Rock climbing, also known as mountain climbing and mountaineering, is both an amateur as well as a professional sport that has become popular on an international level since the 1960s. Mountain climbing involves an intense regimen of skills and dexterity, including balance, flexibility and muscle coordination. Other vital factors include type of equipment, terrain, and clothing. Since the late 18th century, expeditions have been staged as competitive battles against nature’s demons. Several mountain climbing expeditions are made every year to the peaks of such natural wonders as Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro. Many of the early expeditions were competitive feats and battles against nature’s demons. However, mountain climbing as a form of adventure travel has since become popular among many people wanting to take a few risks in the great outdoors while on their vacations.
An Introduction To Rock Climbing:
This article aims to give you the reader an insight into rock climbing as a sport. I will start by covering its origin and a brief history of its development until now. I also intend to describe its three main forms – ‘sport’ climbing, ‘trad’ or ‘traditional’ climbing and ‘bouldering’. I will also cover some of the equipment used in the sport. I will not be covering the safety usage of this equipment, for that, I suggest you find the relevant information…… you can not place a value on your own safety!!!
A brief history of its development:
The history of rock climbing can be traced back to the first quarter of the 19th Century. There is no surprise that this developed naturally from mountaineering where many of the rock skills/techniques used formed the foundation from which the sport has developed. The main geographical areas included the Dolomites in Italy, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and the Lake District located in England.
As the desire of mountaineers to conquer larger and more difficult routes, so did the rock climbing as a sport in its own right. Improved techniques and equipment drastically increased the skill level and safety of participating climbers. This in turn pushing the boundaries and limits of the sport to what we recognize today. The growing popularity if the sport saw its spread to many different countries each developing their own grading system used to measure the level of difficulty of any one particular climb.
As the sport progressed in popularity, so too did the skill levels of its participants. Now at the extreme end of the sport, many top-level climbers are considered athletes in their own right. These athletes focus on training to diet in order to improve their personal abilities and continuously push the boundaries of the sport. Since its initial development, climbing can now be broken down into three main areas; sport’ climbing, ‘trad’ or ‘traditional’ climbing and ‘bouldering’.
‘Trad’ or ‘Traditional’ climbing:
‘Trad’ or ‘Traditional’ climbing is probably what some may argue the purest form of climbing. It most closely resembles its origin of mountaineering in the sense that climbers can start at the foot of a mountain/rock face and climb to the top using specialized equipment. Climbs are completed by a minimum of two climbers at a time where the first leads the route, belayed and followed by the second climber using a 60m. The use of the equipment involves the climber carefully placing their own protection (often referred to as gear) by wedging them into the rock face as they climb. Once placed, the climber then attaches the rope using carabiners, which are clipped to the protection via thin pieces of wire.
Sport climbing is similar to ‘trad’ in that climbs are completed by two people at once using and attached to a 60m rope. Where it differs is that as opposed to the lead climber placing their own protection, bolts are pre-drilled/glued into the rock; all the lead climber has to do in this case is clip a quick draw (consisting of two carabiners attached by a super strong piece of nylon) into the bolt of one carabiner, then clip the rope into the other. The scond climber belays in exactly the same way as with ‘trad’ climbing.
Unlike ‘sport’ or ‘trad’ climbing, bouldering requires almost no equipment (except for climbing shoes, chalk bag and a bouldering mat; I should add here that ‘sport’ or ‘trad’ use of these and more except for the mat!!). I involves climbing much shorter climbs where in some cases the climber only gets a few feet off the ground. This style of climbing originates from alpine climbing in Fontainebleau, France where climbers used to complete 3km-11km circuits of scrambling/climbing small boulders in order to increase their fitness. The difficulty of these routes, more commonly referred to, as problems tend to be much higher. Furthermore, it doesn’t require a second climber to belay; the second climber (if there is on!!) solely acts as a spotter in order to ensure if the other climber falls onto the mat.
In today’s modern world of climbing, there is a vast array of equipment to choose from. They range from climbing shoes and harnesses to wire nuts and helmets and other safety equipment. Some of the standard equipment already mentioned above includes climbing shoes, which are generally a very tight fitting material shoe with an ultra sticky rubber sole. Another common item is the chalk bag which surprise, surprise… is used to carry chalk!! Climbers use chalk on their hands to dry them out much like a gymnast does when using the rings or bars. Climbing ropes come in a range of lengths and thicknesses to cover a range of climbing conditions. Other items include the safety harness climbers use to attach themselves to the rope and their climbing partner, quick-draws or protection/gear and safety helmets.
As the idea of this article is only to introduce the topic of climbing, the equipment mentioned here is by no means an exhaustive list. The rubber used in today’s climbing shoes is a vast improvement from the old boots some of our pioneering friends used to climb in. It is these improvements in equipment that have transformed the sport into what we now recognize as rock climbing. The safety standards of most climbing equipment supplied nowadays it extremely high for obvious reasons. In fact, the construction and materials used are so strong that you would have to be extremely unlucky for any of it to fail (providing that you use them in the prescribe manner as directed by the manufacturers!!).
I hope this article has clarified some of the mysteries surrounding this fascinating and addictive sport. The intention was to provide a brief overview of this sport by introducing a little of its historical development, differing forms and equipment used. Like many others, climbing has been a passion of mine for many years. For this reason it is obvious that the sport will continue to grow with new athletes continuously pushing the limits. Climbing rocks!!!!