Sport climbing (or bolted climbing) is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanent bolts for their protection while ascending a route. Sport climbing differs from the riskier traditional climbing where the lead climber has to insert temporary protection equipment while ascending.
Sport climbing dates from the early 1980s when leading French rock climbers wanted to climb routes that offered no cracks or fissures in which to insert the temporary protection equipment used in traditional climbing. While bolting natural rock faces was controversial — and remains a focus of debate in climbing ethics — sport climbing grew rapidly in popularity, and all subsequent grade milestones in rock climbing have come from sport climbing.
The safer discipline of sport climbing also led to the rapid growth in competition climbing, which made its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics. While competition climbing consists of three distinct rock climbing disciplines of lead climbing (the bolted sport climbing element), bouldering (no bolts needed), and speed climbing (also not bolted, but instead top roped), it is sometimes confusingly referred to as "sport climbing".
Sport climbing is a form of free climbing (i.e. no artificial or mechanical device can be used to aid progression, unlike with aid climbing), performed in pairs, where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanently fixed bolts for their protection while ascending. The lead climber will use quickdraws to clip into the bolts. The second climber (or belayer), removes the quickdraws as they climb the route after the lead climber has reached the top.
Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing which requires the lead climber to put in temporary protection equipment into the rock as they ascend, and is therefore much safer. Sport climbing differs from free solo climbing where no climbing protection is used whatsoever. Confusingly, the sport of competition climbing, which consists of three distinct rock climbing disciplines: lead climbing (the bolted sport climbing element), bouldering (no bolts needed), and speed climbing (also not bolted), is sometimes referred to as "sport climbing".
First free ascent Edit
Sport climbing developed the redpoint definition of what constitutes a first free ascent (FFA), which has since become the standard definition of an FFA for all climbing disciplines. Redpointing allows for previously controversial techniques of hangdogging, headpointing, and pinkpointing (for competition lead climbing — the sport climbing component of competition climbing — and for extreme sport climbs, the quickdraws will already be attached to the bolts to make clipping in even simpler, which is known as pinkpointing).
By the early 1980s, the leading rock climbers were beginning to reach the limits of existing traditional climbing protection devices. They looked to climb blanker-looking rock faces that did not have the usual cracks and fissures that are needed in which to place traditional climbing protection. In France, leading climbers such as Patrick Berhault and Patrick Edlinger began to pre-drill permanent bolts into the pocket-marked limestone walls of Buoux and Verdon Gorge for their protection. These became known as "sport climbing routes" (i.e. there was none of the associated risks of traditional climbing, it was a purely sporting endeavor), with early examples such as Pichenbule 7b+ (5.12c) in 1980. Around the same time at Smith Rocks in the United States, American climber Alan Watts also started to place pre-drilled bolts into routes, creating the first American sport climbs of Watts Tot 5.12b (7b), and Chain Reaction 5.12c (7b+) in 1983.
Sport climbing was rapidly adopted in Europe, and particularly in France and Germany by the emerging professional climbers such as German climber Wolfgang Güllich and French brothers Marc Le Menestrel and Antoine Le Menestrel. The United Kingdom was more reluctant to allow bolting on natural rock surfaces, and early British sport climbers such as Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon were forced to move to France and Germany. Bolting of external rock surfaces was also initially controversial in the US, although American sport climbing pioneer Alan Watts later recounted that American traditional climbers were as much against the "redpointing" techniques of sport climbers (i.e. continually practicing new routes before making the first free ascent), as they were against the use of bolts. Eventually, these sport climbers began to push new grade milestones far above traditional climbing grades, and the use of bolts became more accepted in outdoor climbing areas across America and Europe.
Competition sport climbing Edit
The safer aspect of sport climbing led to rapid development in competition climbing in the 1980s, where competition lead climbing events were held on bolted routes. Climbing noted the importance of events such as the 1988 International Sport Climbing Championship at Snowbird, Utah, for introducing leading European sport climbers such as Edlinger and Jean-Baptiste Tribout to leading American traditional climbers such as Ron Kauk and John Bachar. By the end of the 1990s, the UIAA, and latterly the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), was regulating and organizing major international climbing competitions, including the annual IFSC Climbing World Cup, and the biennial IFSC Climbing World Championships. Competitive climbing not only included sport climbing (which is competition lead climbing) but also competition bouldering and competition speed climbing.
Debates remain about the ethics of attaching permanent metal bolts on natural outdoor rock, which is also related to the broader clean climbing movement. Many climbing areas — particularly in Continental Europe (for example notable crags such as Oliana in Spain, and Ceuse in France) — have become fully bolted. However, many others remain emphatically non-bolted, such as Clogwyn Du'r Arddu in the United Kingdom, where only traditional climbing techniques are allowed, and attempts to make even very dangerous routes a little safer with even singular bolts (e.g. Indian Face) have been undone. In the United Kingdom, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) maintains a register of outdoor climbing areas that are suitable for bolting, and those which are to remain bolt free; in addition, the BMC offers further guidance on related ethical issues such as retro-bolting.
Sport climbing requires far less rock climbing equipment than traditional climbing as the protection is already pre-drilled into the route. Aside from the standard equipment of lead climbing (e.g. a rope, belay device, harness, and climbing shoes), the only important other important pieces of equipment are quickdraws to clip the rope into the bolts without generating friction. On complex sport climbing routes that don't follow a straight line, the alignment and lengths of quickdraws used are important considerations to avoid rope drag.
The pre-drilled bolts will degrade over time — particularly in coastal areas from salt — and eventually, all sport climbs need to be re-fitted after a number of years. The highest quality titanium bolts are too expensive to use regularly, and the next highest quality stainless steel bolts have an expected lifespan of circa 20—25 years (the cheaper plated stainless steel bolts have a shorter span); and in 2015, the American Alpine Club established an "anchor replacement fund" to help replace the bolts on America's estimated 60,000 sport climbing routes.
Dominant systems Edit
As sport climbing removes the danger of a route by using bolts, sport routes are graded solely for their technical difficulty (i.e how hard are the physical movements to ascend the route), and unlike traditional climbing routes, do not require an additional grade to reflect risk. The most dominant systems for grading sport climbing routes are the French system (e.g. ... 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c, ...) and the American system (e.g. ... 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, ...). The UIAA system (e.g. ... VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, ...) is still popular in Germany and parts of central Europe. The Australian (or Ewbank) system (e.g. ... , 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, ...) is also still in use.
Integration with boulder grades Edit
Even though the grading of sport-routes is simpler than traditional routes, there is the issue of how to compare a short route with one very hard move, with a longer route with a sustained sequence of slightly easier moves. Most of the above grading systems are based on the "overall" difficulty of the route, and thus both routes could have the same sport-grade. As a result of this, it has become common for the advanced sport climbing routes (e.g. Realization, La Dura Dura, and La Rambla) to describe the hardest moves by their bouldering grade, which is either the French "Font" system (e.g. ..., 7B, 7C, 8A, 8B, ...), or the American "V-scale" system (e.g. ..., V9, V10, V11, V12, ...). French sport-grades can be confused with French "Font" boulder grades as the only difference is the use of "capitalized" letters.
For an example of how sport and boulder grades are becoming increasingly intertwined on sport climbing routes, here is Adam Ondra describing his 2017 redpoint of Silence, the first sport climb in the world to carry a sport-grade of 9c (French), which is the same as 5.15d (American) or XII+ (UIAA):
The climb is about 45m long, the first 20m are about 8b [French sport] climbing with a couple of really really good knee-bars. Then comes the crux boulder problem, 10 moves of 8C [French boulder]. And when I say 8C boulder problem, I really mean it. ... I reckon just linking 8C [French boulder] into 8B [French boulder] into 7C [French boulder] is a 9b+ [French] sport climb, I'm pretty sure about that.
Notable climbs and climbers Edit
Since the development of sport climbing in the early 1980s, all of the subsequent grade milestones (i.e. the next levels of hardest technical difficulty) in rock climbing have been set by sport climbers. German climber Wolfgang Güllich raised sport climbing grades from 8b (5.13d) in 1984 with Kanal im Rücken to 9a (5.14d) in 1991 with Action Directe. American climber Chris Sharma dominated sport climbing development in the decade after his ground-breaking ascent of Realization/Biographie at 9a+ (5.15a) in 2001 and Jumbo Love at 9b (5.15b) in 2008. Czech climber Adam Ondra took on the mantle of the world's strongest sport climber from Sharma by freeing Change in 2012 and La Dura Dura in 2013, both at 9b+ (5.15c). In 2017, Ondra freed Silence, the first-ever sport climb at 9c (5.15d), which as at 2023, remains unrepeated.
Female sport climbing was dominated in the 1980s by American climber Lynn Hill and French climber Catherine Destivelle who set new female grade milestones and also competed against each other in the first climbing competitions. Spanish climber Josune Bereziartu dominated the setting of new grade milestones in female sport climbing in the late 1990s and early 2000s; her 2005 redpoint of Bimbaluna at 9a/9a+ was only a half-notch behind the highest male sport climbing route at the time, which was Realization/Biographie at 9a+. By 2017, Austrian climber Angela Eiter had broken into the 9b (5.15b) grade with La Planta de Shiva, and in 2020 made the first female free ascent of a 9b (5.15b) with Madame Ching. In 2020-21, Laura Rogora and Julia Chanourdie also climbed 9b (5.15b) sport routes; when only a handful of male climbers have climbed at 9b+ (5.15c), and only Adam Ondra at 9c (5.15d).
Some of the strongest-ever sport climbers were also some of the strongest-ever competition climbers, such as Adam Ondra, Lynn Hill, and Angela Eiter. However, some of the strongest-ever sport climbers either largely ignored competition climbing, or retired early from it to focus exclusively on non-competition sport climbing, such as Wolfgang Gullich, Chris Sharma, and Josune Bereziartu.
See also Edit
- "Sport climbing". Cambridge Dictionary. 2023. Retrieved 18 July 2023.
the style of climbing (= moving on rocks, up mountains, or up special walls as a sport) in which climbers use devices that have already been fixed to the rock, rather than using devices that they bring with them and remove after the climb
- Bate, Chris; Arthur, Charles; et al. (8 May 2006). "A Glossary of Climbing terms: from Abseil to Zawn". UK Climbing. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
SPORT CLIMBING. Climbing on routes which use bolts. TRADITIONAL "TRAD" CLIMBING 1. Climbing where the leader places protection as they go up.
- "What Is Sport Climbing? – Everything You Need To Know". Climber. 6 April 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Andrew Bisharat (6 October 2009). "Chapter 1: Ethics, Style and Emergence of Sport Climbing". Sport Climbing: From Toprope to Redpoint, Techniques for Climbing Success. Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-1594852701. Retrieved 23 August 2023.
- Long, John; Gaines, Bob (August 2022). "Chapter 11: Sport Climbing". How to Rock Climb (6th ed.). Falcon Guides. p. 291-310. ISBN 978-1493056262.
- Pardy, Aaron (5 November 2022). "Redpoint, Pinkpoint, and Headpoint – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
- Haas, Laz (21 July 2022). "How to Hangdog Sport Climbing". Climbing. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
- Samet, Matt (2011). "Sport Climbing". The Climbing Dictionary. Mountaineers Books. p. 203-204. ISBN 978-1594855023.
- Bisharat, Andrew (30 July 2015). "Exploring the Birthplace of Sport Climbing in Europe's Grandest Canyon". National Geographic. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Hobley, Nicholas (26 November 2009). "Alan Watts climbing interview". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Osius, Alison (23 November 2021). "Purists in the 1980s Thought Comps Wouldn't Last. Snowbird Changed Everything". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- "A History of Climbing Competitions Since 1985". Gripped Magazine. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
- Smith, Craig (22 July 2022). "American Sport Climbing's Contentious Beginnings". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Ryan, Tony (8 September 2022). "Fixed Gear Guidance on North West Crags and Quarries". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Bordeau, Steve (18 July 2023). "Should We Really Retro-bolt That Dangerous Classic?". Climbing. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
- Potter, Stephen (23 August 2022). "A Beginner's Guide to Lead Climbing in Sport Climbing". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Achey, Jeff (23 December 2014). "Built to Last? The Hidden Dangers Of Climbing Bolts". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- Carpenter, Shelby (4 November 2015). "What Happens When Climbing Bolts Go Bad?". Outside. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
- "Grade Conversions: Alpine Grading System". Rockfax Publishing. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
- "International Grade Comparison Chart". American Alpine Journal. 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
- Mandelli, Gabriele; Angriman, A (2016). "Scales of Difficulty in Mountaineering". Central School of Mountaineering, Italy. S2CID 53358088. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
- Bruijn, Bonnie (23 March 2023). "Understanding Rock Climbing Grades". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
- Hobley, Nicholas (26 June 2017). "Adam Ondra climbing towards the world's first 9c". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
- Cahall, Fitz (13 November 2013). "Adventurers of the Year: Climber Adam Ondra". National Geographic. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
- Oviglia, Maurizio (23 December 2012). "The evolution of free climbing". PlanetMountain.com. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
- Wald, Beth (November 2018). "Interview with Wolfgang Gullich (June 1987)". Vantage Point: 50 Years of the Best Climbing Stories Ever Told. Falcon Guides. pp. 76–84. ISBN 978-1493034772. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
- Achey, Jeff (November 2018). "Half Life: Chris Sharma Interview (February 2011, Issue 292)". Vantage Point: 50 Years of the Best Climbing Stories Ever Told. Falcon Guides Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 978-1493034772. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
- "Josune Bereziartu, interview after Noia 8c+ at Andonno". PlanetMountain.com. 31 October 2001. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
Further reading Edit
- Long, John; Gaines, Bob (August 2022). "Chapter 11: Sport Climbing". How to Rock Climb (6th ed.). Falcon Guides. p. 291-310. ISBN 978-1493056262.
- Chelton, Neil (June 2019). Sport Climbing Basics: Single and Multi-Pitch Bolted Routes. VDiffClimbing. ISBN 978-1796923278.
- Fitch, Nate; Funderburke, Ron (July 2016). Climbing: From Toproping to Sport Climbing (illustrated ed.). Falcon Guides. ISBN 978-1493016396.
- Hill, Pete (2010). SPORT CLIMBING: Techniques for climbing bolted routes (2nd ed.). Cicerone Press. ISBN 9781852845285.
- Bisharat, Andrew (6 October 2009). Sport Climbing: From Toprope to Redpoint. Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-1594852701.
- Sport Climbing 101: The Complete Beginner’s Guide, 99boulders (2021)
- The Hardest Sport Climbs in the World, HardClimbs (2023)
- America’s 100 Best Sport Climbing Routes, Climbing (2023)
- Watch Adam Ondra Make History and Flash 5.15 sport climb, Gripped Magazine (July 2021}
- An exploration of the world's most impossible sport climbs and the new standards that they set, Gripped Magazine (May 2020)