A rock is a rock is a rock… right?

“I climb.”

This statement can tell you a lot about the person who says it. Speaking as a completely objective third party observer with absolutely no personal interest in the matter (thank you, Viola Hastings), the speaker will likely be one of the coolest, smartest people you have ever met.

What this statement does not tell you is what type of climbing the person participates in. That’s right. There’s more than one type of climbing. There’s free, aid, bouldering, free soloing, top roping, lead (sport and trad), ice, alpine, and tree . . . 😉

To keep things simple, I’m going to discuss the most common types of climbing you might see and/or participate in a gym, a place where most people are introduced to climbing: bouldering, top roping, and lead climbing. (The pictures featured in this post are from previous climbing trips my friends and I have taken, though.)


This type of climbing is the cheapest and quickest way to jump into climbing. Since this type of climbing takes place close to the ground and without a rope or belay device, all a climber needs is a crash pad (for a soft landing), climbing shoes, chalk (for sweaty palms), and maybe a friend or two to act as both spotters and cheerleaders.

Boulderers typically boulder on boulders (say that five times fast). Many people who are uncomfortable with heights will often start out bouldering. A fear of heights is no reason to avoid climbing!

Bouldering with Notes.jpg
Route: A Taste of Hueco; Climber: Kat; Spotters: Scott and Dylan; Photographer: Melise

Top Roping

Top roping is the type of climbing that most new climbers think of when they head to their local gym. Top roping involves a climber, a rope running through an anchor at the top of a wall, a belayer, and a belay device.

The climber will tie-in on one side of the rope, while the belayer sets up the belay device on the other side. As the climber climbs up, the belayer will take out any new slack in the rope, slack which is created by the climber moving up the wall. When the climber is finished, the belayer will lower the climber back to the ground with the assistance of a belay device.

To top rope outside (as the picture below shows), climbers must hang their own rope from the anchors which is usually accomplished by walking up to the bolted anchors from behind. If there aren’t bolted anchors at the top… well that’s a lesson for another time.

Top-roping with Notes
Route: Eight in the Hole; Climber: Melise; Belayer: Yours Truly; Photographer: Scott

Lead Climbing

Lead climbing has a similar set up to top roping, but there are a few major differences. One, the rope starts on the ground with the leader (climber) and belayer. Two, there is a lot more gear (quickdraws, cams, nuts, etc.) involved.

As the leader moves up, (s)he will place gear along the route (path) to act as protection from falls. In order for the leader to progress up the route, the belayer must give and take slack. Once the leader is at the top, (s)he will pass the rope through the anchors and essentially be on top rope, so the belayer can simply lower the leader to the ground. Another, and usually the preferred, lowering option would be for the leader to rappel, but this is a lesson for another time.

There are two types of lead climbing: sport and trad[itional]. Sport climbers use quickdraws and pre-drilled bolts to progress up a route. Trad climbers use cams, nuts, and hexes (among other gear) as natural protection for a route because there are no pre-drilled bolts.

Leading with Notes
Route: Misty; Leader: Scott; Belayer: Dylan; Photographer: Melise

Again, bouldering, top roping, and lead climbing are the three types of climbing you are most likely to come in contact with, but these are not the only types of climbing. The information provided here is purely introductory. There is a lot more information about these three types of climbing that is not discussed here: commands, lowering techniques, safety checks, etc.

Climbing is inherently dangerous, so please climb with someone that is knowledgeable and trustworthy. If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask me. If I can’t answer it, I will find someone who can.

Until next time.


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