Bouldering is outdoor climbing done on rock faces, boulders and other surfaces close to the ground. It's extremely popular with beginning climbers because fear is less of a factor (you don't have as far to fall!); you don't need a lot of climbing gear to try it; and you can push yourself and learn new climbing techniques in relative safety.
If you try your hand at bouldering, be sure to go with experienced climbers who can act as spotters while you climb. Although you're relatively close to the ground, the risk of injury is still present.
Once you start climbing higher off the ground, you'll need a safety line to keep you from "hitting the deck" and injuring yourself. This safety line typically consists of a climbing rope, a climbing harness and carabiners (special metal links that connect your harness to your rope and your rope to the rock as you climb).
Your climbing partner plays a crucial role in this safety system. His/her job is to manage the climbing rope as you climb and limit how far you drop if you fall. This is called "belaying." A special tool called a "belay device" helps the belayer grab onto — and control the speed of — a weighted climbing rope.
Top-rope climbing involves anchoring your climbing rope to a spot up above you, then climbing toward the anchor while your climbing partner pulls in the slack and keeps the rope relatively taut. By creating a solid anchor point and keeping the rope taut, you and your partner limit the distance you will fall if you slip off the rock. Top-rope climbing is also popular because it typically requires less equipment and experience than other forms of roped climbing.
NOTE: Beginning climbers often rely on their more experienced climbing partners to supply certain pieces of gear, such as climbing ropes, carabiners, belay devices and belay gloves. Borrowing such gear for your first several climbs can help you decide which products work best for you before you buy your own equipment.
Sometimes it's impossible to anchor your climbing rope above you before you start climbing. When this happens, you must anchor your rope to the rock as you climb to limit the distance you'll drop if you fall. Any time you climb up above your highest rope anchor point, you are said to be "lead" climbing.
Lead climbing requires a lot of skill and a lot of practice. It also requires additional climbing equipment.
Sport climbing involves climbing routes that already have anchors affixed to the rock that you can attach your rope to. When climbing a sport route, you must carry special carabiners and nylon connectors called "quick-draws" with you to "clip-in to" these anchors and connect them to your climbing rope.
On non-sport lead climbs, you have to create your own anchors in the rock as you climb. This means carrying special gear called "rock protection" that you can wedge into nooks, crannies and cracks in the rock as you go. You must also carry the gear mentioned above to attach your rope to these temporary anchors.
The key to learning how to climb safely is to start with expert instruction. REI highly recommends that you learn basic techniques and the proper use of climbing gear under the watchful eye of an experienced climbing instructor. A good way to supplement this instruction is to read indoor wall at your local REI store.
Climbing provides a great opportunity for individuals to enjoy freedom and self-determination in a natural environment. An essential part of this freedom is the acceptance of the risks and dangers inherent to climbing.
Exercising good judgment and common sense will help reduce these risks, as choosing and using climbing equipment correctly. But climbing risks and dangers can never be eliminated completely. By purchasing and using climbing gear and by participating in climbing activities, you must personally accept full responsibility for the inherent dangers involved with these activities, including injury or possibly even death.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 01/22/2013
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