Essential Skills for Sport Climbing

Essential Skills to Be a Sport Climber

Asian climber scaling steep cliff face
DreamPictures/Jensen Walker/Blend Images/Getty Images

Sport climbing is simply ascending rock faces using only your hands and feet (free climbing) with all of your protection being fixed bolts that are preplaced on a rock face and left permanently attached in the rock for other climbers.

Sport climbing, like top-rope climbing, is all about the rewards of rock climbing with minimal risks and dangers. Sport climbing is about pushing the limits of your climbing ability in a generally safe setting, working on difficult climbing moves, and then finally succeeding on hard climbing routes.

Sport climbing is often done on shorter routes and can have an emphasis on the physical aspects of climbing instead of the goal of getting to the top or to a destination. Sport climbing not only makes you a better rock climber but it’s a heck of a lot of fun too!

Sport Climbing Protection

Sport climbing offers a different challenge than traditional climbing where the lead climber places nuts and cams in cracks for protection when falling. In sport climbing all the protection already exists, placed on the rock face by the first ascent party who drilled holes in the rock, hammered bolts into the holes, and then attached a bolt hanger so a climber could hang a quickdraw and clip a climbing rope into it for protection.

This security allows climbers to ascend routes without having to carry and place removable gear like nuts and cams. Instead, sport climbers can attempt routes harder than their limits, pushing the envelope of the possible and concentrate on climbing movements rather than placing protection for safety.

Essential Sport Climbing Skills

Sport climbing requires a solid base in skills and experience. First, you need to learn all of the basics of rock climbing, like belaying, lowering, using handholds, and footwork. These are easiest to learn in an indoor climbing gym. Then, you'll go outdoors and top-rope a lot of routes at your local crag with more experienced climbers or a guide.

Once you've mastered those skills and gained experience, you’re probably ready to try your hand at sport climbing. Out on bolted sport cliffs like those at the New River Gorge, Joshua Tree National Park, and Shelf Road, you can learn about lead climbing and concentrate on practicing new techniques. The Yosemite Decimal Rating System is often used to classify climbing difficulty on sport climbs. They range from an easy rating of 5.0 to a very difficult rating of 5.15.

Sport Climbing is a Practical Way to Learn

Besides being safe, sport climbing is also very practical. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Many bolted sport climbing crags are close to cities and easily accessed.
  • Hiking approaches to sport climbing cliffs tend to be short and quick.
  • The bolt protection is already established and in place, so you don’t have to carry a heavy pack laden with lots of gear.
  • You don’t need to spend a lot of money on climbing equipment since all you need is a rope, quickdraws, and your personal climbing gear, including rock shoes, harness, belay device, and chalk bag.