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Types of Climbing - A Brief Description

Submitted by Jtbo on 2010-03-29

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by Jeff Thibeau

Top-roping. Leading, Bouldering. Sport Climbing. All of these terms fly at you pretty fast when your the new guy or gal in the gym, surrounded by more experienced climbers. Knowing the difference between the types of climbing is like knowing the difference between chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Some people like to lead climb and some strictly boulder. So lets briefly explore what all of these terms mean so you can pick your favorite flavor. Traditional Climbing

In this style, also known as "trad" climbing, the climber places all of the necessary protection (ex. camming devices) in the rock while ascending. This type of climbing requires a great deal of experience and technical knowledge to be done safely. However it is more of a thinkers style because the routes aren't always presented to you on a silver platter. Top-Rope Climbing

Top-rope climbing is one of the safest forms of climbing. It is where the rope is always anchored above you so if you fall you only fall a foot or two as opposed to ten to fifteen foot falls in lead climbing. This is generally seen in the gym and is a great way to learn the ins and outs of safety while climbing. Advanced climbers can use this type of climbing to focus on technique, strength building or endurance. Sport Climbing

This type of climbing is sort of like traditional climbing but the protection is already bolted in to the wall. The focus of sport climbing is to perform highly acrobatic, powerful climbs on relatively shot routes. Sport climbing is more accessible to beginners because it does not require all of the gear that trad climbing does. The noobie climber should be aware that the falls in sport climbing can be a lot farther compared to top-rope climbing. Lead Climbing

Lead climbing is when the "leader" climbs up with the rope hang below hime while the "second" belays and hands out rope underneath. This type of climbing is generally used when more than one "pitch" is involved. The leader climbs up till he reaches the next pitch where he attaches an anchor; the leader belays the second until he reaches the anchor and the leader continues up the route. Bouldering

Bouldering is a style of climbing in which the climber does not use a harness or rope for protection from falling because the routes are below 25ft in height; a crash pad is often used underneath the climber. Bouldering is an extreme form of climbing in which the climber must combine power with technique and grace to conquer these difficult routes. Routes in bouldering are commonly referred to as "problems." In theory all that is needed to boulder is climbing shoes but chalk is highly recommended. Solo Climbing

Youtube Dan Osman. Solo climbing or free soloing is the most "pure" form of climbing because it involves no protection should you fall; the only protection is a good set of hands. These climbs are generally done on routes well below the climbers limitations. A new form of free soloing is called deep water soloing in which the climber ascends above a body of water which acts as their protection should they fall.. There are many types of solo climbing but they are all a bad idea. Don't do this. (Strictly my opinion) Aid Climbing

Aid climbing is a technical style of climbing in which devices are used to make upward progress. This type of climbing is generally employed on big walls (see El Capitan) where free climbing is extremely difficult or impossible. Aid climbing places less emphasis on brute strength and power and more on physical and mental endurance.

These are just a few different styles and types of climbing. Other forms of climbing that have not been discussed are alpine, mountaineering and ice climbing. These styles will be discussed in further detail in future posts.

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Thank you for this article. I liked it. I thought Trad climbing and sport climbing were both types of lead climbing and I don't believe lead climbing in any requires it to be multipitch (involving more than one pitch).
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I agree with the previous commenter -- lead climbing does not imply multi-pitch lead climbing, and both Trad & Sport are forms of lead climbing.

Also, solo climbing is not the same as free solo climbing. It is quite possible to do rope-soloing, where there is protection.

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