Climbing styles

Climbing styles

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

* Free climbing requires the climber use only his/her bodily strength for upward progress. Commonly confused with "free-soloing" which means to climb without a rope. The essence of free climbing is that, although gear may be used to protect a climber in the event of a fall, the actual "climbing" is being done without the help of any artificial device.

* Aid climbing involves using artificial devices placed in the rock to support all or part of the climber's body weight, and is normally practiced on rock formations that lack the necessary natural features suitable for free climbing.

Other kinds of climbing:
* 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 safely guide his or her fall.
* Top Roping involves suspending a rope from an anchor located at the top of a short climb. The climber ties into one end of the rope and is belayed by his belayer who manages the other end of the rope. The belayer can belay either from the top or base of the route. This is distinct from Lead climbing where the climber is not safeguarded by a rope attached to an anchor situated at the top of the route.
* 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.

In recent years, indoor climbing walls, basically artificial cliffs, have become quite popular. Although climbing walls "can" be used to train climbers for the outdoors, many climbers enjoy climbing indoor walls regularly and almost never go outside. Indoor climbing is also a competitive sport, and therefore should not be mistaken primarily for a means of training for outdoor rock climbing. They are also used by experienced climbers who hone their skills without the need to travel to rock formations.
* Lead climbing is a method of climbing in which the climber (here called the "leader") climbs a route from the ground up. To protect him/herself, the climber trails a rope which is managed by a belayer who remains on the ground or at an established anchor. As the leader climbs, he/she can either clip the trailed rope through pieces of traditional gear (cams, stoppers), placed in cracks, or clip the rope through gear already in place (bolts, pitons). If a climber falls while leading, he/she cannot comfortably sit back on the rope and be held by the belayer as in toproping (where the rope is anchored above the climber); rather, the leader will fall twice the distance between his/her position and the most recent piece of protection (a cam, stopper, bolt, etc.) that he/she clipped the rope through (assuming this piece of protection holds).

In lead climbing, the belayer feeds rope to the lead climber through a belay device. The leader climbs, occasionally placing protection or clipping preplaced bolted hangers, until the top is reached. The belayer is ready to "lock off" the rope in case the leader falls.

Both climber and belayer attach the rope to their climbing harness. The rope is tied into the climber's harness with a figure-of-eight loop or double bowline knot. The leader either places his own protection or clips into permanent protection already attached to the rock. In traditional climbing, the protection generally is removable. However, many significant first ascents in the U.S. done with a combination of crack gear and bolts placed on lead were termed "traditional" at the time (see below discussion). Usually nuts or Spring-loaded camming device (often referred to as "cams" or "friends") 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 either expanding masonry bolts taken from the construction industry, or by placing glue-in bolt systems. In ice climbing the protection is made-up of Ice Screws or similar devices hammered or screwed into the ice by the leader, and removed by the second climber.

The lead climber typically connects the rope to the protection with carabiners or quickdraws. If the lead climber falls, he will fall twice the length of the rope 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. Thus if a climber is 2 meters above the last protection he will fall 2 meters to the protection, 2 meters below the protection, plus slack and rope stretch, for a total fall of over 4 meters.

If the leader falls, the belayer must arrest the rope to stop the fall. To achieve this the rope is run 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 increases friction and stops the rope from running. Some of the more popular types of belay devices are the ATC Belay Device, the Figure 8 and various auto-locking belay devices such as the Petzl Gri-Gri

If the route being climbed is a multi-pitch route the leader sets up a secure anchor system at the top of the pitch, also called a belay, from where he can belay as his partner climbs. As the second climber climbs, he/she removes the gear from the rock in case of traditional climbing or removes the quickdraws from the bolts in the case of sport climbing. Both climbers are now at the top of the pitch with all their equipment. Note that the second climber is protected from above while climbing, but the lead climber is not, so being the lead climber is more challenging and dangerous. After completing the climb, and with both climbers at the top of the pitch, both climbers must rappel or descend the climb in order to return to their starting point. All climbs do not necessarily require the lead climber to belay the second climber from the top. The belayer could lower the lead climber down after he/she has completed a single pitch route.
** Traditional Climbing, or "Trad" Climbing. In Trad Climbing, the leader uses mostly removable gear (and the occasional bolt placed on lead) to protect against falls. As in all forms of lead climbing, the climbing team (a leader and follower, or multiple followers) begins at the bottom of a climb and ascends to the top, the leader placing protective devices in the rock as he/she climbs. Once the leader is finished climbing, he/she establishes a belay. The follower then "follows" the route and removes all of the gear placed by the leader. It is important that the leader be proficient at placing Trad (or clean or natural) gear (cams, stoppers, hexes, tri-cams, etc.) because his/her safety depends upon the soundness of each individual gear placement. Placing trad gear on lead can be time-consuming and thus tiring, sometimes making routes feel harder than their rating. Trad climbing is generally practiced according to ethical principles, that dictate primarily natural gear placements be made. However, when "traditional" was first coined in U.S. climbing literature, ["Tricksters and Traditionalists," Tom Higgins, Ascent, Sierra Club, 1984] traditionalists of the day hand drilled bolts sometimes from delicate stances on lead when cams, stoppers, etc. were not possible to place. Some of the resulting traditional routes have long run outs between bolts, requiring a "bold" mentality. More important to the original traditionalists than bolting or not was the overall approach to climbing: no resting on the rope after falls, instead lowering to a stance or pitch beginning or even the ground for restart; no placing of protection from a top rope or rehearsing difficult moves over and over; and no fixing of ropes to high points (sieging) to return with aid for repeated tries. It is, with perhaps the exception of climbing with no rope and prior knowledge of a route Free-soloing, the purest form of climbing. Since the term traditional first emerged in U.S. climbing literature, its use has changed. Some, for example, now will call a climbing style "trad" only if no bolts are encountered, and may relax the old restraint of lowering off tension for restarts after a fall.
** Sport climbing is a type of lead climbing which involves the use of pre-placed permanent bolts for protection. This frees the leader from the need to carry and place traditional gear. The leader merely clips one side of a quickdraw (two carabiners connected by a loop of webbing) into a bolt and the other into the rope. A typical sport route will require the leader to carry between 6 and 12 quickdraws or "draws," one for each bolt in the string of bolts that protect the route. Sport Climbing, in essence, is focused more on the gymnastic aspects of climbing than the aesthetics or adventure. Sport routes are bolted with safety in mind and also because they generally (though not always) ascend faces that are not protectable by any other practical mean. Bolts, however, are not foolproof. The same stringence concerning safety found in Trad. climbing should apply to Sport climbing as well. In the case of a fall, sport climbers often rest on the rope and begin from where they are hanging, called "hang-dogging." Hard sport climbs often require that the climber literally rehearse every single move several times before he/she can complete a clean ascent (without falls).
** Occasionally, climbers may decide to "move together", a risky but speedy technique also called simul-climbing, in which both leader and second move at the same time without stopping to belay. 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 the second climber fall, however, the leader may be pulled from his holds, with potentially dangerous results.
* 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.


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