Climbing FAQ

How dangerous is climbing?

Obviously, climbing has risks. Though modem equipment and techniques have reduced the risks --and greatly contributed to the sport's popularity---each year accidents occur, some resulting in death. Climhing risks can never be completely eliminated. The challenge of using one's experience and skills to manage these risks is one of the allures of climbing.

Despite the obvious dangers of the sport, climbing has relatively few accidents each year compared with popular activities such as hiking, swimming, or boating. Many news reports about accidents or rescues of "climbers" actually involve picnickers or hikers who have scrambled onto cliffs or snow slopes and have gotten stuck or fallen. The correct terms for these non-climbers are "scramblers" or "hikers." Technical climbers who have the experience and equipment to handle high-angle terrain rarely require rescue.

How do climbing grades work?

Climbers use grades to tell each other how difficult a climb is - that way, one can choose a climb of appropriate difficulty. Grading systems are complex; there are different ones in every country and for every type of climbing.

In the U.S., rock climbing is graded with an open-ended scale that begins at 5.0 and currently extends to 5.15. (The 5 refers to 5th class, or climbing with ropes and protection; lower classes range from walking to scrambling). Each grade from 5.10 up is subdivided from "a" to "d." You might see, for example, 5.10b or 5.12c. Frequently the 5 prefix is left off (e.g., 10b).

When a climb is first ascended, the climber grades the route based on her experience with climbs of similar difficulty. As more people do the climb, a consensus on the grade will be reached. Most people begin rock climbing at 5.4 to 5.7. With a few years of experience, they may feel comfortable on 5.9 to 5.11 climbing. 5.12 and up is the terrain of experts.

How do climbing routes get their names?

Traditionally, the first person (or people) to climb a route gets to name it. Eventually, this name will be printed in guidebooks and adopted by climbers everywhere.

How to Descend From a Climb?

It is often possible to walk down the side of cliffs or mountains and return to the base. Where walking down is difficult or impossible, climbers rappel down their ropes or lower off.

To rappel, climbers thread their rope (or two ropes tied together) through an anchor point so that the ends hang below. The anchor might be a temporary setup using a rock or a tree, or it could be a fixed anchor; a common anchor consists of two bolts about a foot apart, a length of chain, and an attachment point.
Climbers use a rappel device (often the same as their belay device), through which the rope is fed and the device is clipped to the harness. With friction from the rappel device,it's possible to descend slowly and comfortably. Once all the climbers are on the ground, or at the next anchor, they pull one end ofthe rope until the other end clears the anchor above them and falls to their level. Then they can set up the next rappel, or, if they have reached the bottom, pack up for another climb.

Many modem climbs stop below the top of a cliff at a fixed anchor. Often, these climbs are less than half a rope length long, so the belayer can simply lower the leader to the ground. Then the belayer will take his turn on the route.

Although some people buy climbing equipment solely to go rappelling, most technical climbers view rappelling as a necessary evil. Because climbers often rappel when they are tired or the weather turns sour, and because it is one of the few times in climbing when one is depending solely on a few pieces of equipment, rappelling is when acddents are more likely to occur.

What are Bolts?

Bolts are expansion bolts like those used in construction, tapped into holes drilled in the rock to protect climbs where there are no cracks for other type of protection. A special hanger is attached to the bolt, so the rope can be clipped to it with a caribiner. Bolts are permanent or fixed, pieces of protection. They are placed only by the first person to do a climb and are used by all subsequent parties.

What are Camming Devices?

Camming Devices are protection devices with spring_loaded cams which, inserted in a crack, resist outward pull from a falling cllmber. Two popular brands of cams are Friends™ and Camalots™. 

What are Carabiner?

Caribiner are aluminum ovals with spring-loaded gates, used to clip two pieces of gear together or gear to a rope. Frequently called "snaplinks" in media reports, but climbers never use this term.

What are Climbing Shoes?

Climbing shoes are Snug-fitting shoes with high-friction rubber soles and carefully designed edges that allow climbers to stand on tiny footholds.

What are Crampons?

Crampons are  a set of metal spikes that clips onto mountaineering boots and is used for ice climbing or glacier walking. "Crampon" is also used as a verb.

What are Fixed protection, Fixed Pieces, Fixed Anchors?

Fixed protection, fixed pieces, fixed anchors are bolts or pitons placed permanently in the rock, usually by the first person to do a climb, and used by all subsequent climbers.

What are Ice Axe, Ice Hammer, Ice tools?

Ice axe, ice hammer, ice tools are hand tools with a sharp pick and either an adze or hammer head. Swung into the ice, they are used to ascend frozen waterfalls or steep snow and ice slopes.

What are Nuts and Chocks?

Nuts or chocks are metal wedges or other shapes that are slotted in a crack so they'll resist a force in one direction (say from a fall). Two popular brands are ROCK™ and STOPPERS™ these should always be capitalized.

What are Pitons?

Pitons are steel wedges or blades hammered into cracks to protect or anchor climbers. Once the only form of protection, pitons have been supplanted by easily removable protection such as nuts, because repeated placement and removal of pitons damages the rock. Today, pitons are used only when no other form of protection is available.

What clothing/gear is needed for Ice Climbing/Winter Mountaineering?


Proper gear is very important when climbing in the wintertime. When taking an ice climbing or winter mountaineering class with the BRG, we provide all the gear except for your personal clothing and winter mountaineering boots. Participants should be prepared with the following items.

Clothing required:

Skin Layers: Any one of the following. Items should be synthetic wicking polyester.

  • Lightweight synthetic long underwear top, long sleeve
  • Midweight synthetic long underwear top, long sleeve
  • Heavyweight synthetic long underwear top, long sleeve

Mid Layers: Any one of the following. Items should be synthetic wicking polyester.

  • Midweight synthetic long underwear top, long sleeve
  • Heavyweight synthetic long underwear top, long sleeve

Insulation Layers: Both of the following.

  • 200-300 weight Polar Fleece or similar jacket. Pullover or zip up.
  • Down or Prima-loft sweater or vest. 

Bottom Layers: Both of the following. Items should be synthetic wicking polyester.

  • Lightweight or midweight synthetic long underwear bottom
  • Heavyweight synthetic bottom, pants or bibs

Outer Layer: Both of the following.

  • Gore-tex or other waterproof/breathable wind shell with secure hood. Pullover or zip up.
  • Gore-tex or other waterproof/breathable wind pants or bibs, full side zips are best

Hands: Both of the following.

  • Heavy gloves, a Gore-tex winter glove system
  • Heavy mittens, insulated or Gore-tex shell and liners

Face, eyes and ears, feet, and other: All of the following.

  • Synthetic or wool hat or balaclava
  • Ski goggles
  • Facemask
  • Headlamp or small flashlight
  • One pair heavy wool or synthetic socks
  • High boot gaiters (covers boot top to knee)
  • 1 or 2 large mouth water bottles
  • Food for the day
  • 2500-4000 cubic inch pack with straps for crampons


Footwear required:
Winter mountaineering boots are required when ice climbing or mountaineering in the wintertime. This style of boot can be rented at REI.


What is Free Climbing?

Free climbing is the type of rock climbing that most climbers practice. No artificial aid is used to gain height. Instead, the climber relies on his or her physical abilities. A free climber uses a rope and other equipment only to protect himself from falling to the ground. The gear is not used to make upward progress. Free climbing is not the same as soloing.

What is a a Campus Board?

A campus board is an overhanging panel mounted with a ladder of slats or rails that a climber can ascend with no feet for an intensive workout. The terms "campus board" and "campusing" originated with a famous German climber who developed this technique at a university gym.

What is a Bivouac or Bivy ?

A Bivouac or bivy is a night spent at the base of a climb or en route. Big-wall climbers sometimes carty a collapsible, hanging cot called a portaledge that can be suspended from the cliff, providing an airy bed.

What is a Boulder problem?

A Boulder problem is a defined route up a boulder or bouldering wall using a specific "sequence" of holds.

What is a Climbing Hold

 A climbing hold is a crack, hole, edge, or protuberance that is held or stood upon by a climber. Holds come in nearly infinite variety, and expert climbers learn to use them in many different ways. Artificial holds may be molded from resin or polyurethane.

What is a Hangboard?

 A Hangboard is a resin or wooden board molded with a variety of handholds. A hangboard is mounted to a wall or door frame overhead so the climber can perform pull-ups and other strength-training routines.

What is a Harness?

A harness is a  nylon harness,buckled around the waist and thighs, providing a comfortable way to tie into the rope for climbing, rappelling and belaying.

What is a pad or crashpad?

A pad is a portable padded mat used to cushion the ground under boulder problems.

What is a pitch?

A pitch is the distance a leader climbs between belays---at most a rope length (165 to 235 feet). Some climbs are one-pitch routes; others have many pitches.

What is a Quickdraw?

Two carabiners connected by a short piece of webbing, used to link a rope to protection.

What is a Scrambler?

A Scrambler is a  person who is not a trained climber and is not using climbing equipment for protection on a cliff. Many of the "'climbing" acddents reported in the media involve scramblers

What is a Sling?

A Sling is a loop of nylon webbing.

What is a Treadwall™ ?

 A Treadwall™ is a mechanical climbing wall that moves as the climber ascend the surface, allowing continuous movement for many minutes and providing a great endurance Workout.

What is Aid Climbing?

Cliffs that are too difficult or holdless for free climbing often can still be ascended with the use of direct aid. Unlike free climbers, aid climbers use the pieces of protection that they place for upward progress. The challenge of aid climbing is to ascend very blank faces with minimal tools. Though not as popular as free climbing aid climbing allows people to scale some of the world's most dramatic and improbable walls.l

What is an anchor?

Any piece of protection used to secure climbers to a cliff face for belaying or rappelling. "Fixed anchors are left in place for all climbers to use.

What is an Ascender?

An Ascender is a Mechanical device that may be attached to a rope to ascend the rope. Ascenders often are used by the second climber on very long and difficult climbs they also are used by mountaineers following fixed ropes and in rescues. Jumar is the brand name for one type of ascender, the word has come into common usage is a noun or a verb.

What is an Auto-Belay Device ?

An auto-belay is a mechanical device installed at an artifidal climbing wall to aIlow a climber to ascend the wall even if he or she does not have a climbing partner.

What is Ascending a Climb?

Though climbing takes many forms-rock and ice, indoors and out, small cliffs and giant mountains-roped climbers almost always follow the same safety procedure for ascending a route. This is the belay system.

Most roped climbs begin at the bottom of a cliff or route, when the leader (the first climber) starts up the rock. As the leader climbs, the rope trails behind. The leader clips the rope into protection (either permanent or removable) as he ascends. The second climber, the belayer, uses a belay device that connects to his harness and the climbing rope. The belayer uses this device to feed out rope or take in slack as needed. If the leader falls, the belayer will catch him using this device.
With modem protection, falls have become an accepted risk on many climbs. Some climbers try a route many times before they can climb it without falling. There is always some danger with falling, but attentive belaying and proper equipment keep the danger to a minimum. Technical climbing and lead belaying require training and should be taught by a qualified instructor.

Once the leader reaches the top of the cliff or the end of the rope, he either is lowered by the belayer or belays the second climber from an anchor. The second climber removes the protection placed by the leader, leaving behind only fixed protection such as pitons or bolts. When the two are reunited, they descend (if they have reached the top) or continue on the next pitch (rope length). By doing this, a two-person team can climb cliffs hundreds or even thousands of feet high.

What is Belaying ?

To belay means to safeguard another cllmber with the rope. Also used as a noun as in "the belay was solid." In old-fashioned belays, the belayer wrapped the rope around his body to create friction in case of a fall. Climbers today use friction creating "belay devices" that attach to their harnesses and allow small climbers, even chlldren, to stop the falls of much larger climbers.

What is Bouldering ?

Bouldering is climbing without ropes very close to the ground, where falls are short and usually inconsequential. Boulderers practice very difficult moves on small outcrops or boulders, often trying many times before succeeding on a given boulder problem. Some use bouldering as practice for bigger climbs; others pursue it exclusively as a sport. Bouldering is one of the fastest-growing types of climbing because it involves very little equipment and technical trainlng. Boulderers need little more than climbing shoes, chalk, and perhaps a crash pad.

What is Buildering?

Buildering is climbing man-made structures or buildings not specifically designed for climbing. Usually done without a rope.

What is Chalk?

Chalk is Magnesium carbonate, carried in a pouch at the waist, used to Improve climbers' grip on the rock.

What is Clean Climbing?

Clean climbing is climbing only with protection that can be placed by hand and removed by the second climber. If a climber uses a hammer to place pitons or bolts, he is not clean climbing. In general, clean climbing is considered the best style. Though not as popular, hammering protection on faces where no cracks are suitable for clean protection is considered acceptable. Often, this protectlon is left in place.

What is Climbing?

Simply, climbing is an ascent completed for the athletic and mental challenge.The skills and specialized equipment required for technical climbing are what differentiate it from hiking or mountain climbing. Most climbers start out on rock scrambles or at indoor climbing gyms. As they gain experience, they find they've entered a sport with many facets and a 150-
year-plus history. For some people, climbing becomes a lifelong pursuit; climbers as young as 7 and as old as 70 participate at a very high level. For most climbers, the sport means trying to solve a problem-ascending a rock face, a frozen waterfall, a high mountain-using the minimum amount of equipment. A climber could use a ladder to scale a cliff, or easier yet, simply walk around the back side to the top but the pursuit of difficulty for difficulty's sake is the challenge that unites climbers of all types.

What is Competitive or Sport Rock Climbing?

Although most climbers will never be famous, the best are as dedicated to their sport as any Olympic athlete. Top boulderers and rock climbers train year-round, as much as five to six days a week, to improve their strength, flexibility, and endurance. Indoor gyms have allowed climbers to train throughout the winter and long into the night, leading to a leap in ability levels for both average and elite climbers. In addition to training on climbing routes and boulder problems-both outdoors and on artificial walls - dedicated climbers use specialized exercise equipment often found at indoor climbing gyms. These include:
• Hangboards - Resin or wooden boards molded with a variety of handholds. These are mounted to a wall or door frame overhead so the climber can perform pull-ups and other strength-training routines.
• Campus boards - Overhanging panels mounted with a ladder of slats or rails that a climber can ascend with no feet for an intensive workout. The terms "campus board" and "campusing" originated with a famous German climber who developed this technique at a university gym.
• Treadwalls™ - Mechanical climbing walls that move as the climber "ascends" the surface, allowing continuous movement to provide a great endurance workout.
Though climbers have always been competitive and pushed each other to try more difficult ascents, formal competitions have spread with the advent of indoor climbing facilities. Some climbers focus entirely on training for competitions. There is a World Cup circuit (similar to skiing's World Cup) for lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing. A World Championship is held every two years for adults, and every year for younger climbers. Soon, climbing may be an Olympic sport.
Most climbing gyms in America host local competitions for their members and guests, and many high schools and colleges have climbing teams. The best climbers may compete at a regional or national level as well. In the United States, USA Climbing (USAC) is the national governing body for climbing competitions. Each year, USAC organizes local, regional, and national competitions, in which tens of thousands of climbers participate in bouldering, sport, or speed climbing. In addition to adult competitions, young climbers compete in various age groups up to age 19. These competitions select each year's U.S. Climbing Teams (adult and youth) in lead climbing. bouldering, and speed. Team members are invited to the World Championships and other major international events.

What is Ice Climbing?

In winter, some climbers like to ascend frozen waterfalls. Ice climbers carry ice axes and hammers with sharp picks that they stick into the ice. They also wear crampons on their boots, with metal points that allow them to kick footholds. For protection, ice climbers screw threaded metal tubes into the ice.

What is Indoor Climbing ?

As long ago as the mid-1960s, climbers discovered they could mount artificial handholds on a wall and create an indoor arena to practice rock climbing moves and get stronger for climbing. In recent decades, commercial climbing gyms have sprung up around the country; and many fitness centers, high school and college campuses, and parks and recreation departments have installed climbing walls and artificial boulders alongside their weight rooms and lap pools.
Today's climbing gym offers dozens of individual climbing routes created from artificial handholds and footholds that are bolted to vertical and overhanging walls. The routes are often changed to create new challenges. Climbers are attracted to indoor gyms because they offer a comfortable place to climb, practice, train, and compete. Gyms have contributed to a rapid increase in climbing standards of difficulty in recent years; some climbers only climb indoors.
Most gyms offer a combination of lead-climbing routes, top-ropes, and boulder problems to suit climbers of all abilities and interests. Many also have auto-belay devices that allow a person to climb even if he or she does not have a climbing partner. Lead climbs in climbing gyms are almost always protected by bolts, so climbers do Dot need to carry any of their own protection. The floor of climbing gyms are usually covered with thick mats or other padding to protect against injury in case of an uncontrolled fall.
Because of the Inherent dangers of the sport, Indoor climbing gyms follow rigorous risk and safety procedures. Members of the Climbing Wall Association adhere to standardized Industry Practices that are frequently updated. All visitors to a climbing gym typically sign participation agreements, and anyone who wants to practice roped climbing unsupervised must pass a belaying and climbing test to demonstrate competence with the basic safety systems and climbing commands. Gyms often provide instruction to novices to get them started. Indeed, many of the best climbers in the world started out as complete novices in their local climbing gym.

What is Leading?

Leading is going first on the rope. Because the leader climbs above the protection, and therefore risks a fall of at least twice the distance to the last piece of protection  beneath him, leading is more risky and demanding than seconding. Climbers sometimes speak of tying into the "sharp end" of the rope when they are going to lead.

What is Mixed Climbing ?

In another winter disdpline, climbers may experience a mixture of ice and rock on a climb. Climbers prepare for both fonns of terrain, carrying both rock protection and ice climbing gear.

What is Mountaineering or Alpine Climbing ?

Anyone climbing a mountain that requlres more technical skills than hiking is mountaineering or alpine climbing. (The sport originated in the French and Swiss Alps.) Technical climbing in the mountains can be on rock, snowy slopes, ice, or glaciers-sometimes all four. Such climbing is more dangerous than rock climbing on valley cliffs because of unpredictable _ such as rock fall, Lightning, storms,altitude sickness and fatigue. A note of terminology: Rock climbing at a cliff or crag is not "mountain climbing.» Many rock climbers never venture into the mountains and wouldn't recognize themselves as mountain climbers.

What is Self-Arrest?

Self-arrest is  technique used to stop a fall down a snow slope. Climbers dig the pick of their ice axe into the snow under their body, using the pick as a brake.

What is Soloing?

Some climbers occasionally tackle a route alone-either without a rope or self-belayed with a rope and protection. Since a fall without a rope almost certa1nly will result in death, this form of sololng is not popular and is only practiced by relatively few, highly experienced climbers. However, most climbers regard this as a legitimate way to climb for people who are very comfortable at the level at which they are soloing. Soloing is not the same as free climbing, though the two are frequently confused.

What is Sport Climbing?

Sport climbing is another form of free climbing. These climbs are protected exclusively with fixed protection-usually bolts and hangers. Sport climbs have developed rapidly at cliffs where there are few cracks for protecting climbs traditionally. Some cliffs consist entirely of sport climbs. Sport climbing is very popular because it is less expensive and easier to learn than gear-intensive traditional climbing. Because the protection is very solid and easy to use, sport climbing also has allowed climbers to push their limits on very difficult terrain with little fear of the repeated falls that often result.

What is Top-roping?

Though leading (or bouldering) Is considered the best style----and the most fun-ln climbing, climbers often top-rope, to practice or to climb routes that are difficult for them. In top-roping, the middle of the rope is clipped to an anchor at the top of the climb. Both ends of the ( rope are at the bottom of the climb. The belayer takes in rope as the climber ascends, so the climher is always protected with an overhead rope and any fall will he very short Top-roping is very common among beginning climbers, as well as at lndoor climbing gyms.

What is Traditional Rock Climbing?

Traditional rock climbing is one form of free climbing. Traditional rock climbing requires the climber to place gear into the rock to protect herself in case of a fall. Traditional climbing is how the sport has been practiced for decades, and it is still the preferred form practiced by many climbers. Confusingly, some traditional climbs may have an occasional fixed piton or bolt, and they often have fixed anchors for belays or rappels. However, traditional climbers are always prepared to arrange most of their own protection.



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