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What is climbing?

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

For a long time before I started climbing, Sam regularly mentioned it and would invite me to join him in the evening. At this point I literally thought that rock climbing was just strapping on a harness and ropes and then trying to clamber up a cliff face without falling or needing too many changes of underwear. I had no idea that indoor climbing was a thing, let alone having heard of the term bouldering. Now, since I've stared, I've noticed the sheer extent of climbing centres and gyms everywhere!

So, if you’re new to the climbing world, here is everything you need to know.

Firstly, what is climbing?

In its simple terms, climbing, as expected, is attempting to scaling a wall with the aim of making it to the top without falling. This may be outdoors and scaling a cliff face using the natural rock formations as holds, or in an indoor centre using either plastic or wooden holds designed to replicate the types of routes you may find on an outdoor wall.

The main difference between indoor and outdoor climbing is the design of the routes. As expected, the routes on outdoor rock faces are predetermined by the natural shape and crags of the rock, using these to ascend, Whereas with indoor climbing, all of the routes are designed by "Routesetters", employees of the centres who's sole purpose is to design routes that will test both the climbing ability and the problem solving ability of the climbers, as in a lot of occasions, half the battle is being able to read the route to determine the best way to climb it. Each climb is colour coded, usually by the colour of the holds, which indicate the holds that are allowed to be used when climbing a route. Once a route has been designed, it is also graded to indicate its difficulty, as per the grade comparison below, with different centres using different gradings.

Next, what are the different types of climbing?

There are 3 different types of climbs, these are bouldering, top roping and lead climbing.

Bouldering is the type of climbing that I do most, no ropes or harness, just the holds, the wall and sheer fear gripping you onto them! I’m joking about that last part… sometimes! To start with I was really nervous at the thought of scaling these walls with no safety net, but the truth of it is I was surprised at how quickly you become comfortable with it. As there isn’t that safety of the ropes and harness, the heights of the walls are usually a lot shorter than climbing with the climbing gear, and the floor tends to be padded to support any falls, not that falling is advised (a proper “do as I say, not as I do” moment)!

As for the traditional idea of climbing with ropes, there are two different ways of climbing, lead climbing and top roping, both of which go a lot higher up than bouldering.

Lead Climbing is when you are climbing the route and clipping in safety points as you go, where as Top Roping is when the rope is already threaded up to the top so you can climb a lot more comfortably without having to worry about clipping in safety points. Both of these climbs need someone to belay as you climb, however the top roping means you still have a chance of falling as you are in control of the fixed points of securing to the wall. The good thing is, you’ll only ever fall double the distance that you’ve climbed from the last secure point. For example, if you’ve climbed 1m from the last clip in point, you’ll fall the 1m to the clip, and as there is 1m on unsecured rope, you’d fall a further metre down past the clip in point, I hope that makes sense.

Hopefully I've covered everything you need to know about the world of climbing, but if there is anything I've missed or should go more in detail on, please get in touch!

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