I'm starting to learn how to rock climb, and there seem to be two types of climbing, top-rope climbing and lead climbing. What's the difference between the two, and what would be better for a beginning climber?
Top roping has an anchor at the top of the climb. The rope goes from the belayer at the bottom, all the way up to the top, through the anchor, and back down to the climber. If the climber falls, he or she only falls they only drop a little bit, provided the belayer has taken up all the slack. Additionally, the belayer pulls the rope up and brings it in to take up slack on the climber.
Top roping is most definitely the way to go for a beginner.
With lead climbing, the rope isn't always above the climber. Using fall protection either attached permanently to the wall, or placed by the climber, the climbing climbs, and periodically clips the rope into the protection as he or she ascends. If the climber falls, they will fall a distance equal to twice their height above their last placed anchor, plus the amount that the rope stretches, which may be a significant distance. Opposite to top-roping, in lead climbing the climber pulls the rope up, and the belayer lets the rope out to allow the climb.