is a style of rock climbing
that relies on permanent anchors
fixed to the rock, especially bolts
, for protection
. It contrasts with traditional climbing
, in which the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Since the need to place protection is virtually eliminated, sport climbing places an emphasis on gymnastic ability, strength and endurance, as opposed to adventure, risk and self-sufficiency. As artificial means are used primarily for safety rather than to make upward progress, sport climbing is considered a form of free climbing
A route suitable for sport climbing has pre-placed bolts following a line up a rock face. Sport climbs are typically between 20 and 120 feet in length, and have eight to twelve bolts (some routes may have as few as three bolts, while other routes may have twenty-five or more).
Sport climbing can be undertaken with relatively little equipment. Equipment used in sport climbing includes:
To lead a sport climb is to ascend a route with a rope tied to the climber's harness, and with the loose end of the rope handled by a belayer. As each bolt is reached along the route, the climber attaches a quickdraw to the bolt, and then clips the rope through the hanging end of the quickdraw. This bolt is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall. At the top of sport routes, there is typically a two-bolt anchor that can be used to return the climber to the ground or previous rappel point.
Because sport routes do not require placing protection, the climber can concentrate on the difficulty of the moves rather than placing protection or the consequences of a fall.
Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing with respect to the type and placement of protection. Traditional climbing uses mostly removeable protection (such as cams or nuts), and tends to minimize the usage of pre-placed protection. Sport climbing typically involves single pitch routes, whereas traditional climbing can include single-pitch routes as well as longer, multi-pitch ascents. There are areas like El Potrero Chico that feature multi-pitch sport climbs, but longer routes generally lack pre-placed anchors due to economical, logistical or ethical reasons.
Rock types that produce good sport climbs include limestone, granite and quartzite, though sport climbs can be found on almost all rock types.
Sport climbs are assigned subjective ratings to indicate difficulty. The type of rating depends on the geographic location of the route, since different countries and climbing communities use different rating systems.
The Ewbank rating system, used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, is a numerical open-ended system, starting from 1, which you can (at least in theory) walk up, up to 34 (as of 2008).
The French rating system considers the overall difficulty of the climb, taking into account the difficulty of the moves and the length of climb. This differs from most grading systems where one rates a climbing route according to the most difficult section (or single move). Grades are numerical, starting at 1 (very easy) and the system is open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by adding a letter (a, b or c). Examples: 2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + (no -) may be used to further differentiate difficulty. Many countries in Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarily matching difficulties. Sport climbing in Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed with the letter "F".
In the United States, the Yosemite Decimal System is used to rate sport climbs. Current grades for sport routes vary between 5.0 (very, very easy) to 5.15 (ridiculously hard), although the system is open-ended. Past 5.10, letter grades between a and d are sometimes used for further subdivision (e.g. 5.11a or 5.10d). Pluses and minuses may also be used (e.g. 5.9+ or 5.11-). Originally, the YDS rating was designed to rate the difficulty of the hardest move on a given route. However, modern sport grades often take into account other features such as length and sustainedness.
Sport climbers have developed their own terminology. For example, sport climbers have terms to categorize a successful climb based on the number of attempts and pre-existing knowledge of a given route:
- An ascent is considered an onsight if climbed the first try, without falls and without prior knowledge of the route.
- An ascent is considered a flash if climbed the first try, without falls but with some prior knowledge such as, but not limited to, watching another person climb it or discussing it with another climber.
- An ascent is considered a red point once a climber has attempted a given route and failed to climb it on the first attempt, but succeeded on a subsequent attempt while placing quickdraws.
- An ascent is considered a pink point once a climber has attempted a given route and failed to climb it on the first attempt, but succeeded on a subsequent attempt while climbing on pre-placed quickdraws. In some climbing communities, a pink point is considered to be a red point. In other climbing communities, this term has been abandoned entirely.
Routes that are at or above the individual climber's skill level often require working to red point (e.g. "We spent the summer working Ro Sham Po at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky."). A climber may return to a climb between two and hundreds of times to work out the moves, memorize the movements, and develop the strength and stamina required to complete the route. It is not uncommon for climbers to work routes for months or years.
A route that is being worked is considered that climber's project. Upon success, a climber is said to have sent a given route. (e.g. "Pete was working Ro Sham Po all summer, and in October he sent it.") The term can be used in the present tense as send. (e.g. "We were all yelling at Pete, 'send it!'"). Note that "send" comes from "ascend".
Prior knowledge of a route passed between climbers is referred to as beta. Beta can be information about difficult moves, specific sequences, or any other information that aids in ascent. In particular, a climber may be interested in getting beta for the crux of a route. The crux is the most difficult section of a route. (e.g. "Pete got a bunch of beta for the crux moves on Ro Sham Po from Bill, who sent the route last year.")
Some of the terminology described above was developed by sport climbers, and has been adopted by other forms of climbing, such as bouldering and traditional climbing.
The ethics climbers adopt toward their sport are not always steadfast, and they often depend on the venue. The following examples are merely outlines that do not always hold true.
Whether a route should be bolted as a sport climb is often in dispute. In some areas, including a large part of the United States, if a route cannot be safely climbed with the use of traditional gear, it is acceptable to bolt it. However, in much of the U.K., similar bolting is widely considered unacceptable. Additionally, the method of bolting may often be challenged. Many early sport routes were bolted by the first ascentionist, on lead. However, it is now considered acceptable in most areas to place bolts while rappelling, before climbing the route.
Sometimes, a newly bolted route is considered "red tagged," and ethics dictate that the person who bolted the route should be the only climber to attempt it until they can send it. Other times, the bolter will allow the route they developed to become an "open project" that anyone can try. Ascents of reserved routes have led to a number of controversies in the sport climbing world.
Chipping, Comfortizing, and Reinforcing
Changing the natural features of rock is often frowned upon, but in many parts of the world it is still accepted to some extent. At some areas, "chipping" of the rock with a chisel or similar tool to create a hold that did not exist naturally is considered acceptable. This is particularly true in some quarries as well as some European crags. However, at many other areas, local ethics absolutely forbid this.
Comfortizing holds often involves aggressively cleaning a route to the point where sharp holds have been filed down, often making them somewhat easier to use. While many climbers frown on this, in some areas comfortizing is considered acceptable to a point.
Reinforcing rock with glue is the most widely accepted modification to natural features in the sport climbing world. When a popular route is climbed over and over, holds may become looser and closer to breaking. Sometimes, these holds will be reinforced to prevent them from breaking. Other times, if a hold entirely breaks off, it may be glued back on. In most areas, these practices are considered acceptable if done neatly.
Sometimes, an ascent or the style in which it is done will come into dispute. For example, a leader who experiences tension on their rope from their belayer while climbing without falling may have not made a valid ascent, through no fault of their own. Additionally, the line between an onsight and a flash is often disputed. Some climbers consider any knowledge of a route, including its grade, to be beta that invalidates an onsight. However, other climbers will go so far as to belay another climber on a route and still claim that they did not have enough prior knowledge to move from the onsight realm to the flash realm.
If a climber fails to onsight or flash a route, they may decide to "work" it by attempting to climb it despite falling and hanging on the rope. However, at popular destinations, multiple parties of climbers will often line up to try a route. A climber working a route may spend an inordinate amount of time on it, preventing other parties from climbing it. This is often frowned upon, particularly if the climber is toproping rather than leading.
Not sending a route means that a climber was unable to finish or top out a route.
Australia has some excellent sport climbing areas, and from time to time some of the hardest climbs in the world are established by either locals, or visitors such as Wolfgang Güllich
Major sport climbing areas:
- The Blue Mountains,
- The Grampians
France was the birthplace and longtime champion of hard sport climbing in the 80s and 90s. This was partially due to their rock not being suitable for traditional type routes. In France, sport climbing and bouldering are very popular and competitive climbing is big business. Blessed with limitless limestone and balmy weather, there are many sport routes to be climbed in France.
Major sport climbing areas:
- Verdon Gorge: Long routes or hard routes that start at the top of a thousand-foot high rock wall
- Les Calanques
Some of the hardest routes in France:
- Akira, Charente, 9b?
- Realization (Biographie Extention), Ceuse, 9a+
- Salamander, Saint-Pierre en Faucigny, 9a+?
- Hugh, Eaux-Claires, near Vilhonneur 9a
- L'autre côté du ciel, Eaux-Claires, 9a?
- Mandallaz drive, D’Allonzier la Caille, 9a?
All of these routes (except Realization) were first climbed by frenchman Fred Rouhling. Hugh is the only one of his routes to have seen a repeat and was confirmed at 9a.
Many consider Germany to be the next country after France to embrace sport climbing.
- Kurt Albert was in many ways the original free climber.
- Wolfgang Gullich put up the world’s first 9a, Action Directe in the Frankenjura.
Major sport climbing areas:
- Frankenjura (aka Fränkische Schweiz) - a world famous climbing area with over 4,000 routes on various types of limestone formations.
- Elbsandsteingebirge (aka Sächsische Schweiz), is a major sandstone climbing area in East Germany.
Some of the hardest routes in Germany:
- Action Direct, Frankenjura, 9a
- Die Welle, Leonhardstein, 9a
Sport climbing in Korea is getting more and more popular. Most cities and municipal governments have their own indoor or outdoor climbing walls now. More than 300 climbing areas throughout the country are packed up with climbers on weekends.
Korea uses USA grading system.
- Ko Miyong was world top 5 climber in both sport climbing and ice climbing. She also climbed all peaks of Mount Everest in 2007.
Major sport climbing areas:
- Seoul Metropolitan Area
- Ungbong Park
- Tuksom Park
- Bukhansan Park
- Boramae Park
- Gwangmyoung Sports center
- Buchon Park
In the 1980s, Spain's limestone crags became known as excellent winter sport climbing destinations. With excellent weather and some of the finest climbing in Europe, Spain is popular with both local climbers and visitors from across Europe. A wide variety of rock can be found in this world-class climbing locale, including granite, slate, limestone, and sandstone. With the highest number of 9a routes in the world, Spain has become one of the premier climbing destinations for the highest-caliber climbers. The island of Majorca, for example, is considered the birthplace of deep-water soloing, and such world-class climbers as Chris Sharma
have featured Majorca in their videos.
Spaniards are considered among the finest climbers in the world. It is reported that roughly 30 people in the world can climb 5.14d, and that out of those, a little over half are Spaniards.
Major sport climbing areas:
- El Chorro in Malaga
- La Pedriza in Madrid
Some of the hardest routes in Spain (and the world):
- Chilam Balam 9b+?
- La Rambla, Siurana 9a+
- Orujo, Malaga, 9a+
- Il Domani, Baltzola, 9a
Thailand offers exceptional sport climbing on limestone crags right off the beach of the southern islands.
The Rock around Railay Beach
The rock is all limestone and is part of the world's largest coral reef, stretching from China to Papua New Guinea. The routes are all bolted sport climbing routes. The French grading system is used. With over 700 routes ranging from beginner 5a's to classic multipitch 6a's right up to the extremes of 8c, there's enough to keep any climber busy for years.
Sport climbing began in the UK
Major sport climbing areas include:
- Raven Tor
- Pen Trwyn
Some early proponents of the sport climbing revolution in the UK were Ron Fawcett, Jerry Moffat, and Ben Moon. They were heavily influenced by climbing in France, and the German conception of Free Climbing.
Some of the hardest uk sport routes:
- Overshadow 9a+, at Malham Cove
- The Big Bang, Lower Pen Trwyn, 9a
- Mutation, Raven Tor, 9a
- Rainshadow, Malham, 9a
- Northern Light, Kilnsey, 9a
At most UK climbing areas, sport climbing is frowned upon because many climbers believe that the permanent placing of bolts in mountainous and sea-cliff areas detracts from the wilderness experience, damages the rock, and devalues the achievements of the first ascensionist who climbed in traditional style, placing their own protection. Sport climbing takes place on indoor climbing walls and on a limestone and slate cliffs that are unsuited to traditional climbing.
Sport climbing is a relatively modern branch of the sport, becoming popular in the US during the 1980s. The original sport climbers in the U.S. were trad climbers that adopted a European style of climbing. They created routes that provided plenty of fixed protection (pre-installed Bolts
) put in on rappel
(or 'top-down'). The first routes tended to be vertical with small handholds. As time went by, new routes got steeper, placing an increased emphasis on stamina.
Allan Watts was the first person in the U.S. to adopt a top-down style of climbing. His rappel-bolted routes at Smith Rock were soon internationally acclaimed as some of the best climbing in the U.S. In 1988 Frenchman J.B. Tribout established the first 5.14 in the U.S. at Smith Rocks called "To Bolt or Not to Be". Other notable early developers were: Scott Franklin, Dale Goddard and Christian Griffith.
Major sport climbing areas:
- Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
- American Fork Canyon, Utah
- Mt. Charleston, Nevada
- Rifle, Colorado
- Rumney, New Hampshire
- Red Rocks, Nevada
- Red River Gorge, Kentucky
- New River Gorge, West Virginia
Some of the hardest sport climbing routes in the U.S. rated by the European scale (and U.S. scale in parentheses):
- Flex Luthor, Fortress of Solitude, Colorado, 9a+ (5.15a)
- Jaws II, Rumney, 9a+ (5.15a)
- Kryptonite, Fortress of Solitude, Colorado, 9a (5.14d)
- Psychedelic, St George, 9a (5.14d)
- The Fly, Rumney, 9a/8B (5.14d)
- Livin’ Astroglide, Rumney, 9a (5.14c/d)
Access and conflicts
The United States has a strong history of traditional climbing, especially at certain crags, and considerable value is placed on routes staying as they were done by the first ascensionist
. In the U.S. it is considered unacceptable to add bolts to an established traditional route to turn it into a sport climb.
In the UK, a number of establshed routes have been 'overbolted' by sports climbers. In Spain also, traditional climbs have been overbolted against the wishes of traditional climbers.
In 2007, the British Mountaineering Council introduced 10,000 bolts into the UK climbing scene. This will cause further conflict.
Bird watchers and other non-climbing wilderness visitors sometimes object to being distracted by brightly-colored slings left at rappel anchors, leading climbers to use webbing the same color as the rock.
- Long, John How to Rock Climb! 4th edition. Helena, Montana, USA: Falcon Publishing. ISBN 0762724714.
- Horst, Eric How to Climb 5.12, 2nd edition. Helena, Montana, USA: Falcon Publishing. ISBN 0762725761.
- Goddard, Dale; Udo Neumann Performance Rock Climbing. Mechanicsburg, PA, USA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0811722198.
- Mellor, Don Rock Climbing: a trailside guide. New York, NY, USA: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 039331653X.
- Climbing Magazine (August 2006)