The most common climbing style for beginners, sport climbing is one of the simplest methods of climbing long routes. The climber is protected from falling by intermittent protection that is secured in the rock using adhesive by the route owner. The protection is typically called a bolt but is usually 'staple' shaped or equipment of similar shape. The climber uses his/her own quickdraws to clip into the bolts at one end, and his/her climbing rope to the other. Thus in the event of a fall, the load is absorbed through the quickdraw and into the bolt.
Types of Ascent
A route can be climbed in a number of different ways. Leading a route is the most common. This scenario begins with a climber at the bottom of the route with or without quickdraws ready to begin climbing upwards. He/she is tied in to one end of the rope, and a belay device is attached to the rope with a few meters of slack in between. As the climber (also called the leader) starts, they begin equipping the route by clipping the quickdraws into the bolts as they are reached. Then the leader clips the rope to the other end of the quickdraw. Obviously if the route is already equipped (by pre-abseil or another climber beforehand) the leader simply clips into the quickdraw in place. If the leader falls, their fall is known as a lead fall for obvious reasons. A lead fall is nearly always a freefall (as the rope is not above the leader) and is as long as: the distance between the climber and the last clipped in quickdraw multiplied by two PLUS any extra slack given. If the climber is 2m above the last clip, then he/she would experience a fall of at least 4m. Leading is a very satisfying experience although initially can be intimidating for beginners. The idea of falling can put a lot of new comers and experienced climbers off, however provided knot and belay devices are checked before climbing this fear can be reduced or even removed entirely in these situations.
Top-roping is the first style of climbing and is common practice at indoor climbing centres, however it does have uses in sport climbing as well (see red-pointing later). Top-roping is where the rope is already clipped at it's halfway mark, through the karabiner(s) at the top of the route. A climber ties in to one end, while the belayer belays from the other.
Seconding is very similar to top roping, only the climber (seconder) has to unclip the rope from the quickdraws as he/she makes their way upwards. This is particularly useful for steep, overhanging routes where falling off on top-rope would result in a very large swing outwards.
The final method of climbing a route is the undesirable way of dogging. To dog a route, the climber (either on lead, top-rope or second) falls off one or more times on their way up. While this may take a while, a route can be successfully dogged to gain knowledge of all the moves prior to redpoint attempts.
Redpointing is a strategy of completing a climb, harder than a climbers onsight capabilities (this is the first go at a route without prior knowledge or inspection). In fact redpointing is the complete opposite of onsighting. It may involve abseiling down the route in its entirety to inspect it, rehearsal of sections, move by move analysis, experimentation with different moves or equipment alterations/replacements but the final outcome is a lead ascent, from the start of the route to the finish with no rests. The advantages of redpointing are huge. They allow the climber to climb something alot harder than they thought possible before (minimum 2-3 grades harder than onsight in most cases - no maximum!). This gives the climber an insight into how they can apply the route knowledge and climbing techniques into onsight climbing. It improves physical strength and endurance and of course, motivation. The downside to redpointing is that it can take a long time. Depending on how hard you are pushing, it is not uncommon for redpoints to last months before they are completed. Although you may be practicing your route many times over, there is no accomplishment gained until the route has been finished. The temptation to give up and try to redpoint something easier is always present but should be ignored!
Sport Climbing requires more equipment than bouldering, but considerably less than trad climbing. As climbs are of a greater length than boulder problems, a rope is needed along with a harness and belay device (and climbing shoes and chalk). The length of rope only really varies with climbing destinations - it is very common in the UK to have climbs under 25m, so a 50m rope will suffice. Elsewhere such as Europe and America, longer climbs are more common and 60-70m ropes are considered the norm. Harness and shoe choice will come down to personal preference, but hard sport climbs will require aggressive, down turned shoes and harnesses as light as possible with minimal gear loops. The most common investment for new sport climbers to struggle with is quickdraw choice. Because quickdraws can be pre-placed by abseil, they do not necessarily need to be lightweight. Also, bolts are made out of hardened steel so they last longer but this means they can also wear out and dig into karabiners more. A sport climbing specific karabiner will have a thicker cross section so that this wear is minimalised at the expense of increased weight. As for the sling a sport climbing quickdraw will use a short (12cm) thick nylon sling which is hard wearing against sharp edges and easy to grab during redpoint sessions. Otherwise, the only real choice left to make is budget and feel. A karabiner should be easy to clip and simple to use. Additional features such as ribbed backs on DMM alpha karabiners and bent gates all help to fast clipping. In terms of quantity, this depends on your local area but in the UK 10 should be enough for the majority of crags (don't forget 2 for the top!).
As you progress through climbing you naturally want to try your skills outside for the first time. At SUMC, we are more than happy to teach outdoor leading, but only once we're happy your skills with inside climbing are good enough for you to be let loose outdoors! This section should be used in reference/to remind only, and not as a method of teaching. In the real world of sport climbing there are one or two differences you need to be aware of. The first (which should be obvious) is that the quickdraws are not on the climb already and you have to put your own in. How you go about this is one of two ways:
- You either put them in yourself on the way up.
- Or you set up an abseil at the top, and put them in on the way down.
Remember, you should be consistent with which end of the quickdraw you clip into the bolt and which end you clip into the rope - failing to do so can have catastrophic consequences! Sharp burrs caused by a bolt digging into a karabiner can end up cutting through your rope so be careful!
Now that you have the quickdraws in you can lead climb the route just as you would inside...except now you are at the top you are faced with a problem. You should be greeted by two bolts close together with possibly some chain between them and some plain round steel rings. These rings will be used to get you down, but first things first you should make yourself safe. Put a quickdraw into one of the bolts and clip the rope into the other end of the quickdraw. If you're very tired at this point you can should 'TAKE' to your belayer whilst you catch your breath.
You now need to use an alternative method of attaching yourself to the bolts that doesn't involve the rope. This is done using a 120cm sling or two, larks footed onto your belay loop with a screwgate at the other end to clip into the bolts. Now you are attached to the belay without the need of the rope. To check this, ask your belayer for some slack until you unweight the quickdraw at the top and load the slings. Now you will need a large amount of slack so pull this up in your hand. To avoid dropping the rope, tie a knot (overhand is usually the quickest) on a bight so that you have a loop you can clip to your harness (if you have forgotten to bring up a spare quickdraw, you can now use the one you placed in the bolt as this is redundant now that you are on the slings).
With the rope clipped in, you need to untie, post the rope through the lower off rings, then retie back in correctly. Make sure this is right, as if its not you'll understand why we say climbing is dangerous...
Once you're belayer takes you in tight, remove the slings and lower off taking your quickdraws out on the way down. Its as simple as that!
The only other considerations you should make about going outdoors are the obvious: check the weather, the tides, escape routes, first aid and evacuation possibilities. Typically sport climbing days out are less stressful and more relaxed than trad climbing, as the danger element associated with falling is drastically reduced. Falling is a key part of sport climbing, and should be practiced and treated as another training tool to improve climbing.
The mind can play a lot of mind tricks on you when climbing, but luckily the nature of sport climbing and its reduced falling danger hazards can help make these mind games of less concern. Physical ability to climb a route is usually only half the battle, and top climbers can succeed if they are calm, rational and focused on the intended route.
There are a few areas in sport climbing that can cause panic to set in, and ALL of them can be remedied feasibly. Problems such as belayer doubts should be solved at ground level: don't be afraid to tell your belayer to keep the rope more slack this time, or to not talk to people this time. Similarly, if you are halfway up a route and suddenly think your knot may be loose or wrong then fear will cause you to tighten up and you will undoubtedly fall off. Again at ground level make a conscious effort to check your knot and give it a pull. Then if you're unsure of a move later on, loose knot and bad belayer thoughts can be removed and may even be enough for you to make that move.
The most common worry is bolt spacing and/or taking a big fall. Outdoor bolts are usually more spaced than inside because the first ascensionist wants to save money so will place less! Remember falling is not a bad thing and if you practice it enough then you will become good at falling safely (not flailing around traveling back first into the wall). Keep taking big falls inside and maybe even take some run out falls inside where you have climbed just past a clip. As well as improving your fear, fall practice also boosts your motivation to try a harder route and boosts your determination to just try the next move even though you may think you're too tired.
The final fear is that the bolts may not be safe and may rip out. Thanks to a close knit climbing community and many advances in adhesives, it is pretty safe to say that any defects would be noted by the previous climber and reported to crag activists. If in doubt, you can always do an abseil inspection before hand to check to bolts or check them on the way up yourself. This is advised when visiting crags that do not see much traffic!