Rock Climbing Reaches New Heights

By Kendall Albrecht

The Tokyo Olympics, much-awaited after being postponed by COVID-19, introduced a handful of new sports to the global competition, including sport climbing. In the past few years, the popularity of rock climbing, both indoor and outdoor, has skyrocketed. Numerous gyms dedicated to rock climbing can be seen popping up almost anywhere. Although the sport has been on the rise recently, its debut in the Olympics introduced it to even more people, pushing it towards the status of a common, widely popular sport. 

Olympians competing in rock climbing either speed climb, boulder, or lead climb. Speed climbing consists of exactly what it sounds like; athletes scurrying up a difficult route as fast as they can, striving for the quickest time. Bouldering and lead climbing are a bit different. Bouldering routes are shorter, around 15 feet, and surrounded by mats for safety. Therefore, climbers do not require any additional gear or harnesses besides their climbing shoes and maybe some chalk. Boulders are graded on a V scale, meaning difficulty varies greatly, making the sport enjoyable to athletes of all ability levels. Lead climbing and top rope climbing are often seen alongside boulders at indoor climbing gyms. Top rope or lead climbs are graded by difficulty as well, but unlike boulders, reach heights of 40-60 feet. Climbers must strap in with a harness and ropes, as well as find a partner to belay, or pull the rope to support the person climbing. Everyone has their own preference, but all climbers can agree climbing is a great sport for anyone interested.

Part of the reason for the increased interest in climbing comes from the flexibility and variety of styles in the sport. Some sports, such as swimming or running, don’t leave much room for leniency, whereas climbing can be tailored especially to suit an individual. Athletes can choose between bouldering and top rope climbing, as well as difficulty level, but it doesn’t stop there. Climbs can have an infinite number of different combinations of holds, from jugs, big easy-to-grip holds, to crimps, small edges for the tips of fingers, to slopers, round slippery holds, and more. In most gyms, a staff of setters is tasked with mixing up the routes every few weeks. Each setter also has their own style. While one may create a climb that requires balance and technical moves, another may incorporate big jumping moves. Overall, the possibilities are infinite. Even two people doing the same exact route will go about it differently. Rock climbing is never repetitive, adding to its appeal. 

The full-body workout climbing provides also draws interest. While being a difficult physical workout, climbing also requires brain power. In most cases, especially when it comes to bouldering, athletes must look at a route and sequence it, or plan out how they wish to move forward with the climb. They must choose which hand to put where, and how to grip the holds, as well as understand their balance and why some routes work but others don’t. If a climber falls, they sit back and observe the route, deciding what went wrong and creating a plan for the next attempt. More and more people have begun to realize the appeal of rock climbing, from interesting variety to bodily benefits, making the statement, “I’m headed to the climbing gym”  not-so-uncommon to hear.