestions for a column please don’t hesitate to email me:


About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

Share your thoughts