4 Types of Climbing and How You Can Start

The way I started climbing was completely unconventional. One day I woke up and decided that I needed a new hobby. I figured that rock climbing would be fun as it has an aspect of adventure, the outdoors, heights, and adrenaline— the perfect mix of ingredients to get my heart pumping.

I went to a local outdoor shop to purchase a pair of cheap harnesses, beginner rock climbing shoes, and a set of 6 cypher quickdraws. Then, I went on eBay and found a packaged deal which included a used 9.8mm New England Rope, 4 extra quick draws, five locking carabiners, and a Black Diamond ATC-XP belay device. After watching countless hours of YouTube on how to top rope belay, lead belay, clean a route, and clip quickdraws, I felt ready to go climbing.

I convinced 3 friends who had no climbing experience to head out to Rough and Ready, a local crag located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and onsighted a route called Fingerbang (5.10b). I didn’t realize that the route was rated a 5.10b when I onsighted it; the route just looked doable to me.

I ended up sending the route by climbing up a crack to the left (probably still a 5.9), reaching over to clip the bolts to the right, and traversing to the anchors. Once I was at the anchors, I took about 30 minutes to clean the route as I couldn’t recall exactly how to tie a figure 8 as my brain was stuffed with so much new information. It wasn’t exactly overwhelming, but I can safely say that I was the gumby of the crag.

I don’t regret how I threw myself into the sport even if it was dangerous. That’s kind of just what I do. But for all of you who want to get started on this amazing sport, I want to share with you some of the various disciplines of climbing, the gear and some tips on getting started.

1. Bouldering

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that consists of climbing…, you guessed it, boulders! The boulders that are climbed can range anywhere from 5 feet to 35 feet. Generally, anything taller than 15 feet is considered to be a highball boulder problem. Boulder problems are not limited to going up and down the boulder, but also side to side, known as traversing, or underneath the boulder, known as a roof. These problems are usually consisting of short, intense, technical climbing. They are rated on a V scale with problems ranging anywhere from V0 to V15; V0 being the easiest.

Bouldering indoors is probably the easiest way to get started on rock climbing. All you need is a pair of rock climbing shoes and a chalk bag. If you are bouldering indoors, a large mat is used to protect you when falling. A bouldering crash pad is used when going outdoors. It is also recommended that you have a spotter, someone to ensure that you will fall on the pad, while outdoors.

Recommended gear for outdoor bouldering: rock climbing shoes, chalk bag and crash pad.

2. Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is a type of rock climbing that involves climbing up a piece of rock that already has fixed points of protection. These points of protection are usually called bolts. Climbers will attached a quickdraw to the bolts and clip their rope in to protect them from a fall. Sport climbing is usually safe and allows climbers to show off their strength and gymnastic-like abilities. These climbs can be anywhere from 20 feet to 120 feet tall. Sport climbing is a bit more difficult than bouldering because climbers need to know basic commands such as what it means when someone yells, “take”, “slack”, or “I’m indirect”.  It is also helpful to understand how to rappel which could be daunting at first.

Leading. Lead climbing can be pretty heady for some climbers. When you lead a sport route, you work your way up from the bottom to the top. The rope is dangling between you and the rock and you protect yourself by clipping into the bolts using a quickdraw.

There is a certain amount of knowledge that you should have before you lead a route. You must know basic clipping techniques and the dangers of back stepping, back clipping, and Z-clipping. Also remember that you are climbing unprotected up to the first bolt. If you are climbing outdoors, you must know how to clean a route. Also, if you are setting up a top rope for your fellow climbers, you must know how to set up a safe anchor!

Top rope. Top roping is a type of climbing where the rope is running from the belayer, up to the anchor, and down to the climber.  The appeal of top roping is that you do not take big falls. It takes the fear out of climbing! Indoor climbing gyms usually have top ropes set up. While climbing outdoors, always ensure that the anchor is set up correctly or a fall could be fatal if the anchor fails.

Recommended gear for outdoor sport climbing: 10 to 12 quickdraws, a personal anchor system (PAS), rock climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag, 2 locking carabiners and a belay device.

3. Trad Climbing

Trad or traditional climbing is a type of climbing where climbers place their own protection (pro) into the rock. The types of pro that climbers place are generally known as wires, stoppers, or nuts (passive pro) and cams or friends (active pro).  Trad climbing is both a physical and mental game.

Recommended gear for traditional climbing (single rack): Black Diamond Stopper Set Pro, Black Diamond Camalot C3s, Black Diamond Camalot C4s (size 0.3 –to size 4), 6 to 8 alpine draws, 6 24-inch slings, 16- feet 7mm cordelette,  4 to 5 locking carabiners, roughly 20 carabiners, belay device, harness, rock climbing shoes, chalk bag, and PAS.

4. Free Soloing

Free soloing is a type of rock climbing that involves climbing with no gear, no rope, or any type of safety equipment. It is arguably one of the purest forms of rock climbing. Free soloing may be done on a single pitch sport route or a huge wall of granite.

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