Sport climbing

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Sport climbing
Country or regionWorldwide
Olympic Will debut in 2020
World Games 2005–present

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that may rely on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall, or that involves climbing short distances with a crash pad underneath as protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Sport climbing usually involves lead climbing and toproping techniques, but free solo and deep-water solo (no protection) climbing on sport routes is also sometimes possible.


Sport climbing emphasises strength, endurance, gymnastic ability and technique.

With increased accessibility to climbing walls, and gyms, more climbers now enter the sport through indoor climbing than outdoor climbing.[ citation needed ] The transition from indoor climbing to outdoor sport climbing is not very difficult because the techniques and equipment used for indoor climbing are nearly sufficient for outdoor sport climbing. Nevertheless, climbing on natural rock often poses a greater challenge as bolts may be placed at greater distances and other risk factors such as rockfall, the possibility of falling onto ledges and other rock features, as well as the quality of bolts and anchors must be taken into consideration.

While sport climbing is common in many areas worldwide, it is heavily restricted in some places where it is considered ethically unacceptable to bolt climbs. This is largely due to the local climbing traditions, and to the type of rock; for instance, it is often considered reasonable to bolt limestone or slate quarries in the UK, especially if these are otherwise unprotectable, but it is considered completely unacceptable to bolt gritstone regardless as to how dangerous a climbing route might be. Debates over bolting in the climbing communities are often fierce. Bolting without a consensus in favour of bolting generally leads to the destruction, or removal, of the bolts by activists against bolting.

Since sport climbing routes do not need to follow climbing routes where protection can be placed they tend to follow more direct, and straight forward, lines up crags than traditional climbing routes which can be winding and devious by comparison. This, in addition to the need to place gear, tends to result in different styles of climbing between sport and traditional.

Sport climbing was scheduled to make its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and was previously tested at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics.


Sport climbing equipment. From left to right, top to bottom are: rope, helmet, climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag, belay device, and quick draws. Sport Climbing Equipment.jpg
Sport climbing equipment. From left to right, top to bottom are: rope, helmet, climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag, belay device, and quick draws.

On a sport climbing route, pre-placed bolts follow a 'line' up a rock face. Sport climbs can vary in length from a few metres to a full 60-metre (200 ft) rope length for multi-pitch climbs. The climbs might be equipped with just a few bolts or many.

Sport climbing can be undertaken with relatively little equipment. Equipment used in sport climbing includes:

To lead a sport climb means to ascend a route with a rope tied to the climber's harness, and with the loose end of the rope handled by a belayer. As each bolt is reached along the route, the climber attaches a quickdraw to the bolt, and then clips the rope through the hanging end of the quickdraw. This bolt is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall. At the top of sport routes, there is typically a two-bolt anchor that can be used to return the climber to the ground or previous rappel point.

Because sport routes do not require placing protection, the climber can concentrate on the difficulty of the moves rather than placing protection or the consequences of a fall.

Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing with respect to the type and placement of protection. Traditional climbing uses mostly removable protection (such as cams or nuts), and tends to minimize the usage of pre-placed protection. Sport climbing typically involves single pitch routes but can have multi-pitch routes. Long multi-pitch routes may lack pre-placed anchors due to economical, logistical or ethical reasons.

Rock types that produce good sport climbs include limestone, granite and quartzite, though sport climbs can be found on almost all rock types.


Sport climbs are assigned subjective ratings to indicate difficulty. The type of rating depends on the geographic location of the route, since different countries and climbing communities use different rating systems.

The UIAA grading system is mostly used for short rock routes in Western Germany, Austria and Switzerland and most countries in Eastern Europe. On long routes it is often used in the Alps and Himalaya. Using Roman numerals, it was originally intended to run from I (easiest) to X (hardest), but as with all other grading systems, improvements to climbing standards have led to the system being open-ended. An optional + or – may be used to further differentiate difficulty. As of 2018, the hardest climbs are XII.

The Ewbank rating system, used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, is a numerical open-ended system, starting from 1, which you can (at least in theory) walk up, up to 38 (as of 2013).

The French rating system considers the overall difficulty of the climb, taking into account the difficulty of the moves and the length of climb. This differs from most grading systems where one rates a climbing route according to the most difficult section (or single move). Grades are numerical, starting at an easy 1, with the system being open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by adding a letter (a, b or c). Examples: 2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + (but not –) may be used to further differentiate difficulty. Many countries in Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarily matching difficulties. Sport climbing in Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed with the letter "F".

In the United States, the Yosemite Decimal System is used to rate sport climbs. Current grades for sport routes vary between an easy 5.0 to an extremely difficult 5.15d, although the system is open-ended. Past 5.10, letter grades between a and d are sometimes used for further subdivision (e.g. 5.11a or 5.10d). Pluses and minuses may also be used (e.g. 5.9+ or 5.11–). [1] Originally, the YDS rating was designed to rate the difficulty of the hardest move on a given route. [2] However, modern sport grades often take into account other features such as length and number of difficult moves along the route.


The ethics climbers adopt toward their sport are not always steadfast, and they often depend on the venue. The following examples are merely outlines that do not always hold true.


Whether a route should be bolted as a sport climb is often in dispute.

In some areas, including some in the United States, if a route cannot be safely climbed with the use of traditional gear, it is generally acceptable to the climbing community to bolt it. In much of the United Kingdom, similar bolting is widely considered unacceptable. [3] Regulations regarding bolting can vary from state to state and between landowners or land managers.

Additionally, the method of bolting may often be challenged. Many early sport routes were bolted on lead by the first ascender: a "traditional" approach. One could say that it became "sport" climbing when routes started to get bolted from the top (hanging on a rope). [4]

First ascents

Sometimes, a newly bolted route is considered "red tagged," and ethics dictate that the person who bolted the route should be the only climber to attempt it until they have made a free ascent (a continuous roped ascent, made using only hands and feet, unaided – yet protected – by the bolts, quickdraws or rope). This is because equipping a new route is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for the person who finds it. Other times, the bolter will allow the route they developed to become an "open project" that anyone can try. Ascents of reserved routes have led to a number of controversies in the sport climbing world.

Chipping, comfortizing, and reinforcing

Changing the natural features of rock is often frowned upon, but in many parts of the world it is accepted to some extent. In some areas, "chipping" of the rock with a chisel or similar tool to create a hold that did not exist naturally is considered acceptable. This is particularly true in some quarries as well as some European crags. However, at many other areas, local ethics absolutely forbid this. [5]

Comfortizing holds often involves aggressively cleaning a route to the point where sharp holds have been filed down, often making them somewhat easier to use. While many climbers frown on this, in some areas comfortizing is considered acceptable to a point.

Reinforcing rock with glue is the most widely accepted modification to natural features in the sport climbing world. When a popular route is climbed over and over, holds may become looser and closer to breaking. Sometimes, these holds will be reinforced to prevent them from breaking. Other times, if a hold entirely breaks off, it may be glued back on. In most areas, these practices are considered acceptable if done neatly.[ citation needed ]


Sometimes, an ascent or the style in which it is done will come into dispute. For example, a leader who experiences tension on their rope from their belayer while climbing without falling may have not made a valid ascent, through no fault of their own. Additionally, the line between an onsight and a flash is often disputed. Some climbers consider any knowledge of a route, including its grade, to be data that invalidates an onsight. However, other climbers will go so far as to belay another climber on a route and still claim that they did not have enough prior knowledge to move from the onsight realm to the flash realm.

Working a route

If a climber fails to onsight or flash a route, they may decide to "work" it by attempting to climb it despite falling and hanging on the rope. If, after practising the moves either on lead or on toprope, they manage to lead the route cleanly (i.e. without any rests or falls) then it is called a redpoint. It is known as a 'ground up' ascent if they work the route from the bottom, progressing higher on successive attempts without cheating or resting. However, at popular destinations, multiple parties of climbers will often line up to try a route. A climber working a route may spend an inordinate amount of time on it, preventing other parties from climbing it. This is often frowned upon, particularly if the climber is toproping rather than leading.

Not sending a route means that a climber was unable to climb a route without hanging on the rope or falling: a clean lead or send refers to someone climbing a route entirely under his/her own power without assist from the rope. Although not considered a proper, clean ascent if a climber does not do this in professional terms, a lower-level climber will have 'done' the route if he completed all the moves, even if it was 'unclean', i.e. rests or falls were taken (in this instance, it would be said that the route was 'dogged').

Access and conflicts

The United States has a strong history of traditional climbing, especially at certain crags, and considerable value is placed on keeping routes the same as they were when pioneered by the first ascender. In the U.S. it is considered unacceptable to add bolts to an established traditional route to turn it into a sport climb.[ citation needed ]

In the UK, a number of established routes have been bolted by sport climbers; this has generally been done in recent years by consensus with the first climber, though in earlier years this was not always the case. In Spain also, traditional climbs have been overbolted against the wishes of traditional climbers.[ citation needed ]

In 2007, the British Mountaineering Council introduced 10,000 bolts into the UK climbing scene mostly to replace existing unsafe fixed protection.[ citation needed ]

Bird watchers and other non-climbing rural visitors sometimes object to being distracted by brightly colored slings left at rappel anchors, which has led to climbers using webbing of the same color as the rock.[ citation needed ]

Competition climbing

Different types of sport climbing problems: (1) Dihedral, (2) Slab, (3) Wall, (4) Overhang, (5) Edge, (6) Roof and (7) Traverse climbing Sportklettern.svg
Different types of sport climbing problems: (1) Dihedral, (2) Slab, (3) Wall, (4) Overhang, (5) Edge, (6) Roof and (7) Traverse climbing

Competition climbing is a form of sport climbing that takes place on artificial structures rather than natural rock surfaces. It has three different disciplines: lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering. The latter is considered to be the most demanding of the three disciplines in terms of strength, co-ordination and agility. [6]

Sport climbing made its debut as an Asian Games sport in the 18th edition in Jakarta-Palembang, 2018. [7]


In September 2015, sport climbing was included in a shortlist along with baseball, softball, skateboarding, surfing, and karate to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics; [8] and in June 2016, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that they would support the proposal to include all of the shortlisted sports in the 2020 Games. [9] Finally, on August 3, 2016, all five sports (counting baseball and softball together as one sport) were approved for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program. [10]

The proposed format for Olympic sport climbing will require participants to compete in all three disciplines – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering – an approach that has been widely criticized by potential competitors and followers of the sport. [11] However, the format has been adopted by the International Federation of Sports Climbing, who has already celebrated worldwide competitions with the Olympic format in 2018.

Sport climbing was previously tested at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics.

See also

Related Research Articles

Climbing Activity to ascend a steep object

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.

Grade (climbing) Degree of difficulty of a climbing route

In rock climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a grade to a climbing route or boulder problem, intended to describe concisely the difficulty and danger of climbing it. Different types of climbing each have their own grading systems, and many nationalities developed their own, distinctive grading systems.

Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.

Traditional climbing Style of rock climbing

Traditionalclimbing, is a style of rock climbing in which a climber or group of climbers place all gear required to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete. Traditional bolted face climbing means the bolts were placed on lead and/or with hand drills. The bolts tend to be much farther apart than sport climbs. For example, a trad bolted route may have bolts from 15–75 feet apart. A sport route may have bolts from 3–10 feet apart, similar to a rock climbing gym. The term seems to have been coined by Tom Higgins in the piece "Tricksters and Traditionalists" in 1984. A trad climber is called a traditionalist.

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs, primarily used by mountaineers in the United States and Canada. It was first devised by members of the Sierra Club in Southern California in the 1950s as a refinement of earlier systems, particularly those developed in Yosemite Valley, and quickly spread throughout North America.

Glossary of climbing terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Ice climbing

Ice climbing is the activity of ascending inclined ice formations. Usually, ice climbing refers to roped and protected climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water. For the purposes of climbing, ice can be broadly divided into two spheres, alpine ice and water ice. Alpine ice is found in a mountain environment, usually requires an approach to reach, and is often climbed in an attempt to summit a mountain. Water ice is usually found on a cliff or other outcropping beneath water flows. Alpine ice is frozen precipitation whereas water ice is a frozen liquid flow of water. Most alpine ice is generally one component of a longer route and often less technical, having more in common with standard glacier travel, while water ice is selected largely for its technical challenge. Technical grade is, however, independent of ice type and both types of ice vary greatly in consistency according to weather conditions. Ice can be soft, hard, brittle or tough. Mixed climbing is ascent involving both ice climbing and rock climbing.

Rock-climbing equipment

A wide range of equipment is used during rock or any other type of climbing that includes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.

Free climbing

Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. Free climbing more specifically may include traditional climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and most forms of solo climbing. Free climbing a multi-pitch route means free-climbing each of its pitches in a single session. At the end of each pitch, climbers are allowed to anchor themselves to belay stations and rest. If they fail climbing a pitch, they are allowed to use the rope to return to the beginning of that pitch and try it again.

Aid climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

Belaying Rock climbing safety technique using ropes

Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers use to create friction within a climbing system, particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.

Lead climbing Competitive discipline of sports climbing

Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest.

Top rope climbing Climbing technique

Top rope climbing is a style in climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. The belayer takes in slack rope throughout the climb, so that if at any point the climber were to lose their hold, they would not fall more than a short distance.

Bolt (climbing)

In rock climbing, a bolt is a permanent anchor fixed into a hole drilled in the rock as a form of protection. Most bolts are either self-anchoring expansion bolts or fixed in place with liquid resin.

Rock climbing Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

Redpoint (climbing)

In sport climbing, redpointing is free-climbing a route, while lead climbing, after having practiced the route beforehand. Many climbers will frequently try to redpoint a route after having failed to on-sight or flash it, although occasionally a climber will forgo an onsight attempt if they suspect that the route is so difficult that an attempt would be pointless. Redpointing differs from headpoint, in that it is exclusive to sport routes with protection equipment fixed into the rock at regular intervals.

In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load to the climbing surface - typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building - either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection; primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting a rope.

History of rock climbing

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:

In rock climbing, a whipper is an especially hard or dynamic fall where the rope is weighed by a significant load. A fall is considered hard when the climber falls beyond at least one piece of protection, which in trad climbing would mean the last placed cam or nut and in sport climbing would be the last successfully clipped quickdraw. The term whipper comes from the whipping motion a climber will take if an unskilled belayer cuts the fall short, limiting the dynamic stretching nature of the rope and causing a pendulum effect. It has become synonymous, however, with a hard fall, regardless of whether the pendulum effect is achieved or not.

Saxon Switzerland climbing region

Saxon Switzerland is the largest and one of the best-known climbing regions in Germany, located in the Free State of Saxony. The region is largely coterminous with the natural region of the same name, Saxon Switzerland, but extends well beyond the territory of the National Park within it. It includes the western part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and is the oldest non-Alpine climbing region in Germany. Its history of climbing dates back to the first ascent in modern times of the Falkenstein by Bad Schandau gymnasts in 1864. Currently, there are over 1,100 summits with more than 17,000 climbing routes in the Saxon Switzerland area.


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  5. Adrian Berry (May 18, 2002). "Starting Out: Ethics". Archived from the original on August 13, 2007.
  6. "Competition bouldering". adidas Rock Stars. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  7. "Asian Games 2018 – Sport Climbing". Archived from the original on August 6, 2018. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  8. "Surfing and skateboarding make shortlist for 2020 Olympics". September 28, 2015. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  9. "IOC Executive Board supports Tokyo 2020 package of new sports for IOC Session - Olympic News". June 1, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  10. "IOC approves five new sports for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020". August 3, 2016. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  11. "What the Hell is Speed Climbing?". September 26, 2016. Retrieved March 25, 2018.

Further reading