The natural progression of rock climbing

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The natural progression of rock climbing. What is that? Instant gratification has become a label associated with Millennials. The need to get validated and instant satisfaction has made climbing into nothing more than just a gym workout. Training hard in climbing gyms for the sole purpose of ticking the box on the next harder grade.

Climbing gyms are a great place to have fun and train. Boulder gyms in particular have sprung up to cater to the demand of new climbers. The emphasis on climbing harder grades had created a generation of climbers looking to climb their hardest grades and sharing it on social media.

However, there is more to climbing than just sending hard routes. A good rock climber is not only based on his or her ability to pull on tiny holds, doing big moves, or 1 arm pull-ups. A good rock climber needs to know about the use of climbing equipment, ropework, route reading, and most important of all assessing risk because to be a good climber first and foremost you need to be alive 😂.

The Different Styles of Climbing


progression of rock climbing
Indoor Bouldering Gym
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Many climbers these days started their journey into climbing through bouldering. The most convenient way to start. No prior climbing knowledge, skills, or experience is required. All you need to learn is how to fall properly. Bouldering is fun. Boulder routes normally consist of anywhere between 5 to 10 moves 3 to 4 meters high. Bouldering is a great activity to hang out with friends and solve tricky boulder problems.

The main objective of bouldering is to get to the top. You don’t need to worry about equipment or how to get down. Your only focus is to execute the moves and have a crash mat along with a couple of reliable spotters behind you. You can get really strong just by bouldering but you had only scratched the surface of climbing.

Bouldering Gear

Bouldering gear
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When it comes to bouldering the last thing you need to worry about is investment in gear. The only gear you’ll ever need to own for bouldering in a gym is a pair of climbing shoes and maybe a chalk bag. Depending on the type of climbing shoes you buy the amount you’ll need to spend on climbing shoes and chalk bag will not be more than $200.

Sport climbing

Sport climbing has more complexity and requires knowledge about ropework and equipment. Hence, sport climbing can be categorized into top rope and lead climbing.

The height of a climbing gym sport route can range from 8 meters, all the way to up to 20 over meters. Because of the height involved sport climbing will require you to have a partner. One climbing and the other belaying. The belayer’s job is to catch the climber’s fall and to lower the climber back to the ground safely.

Top rope climbing

progression of rock climbing - top rope climbing
Top rope climbing

Climbing on top rope is mainly for beginners just getting into sport climbing. The climbing rope is passed through an anchor system at the top of the route and down to a belayer. Because the rope is passed through the anchor at the top of the wall, thus if the climber falls the distance of the fall will be minimum.

Lead climbing

progression of rock climbing - lead climbing in gym
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Lead climbing

Lead climbing is a significant step up in the progression of rock climbing. Climbers are required to have more knowledge in rope work, climbing gear, route reading, and risk assessment. Apart from having a decent climbing skill, lead belaying is also a critical skill. If you fall on lead you can hurt yourself really badly if your belayer is subpar.

You don’t want to be one of those climbers who are really good at climbing but horrible at belaying, because you’ll run out of climbing partners really soon.

The danger of lead climbing is significantly higher compared to top-roping, but what can I say… It is way more fun.

Sport multipitch climbing

progression of rock climbing - multipitch climbing
Multipitch climbing

For those who are new to climbing and had wondered just how climbers climb walls that are hundreds of meters. And how do they get back down to the ground? That must be some really long rope they are using… no that’s not it. An easy way to explain multipitch climbing is climbers will climb a big wall by breaking the entire climb down into multiple pitches. Climbing up to the top of the wall one pitch at a time, thus the name multipitch climbing.

To attempt a multipitch climb you’ll need planning as there is quite a bit of logistics involved. You have to bring all the equipment, food, and water you’ll need with you up the wall if the climb requires many hours to complete. Mistakes made on a multi-pitch climb can be amplified especially if you are a hundred meters from the ground.

Sport climbing gear

Sport climbing gear

For sport climbing, you’ll need to invest much more in gear than bouldering. You’ll need a 60 to 70-meter dynamic rope, harness, climbing shoes, chalk bag, 12 to 20 quickdraws, belay devices, safety slings, and carabiners. This will easily set you back around $800.

Traditional climbing

The ultimate progression in rock climbing is the old-school form of climbing. Traditional climbing or trad climbing is not something that most fair-weather climbers will appreciate. Trad climbing is done on rock faces without any fixed protection. The route has no bolted hangers hence lead climbers need to carry and place protection devices such as cams or nuts as they progress up the wall.

The protections are placed into the natural cracks and crevices in the wall. This protection will arrest the fall of the lead climber preventing him or her from hitting the ground. Because the route is not bolted so it is harder to know where to go hence lead climbers need to route find as they climb.

Getting loss on a trad climb can be dangerous. Trad climbers need to be experienced in route finding, ropework, placing protection, and setting up anchors. Time spent on trad climbing will be significantly longer than a sport route because you’ll need to find suitable features on the wall to place protection. A poorly placed protection can pop out if you fall and more importantly having bad gear placement can really fuck with your mind. Because you’ll be constantly thinking if the protection will catch you if you fall.

Traditional multipitch climbing

progression of rock climbing - trad climbing
Multipitch trad climbing

Trad multipitch climbing requires the lead climber to set up an anchor at a suitable location on the route and belay up the second climber up. The second climber will need to retrieve all the protection placed by the lead climber back for use on the next pitch. Trad multi-pitch is an adventure of exploration which will test your climbing skill, mountaineering knowledge, and judgment.

Traditional climbing gear

Trad climbing gear
Trad climbing gear

Gear used for trad climbing is expensive. Very expensive. You’ll need protection devices such as cams and nuts which are the bulk of the cost. A single cam can cost between $70 to $150 depending on the size and design, nuts come in sets with different quantity and size variations. A set of nuts can cost between $50 to $200. How many to get will depend on where and what you are climbing. You should set aside around $1000 just on trad gear to start with.

Experience different styles of climbing

It doesn’t matter what type of climbing you do as long as it’s fun. Yes, the climbing gym is a great place to work out and have fun but that is just the tip of the iceberg. To have progression in rock climbing, you need to get outdoors and start experimenting with a different style of climbing. This will give you a better insight into what climbing is all about.

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