by Mark Lamendola, who started climbing in the previous century
Many people completely misunderstand climbing.
It’s not about pulling yourself up with your arms on an impossibly
sheer rock face.
The first thing to understand is there are many
types of climbing. We typically think of climbing natural features.
The types of climbing involved include (in descending order of
object size, but not technical difficulty):
Mountaineering. People who ascend K2 or Everest are mountaineers. Much gear is required.
Rock climbing. Instead of climbing a
mountain, you climb large rock formations. A varying amount of
gear is required, but typically much less than in
Bouldering. This is typically done with no gear other than climbing shoes.
The original idea of outdoor climbing up
mountains didn’t involve super-steep grades. People walked up those
inclines, and they still do. This is possibly the most common form
of climbing. Or maybe climbing stairs is.
Stairs, as you know, are manmade. And so are
many other surfaces that people can climb. In fact, many types of
climbing that involve artificial surfaces. These include outdoor
concrete formations made explicitly for this purpose, but also those
monkey bars you used as a kid. There’s a wide range of things to
The type of climbing that’s really gaining in
popularity, though, is indoor climbing in a climbing gym. This
setting provides many advantages, not just protection from the
weather. The climbing walls can be reconfigured and frequently are.
This way, people don’t get tired of the same old routes.
An expert sets a route on a wall, using colored
pieces of varying sizes and shapes. These are bolted on in a set
pattern to produce a route of a specific difficulty level. Climbing
routes are graded on a difficulty scale, and in a climbing gym there
are routes for people at all skill levels.
Gym climbers focus on technical climbing. They
learn a variety of foot and leg maneuvers. They master toehold
techniques and handhold techniques, too. Their primary goal is to
solve the spatial puzzles that preset climbing routes present.
The single biggest challenge to new climbers at
these gyms is keeping their body weight over their center of
gravity. The natural tendency is to crab crawl up the wall. That’s
exhausting because it relies on upper body strength and because this
kind of positioning means your own body weight is always pulling you
off the wall. These kinds of climbers get very sore forearms,
because they apply a death grip the whole time they are trying to
By contrast, a skilled climber uses his/her
body weight to actually stick to the wall. This can be done in many
ways, and a skilled climber has learned specific techniques toward
Most climbing gyms have “top roping” available.
This kind of climbing appeals to new climbers the most. As the name
implies, there’s a safety rope that’s secured at the top. This is as
opposed to lead climbing, which means the climber brings the rope up
with him/her and attaches it to anchors on the way up. In
bouldering, there are no ropes. Most climbing gyms have bouldering
Just as top roped routes heavily appeal to
beginning climbers, more seasoned climbers spend a great deal of
time bouldering. The will also top rope climb and lead rope climb,
but it’s on the boulders where they can really develop their
And it’s skill, not power, that makes the
difference between a good climber and someone who simply struggles
to make it.