Rock Climbing

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Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up or across natural rock formations or man-made rock walls with the goal of reaching the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a pre-defined route. Rock climbing is similar to scrambling (another activity involving the scaling of hills and similar formations), but climbing is generally differentiated by its need for the use of the climber's hands to hold his or her own weight and not just provide balance.

Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility, and balance along with his or her mental control. It can be a dangerous sport and knowledge of proper climbing techniques and usage of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes. The wide variety of rock formations around the world has led rock climbing to separate into several different styles and sub-disciplines that are described below.

History

Although rock climbing was an important component of Victorian mountaineering in the Alps, it is generally thought that the sport of rock climbing began in the last quarter of the nineteenth century in various parts of Europe. Rock climbing evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to a distinct athletic activity.

Aid climbing (climbing using equipment that act as artificial hand- or footholds) became popular during the period 1900 - 1910, leading to ascents in the Colorado and in Yosemite Valley that were considered impossible without such means. However, climbing techniques, equipment, and ethical considerations have evolved steadily, and today, free climbing (climbing on holds made entirely of natural rock, using gear solely for protection and not for support) is the most popular form of the sport. Free climbing has since been divided into several sub-styles of climbing dependent on belay configuration (described below).

Over time, grading systems have also been created in order to more accurately compare the relative difficulties of climbs.

Rock Climbing Basics

At its most basic, rock climbing involves climbing a route with one's own hands and feet and little more than a cushioned bouldering pad in the way of protection. This style of climbing is referred to as bouldering, since the relevant routes are usually found on boulders no more than 10 to 15 feet tall.

As routes get higher off the ground, the increased risk of life-threatening injuries necessitates additional safety measures. A variety of specialized climbing techniques and climbing equipment exists to provide that safety, and climbers will usually work in pairs and utilize a system of ropes and anchors designed to catch falls. Once a safety system is properly set up, one person will proceed to climb while the other belays (manages and controls the safety rope attached to the climber). Upon completion of a route, the climber can either detach from the rope and walk back down (if an alternate descent path exists), be lowered by the belayer (in the case of top roping), or rappel (abseil) down the rope using a special device. The pair will then switch positions so the belayer can get a chance to climb.

Ropes and anchors can be configured differently to suit many styles of climbing, and roped climbing is thus divided into further sub-types that vary based on how their belay systems are set up. The different styles are described in more detail below, but generally speaking, beginners will start with bouldering or top roping and work their way up to lead climbing and beyond.

Climbing communities in many countries and regions have developed their own difficulty rating systems for routes. Ratings (or "grades") record and communicate the consensus or subjective difficulty of climbs. The ratings take into account multiple factors affecting a route, such as the slope of the ascent, the quantity and quality of available handholds, the distance between holds, and whether advanced technical maneuvers are required. Though acrophobia (the fear of heights) may affect certain climbers, the height of a route is generally not considered a factor in its difficulty rating. Tall routes could be rated low on the difficulty scale if they are not severely sloped and they provide good handholds (in which case the experience would be comparable to climbing a ladder). Likewise, low bouldering routes barely off the ground could be considered difficult if they involve grasping poor holds or supporting one's own weight while dangling from an overhang.

Climbs can occur either outdoors on varying types of rock or indoors on specialized climbing walls. Outdoors, climbs usually take place on sunny days when the holds are dry and provide the best grip, but climbers can also attempt to climb at night or in adverse weather conditions if they have the proper training and equipment. Note that if a route freezes over completely and can no longer be climbed bare-handed, it would be more properly considered an ice climbing route instead.

Styles of Rock Climbing

Most of the climbing done in modern times is considered free climbing -- climbing using one's own physical strength with equipment used solely as protection and not as support -- as opposed to aid climbing, the gear-dependent form of climbing that was dominant in the sport's earlier days. Free climbing is typically divided into several styles that differ from one another depending on the equipment used and the configurations of their belay, rope, and anchor systems (or the lack thereof).

Bouldering 
is climbing on short, low routes without the use of the safety rope that is typical of most other styles. Protection, if used at all, typically consists of a cushioned bouldering pad below the route and/or a spotter, a person that watches from below and directs the fall of the climber away from hazardous areas.
Top roping 
is climbing with the protection of a rope that's already suspended through an anchor at the top of a route. A belayer controls the rope, keeping it taut, and prevents long falls.
Lead climbing 
is climbing without the use of pre-set belays. One person (the leader) will start the climb carrying one end of the rope and will gradually attach it to additional anchors as he or she climbs, thereby establishing a belay system that progresses with the climb. The lead climbing article describes additional subtypes such as:
Free soloing 
(not to be confused with free climbing) is single-person climbing without the use of any rope or protection system whatsoever. If a fall occurs and the climber is not over water (as in the case of deep water soloing), the climber is likely to be killed or seriously injured. Though technically similar to bouldering, free solo climbing typically refers to routes that are far taller and/or far more lethal.
Indoor climbing 
is climbing indoors (on a purpose-made climbing wall), whether bouldering, top-roping, or lead climbing. This is sometimes used as training for outside climbing, though some climbers climb indoors exclusively.


We climb not to conquer the mountain but ourselves.    -Sir Edmund Hillary

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