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Sports Climbing

Sport climbing is a style of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock, especially bolts, for protection. It contrasts with traditional climbing, in which the rock is typically devoid of fixed anchors and climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Since the need to place protection is virtually eliminated, sport climbing places an emphasis on gymnastic ability, strength and endurance, as opposed to adventure, risk and self-sufficiency. As artificial means are used primarily for safety rather than to make upward progress, sport climbing is considered a form of free climbing.

A route suitable for sport climbing has pre-placed bolts following a line up a rock face. Sport climbs are typically between 20 and 120 feet in length, and have eight to twelve bolts (some routes may have as few as three bolts, while other routes may have twenty-five or more).

Sport climbing can be undertaken with relatively little equipment. Equipment used in sport climbing includes:
  • A dynamic rope
  • Quick draws
  • A belay device
  • Climbing harnesses for belayer and climber
  • A few runners
  • A helmet is recommended
  • Climbing Shoes and chalk bag are normally used, although not technically necessary
To lead a sport climb is 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 quick draw to the bolt, and then clips the rope through the hanging end of the quick draw. 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, whereas traditional climbing can include single-pitch routes as well as longer, multi-pitch ascents. There are areas like El Potrero Chico that feature multi-pitch sport climbs, but longer routes generally 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 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 34 (as of 2008).

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 1 (very easy) and the system is open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by adding a letter (a, b or c). Examples: 2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + (no -) 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 5.0 (very, very easy) to 5.15 (ridiculously hard), 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 endurance.


Sport climbers have developed their own terminology. For example, sport climbers have terms to categorize a successful climb based on the number of attempts and pre-existing knowledge of a given route:
  • An ascent is considered an onsight if climbed the first try, without falls and without prior knowledge of the route.
  • An ascent is considered a flash if climbed the first try, without falls but with some prior knowledge such as, but not limited to, watching another person climb it or discussing it with another climber.
  • An ascent is considered a red point once a climber has attempted a given route and failed to climb it on the first attempt, but succeeded without falls on a subsequent attempt while placing quick draws.
  • An ascent is considered a pink point once a climber has attempted a given route and failed to climb it on the first attempt, but succeeded on a subsequent attempt while climbing on pre-placed quick draws. In some climbing communities, a pink point is considered to be a red point. In other climbing communities, this term has been abandoned entirely.
Routes that are at or above the individual climber's skill level often require working to red point (e.g. "We spent the summer working Ro Sham Po at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky."). A climber may return to a climb between two and hundreds of times to work out the moves, memorize the movements, and develop the strength and stamina required to complete the route. It is not uncommon for climbers to work routes for months or years.

A route that is being worked is considered that climber's project. Upon success, a climber is said to have sent a given route. (e.g. "Pete was working Ro Sham Po all summer, and in October he sent it.") The term can be used in the present tense as send. (e.g. "We were all yelling at Pete, 'send it!'"). Note that "send" comes from "ascend".

Prior knowledge of a route passed between climbers is referred to as beta. Beta can be information about difficult moves, specific sequences, or any other information that aids in ascent. In particular, a climber may be interested in getting beta for the crux of a route. The crux is the most difficult section of a route. (e.g. "Pete got a bunch of beta for the crux moves on Ro Sham Po from Bill, who sent the route last year.")

Some of the terminology described above was developed by sport climbers, and has been adopted by other forms of climbing, such as bouldering and traditional climbing.


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 a large part of the United States, if a route cannot be safely climbed with the use of traditional gear, it is acceptable to bolt it. However, in much of the U.K., similar bolting is widely considered unacceptable. Additionally, the method of bolting may often be challenged. Many early sport routes were bolted by the first ascentionist, on lead. However, it is now considered acceptable in most areas to place bolts while rappelling, before climbing the route

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 can send 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 still accepted to some extent. At 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

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.


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 beta 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

Not Sending

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. 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 finish or top out a route.

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