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Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up or across natural rock formations or man-made rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a pre-defined route. Rock climbing is similar to scrambling (another activity involving the scaling of hills and similar formations), but climbing is generally differentiated because of the use of hands to support the climber's weight as well as to provide balance.

Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility, and balance along with his or her mental control. It can be a dangerous sport and knowledge of proper climbing techniques and usage of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes. Because of the wide range and variety of rock formations around the world rock climbing has been separated into several different styles and sub-disciplines that are described below.


Although rock climbing was an important component of Victorian mountaineering in the Alps, it is generally thought that the sport of rock climbing began in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in various parts of Europe. Rock climbing evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to a distinct athletic activity.

Aid climbing (climbing using equipment that act as artificial hand- or footholds) became popular during the period 1920 - 1960, leading to ascents in the Alps and in Yosemite Valleymarker that were considered impossible without such means. However, climbing techniques, equipment, and ethical considerations have evolved steadily, and today, free climbing (climbing on holds made entirely of natural rock, using gear solely for protection and not for upward movement) is the most popular form of the sport. Free climbing has since been divided into several sub-styles of climbing dependent on belay configuration (described below).

Over time, grading systems have also been created in order to more accurately compare the relative difficulties of climbs.Rock CLimbing in shortshorts is very fun. Even though.. you might be... exposed.

Rock climbing basics

At its most basic, rock climbing involves climbing a route with one's own hands and feet and little more than a cushioned bouldering pad in the way of protection. This style of climbing is referred to as bouldering, since the relevant routes are usually found on boulders no more than 10 to 15 feet tall.

As routes get higher off the ground, the increased risk of life-threatening injuries necessitates additional safety measures. A variety of specialized climbing techniques and climbing equipment exists to provide that safety, and climbers will usually work in pairs and utilize a system of ropes and anchors designed to catch falls. Ropes and anchors can be configured differently to suit many styles of climbing, and roped climbing is thus divided into further sub-types that vary based on how their belay systems are set up. The different styles are described in more detail below, but, generally speaking, beginners will start with top roping and/or easy bouldering, and work their way up to lead climbing and beyond.


In top-roping, an anchor is set up at the summit of a route prior to the start of a climb. Rope is run through the anchor; one end attaches to the climber and the other to the belayer, who keeps the rope taut during the climb and prevents long falls.

Lead climbing

In lead climbing, one person, called the "leader", will climb from the ground up with rope directly attached (and not through a top anchor) while the other, called the "second", belays the leader. Because the climbing rope is of a fixed length, the leader can only climb a certain distance. Thus longer routes are broken up into several "pitches". At the top of a pitch, the leader sets up an anchor, and then belays the "second" up to the anchor. Once both are at the anchor, the leader begins climbing the next pitch and so on until they reach the top.

In either case, upon completion of a route, climbers can walk back down (if an alternate descent path exists) or rappel down with the rope.

Grading systems

Climbing communities in many countries and regions have developed their own rating systems for routes. Ratings (or "grades") record and communicate consensus appraisals of difficulty. (Hence, there may be occasional disagreements arising from physiological or stylistic differences among climbers.) The ratings take into account multiple factors affecting a route, such as the slope of the ascent, the quantity and quality of available handholds, the distance between holds, and whether advanced technical maneuvers are required. Though acrophobia (the fear of heights) may affect certain climbers, the height of a route is generally not considered a factor in its difficulty rating.

Climbing environments

Climbs can occur either outdoors on varying types of rock or indoors on specialized climbing walls. Outdoors, climbs usually take place on sunny days when the holds are dry and provide the best grip, but climbers can also attempt to climb at night or in adverse weather conditions if they have the proper training and equipment. However, night climbing or climbing in adverse weather conditions will increase the difficulty and danger on any climbing route.

Styles of rock climbing

Muro dell Assino, Italy, 5c

Most of the climbing done in modern times is considered free climbing---climbing using one's own physical strength with equipment used solely as protection and not as support -- as opposed to aid climbing, the gear-dependent form of climbing that was dominant in the sport's earlier days. Free climbing is typically divided into several styles that differ from one another depending on the equipment used and the configurations of their belay, rope, and anchor systems (or the lack thereof).

  • Aid Climbing - Still the most popular method of climbing big walls. Progress is accomplished by repeatedly placing and weighting gear which is used directly to aid ascent and enhance safety.

  • Traditional climbing - Traditional or Trad Climbing involves rock climbing routes that do not have permanent anchors placed to protect climbers from falls while ascending. Gear is used to protect against falls but not to aid the ascent directly.

  • Sport Climbing - Unlike Traditional Rock Climbing, Sport Climbing involves the use of protection or permanent anchors which are attached to the rock walls.

  • Bouldering - Climbing on short, low routes without the use of the safety rope that is typical of most other styles. Protection, if used at all, typically consists of a cushioned bouldering pad below the route and/or a spotter, a person that watches from below and directs the fall of the climber away from hazardous areas. Bouldering may be an arena for intense and relatively safe competition, resulting in exceptionally high difficulty standards.

  • Free climbing - The most commonly used method to ascend climbs refers to climbs where the climber's own physical strength and skill are relied on to accomplish the climb. Free climbing may rely on top rope belay systems, or on lead climbing to establish protection and the belay stations. Anchors, ropes, and protection are used to back up the climber and are passive as opposed to active ascending aids. Subtypes of free climbing are trad climbing and sport climbing. Free climbing is generally done as "clean lead" meaning no pitons or pins are used as protection.

  • Free soloing (not to be confused with free climbing) is single-person climbing without the use of any rope or protection system whatsoever. If a fall occurs and the climber is not over water (as in the case of deep water soloing), the climber is likely to be killed or seriously injured. Though technically similar to bouldering, free solo climbing typically refers to routes that are far taller and/or far more lethal than bouldering. The term "highball" is used to refer to climbing on the boundary between soloing and bouldering, where what is usually climbed as a boulder problem may be high enough for a fall to cause serious injury and hence could also be considered to be a free solo.

  • Solo aid - Free soloing in which the climber wears a harness and a carries limited protection but doesn't use a rope. The climber may free solo or scramble much of the route but use protection only where safety demands it. Doing so involves placing gear overhead which is then attached to the climber via a short length of cord to his or her harness. The climber then climbs above the protection and reaches down to remove the gear before proceeding- possibly after placing another protection point and attaching to it via a second loop of cord. This "leap frogging" or "boot strapping" technique is akin to gear conservation techniques that may be used in traditional climbing. Solo aid may or may not use gear to directly assist ascent.

  • Indoor Climbing - With indoor rock climbing you can train year round and improve your climbing skills and techniques. Indoor climbing is great for beginners because it gives you an idea of what it's like to climb actual rocks outdoors.

  • Scrambling - Scrambling basically uses hands and feet when going up ridges, rock faces, or buttresses. Scrambling differs from "technical" climbing in terms of the the terrain grade in the Yosemite decimal system scrambling is possible on anything less than fifth class. Most scrambling is done in a "free solo" style. However, it is not uncommon for climbers to use ropes and protection on an exposed climb that is technically considered a scramble.

  • Deep Water Soloing - Having to climb a rock and fall on deep water sets it apart from the other styles.

  • Mixed climbing - A combination of ice and rock climbing, often involving specialized ice climbing slippers and specialized ice tools.

  • Rope soloing - Solo climbing with a rope secured at the beginning of the climb allowing a climber to self-belay as they advance. Once the pitch is completed the soloist must descend their rope to clean their gear and reclimb the pitch. This form of climbing can be conducted free or as a form of aid climbing.

  • Simul climbing - When two climbers move at the same time. The pseudo-lead climber places gear that the pseudo-follower collects. When the leader runs low on gear they construct a belay station where the follower can join them to exchange gear. The stronger climber is often the pseudo-follower since a fall by the follower would pull the leader from below towards the last piece of gear. A potential devastating fall for the leader. In contrast the a fall from the leader would pull the follower from above, resulting in a less serious fall. Most speed ascents involve some form of simul climbing but may also include sections of standard free climbing and the use of placed gear for advancement (i.e. partial aid or pulling on gear).

  • Top roping - Climbing with the protection of a rope that's already suspended through an anchor (or also known as a "Top Rope System") at the top of a route. A belayer controls the rope, keeping it taut, and prevents long falls. Most Indoor climbing or "gym climbing" is top roping on indoor purpose-made climbing walls although it's also common to boulder and sport climb indoors. Gym climbing is used as training for outside climbing, but some climb indoors exclusively. Due to its simplicity and reduced risk, most beginners are introduced to climbing through top-roping.

Criticism of rock climbing


Some areas that are popular for climbing are also sacred places for indigenous peoples. Many such indigenous people would prefer that climbers not climb these sacred places and have made this information well known to climbers. A well known example is the rock formation that Americans have named Devils Tower National Monumentmarker. Native American cultural concerns also led to complete climbing closures at Cave Rock at Lake Tahoemarker, Monument Valley, Shiprockmarker & Canyon de Chellymarker.

In Australia, the well known monolith Ulurumarker is sacred to local indigenous communities and climbing is banned on anything but the established ascent route (and even then climbing is discouraged).

Climbing activities can sometimes encroach on rock art sites created by various Native American cultures and early European explorers and settlers. The potential threat to these resources has led to climbing restrictions and closures in places like Hueco Tanksmarker, Texasmarker and City of Rocksmarker, Idahomarker.


Although many climbers adhere to "minimal impact" and "leave no trace" practices, rock climbing is sometimes damaging to the environment. Common environmental damages include: soil erosion, chalk accumulation, litter, abandoned bolts and ropes, human excrement, introduction of foreign plants through seeds on shoes and clothing, and damage to native plant species, especially those growing in cracks and on ledges as these are often intentionally removed during new route development through a process commonly referred to as cleaning.

Clean climbing is a style of rock climbing which seeks to minimize some of the aesthetically damaging side effects of some techniques used in trad climbing and more often, aid climbing by avoiding using equipment such as pitons, which damage rock.

Climbing can also interfere with raptor nesting, since the two activities often take place on the same precipitous cliffs. Many climbing area land managers institute nesting season closures of cliffs known to be used by protected birds of prey like eagles, falcons and osprey.

Many non-climbers also object to the appearance of climbing chalk marks, anchors, bolts and slings on visible cliffs. Since these features are small, visual impacts can be mitigated through the selection of neutral, rock-matching colors for bolt hangers, webbing and chalk.


Vandalism created by non-climbers is often mistakenly attributed to the climbing population, driving the implementation of new climbing restrictions.

The most significant form of vandalism directly attributable to rock climbers is alteration of the climbing surface to render it more climber-friendly and/or safe.

With the advent of hard, bolted sport climbing in the 1980s, many routes were "chipped" and "glued" to provide additional features, allowing them to be climbed at the standard of the day. This attitude quickly changed as the safer sport climbing technique allowed climbers to push hard without much risk, causing the formerly more-or-less fixed grades to steadily rise. Altering routes began to be seen as limiting and pointless.

Unlike trad climbing which generally uses protection only as a back up in case of falls, some forms of climbing--like sport climbing, canyoneering or, especially, aid climbing--rely heavily on artificial protection to advance, either by frequent falls or by directly pulling on the gear. Often these types of climbing involve multiple drilled holes in which to place bolts, but in recent years an emphasis on clean techniques has grown.

Today, the charge of vandalism in climbing is more often a disagreement about the appropriateness of drilling and placing permanent bolts and other anchors. Typically in America, the first ascensionists decide where to place protection on a new route, and later climbers are supposed to live with these choices. This can cause friction and retro-bolting when the route is perceived to be dangerous to climbers who actually lead at the grade of the climb, since the first ascensionists often lead at a higher grade and therefore don't require as much protection. Failing to properly design a new route at its grade is considered arrogant and very poor form. Even in strongholds of rock-climbing tradition like Yosemite National Parkmarker, many routes are being gradually upgraded to safer standards of protection.

Another form of vandalism in rock climbing is pulling existing bolts and anchors. This often happens after retro-bolting occurs. Many climbers feel that if the route has been done without the benefit of protection, it should stay that way. However this argument only holds water when the first ascensionists were climbing at the limit of their skill--as in Yosemite's infamous test-piece, the Bachar-Yerian. In the case of first ascensionists failing to install adequate protection because the new route is below their leading standard and they didn't require it themselves, this attitude is harder to justify.


Many significant rock outcrops exist on private land. The rock climbing community has been guilty of trespassing in many cases, often after land ownership transfers and previous access permission is withdrawn. In response to access closures, the climbing community organized and a group formed to correct problems and represent climber interests.

The Access Fund is an "advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. Five core programs support the mission on national and local levels: public policy, stewardship and conservation (including grants), grassroots activism, climber education, and land acquisition."

BASE Jumping

A few climbers are experimenting with taking small parachutes on hard climbs. This allows the climber to abandon the route without de-climbing it - essentially turning the rock climb into a BASE jump. This has led to debate in the climbing community about whether or not it allows for greater risk and if it "cheapens" the experience. BASE jumping on any level is generally also banned in areas known for their rock climbing, most notably Yosemite National Parkmarker.

See also


Further reading

External links

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