What is climbing?
A recreational activity turned Olympic sport debuted in Tokyo 2020. Since climbing first took hold in the 19th century, the sport has been pushed into a horde of directions through developing technologies and tactics.
Free climbing is described as using his or her own physical body to move upwards. Protective gear, such as rope or a bouldering pad, is used to catch a fall. And if you’re daring enough to climb without a rope it transforms into free-soloing, famously documented in the Oscar winning film, Free Solo.
Sport climbing relies on the route being equipped with permanent fixtures, such as bolts and anchors which become the climbers’ security points. Then, sub-categorised into top-roping and lead climbing.
- Top-roping is a great entry point into the sport that enables you to build confidence in your climbing. Traditionally, another person (a belayer) is needed at the foot of the route to guide the rope appropriately using a belay device. Nowadays, you will often find facilities that accommodate an auto-belay device which works as a top anchor and catches your fall.
- Lead climbing requires the climber to loop their rope into quick-draws they have clipped into a number of bolts drilled into the wall or crag. Their intention is to follow the path of bolts along the route from beginning to end. It’s an extremely versatile style of climbing that calls for focused movements and techniques. Falling becomes a mindful act, softened by the art of experienced belaying.
Bouldering is a form of free climbing that involves minimal gear as it doesn’t require a rope. It uses small portable mattresses (crash pads) to diminish the risk of falling from boulders/cliffs a few metres tall. Several falls are expected as you try a variety of moves to accomplish the route. Problem solving at its finest.
Both can be practised at indoor facilities, but it is more commonly enjoyed outdoors in close contact with nature.
Lastly, I’d like to briefly mention trad climbing. A style of climbing where movable protective gear is placed into the rock during the climbers’ ascent and removed once the pitch is complete.
In order to keep track of the route’s climbing difficulty, highly technical systems of grading are adopted. The sport has veered into many directions so please bear in mind that not all styles of the sport have been listed here.
How to start this sport:
Has climbing caught your attention? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Book a course
Do it the most responsible and safest way; book a course with a climbing centre or certified instructor.
- Find a mentor
Look out for an experienced climber, buy them (lots of) dinners, they might be willing to show you the ropes. It’s hard to evaluate the information you’re being given as you’re only just starting out, so be careful and choose wisely.
- Seek professional guidance
Do not try new things without professional guidance/supervision. It’s an extreme sport and there have been many fatalities. Safety first!
4 reasons to try rock climbing:
- An outdoor laid back vibe, accompanied by an eclectic landscape and a community of nature lovers (which becomes hard to resist). Check out my rock climbing trips in Turkey and Egypt!
- An activity that helps you gain deeper understanding and trust in your own physical and mental capabilities.
- Physically demanding, requires adequate fitness and agility to excel in, but is extremely rewarding no matter what stage you are at.
- Loose yourself in the flow of a climb, a focused mindset that is described to create a sense of euphoria.
How to behave at the sector:
- Leave the place cleaner than you found it.
- Take a walk, direct your pee or take that dump a good distance from the routes.
- We all enjoy to climb in different ways. Be mindful of your neighbours, they might loose focus with music or loud conversation in the background.
- A smile can go a long way.
What equipment do you need for rock climbing?
- Rope: prevents fatal falls. Choose between a single static (top rope) or dynamic (lead climbing) rope in different lengths and widths for single pitch climbing.
- Climbing shoes: the shoe you wear depends on many factors, such as skill level and style of climbing. You can choose a traditional (more relaxed foot) or aggressive design (pointed foot).
- Harness: it’s your connection to the rope, so make sure it fits! You wouldn’t want to fall out.
- Helmet: prevents head injuries. Protect front, back and sides of the head with a hybrid (light weight) or hardshell (durable) helmet.
- Belay device: by bending the rope it creates friction to lower the climber and catch falls. Decide mindfully between a tubar or semi-assisted locking device.
- Chalk: aka magnesium carbonate; used to dry moisture on the hands to increase friction and grip on the holds.
- Quickdraws: used to attach the rope (running freely) to protection on the wall, such as bolts and anchors. There are different types available suitable to certain needs.
- Slings: have multiple uses, such as quickdraw extensions or setting up anchors. They come in various sizes.
But remember that certain routes may call for particular items, so do your research – look for guide books, contact guides/instructors or local Facebook groups.
How to stay safe outdoors:
- Buddy checks are essential before every climb! And communicate with your partner.
- Ensure you have an experienced belayer and correct weight difference, otherwise your belayer won’t be able to catch the fall safely. Whether it’s top roping or lead belaying, they will require a different skill set.
- As a lead climber, be prepared for your top anchor. Take the gear you need.
- Pay attention to the holds and bolts. Are they loose or rusty? Retreat if uncertain.
- Don’t be shy; ask the other climbers if you have any questions about a route.
- Wear a helmet.
Like all extreme sports, it has its risks. With the right training, correct use of equipment and an experienced buddy/partner, you can considerably reduce the risks.
See list of equipment above.
One or two crash pads, shoes, chalk and chalk brush, plus a buddy to spot you.
No rain. Sunny or cloudy, commonly no more than 20C (depends how you like it). Usually in Autumn or Spring.
You will need to be able to move yourself upwards (with the occasional help of the rope if required). Run up some stairs and do squats, see if you can bear it. Your strength will progress the more you climb.