Sport climbing

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Sport climbing (or bolted climbing) is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanent bolts for their protection while ascending a route. [1] Sport climbing differs from the riskier traditional climbing where the lead climber has to insert temporary protection equipment while ascending. [2]


Sport climbing dates from the early 1980s when leading French rock climbers wanted to climb routes that offered no cracks or fissures in which to insert the temporary protection equipment used in traditional climbing. While bolting natural rock faces was controversial—and remains a focus of debate in climbing ethics—sport climbing grew rapidly in popularity; all subsequent grade milestones in rock climbing came from sport climbing.

The safer discipline of sport climbing also led to the rapid growth in competition climbing, which made its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics. While competition climbing consists of three distinct rock climbing disciplines of lead climbing (the bolted sport climbing element), bouldering (no bolts needed), and speed climbing (also not bolted, but instead top roped), it is sometimes confusingly referred to as "sport climbing".


Climber leading the sport climbing route Hulkosaure 8b (5.13d). Quickdraws have already been attached to the line of pre-drilled bolts that mark the route. Hulkosaure 8b Verdon.jpg
Climber leading the sport climbing route Hulkosaure 8b  (5.13d). Quickdraws have already been attached to the line of pre-drilled bolts that mark the route.

Sport climbing is a form of free climbing (i.e. no artificial or mechanical device can be used to aid progression, unlike with aid climbing), performed in pairs, where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanently fixed bolts for their protection while ascending. The lead climber uses quickdraws to clip into the bolts. The second climber (or belayer), removes the quickdraws as they climb the route after the lead climber has reached the top. [3] [4] [5]

Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing, which requires the lead climber to insert temporary climbing protection equipment as they ascend, making sport climbing safer. [2] Sport climbing differs from free solo climbing where no climbing protection is used whatsoever. [3]

Confusingly, the sport of competition climbing, which consists of three distinct rock climbing disciplines: lead climbing (the bolted sport climbing element), bouldering (no bolts needed), and speed climbing (also not bolted), is sometimes referred to as "sport climbing". [3] [4] [5]

First free ascent

Sport climbing developed the redpoint definition of what constitutes a first free ascent (FFA), which has since become the standard definition of an FFA for all climbing disciplines. [4] [6] Redpointing allows for previously controversial techniques of hangdogging, [7] headpointing, [6] and pinkpointing (for competition lead climbing — the sport climbing component of competition climbing — and for extreme sport climbs, the quickdraws will already be attached to the bolts to make clipping in even simpler, which is known as pinkpointing). [4] [6]


Climber following up the traverse section of Pichenibule 7b+ (5.12c) in the Verdon Gorge, one of the first-ever bolted sport climbing routes Verdon Pichenibule.jpg
Climber following up the traverse section of Pichenibule 7b+  (5.12c) in the Verdon Gorge, one of the first-ever bolted sport climbing routes

By the early 1980s, the leading rock climbers were beginning to reach the limits of existing traditional climbing protection devices. They looked to climb blanker-looking rock faces that did not have the usual cracks and fissures that are needed in which to place traditional climbing protection. [4] [8] In France, leading climbers such as Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger began to pre-drill permanent bolts into the pocket-marked limestone walls of Buoux and Verdon Gorge for their protection. [8] These became known as "sport climbing routes" (i.e. there was none of the associated risks of traditional climbing, it was a purely sporting endeavor), with early examples such as Pichenibule 7b+  (5.12c) in 1980. [8] [9] Around the same time at Smith Rock State Park in the United States, American climber Alan Watts also started to place pre-drilled bolts into routes, creating the first American sport climbs of Watts Tot 5.12b  (7b), and Chain Reaction 5.12c  (7b+) in 1983. [8] [10]

Sport climbing was rapidly adopted in Europe, and particularly in France and Germany by the then emerging professional rock climbers such as German climber Wolfgang Güllich and French brothers Marc Le Menestrel  [ fr ] and Antoine Le Menestrel  [ fr ]. The United Kingdom was more reluctant to allow bolting on natural rock surfaces, and early British sport climbers such as Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon were forced to move to France and Germany. The bolting of external natural rock surfaces was also initially controversial in the US, although American sport climbing pioneer Alan Watts later recounted that American traditional climbers were as much against the "redpointing" techniques of sport climbers (i.e. continually practicing new routes before making the first free ascent), as they were against the use of bolts. [10] Eventually, these sport climbers began to push new grade milestones far above traditional climbing grades, and the use of bolts on natural rock surfaces became more accepted in outdoor climbing areas across America and Europe. [10]

Competition sport climbing

Jessica Pilz clipping her rope into a pre-bolted quickdraw in the final of the women's lead climbing event at the 2018 World Championships Climbing World Championships 2018 Lead Final Pilz 03.jpg
Jessica Pilz clipping her rope into a pre-bolted quickdraw in the final of the women's lead climbing event at the 2018 World Championships

The significantly safer aspect of sport climbing over traditional climbing led to rapid development in competition climbing in the 1980s, where competition lead climbing events were held on bolted routes. Climbing noted the importance of events such as the 1988 International Sport Climbing Championship at Snowbird, Utah, for introducing leading European sport climbers such as Edlinger and Jean-Baptiste Tribout to leading American traditional climbers such as Ron Kauk and John Bachar. [11] By the end of the 1990s, the UIAA, and latterly the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), was regulating and organizing major international climbing competitions, including the annual IFSC Climbing World Cup, and the biennial IFSC Climbing World Championships. [12] Competitive climbing includes sport climbing (which is competition lead climbing), and also competition bouldering and competition speed climbing. [12]


Moritz Welt on the sport climb, Joe Blau 8c+ (5.14c), in the fully bolted crag of Oliana, in Spain Moritz Welt Joe Blau 8c+ Oliana Spain.png
Moritz Welt on the sport climb, Joe Blau 8c+  (5.14c), in the fully bolted crag of Oliana, in Spain

Debates remain about the ethics of attaching permanent metal bolts on natural outdoor rock, which is also related to the broader clean climbing movement. Many climbing areas—particularly in Continental Europe (for example notable crags such as Oliana in Spain, and Ceuse in France)—have become fully bolted. However, many others remain emphatically non-bolted, such as Clogwyn Du'r Arddu in the United Kingdom, where only traditional climbing techniques are allowed, and attempts to make even very dangerous routes a little safer with even singular bolts (e.g. Indian Face ) have been undone. [13] In the United Kingdom, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) maintains a register of outdoor climbing areas that are suitable for bolting, and those which are to remain bolt free; in addition, the BMC offers guidance on related ethical issues such as retro-bolting. [14] [15]



A rope clipped into a quickdraw clipped to a bolt Setaki.JPG
A rope clipped into a quickdraw clipped to a bolt

Sport climbing requires far less rock climbing equipment than traditional climbing as the protection is already pre-drilled into the route. Aside from the standard equipment of lead climbing (e.g. a rope, belay device, harness, and climbing shoes), the only important other important pieces of equipment are quickdraws to clip the rope into the bolts without generating friction. [16] On complex sport climbing routes that don't follow a straight line, the alignment and lengths of quickdraws used are important considerations to avoid rope drag. [16]


The pre-drilled bolts will degrade over time—particularly in coastal areas due to salt—and eventually, all sport climbs need to be re-fitted after several years. [17] The highest quality titanium bolts are too expensive to use regularly, and the next highest quality stainless steel bolts have an expected lifespan of circa 20–25 years (the cheaper plated stainless steel bolts have a shorter span); and in 2015, the American Alpine Club established an "anchor replacement fund" to help replace the bolts on America's estimated 60,000 sport climbing routes. [18]


Dominant systems

Ainhize Belar [eu] on Gezurren Erresuma (grade 8c, 5.14b, XI-), in Spain. Ainhize Belar eskalatzen.jpg
Ainhize Belar  [ eu ] on Gezurren Erresuma (grade 8c, 5.14b, XI-), in Spain.

As sport climbing removes the danger of a route by using bolts, sport routes are graded solely for their technical difficulty (i.e how hard are the physical movements to ascend the route), and unlike traditional climbing routes, do not require an additional grade to reflect risk. [19] [20] The most dominant systems for grading sport climbing routes are the French system (e.g. ... 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c, ...), which is also called French sport grading, and the American system (e.g. ... 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, ...). [19] [20] The UIAA system (e.g. ... VII, VIII, IX, X, ...) is popular in Germany and central Europe. [19] The Australian (or Ewbank) system (e.g. ... , 23, 24, 25, 26, ...) is also used. [19] [20] [21]

Integration with boulder grades

Even though the grading of sport-routes is simpler than traditional routes, there is the issue of how to compare a short route with one very hard move, with a longer route with a sustained sequence of slightly easier moves. Most of the above grading systems are based on the "overall" difficulty of the route, and thus both routes could have the same sport grade. [19] [22] As a result of this, it has become common for the advanced sport climbing routes (e.g. Realization , La Dura Dura , and La Rambla ) to describe the hardest moves by their bouldering grade, which is either the French "Font" system (e.g. ..., 7B, 7C, 8A, 8B, ...) or the American "V-scale" system (e.g. ..., V9, V10, V11, V12, ...). [22] French sport-grades can be confused with French "Font" boulder grades, the only difference being 'capitalization'. [22]

As an example of how sport and boulder grades are used on sport climbing routes, this is Adam Ondra describing his 2017 redpoint of Silence , the first-ever sport climb with a sport-grade of 9c (French), which is the same as 5.15d (American) or XII+ (UIAA):

The climb is about 45m long, the first 20m are about 8b [French sport] climbing with a couple of really really good knee-bars. Then comes the crux boulder problem, 10 moves of 8C [French boulder]. And when I say 8C boulder problem, I really mean it. ... I reckon just linking 8C [French boulder] into 8B [French boulder] into 7C [French boulder] is a 9b+ [French] sport climb, I'm pretty sure about that.

Adam Ondra in an interview with PlanetMountain (2017). [23]

Notable climbs and climbers

Bild auf dem Gedenkstein fuer Guellich (retuschiert).jpg
Chris Sharma - 1.jpg
Adam Ondra by PAVEL BLAZEK 2.jpg
Some of the strongest-ever male sport climbers in history: Wolfgang Güllich (1980s), Chris Sharma (2000s), and Adam Ondra (2010s) [24]

Since the development of sport climbing in the early 1980s, all of the subsequent grade milestones (i.e. the next levels of hardest technical difficulty) in rock climbing have been set by sport climbers. German climber Wolfgang Güllich raised sport climbing grades from 8b  (5.13d) in 1984 with Kanal im Rücken to 9a  (5.14d) in 1991 with Action Directe . [25] American climber Chris Sharma dominated sport climbing development in the decade after his ground-breaking ascent of Realization/Biographie at 9a+  (5.15a) in 2001 and Jumbo Love at 9b  (5.15b) in 2008. [25] Czech climber Adam Ondra took the mantle of the world's strongest sport climber from Sharma by freeing Change  [ fr ] in 2012 and La Dura Dura in 2013, both at 9b+  (5.15c). [24] In 2017, Ondra freed Silence , the first-ever sport climb at 9c  (5.15d).

Lynn hill 2006 cropped.jpg
Josune Bereziartu 2012.jpg
Angela Eiter - Tag des Sports 2013 Wien 1.jpg
Some of the strongest-ever female sport climbers in history: Lynn Hill (1980s), Josune Bereziartu (2000s), and Angela Eiter (2010s)

Female sport climbing was dominated in the 1980s by American climber Lynn Hill and French climber Catherine Destivelle who set new female grade milestones and also competed against each other in the first climbing competitions. [25] Spanish climber Josune Bereziartu dominated the setting of new grade milestones in female sport climbing in the late 1990s and early 2000s; her 2005 redpoint of Bimbaluna at 9a/9a+   was only a half-notch behind the highest male sport climbing route at the time, which was Realization/Biographie at 9a+. [25] By 2017, Austrian climber Angela Eiter had broken into the 9b  (5.15b) grade with La Planta de Shiva, and in 2020 made the first female free ascent of a 9b  (5.15b) with Madame Ching. In 2020-21, Laura Rogora and Julia Chanourdie also climbed 9b  (5.15b) sport routes; when only a handful of male climbers have climbed at 9b+  (5.15c), and only Adam Ondra at 9c  (5.15d).

Some of the strongest-ever sport climbers were also some of the strongest-ever competition climbers, such as Adam Ondra, Lynn Hill, and Angela Eiter. However, some of the other strongest-ever sport climbers either largely ignored competition climbing, or retired early from it to focus on non-competition sport climbing, such as Wolfgang Gullich, [26] Chris Sharma, [27] and Josune Bereziartu. [28]

In film

See also

Related Research Articles

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Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or other parts of the body to ascend a steep topographical object that can range from the world's tallest mountains to small boulders. Climbing is done for locomotion, sporting recreation, for competition, and is also done in trades that rely on ascension, such as rescue and military operations. Climbing is done indoors and outdoors, on natural surfaces, and on artificial surfaces

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Traditional climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Traditional climbing is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber places the protection equipment while ascending the route; when the lead climber has completed the route, the second climber then removes the protection equipment as they climb the route. Traditional climbing differs from sport climbing where the protection equipment is pre-drilled into the rock in the form of bolts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climbing route</span> Path to scale a mountain, rock, or ice wall

A climbing route is a path by which a climber reaches the top of a mountain, or rock/ice-covered obstacle. The details of a climbing route are recorded in a climbing guidebook and/or in an online climbing route database, and will include elements such as the type of climbing route, the difficulty grade of the route–and beta on its crux(es)–and any risk or commitment grade, the length and number of pitches of the route, and the climbing equipment needed to complete the route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> For rock climbing and mountaineering

Glossary of climbing terms relates to rock climbing, mountaineering, and to ice climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First ascent</span> Mountaineering and climbing term

In mountaineering and climbing, a first ascent, is the first successful documented climb to the top of a mountain or the top of a particular climbing route. Early 20th-century mountaineers and climbers focused on reaching the tops of iconic mountains and climbing routes by whatever means possible, often using considerable amounts of aid climbing, and/or with large expedition style support teams that laid "siege" to the climb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Action Directe (climb)</span> Sport climbing route in Germany

Action Directe is a short 15-metre (49 ft) sport climb at the limestone Waldkopf crag in Frankenjura, Germany. When it was first climbed by German climber Wolfgang Güllich in 1991, it became the first climb in the world to have a consensus 9a (5.14d) grade. Action Directe is considered an important route in rock climbing history, and is one of the most attempted climbs at its grade, where it is considered the "benchmark" for the level of 9a. The plyometric training techniques and customized equipment that Güllich used to prepare for the unique physical demands of Action Directe also revolutionized climbing and what could be achieved.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lead climbing</span> Technique of rock climbing

Lead climbing is a technique in rock climbing where the lead climber clips their rope to the climbing protection as they ascend a pitch of the climbing route, while their second remains at the base of the route belaying the rope to protect the lead climber in the event that they fall. The term is used to distinguish between the two roles, and the greater effort and increased risk, of the role of the lead climber.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chris Sharma</span> American rock climber

Chris Omprakash Sharma is an American rock climber who is considered one of the greatest and most influential climbers in the history of the sport. He dominated sport climbing for the decade after his 2001 ascent of Realization/Biographie, the world's first-ever redpoint of a consensus 9a+ (5.15a) graded route, and ushered in what was called a "technical evolution" in the sport. Sharma carried the mantle of "world's strongest sport climber" from Wolfgang Güllich, and passed it to Adam Ondra.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Realization (climb)</span> Sport climbing route in France

Realization, also called Biographie, is a circa 35-metre (115 ft) sport climbing route on a limestone cliff on the southern face of Céüse mountain, near Gap and Sigoyer, in France. After it was first climbed in 2001 by American climber Chris Sharma, it became the first rock climb in the world to have a consensus grade of 9a+ (5.15a). It is considered an historic and important route in rock climbing, and one of the most attempted climbs at its grade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Redpoint (climbing)</span> Type of free climbing

In rock climbing, redpointing means to free-climb a route from the ground to the top while lead climbing, after having practiced the route or after having failed first attempt. Climbers will try to redpoint a route after having failed to onsight it, or flash it. The first successful redpoint of a route, in the absence of any prior onsight or flash, is recorded as the first free ascent (FFA) of that route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beta (climbing)</span> Climbing term for route information

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adam Ondra</span> Czech climber (born 1993)

Adam Ondra is a Czech professional rock climber, specializing in lead climbing, bouldering, and competition climbing. In 2013, Rock & Ice described Ondra as a prodigy and the leading climber of his generation. Ondra is the only male athlete to have won World Championship titles in both disciplines in the same year (2014) and is one of the two male athletes to have won the World Cup series in both disciplines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La Rambla (climb)</span> Sport climbing route in Spain

La Rambla is a 41-metre (135 ft) sport climb at the limestone El Pati crag in Siurana, Catalonia in Spain. Originally bolted and climbed by Alexander Huber in 1994 as a 35-metre (115 ft) route, the bolting was later extended by Dani Andrada to a 41-metre (135 ft) route, which was eventually climbed by Ramón Julián Puigblanque in 2003. While there has been debate about La Rambla's grade, there is now consensus that it meets the 9a+ (5.15a) threshold. It is an important and historic route in climbing, and is part of the coveted "9a+ trilogy" with Realization and Papichulo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">La Dura Dura</span> Sport climbing route in Spain

La Dura Dura is a 50-metre (160 ft) sport climbing route on the multi-coloured limestone cliffs known as the Contrafort de Rumbau, which are part of the Roc de Rumbau mountain, that lies in Oliana, Spain. The route was bolted and developed by American climber Chris Sharma in 2009 who had almost given up believing he could climb it until a collaboration with Czech climber Adam Ondra led to Ondra climbing the route on 7 February 2013, followed by Sharma on 23 March 2013.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stefano Ghisolfi</span> Italian rock climber (born 1993)

Stefano Ghisolfi is an Italian professional rock climber, who specializes in competition climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering. In competition climbing, he completes in competition lead climbing, competition bouldering, and competition speed climbing, with lead being his strongest discipline. As a sport climber, he has redpointed sport climbing routes of grade 9b+ (5.15c), onsighted routes of 8c (5.14b), and solved boulder problems at grade 8B+ (V14). In December 2018, after climbing Perfecto Mundo, he became the fourth climber in history to redpoint a 9b+ (5.15c) route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silence (climb)</span> Sport climbing route in Norway

Silence, is a 45-metre (148 ft) overhanging sport climbing route in the granite Hanshelleren Cave, in Flatanger, Norway. When Czech climber Adam Ondra made the first free ascent on 3 September 2017, it became the first rock climb in the world to have a proposed climbing grade of 9c (5.15d), and it is an important route in rock climbing history. To complete the route, Ondra undertook specialist physical and mental training to overcome its severely overhanging terrain. As of April 2024, Silence remains unrepeated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Laura Rogora</span> Italian rock climber

Laura Rogora is an Italian rock climber who specializes in sport climbing and in competition climbing. In 2021, she became the third-ever female climber in history to redpoint a 9b (5.15b)-graded sport climbing route, with her ascent of Erebor in Italy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hubble (climb)</span> Sport climbing route in England

Hubble is a short 10-metre (33 ft) bolted sport climb at the limestone crag of Raven Tor in Millers Dale, in the Peak District in Derbyshire, England. When Hubble was first redpointed by English climber Ben Moon on 14 June 1990, it became the first-ever climb in the world to have a consensus climbing grade of 8c+ (5.14c); and the highest grade in the English system at E9 7b.


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Further reading