What climbing is?

Climbing is the activity of using one’s hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.

Professional mountain guides or rock climbing guides, such as members of the IFMGA, have been known to be a historically significant element of developing the popularity of the sport in the natural environment, and remain so today.

Climbing history

Although the practice of 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 19th century in at least three areas: Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony near Dresden, the north of England including the Peak district and Lake District, and the Dolomites in Italy. Rock climbing evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to an athletic sport in its own right, making it imprudent to cite a primogenitor of the latter in each of these three locales. Nevertheless, there is some general agreement on the following:

  • Heralded as a sport in England in the late 1880s after the (well publicised) solo first ascent of the Napes Needle by Walter Parry Haskett Smith, rock climbing attracted increasing numbers of participants. An early benchmark approaching modern levels of difficulty was the ascent, by O. G. Jones, of Kern Knotts Crack (VS) in 1897. Jones was attracted to the new sport by a photo of the Needle in a shop window in the early 1890s. By the end of the Victorian era as many as 60 enthusiasts at a time would gather at the Wastwater Hotel in the Lake District during vacation periods.
  • Inspired by the efforts of late 19th century pioneers such as Oskar Schuster (Falkenstein, Schusterweg 1892), by 1903 there were approximately 500 climbers active in the Elbe Sandstone region, including the well-known team of Rudolf Fehrmann and the American, Oliver Perry-Smith; their 1906 ascent of Teufelsturm (at VIIb) set new standards of difficulty. By the 1930s there were over 200 small climbing clubs represented in the area.
  • The solo first ascent of Die Vajolettürme in 1887 by the 17-year-old Munich high school student, Georg Winkler, encouraged the acceptance and development of the sport in the Dolomites.

As rock climbing matured, a variety of grading systems were created in order to more accurately compare relative difficulties of climbs. Over the years both climbing techniques and the equipment climbers use to advance the sport have evolved in a steady fashion


There are a dozen reasons for climbing, some bad, and I’ve used most of them myself. The worst are fame and money. Commonly people cite exploration or discovery, but that’s rarely relevant in today’s world. The only good reason to climb is to improve yourself.

Yvon Chouinard

Climbing types

  • Bouldering Ascending boulders or small outcrops, often with climbing shoes and a chalk bag or bucket. Usually, instead of using a safety rope from above, injury is avoided using a crash pad and a human spotter.
  • Canyoneering Climbing along canyons for sport or recreation.
  • Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber uses climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress.
  • Ice climbing Ascending ice or hard snow formations using special equipment, usually ice axes and crampons. Techniques of protecting the climber are similar to those of rock climbing, with protective devices (such as ice screws and snow wedges) adapted to frozen conditions.
  • Indoor climbing Top roping, lead climbing, and bouldering artificial walls with bolted holds in a climbing gym.
  • Mountaineering Ascending mountains for sport or recreation. It often involves rock and/or ice climbing (Alpine climbing).
  • Rock climbing Ascending rock formations, often using climbing shoes and a chalk bag. Equipment such as ropes, bolts, nuts, hexes and camming devices are normally employed, either as a safeguard or for artificial aid.
  • Rope climbing Climbing a short, thick rope for speed. Not to be confused with roped climbing, as in rock or ice climbing.
  • Scrambling which includes easy rock climbing, and is considered part of hillwalking.
  • Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock, and possibly bolts, for protection, (in contrast with traditional climbing, where the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and bolts, and where climbers must place removable protection as they climb).
  • Top roping Ascending a rock climbing route protected by a rope anchored at the top and protected by a belayer below.
  • Traditional climbing is a form of climbing without fixed anchors and bolts. Climbers place removable protection such as camming devices, nuts, and other passive and active protection that holds the rope to the rock (via the use of carabiners and webbing/slings) in the event of a fall and/or when weighted by a climber.
  • Solo climbing Solo climbing or soloing is a style of climbing in which the climber climbs alone, without somebody belaying them. When free soloing, an error usually is fatal as no belay systems are being used. Soloing can also be self-belayed, hence minimizing the risks.

Rock and ice climbing all usually utilize ropes for safety or aid.

Outdoor climbing


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