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 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 toproping, 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.
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 (abseil) down with the rope.
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 anatomical 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.
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.
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs so that a fall will not result in serious injury. It is typically practiced on large boulders or artificial man-made boulders. However, it may also be practiced at the base of larger rock faces, or even on buildings or public architecture (see buildering).
typically practiced on large boulders or artificial man-made boulders. However, it may also be practiced at the base of larger rock faces, or even on buildings or public architecture (see buildering).
A climber with chalked-up hands and a crash pad on the ground. (Rock town, Little Rock city, Horse Pens 40, Water boulders at little river canyon.U.S.)Bouldering is a style of climbing emphasizing power, strength, and dynamics. Its focus is on individual moves or short sequences of moves, unlike traditional climbing or sport climbing, which generally demand more endurance over longer stretches of rock where the difficulty of individual moves is not as great. Boulder routes are commonly referred to as problems (a British appellation) because the nature of the climb is often short, curious, and much like problem solving. Sometimes these problems are eliminates, meaning certain artificial restrictions are imposed. Lucky for us we are within a few hours of the best sandstone in the country. We have more rock in the southeast than we know what to do with...happy hunting.
To reduce the risk of injury from a fall, climbers rarely go higher than 3-5 meters above the ground. Anything over 7 meters is generally considered to be free-soloing (or simply 'soloing' in the British), although such climbs might also be termed high-ball bouldering problems. For further protection, climbers typically put a bouldering mat (crash pad) on the ground to break their fall. Lastly, climbers often have one or more spotters, who work to direct the climber's body toward the crash pad during a fall, while protecting the climber's head from hazards.
Bouldering is increasing in popularity; bouldering areas are common in indoor climbing gyms and some climbing gyms are dedicated solely to bouldering. Children are joining the sport now as well as adults. In fact, studies have found that young climbers develop better skills as adults from their experience with youthful disadvantages such as height and strength.
One of the major appeals of bouldering is its relatively scant equipment requirements. It is not uncommon to see people bouldering with shoes, a chalkbag, and a small mat to wipe their feet on. Although nothing is actually required, common equipment includes:
Climbing shoes, for better traction and edging capabilities.
Loose, powdered chalk as a hand drying agent while climbing.
A mattress-like object called a crash pad. These are generally thick, rectangular foam pads with a heavy-duty fabric shell. They are opened and placed at the base of a boulder to cover irregularities in the landing and provide some cushion if the climber falls.
A brush, or several brushes of differing sizes, typically with nylon bristles but sometimes coarse animal hair, is used to clean holds and is often mounted on a telescopic pole to allow greater reach.
Sports tape is useful for covering cuts or blisters, as well as providing support for joints that may have been strained.
Clothing usually include a sleeveless shirt and shorts, though anything that's comfortable and flexible enough will generally work.
As in other types of climbing, bouldering has developed its own grading systems for comparing the difficulty of problems. The most commonly used grading systems are the Fontainebleau system which ranges from 1 to 8c+, and the John Sherman V-grade system, beginning at V0 and increasing by integers to a current top grade of V16 (The Wheel of Life by Dai Koyamada in the Grampians, Australia). Both scales are open-ended at the top, and thus the upper grade of these systems is always increasing as boulderers ascend more difficult problems.
Top-rope climbing (or Top-roping) is a style in climbing in which a rope, used for the climber's safety, runs from a belayer at the foot of a route through one or more carabiners connected to an anchor system at the top of the route and back down to the climber, usually attaching to the climber by means of a harness. Assuming that the route is predominantly bottom-to-top; that the anchor holds; and that the belayer pays attention, the top-rope climber generally will not fall more than a short distance and can thus safely attempt even the most difficult routes. Most top-rope anchors can be reached through non-technical means, such as by hiking or scrambling to the top of the cliff.
Top-roping is most often done on routes that can't be lead climbed for one reason or another. It is the most common style used at indoor climbing walls and is also used in situations where other methods would be unsafe or environmentally damaging. For example, in Kent and Sussex in south-east England, the sandstone rock is soft and prone to erosion, so placing protection into the rock would be both damaging and unreliable. There, top-roping from permanent anchors and solo climbing are the only forms of ascent allowed.
By contrast, in some other areas, top roping is frowned upon for various reasons - including possible erosion from people trying routes too difficult for them or a lack of suitable top-rope anchor points.
For top-roping, a low-stretch (static or semi-static) rope is recommended to prevent rope wear and rock erosion and to ensure maximum safety in the event of a fall. Most practitioners would recommend the use of two screwgate carabiners to provide backup in case one becomes undone. A low-stretch sling (often made of cordelette or webbing) or additional rope to attach these to the anchor point is also widely used. In the interests of safety at least two separate anchor points should be used.
Climber being lowered by the belayer, with weight on the top rope and hands outstretched for balance while "walking" down.It is important to arrange the system in such a way that as little moving rope comes into contact with the rock as possible - otherwise, it is possible to irreversibly damage ropes through friction or cutting. Multiple slings, or a long, adjustable-length sling are often the best options.
Top-roped climbing is psychologically easier and safer than sport climbing, in which the lead climber clips into preplaced bolts in the rock, or traditional climbing, in which protection is placed along the route by a lead climber. Many novice climbers initially experience the sport through top-roping.
Sport or Lead Climbing
Sport climbing is a style of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock, especially bolts, for protection. It contrasts with traditional climbing, in which the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Since the need to place protection is virtually eliminated, sport climbing places an emphasis on gymnastic ability, strength and endurance, as opposed to adventure, risk and self-sufficiency. As artificial means are used primarily for safety rather than to make upward progress, sport climbing is considered a form of free climbing.
Sport climbing equipment. From left to right, top to bottom are: rope, helmet, climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag, belay device, and quick draws.A route suitable for sport climbing has pre-placed bolts following a line up a rock face. Sport climbs are typically between 20 and 120 feet in length, and have eight to twelve bolts (some routes may have as few as three bolts, while other routes may have twenty-five or more).
Sport climbing can be undertaken with relatively little equipment. Equipment used in sport climbing includes:
A dynamic rope
A belay device
Climbing harnesses for belayer and climber
A few runners
A helmet is recommended
Climbing Shoes and chalk bag are normally used, although not technically necessary
Two quickdraws. The left side of the draws are clipped directly to the bolt. The rope will be clipped through the right side.To lead a sport climb is to ascend a route with a rope tied to the climber's harness, and with the loose end of the rope handled by a belayer. As each bolt is reached along the route, the climber attaches a quickdraw to the bolt, and then clips the rope through the hanging end of the quickdraw. This bolt is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall. At the top of sport routes, there is typically a two-bolt anchor that can be used to return the climber to the ground or previous rappel point.
Because sport routes do not require placing protection, the climber can concentrate on the difficulty of the moves rather than placing protection or the consequences of a fall.
Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing with respect to the type and placement of protection. Traditional climbing uses mostly removeable protection (such as cams or nuts), and tends to minimize the usage of pre-placed protection. Sport climbing typically involves single pitch routes, whereas traditional climbing can include single-pitch routes as well as longer, multi-pitch ascents. There are areas like El Potrero Chico that feature multi-pitch sport climbs, but longer routes generally lack pre-placed anchors due to economical, logistical or ethical reasons.
Rock types that produce good sport climbs include limestone, granite and quartzite, though sport climbs can be found on almost all rock types. In the south east we typicaly see sandstone crags. There are a few limestone cliffs and granite walls and boulders. Most of our rock unfortunatly sits on privately owned land.
Sport climbs are assigned subjective ratings to indicate difficulty. The type of rating depends on the geographic location of the route, since different countries and climbing communities use different rating systems.
The Ewbank rating system, used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, is a numerical open-ended system, starting from 1, which you can (at least in theory) walk up, up to 34 (as of 2008).
The French rating system considers the overall difficulty of the climb, taking into account the difficulty of the moves and the length of climb. This differs from most grading systems where one rates a climbing route according to the most difficult section (or single move). Grades are numerical, starting at 1 (very easy) and the system is open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by adding a letter (a, b or c). Examples: 2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + (no -) may be used to further differentiate difficulty. Many countries in Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarily matching difficulties. Sport climbing in Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed with the letter "F".
In the United States, the Yosemite Decimal System is used to rate sport climbs. Current grades for sport routes vary between 5.0 (very, very easy) to 5.15 (ridiculously hard), although the system is open-ended. Past 5.10, letter grades between a and d are sometimes used for further subdivision (e.g. 5.11a or 5.10d). Pluses and minuses may also be used (e.g. 5.9+ or 5.11-). Originally, the YDS rating was designed to rate the difficulty of the hardest move on a given route. However, modern sport grades often take into account other features such as length and sustainedness.
For more information on climbing in the southeast go to http://www.seclimbers.org/