Rock climbing, although often considered by non-climbers to be a reckless, dangerous, "thrill-seeking" sport, is not only a safe and fun way to push oneself to one's physical and mental limits; climbing also presents an excellent incentive to seek out some of the most beautiful places in the world in search of some fresh rock.
There are many different forms of climbing that are segmented mostly by the type of equipment used when climbing. The two main categories are aid climbing and free climbing.
Aid climbing is a style in which equipment, such as pitons, cams, nuts and/or screws, are placed allowing the climber to pull on them and haul himself upward.
Free climbing, the style typically referred to by the general term "rock climbing," is a style in which the climber moves forward and upward solely by gripping, squeezing, smearing, pinching -- with whatever natural strength he can muster -- the available natural features of the rock. Ropes and other equipment are used solely for protection in the case of an accidental fall, not to aid in the ascent. Free climbing is further categorized by the type of protection used.
Climber & belayer: the basic climbing team.
Trad climbing (short for "traditional") involves the placement of temporary protection such as cams, nuts, and hexes, into the rock's natural features while ascending. This method is appropriate for nearly every type of rock, but requires a significant amount of safety equipment.
Sport climbing involves the use of pre-set protection, often metal rings (known as bolts) drilled into the rock, while climbing upward. These fixtures are permanent and used when the climber runs his rope through one end of a quickdraw and attaches the other end to the bolt. This method requires less equipment than trad climbing, but requires protection devices already to be set into the route.
Top roping involves climbing using a rope that is anchored at the top of the route as protection. This method uses the least equipment, but requires the area to have access to the top of the face (for instance, many cliffs have walkable paths to the top) or for a climber to first ascend using some other method, then to set the anchor and lower the rope. This method frees the climber of the need to set protection while climbing, making it the safest and easiest method for beginner and intermediate climbers (provided someone experienced is present to set a proper anchor).
Free soloing is the act of climbing without any rope or protective equipment. Without a rope, the climber has no need of a partner to "belay" (the act of a partner maintaining the proper tension on the rope to keep the climber safe in the case of a fall). The name can be misleading, however; any of the above climbing methods can be done without a partner with some additional equipment and techniques (simply called "soloing"). (Free soloing is a very high-risk activity and should not be performed except by very experienced climbers.)
Bouldering is centered around climbing shorter and more difficult routes, known as problems, that are not high enough to require a rope. Bouldering does not use any protection either aside from foam pads occasionally placed at the bottom to protect against rough landings.
The availability of rock climbing courses depends on your location. Indoor climbing gyms invariably offer courses. If your area includes any natural formations appealing to rock climbers, chances are good there is also a nearby climbing or mountaineering organization that will offer (or know of) opportunities to learn more.
Rock climbing shoes are made to fit extremly tightly. They have rubbery soles which help grip the rock walls and are often curved.
A harness wraps around the waist and upper thighs of a climber and protects the climber in the event of a fall--assuming he's tied into a properly protected rope. Harnesses usually have several hooks to carry other pieces of gear. Bouldering does not require a harness.
A helmet is recommended both for climbers and belayers. It is not uncommon for a person climbing to flip or swing during a fall, potentially hitting his/her head on nearby rock. Nor is it impossible for rocks, cams, carabiners, or other objects to be knocked loose from the wall or dropped while climbing, posing a danger to unprotected climbers and belayers below.
Ropes vary in thickness, length, weight, impact force and elongation. A thinner or shorter rope would generally be used when it is necessary to carry less of a load. An example would be multi-pitch climbs where a climber is always bearing the weight of the rope, making it more difficult. The elongation of a rope determines how much it stretches if at all. During a fall, a rope that stretches will absorb much of the impact force caused by the fall. A rope that does not stretch will cause the climber to absorb the fall. This makes the rope weigh less but increases the chances of back injuries
Webbing and Cords are used in slings, runners, harnesses, anchor extensions and quickdraws.
Slings are used to set up top ropes and to prevent rope abrasion.
Carabiners are metal loops with spring-loaded gates (openings), used as connectors to provide protection in many different ways
Quickdraws are used to attach ropes to bolted anchors for protection
Cams are devices used for protection when placed in cracks. It acts in a way simular to a bolt and quickdraw using a crack.
The cost of climbing in many cases is free. Some locations charge day rates that are generally associated with the entrance fee and not for the sport of climbing.
The cost of gear vary widely based on quality, brand, purpose and weight:
Shoes - $40 to $150 pair
Harness - $30 to $140 each (but you're getting ripped off if you pay more than $85)
Helmets - $40 to $100 each
Ropes - $60 to $250 each
Webbing and Cords - $5 to $40(or appx. 32 cents per foot for custom items)
Slings - $5 to $40 each
Carabiners - $8 to $30 each
Quickdraws - $14 to $25 each
Cams - $25 to $120 each
Great rock climbing can be found worldwide; not surprisingly, you'll often find great places to climb in some of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth.
Rock climbing on Mt Kinabalu located on Borneo Malaysia and the second highest mountain in South East Asia , pristine rock climbing in unspoilt beauty
Batu Cave - 13 km north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Rai Leh's little brother to the south, Batu Cave features over two hundred bolted limestone routes on powerful overhanging rock that features stalactites and caves.
Rai Leh and neighbouring Ton Sai - Krabi province — the preeminent location for rock climbing in Asia and possibly the world. Easy access to superb limestone climbing, beautiful scenery and ground level activities are good reasons why this area is so popular. Climbing is possible all year but November - April is the driest and least humid. Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand has an up and coming climbing scene with huge granite boulders dotting the island.
Those looking for cooler temperatures, a different backdrop, or just another destination for superb, steep, limestone climbing are increasingly heading north to Crazy Horse Buttress, located just 35 kilometers east of downtown Chiang Mai. Boasting more than 130 bolted routes between (French system) 5 and 8a, with some up to three pitches high, Crazy Horse is the perfect destination for experienced and novice climbers alike.
Kalymnos — the scene of frenetic climbing activity over the past five years. Kalymnos is a popular climbing destination not just because of its island location but because of the walls and walls of featured limestone that feature over one thousand bolted routes. Everything from slabby technical routes to overhanging tuffa and stalactite routes can be found within walking distance of your ocean front accommodation. Climbing is possible year round but the best times to visit are spring (March-May) and fall (September-November)
Arco (Northern Italy) - One of the most popular climbing spots in Europe.
Sardinia — offers a splendid variety of climbing: from limestone to granite, sport to trad, beach-side to inland, bouldering to long multipitch; Sardinia has something to offer the beginner to the expert climbing and everyone in between. Check out Cala Gonone, Isili and Dumosnovas among the hundred areas to climb on the island.
Squamish, BC - Multipitch traditional (gear) climbing on bullet-proof granite cracks, flakes and slab. May through October is a fine time for climbing. July through early October are your best chances for superb dry and warm days.
Whistler, BC - Predominantly single pitch sport routes on solid featured rock that is mostly vertical or slightly overhanging. Late May through early October is your best bet for good weather. Access to the local crags is by car and the approaches are usually short and easy (2 - 20 minutes).
Skaha - Penticton, BC - Primarily single pitch climbing on gneiss stone featuring small edges and crimps. The routes are divided almost evenly between traditional and sport climbing on everything from overhanging jug-fests to vertical cracks to delicate less-than-vertical routes. Climbing is possible during a good portion of the year (April - October) though the summer months (July & August) can become uncomfortably hot requiring you to climb in the available shade.
Kamloops, BC - Kamloops has enough climbing to keep you busy for a weekend. As the area can become extremely hot in the summer, spring and fall are the best times to visit to check out the vertical climbing on solid featured rock.
Canmore, Alberta - Canmore offers a wide range of limestone sport routes and is considered by some to be the best sport climbing area in Canada. Some of Canada's most difficult routes are located here, and most of the climbing is within 10 minutes of downtown. Canmore features lots of single pitch climbing, and a few long multipitch climbs; including Sisyphus Summits on the North face of Ha Ling peak which at 25 pitches is Canada's longest sport route. Climb between May and September.
Val David, Quebec - More than 500 routes within the Dufresne Regional Park have been listed and rated. Great climbing challenges are close at hand for all comers, from beginners to experts.
Mount Lemmon - Tucson, Arizona — the massive variation in elevation makes this area climbable all year around. Scorching summer temperatures in the city valley can be escaped by moving out of the cactus and into the forest.
Red Rock Canyon - Las Vegas, Nevada - Practically limitless climbs. Great for climbers looking to explore sandstone cliffs. A great variety of sport and trad climbs of all levels including bouldering and multi-pitch (and multi-day) climbs.
Mission Gorge and Mount Woodson San Diego, California
Maple Canyon - Central Utah — sport climbing heaven on cobble stone routes. Ideal climbing conditions are late spring through early fall. When the summer heat consumes Utah, the canyon remains cool and the routes steep and pumpy.
Austin, Texas - This city has tons of limestone sport climbing routes in and around, including deepwater soloing at a nearby lake, as well as limestone bouldering and pink granite at Enchanted Rock two hours to the west.
Enchanted Rock (E-Rock) - Fredericksberg, Texas - Two giant domes with various rock climbing area around. Great for beginners looking for rock climbing lessons. Rock material is granite.
Hueco Tanks - El Paso, Texas - Great bouldering, with hundreds of bouldering problems of all levels.
City of Rocks National Reserve - Southern Idaho — Gear and sport climbing on massive piles of granite scattered about a scenic valley. Climbing is best in the late spring through early fall.
Smith Rock - Bend, Oregon — the birthplace of American sport climbing. Best climbed in the spring and fall.
Frenchman Coulee - Central Washington — features row after row of 30 m basalt columns hosting over 400 sport and gear routes. Ideal climbing conditions are in the spring (March - May) and fall (September - November) as summers tend to be hot and windy.
Sinks Canyon - Lander, Wyoming - hundreds if not thousands of incredible limestone, sandstone, and granite sport climbs for every ability; all within a ~3-5 mile canyon. Incredible boulder band offering easy to the most challenging boulder moves, especially at the sandstone buttress. Great weather pattern makes climbing available throughout most of the year. There can be snow on one side of the half mile wide canyon and be 20 degrees warmer on the other side. A necessary destination for every climber.
Shawangunks - New Paltz, New York - vies for the best trad climbing on the East Coast. 1.5 hours north of New York City. Hundreds of routes including many roofs.
Red River Gorge - Kentucky - many well-traveled North American climbers state that the Red is the best crag on the continent. A nice mix of traditional cracks, and power endurance relentlessly overhanging sport routes on bullet-proof sandstone. Can be very humid in the summer months.
Cochamó Valley - Chile's premier climbing destination, known as the Yosemite of South America, with a variety of big walls and crags. Summits include breath-taking views and currently seeing lots of new development of routes.
Las Chilcas - sport climbing on conglomerate
Socaire - (sport climbing, few cracks)
Any kind of climbing using ropes is a common exclusion from travel insurance policies. Read your policy; if you would like to be insured for medical treatment or other costs associated with rock climbing injuries while traveling internationally, you may need to take out a second insurance policy (or rider) from a company specializing in adventure or sporting insurance.