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Introduction to Rock climbing

Rock climbing evolved from a necessity of traversing rocky mountain terrain to an athletic sport sometime in the late 1800s. Today, rock climbing is a popular sport, with an established set of standards and rating system for determining route difficulty.

Rock climbing is typically done in pairs, with one person climbing, and the other person belaying (protecting the climber from falling). Both the climber and the belayer attach the rope to their climbing harness with a figure eight knot. In outdoor climbing, the lead climber goes up the rock first, placing protection devices in the cracks of the rock, usually nuts or spring-loaded 'cams', every so often to limit their maximum possible fall distance. The maximum fall distance equals twice the distance from the climber to the last point of protection, plus any stretch and slack in the rope. If the lead climber falls, the belayer's job is to stops the rope from giving using a belay device, which greatly increases the friction on the rope to make it easier for the belayer to control.

Types of rock climbing

Free climbing. In free climbing, the climber uses only his or her own strength to move up the rock. Gear may be used to protect the climber from falling, however no gear can be used to assist the climber moving upwards.

Aid climbing. In aid climbing, the climber uses artificial devices placed in the rock to support their body weight. Aid climbing is typically used on rock formations that lack the natural features that make it climbable.

Lead climbing. Lead climbing is a method of climbing where the lead climber climbs the route from the ground up, with the belayer waiting at the bottom.

Traditional climbing. In traditional climbing, the lead climber uses removable gear to protect against falls and moves from the ground up the route and establishes a belay. The follower then climbs up and removes all the gear placed by the lead climber.

Sport climbing. Sport climbing is a variant of lead climbing that involves the use of pre-placed permanent bolts for protection. The leader climbs with only quickdraws (two carabiners connected by webbing) and clips one side into a bolt along the way. Sport climbing is focused more on the climbing itself than the adventure and exploration of it.

Top roping. Top roping involves suspending a rope from an anchor at the top of the climb. The climber and the belayer each tie in to opposite ends of the rope, with the belayer either on the top or the bottom of the route.

Bouldering. Bouldering involves climbing short climbs close to the ground, typically protected by a mat or padding. Bouldering is typically done without ropes.

Indoor climbing. Indoor climbing involves climbing in an indoor climbing gym. Outdoor climbers use indoor climbing to train, though many climbers climb regularly in an indoor gym.

Free solo climbing. Free solo climbing is the crazy one, where the climber climbs without a rope or other protective gear. Don't do this unless you're extremely experienced. Even then, you may not want to do it.


Rock climbing has many benefits - it offers an intense full body workout, a great challenge and sense of accomplishment, and a warm, supportive community. Most climbing gyms offer fun, welcoming communities and often climbers meet and find belay partners at the gym. Regular climbing can be a great way to build strength, and depending on how you climb, even get a full aerobic workout.