The Way Forward – Getting Involved In The Sport

At this point you may feel that you’re ready to try out the sport of climbing so how do you go about getting started?

  • Join a climbing club/school with trained instructors.
  • Join some experienced climbers on an outing.
  • Try some moves at a rock-gym or climbing wall.
  • Find a like-minded friend, and set off on your own.

The first option is undoubtedly the safest, and is highly recommended. It also the most costly, although this cost is relatively small compared to the benefits. The second is a good one, if you can get the climbers to take you on, and if they are safe climbers themselves! Not all ‘old’ or ‘experienced’ climbers are good teachers. Gathering experience under the watchful eye of others, however, is certainly a good way to start.

The last option is the most adventurous, but obviously also potentially the most dangerous. This is not to say ‘don’t do it’ rock climbing is an adventure activity, and true adventure activities have a built-in risk factor. The trick is to reduce the risk as far as possible without diluting the sense of adventure.

Whatever your choice, always keep the risk factor under control. Perhaps the most important way to do this is to check and double-check harnesses, knots, anchor and belay points everything. And have fun!

Climbing Ethics

Some climbers make false claims about their climbing prowess, and this can lead to vehement reaction from others. But why the fuss? After all, climbing is ’just a game’. This is true, but like all sports, climbing has its own rules and ethics, and it is these standards of behaviour, usually unwritten, but fairly well understood, that are at stake. Some very famous climbers have ‘broken the rules’, or are thought to have done so – debates still rage about the long bolt ladder which the Italian, Cesare Maestri, used to claim the first ascent of the storm-tossed Cerro Torre in Patagonia. Questions are also raised about the ascent of the south face of Lhotse in the Himalayas by the Slovenian, Tomo Cesen. But it is impossible to assert an ‘absolute truth’ – all issues are debatable and relative to the ethics of the day.

Claiming A Clean Ascent

The current terminology and set of accepted ethics is given below.

On-sight Flash: The route is free climbed, from bottom to top, with no pre-knowledge (‘beta’) of any sort, including photos or information from other climbers. Any gear is placed on lead during the ascent, No rests are allowed.

Flash: The route is free-climbed as above, but you have watched someone else do it, or have beta.

On-sight: The route is climbed in the same way as the on-sight flash, but it is not ‘flashed’ – so you may repeat a section which ‘is too difficult, or rest on gear along the way.

Redpoint: The route is practised first, either as a whole or in small sections. When you are confident you can do it, the route is then free-climbed in one go (the accepted norm for hard climbs, both sport and traditional climbs).

Pinkpoint: This is a semi-officially recognized term for a climb where you leave gear (e.g. quickdraws) in place between ascents, and then redpoint on this pre-placed ‘ gear. ln really hard, overhanging sport routes, no distinction is usually made between redpointing and pinkpointing.

What has been said here refers primarily to sport routes, or short rock routes. In extreme alpinism, expeditions, or big-wall climbing, the parameters shift – often what counts is simply surviving the extreme conditions. The true difficulty of the climb, seen as a whole, will determine how other climbers rate your actions.

The ultimate aim of climbers then is to free-climb a route, with no aid or beta of any sort. Lesser ascents leave the option open for future climbers to do the route in this purist style allowing progress to be made in climbing.

Other Ethics And Climbing Etiquette

In climbing, it is unethical to ‘steal’ a climb that someone else has been working on for a long time. if you want to stake your claim and mark a route you’re working on as ’in progress’, it is usual to attach some string – often red – to the first bolt. Hogging a route that you are clearly unable to climb and will probably never complete is also questionable. Don’t imagine that, because you cannot do a climb without a hold being chipped or a bolt being placed, someone won’t be able to free-climb it in the future. New equipment and training techniques regularly make fresh manoeuvres possible. Leave something for the next generation to achieve!

The Environment

Most climbers claim that one of the reasons they climb is because they love nature and like being outdoors. It is important to note, however, that by our mere presence, we as climbers have an impact on the environment. As our numbers grow, so inevitably does the degree of change we make to the natural world around us.

In many parts of the world, free access to climbing areas is currently under threat. Land owners and managers are concerned by the growing number of climbers, and all it takes is one careless climber dropping litter and not removing it, or defacing the landscape, for all climbers to become branded as irresponsible or selfish.

Some Guidelines Are:

  • Leave the climbing area in the same condition as that in which you found it, or in better shape, if possible.
  • Keep the rock as natural as possible – do not chip it, or glue pieces of rock to it to create holds, or drill holes and place unnecessary bolts.
  • Enter and leave an area along established trails if these exist.
  • Always find out beforehand what restrictions exist for an area, and respect the rules, whether they relate to nesting birds, plant species, bolt-free zones, or other concerns.
  • Minimize the use of chalk to avoid leaving a mass of white blotches, or try to obtain earthtinted chalk.
  • Practise minimum-impact camping: use gas stoves rather than fires; bury or preferably carry out human waste; do not wash in small streams; and use only fully biodegradable soap in larger streams or rivers.
  • Carry out all litter -including cigarette ends and matches.
  • Don’t play music loudly or use bad language when climbing in the vicinity of another group it offends those who wish to enjoy nature in peace.

You are responsible for caring for the environment, and for ensuring that access to climbing areas remains open.

Using Guidebooks

Once you start looking for areas to climb, you will find that various guidebooks are available. Good guidebooks are extremely useful, but poor ones can be quite a liability. Good guidebooks are generally simple and straightforward, and offer only the basic facts, such as the name of the route, its grade, the date of first ascent, the names of the first climbing party, and basic information pertaining to protection, crux moves, length, number of pitches and any special precautions, such as ‘avoid the poison ivy at the end of pitch three’!

Also bear in mind that topographical symbols used may vary from one book to another.

Rock Climbing Grading Systems

All grading systems are open-ended – the table below reflects the highest current grades (but can be subject to change). Direct comparison between two adjacent climbs can be difficult, let alone comparing grades between different countries or differing types of climbing. The illustrated refers to pure rock-climbing grades. In general, sport climbs are graded using the French system. Other grades refer to traditionally protected climbs, although this rule is not hard and fast. Before climbing, check whether the climb is fully bolt-protected or requires traditional gear.

III35.4Very Difficult11III
IV45.54aSevere (S)12IV
V5.64bVery Severe14VI
VI-5.85aHard V.S.16/17VIIb


Fontainebleau, near Paris, is considered to be the home of modern bouldering. Grading is usually done according to the French Fontainebleau Power Scale rated from Font 6a to Font 9a; and/or the American Vermin scale, from V1 to V14.

Aid Climbing

Aid climbing is rated from A0 (‘pulling’ on a piece of gear to help you get past a difficult move) to A5 (very dangerous aid climbing, with the potential of a fatal fall).

Alpine Grades

Alpine-scale routes are given an overall grade based on a number of systems. The German scale goes from grades I to VI; and the French scale ranges from F facile (easy), PD peu difficile (moderately difficult), AD assez difficile (fairly difficult), D difficile (difficult), TD trés difficile (very difficult) to ED – extrémement difficile (extremely difficult), with ABC abominable (abominable) added as a super-hard grade. These grades refer to the overall difficulty of a route, and don’t reflect the hardest move.

Mixed Routes

Routes that incorporate pure rock climbing, aid climbing, some ice and snow, and other objective difficulties are nowadays rated in a multiple fashion, so a grading of VI, 5.10, A3, WI 4+ is given to Badlands, a hard route of 1500m (4500ft) on Torre Egger in Patagonia. Here VI stands for Alpine grade VI; 5.10 for rock free-climbing on the YDS Yosemite Decimal, or American, Scale -(easy when compared to 5.14 on the warm rock of Smith’s Rocks for example, but another story at altitude in a howling zero-degree gale!), the A3 for aid, and the WI 4+ as Water Ice at 4+, an ice-climbing rating. The combination of these grades tells you that this route should be taken very, very seriously!

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