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How Rock Climbing Works

Types of Rock Climbing

A sport that can be done indoors on plywood climbing structures, or done outdoors on cliffs thousands of feet high, rock climbing comes in several different forms today:

  • Traditional rock climbing - Traditional climbing is the sort of climbing you typically see in movies and in nature documentaries. Connected by a rope, pairs of climbers wearing harnesses scale a rock face carrying racks of specialized equipment. As they go, the climbers place wedges, nuts and other forms of protection from their racks into cracks in the rock. The rope is hooked to these pieces of protection so that, if a climber falls, the rope catches them.

  • Sport climbing - Sport climbing is like traditional climbing in most respects, except that the protective pieces are permanently bolted into the rock. The climber doesn't have to carry protection with him/her or place it along the way. This makes sport climbing safer, faster and less expensive than traditional climbing.

    rock climbing

  • Free solo climbing - Free solo climbing is like sport climbing except you use no rope. If you fall, you die.

  • Indoor climbing - Indoor climbing is like sport climbing, except that climbers scale indoor climbing structures made of plywood or concrete and hold onto artificial handholds/footholds bolted onto the structure. The fact that it is indoors means that the height of the structure is limited by the height of the ceiling in the room. However, there are no weather problems and it is easy to unbolt the handholds and footholds to reconfigure the wall.

  • Ice climbing -­ Ice climbing is like traditional climbing except that the climber is scaling an ice formation (such as a frozen waterfall or a glacier) rather than a rock formation. Specialized equipment that can screw into the ice is used instead of the wedges, nuts and cams used on rock formations.

  • Bouldering and buildering - Bouldering is like sport climbing, but you are climbing on boulders (or the sides of chimneys and buildings) rather than on cliffs and crags. Because the maximum height of a boulder is typically ten feet or so, bouldering is often done without ropes.

Interested in rock climbing and other adventure sports? Check out the ice climbing article, video and images at Discovery’s Fearless Planet.

Now let's find out what it takes to climb a rock.

How strong are you?
You'd probably be amazed to learn how much force your body's joints and muscles actually support on a daily basis. This interactive segment from Discovery takes you inside the body and explains how much strength your bones and muscles really possess. Other activities let you explore even more of your body's systems to see exactly how they move you through your daily life.