STIKAGE
Guide to Climbing

So, what is climbing?
Simply, it is ascending for the sheer pleasure of the ascent. Most climbers start out on simple rock scrambles or, increasingly, at indoor climbing gyms. As they gain experience, they find they’ve entered a sport with many varieties and a 125-year history. For many people, it becomes a lifelong pursuit; climbers as young as seven and as old as 70 participate at a very high level.

The skills and specialized equipment required for technical climbing are what differentiate it from hiking or mountain climbing by trails. Technical climbers pursue their sport in many places, from small boulders in and around Delhi, Bangalore or in other part of the country to the 3,000 feet granite face of El Capitan, and from short frozen waterfalls to Mount Everest.

For most climbers, the sport means trying to solve a problem a rock face, a frozen waterfall, a high mountain using the minimum aids of equipment. After all, a climber could use a ladder to scale a cliff, or easier yet, simply walk around the back side to the top. The pursuit of difficulty for difficulty’s sake is the challenge that unites climbers of all types.

Free Climbing
Most rock climbers practice free climbing, which is not the same as soloing. Free climbing simply means the climber ascends a face by pulling and pushing on the ledges or cracks in the rock. It’s not so different from a child climbing a tree. The rope and gear that free climbers attach to them selves and to the rock are used only to protect the climber from injury in case of a fall. The gear is not used to make upward progress.

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

Most climbs begin at the bottom of a cliff, when the leader starts up the rock. The leader trails a rope behind.The second climber, called the “belayer,” feeds out enough rope to allow the leader to continue to climb.The leader pauses every few feet to select a piece of “protection” from a rack of gear, and carefully places it in the rock. The protection piece may be a metal wedge, called a nut, that slips into a constriction in a crack, or it may be a mechanical camming device that resists outward pulls from the crack. Some-times,a climber will loop a nylon sling around a rock projection or a tree.

On some climbs, the protection is left in place by the first person to climb the route, and is used by every party there-after. This “fixed protection” may be a piton hammered into a crack, or an expansion bolt tapped into a small hole drilled in the rock.Unlike the climbing shown in movies, in which climbers often hammer a piton at a tricky step, pitons and bolts in real life are usually placed only once and left in the rock. Virtually no free climbers carry a hammer today.

After placing protection, the leader clips the rope into each piece with a carabiner, creating a chain of safety pieces. Now, in the event of a fall, the leader will be caught by the protection and the rope, which the belayer will hold tight in a belay device. The leader will only fall twice as far as the distance above the last piece of protection. With modern 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.

Eventually, the leader reaches the top of the cliff, or the end of the rope. Using fixed anchors or placed protection, the leader then belays the second climber. The second climber removes the protection placed by the leader, leaving 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, or rope length, with the leader placing protection the same way as on the first pitch. In this way, a two-person team can climb cliffs hundreds or even thousands of feet high.

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

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 loop of webbing around a rock or tree, or it could be protection pieces placed in the rock (two bolts about a foot apart are a common anchor).

Though it’s possible to rappel with the rope wrapped around one’s body for friction, modern climbers use a rappel device (often the same as their belay device), through which the rope 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 of the rope until the other end clears the anchor above them and falls to their level. Then they can set up the next rappel, or pack up for another climb.

Many modern 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.

Guide Book Main | Types of Climbing | Glossary