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Rock climbing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Climbers on "Valkyrie" at the Roaches.
Climbers on "Valkyrie" at the Roaches.

Rock Climbing, broadly speaking, is the act of ascending steep rock formations. Normally, climbers use gear and safety equipment specifically designed for the purpose. Strength, endurance, and mental control are required to cope with tough, dangerous physical challenges, and knowledge of climbing techniques and the use of essential pieces of gear and equipment are crucial.


Main article: Some benchmarks in the history of rock climbing

Although the practice of 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 at least two areas: Elbsandsteingebirge, in Saxony near Dresden [1], and the Lake District of England [2].

By the end of the Victorian era as many as 60 rock climbers at a time would gather at the Wastwater Hotel in the Lake District during vacation periods [3] . And by 1903 there were over 500 climbers active in the Elbsandstein region, with numbers growing, so that by the 1930s there were over 200 small climbing clubs represented in the area [1].

As rock climbing matured, grading systems were created in order to more accurately compare relative difficulties of climbs. Over the years both climbing techniques and the equipment climbers use to advance the sport have evolved in a steady fashion. Many participants regard rock climbing as more a lifestyle than merely an athletic pursuit.

Rock climbing Basics

Climbing a rock-textured wall with belay, modular hand holds, incuts, and protrusions
Climbing a rock-textured wall with belay, modular hand holds, incuts, and protrusions

The climbing system is a general term for the techniques and equipment used by roped climbers to protect themselves against injury or death if they fall. It is the answer to the question sometimes asked by non-climbers, "How do they get the rope up there?"

Climbers usually work in pairs, with one climbing and the other belaying. The belayer feeds rope to the lead climber through a belay device. The Leader climbs up, places protection, climbs higher and places protection until the top is reached. The belayer is ready to lock off the rope if the leader falls.

Both climbers attach the rope to their climbing harness, usually tying into their harness with a figure-of-eight knot or double bowline knot. The leader either places protection or clips into permanent protection already secured to the rock. In traditional climbing the protection is removable. Usually nuts or spring loaded camming devices are set in cracks in the rock (although pitons are sometimes used). In sport climbing the protection is metal loops called hangers. Hangers are secured to the rock with expanding masonry bolts taken from the construction industry. In ice climbing the protection is tubular ice-screws or similar devices hammered or screwed into the ice by the leader and removed by the second.

The leader connects the rope to the protection with carabiners. If the leader falls, he will fall twice the length of the rope out from the last protection point, plus rope stretch (typically 5 to 8% of the rope out), plus slack. If any of the gear breaks or pulls out of the rock or if the belayer fails to lock off the belay device immediately, the fall will be significantly longer. If a climber is 5 feet above the last protection he will fall 5 feet to the protection, five feet below the protection, plus slack and rope stretch. 5+5+2=12 foot fall.

If the leader falls, the belayer arrests the rope. This is achieved by running the rope through a belay device attached to the belayer's harness. The belay device runs the rope through a series of sharp curves that, when operated properly, greatly increase the friction and stop the rope from running.

At the top of the pitch, the leader sets up a secure anchor or belay. Now the leader belays while the belayer climbs. The second climber removes the gear from the rock (traditional climbing) or removes the carabiner from the bolted hanger (sport climbing). Both climbers are now at the top of the pitch with all their equipment. Note that the second is protected from above while climbing, but the leader is not, so being the leader is more challenging and dangerous - very dangerous for new climbers.

Some climbers engage occasionally in a dangerous but speedy technique called simul-climbing, in which both leader and second move at the same time. The leader - approximately a rope length above the second - usually places multiple pieces of protection as he climbs so that the weight of the second climber might arrest a possible leader's fall. Should it be the second climber to fall, however, the leader may be pulled from his holds, with very unpleasant results.


Types of rock climbing

Rock climbing may be divided into two broad categories: aid climbing and free climbing.

  • Aid climbing involves using artificial devices placed in the rock either as hand and footholds or to support body weight in other ways.
  • Free climbing requires that the climber use only natural features of the rock as hand and footholds. Free climbing may be further subdivided as follows:
    • Traditional lead climbing, or "Trad lead climbing", uses mostly removable protection, but also may employ fixed bolts if these were put in on the lead. The climbing team begins at the bottom of a climb and ascends to the top, with the leader placing protective devices in the rock as he or she climbs. If the climber falls, he/she does not rest on the rope and instead lowers to a stance or the ground to start over. This approach of protection and climbing progress emphasizes the exploratory aspect of the sport and requires a certain amount of boldness. Trad leading is considered by many to be the cleanest style, as the climber to follow the leader, called the cleaner, removes the protective devices (except any fixed bolts put in on lead) and leaves but marginal traces (if any at all) of their passage.
    • Sport lead climbing involves the use of pre-placed, permanent bolts for protection. This frees the leader from carrying excessive gear - he/she merely clips in to the bolts with quickdraws. However, permanent protective devices, like bolts and fixed pitons, are subject to dislodgment or decay over time and thus may become an insidious hazard for a leader. In case of a fall, sport climbers often rest on the rope before beginning again. Hard sport climbs often entail many falls and rests before being completed without falls and rests. In contrast, traditional style employs no rests on the rope, starting over after falls without rope tension and generally a minimal number of falls.
    • Top rope climbing, or top-roping, involves suspending a rope from an anchor located at the top of a short climb. The climber is then safeguarded by his belayer who holds the rope either at the top of the route or at the base of the climb.
    • Bouldering may be described as climbing short, severe routes on boulders or small outcrops. While safety ropes from above are occasionally used, most boulderers feel that the most ethical form of protection is a bouldering mat or pad similar to those used by gymnasts. In addition, other climbers standing on the ground may "spot" the boulderer, to help break his fall.
    • Indoor climbing is a form of climbing that can involve bouldering, top roping, and leading in an indoor environment on wood or plastic holds. For most it will be the easiest way to begin the sport.
    • Free solo climbing: Usually describes free climbing without a rope or other protective gear. Free solo climbing is distinguished from solo climbing where a climber progressing alone uses a rope and protection devices including a self belay system.
Short (one-pitch) climbs on the Calico Hills, west of Las Vegas, Nevada
Short (one-pitch) climbs on the Calico Hills, west of Las Vegas, Nevada


Main article: Rappelling

Rappelling (also known as abseiling) is a common method for returning to the bottom of a completed climb. On climbs where rappelling is impractical or disallowed the alternative is usually either walking out from the top of the climb, or down climbing.

Learn how to rappel safely and what gear you need to rappel properly

Gear and Equipment

Main article: Climbing Equipment


Main article: Grade (climbing)

Climbing communities in many countries, as well as individual regions, have developed their own climbing rating systems. Ratings are a method to communicate or record the consensus difficulty of climbs. The more refined systems exist in areas where the routes have been ascended many times, by many climbers. Nevertheless, the perceived difficulty of a climb may vary from person to person, depending upon individual strengths and weaknesses. For a climber very good at pulling on large holds, for example, a 5.11a "jug" route will probably seem a little easier than it would for another climber whose specialty is balance-climbing on small holds.

There are three considerations that are commonly addressed by a rating system:

How hard is the hardest move? (pure technical difficulty).
How sustained is the route? (how much stamina you need to climb the route).
How dangerous is the climb? (what the chance of injury is upon making a mistake whilst climbing)

Hiking, Bouldering, Roped free climbing, and Aid climbing all share these factors to one degree or another.

Many existing systems deal only with one or two of the factors cited above -- some emphasize the technical difficulty, some the endurance. Other systems (such as John Gill's "B" system) are partially based on the number of ascents the climb has had. The result is a complicated situation in which comparison of climbs from one region to another -- particularly if the types of rock differ -- can be tenuous. Go to the main article for details of the various systems, and a comparison chart.


Climbing clubs

Climbers often belong to Clubs, some of which were started in the very early days of the sport. Clubs are often responsible for the publication of Climbing Guides. The article Alpine Club lists some of these organizations.

In the UK and Ireland there are several prominent clubs, including:

  • Alpine Club (UK) - Founded 1857
  • Climbers' Club - Founded 1898
  • Fell & Rock Climbing Club - Founded 1906
  • Scottish Mountaineering Club - Founded 1889
  • Irish Mountaineering Club - Founded 1942

In the United States several venerable clubs are:

  • American Alpine Club - Founded 1902
  • Sierra Club - Founded 1892
  • Colorado Mountaineering Club - Founded 1912
  • Chicago Mountaineering Club - Founded 1940
  • The Mazamas - Founded 1894
  • The Mountaineers - Founded 1907

See also

  • List of climbers
  • List of climbing topics
  • List of climbing areas
  • Climbing equipment
  • Climbing organisations
  • Glossary of climbing terms
  • Mountaineering
  • Outdoor education
  • Parkour - French technique of passing obstacles efficiently

External links

  • Basic Rock Climbing Techniques
  • Rock climbing travel guide from Wikitravel
  • Rock Climbing Gear and Database
  • Rock Climbing Techniques


  1. ^ a b Goldammer, Albert & Wächtler, Martin (1936). "Bergsteigen in Sachsen", Dresden
  2. ^ Jones, Owen Glynne (1900). "Rock Climbing in the English Lake District", G. P. Abraham & Sons, Keswick
  3. ^ Hankinson, Alan (1972). "The First Tigers", J. M. Dent & Sons, London
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