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Sport climbing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.[1] Sport climbing differs from the riskier traditional climbing where the lead climber has to insert temporary protection equipment while ascending.[2]

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; all subsequent grade milestones in rock climbing came 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".


Climber leading the sport climbing route Hulkosaure 8b (5.13d). Quickdraws have already been attached to the line of pre-drilled bolts that mark the route.

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 uses 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.[3][4][5]

Sport climbing differs from traditional climbing, which requires the lead climber to insert temporary climbing protection equipment as they ascend, making sport climbing safer.[2] Sport climbing differs from free solo climbing where no climbing protection is used whatsoever.[3]

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".[3][4][5]

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.[4][6] Redpointing allows for previously controversial techniques of hangdogging,[7] headpointing,[6] 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).[4][6]


Climber following up the traverse section of Pichenibule 7b+ (5.12c) in the Verdon Gorge, one of the first-ever bolted sport climbing routes

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.[4][8] 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.[8] 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 Pichenibule 7b+ (5.12c) in 1980.[8][9] Around the same time at Smith Rock State Park 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.[8][10]

Sport climbing was rapidly adopted in Europe, and particularly in France and Germany by the then emerging professional rock climbers such as German climber Wolfgang Güllich and French brothers Marc Le Menestrel [fr] and Antoine Le Menestrel [fr]. 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. The bolting of external natural 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.[10] Eventually, these sport climbers began to push new grade milestones far above traditional climbing grades, and the use of bolts on natural rock surfaces became more accepted in outdoor climbing areas across America and Europe.[10]

Competition sport climbing[edit]

Jessica Pilz clipping her rope into a pre-bolted quickdraw in the final of the women's lead climbing event at the 2018 World Championships

The significantly safer aspect of sport climbing over traditional 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.[11] 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.[12] Competitive climbing includes sport climbing (which is competition lead climbing), and also competition bouldering and competition speed climbing.[12]


Moritz Welt on the sport climb, Joe Blau 8c+ (5.14c), in the fully bolted crag of Oliana, in Spain

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.[13]

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 guidance on bolting-related ethical climbing issues such as retro-bolting.[14][15]



A rope clipped into a quickdraw clipped to a bolt

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.[16] 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.[16]


The pre-drilled bolts will degrade over time—particularly in coastal areas due to salt—and eventually, all sport climbs need to be re-fitted after several years.[17] 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.[18]


Dominant systems[edit]

Ainhize Belar [eu] on Gezurren Erresuma (grade 8c, 5.14b, XI-), in Spain.

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.[19][20] The most dominant systems for grading sport climbing routes are the French system (e.g. ... 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c, ...), which is also called French sport grading, and the American system (e.g. ... 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, 5.10d, 5.11a, ...).[19][20] The UIAA system (e.g. ... VII, VIII, IX, X, ...) is popular in Germany and central Europe.[19] The Australian (or Ewbank) system (e.g. ... , 23, 24, 25, 26, ...) is also used.[19][20][21]

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.[19][22] 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, ...).[22] French sport-grades can be confused with French "Font" boulder grades, the only difference being 'capitalization'.[22]

As an example of how sport and boulder grades are used on sport climbing routes, this is Adam Ondra describing his 2017 redpoint of Silence, the first-ever sport climb with 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.

— Adam Ondra in an interview with PlanetMountain (2017).[23]

Notable climbs and climbers[edit]

Some of the strongest-ever male sport climbers in history: Wolfgang Güllich (1980s), Chris Sharma (2000s), and Adam Ondra (2010s)[24]

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.[25] 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.[25] Czech climber Adam Ondra took the mantle of the world's strongest sport climber from Sharma by freeing Change [fr] in 2012 and La Dura Dura in 2013, both at 9b+ (5.15c).[24] In 2017, Ondra freed Silence, the first-ever sport climb at 9c (5.15d).

Some of the strongest-ever female sport climbers in history: Lynn Hill (1980s), Josune Bereziartu (2000s), and Angela Eiter (2010s)

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.[25] 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+.[25] 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 other strongest-ever sport climbers either largely ignored competition climbing, or retired early from it to focus on non-competition sport climbing, such as Wolfgang Gullich,[26] Chris Sharma,[27] and Josune Bereziartu.[28]

In film[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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
  2. ^ a b 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 that use bolts. Traditional "Trad" Climbing 1. Climbing where the leader places protection as they go up.
  3. ^ a b c "What Is Sport Climbing? – Everything You Need To Know". Climber. 6 April 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e 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.
  5. ^ a b Long, John; Gaines, Bob (August 2022). "Chapter 11: Sport Climbing". How to Rock Climb (6th ed.). Falcon Guides. pp. 291–310. ISBN 978-1493056262.
  6. ^ a b c Pardy, Aaron (5 November 2022). "Redpoint, Pinkpoint, and Headpoint – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  7. ^ Haas, Laz (21 July 2022). "How to Hangdog Sport Climbing". Climbing. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d Samet, Matt (2011). "Sport Climbing". The Climbing Dictionary. Mountaineers Books. pp. 203–204. ISBN 978-1594855023.
  9. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (30 July 2015). "Exploring the Birthplace of Sport Climbing in Europe's Grandest Canyon". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 5 March 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Hobley, Nicholas (26 November 2009). "Alan Watts climbing interview". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  11. ^ Osius, Alison (23 November 2021). "Purists in the 1980s Thought Comps Wouldn't Last. Snowbird Changed Everything". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  12. ^ a b "A History of Climbing Competitions Since 1985". Gripped Magazine. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2023.
  13. ^ Smith, Craig (22 July 2022). "American Sport Climbing's Contentious Beginnings". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  14. ^ Ryan, Tony (8 September 2022). "Fixed Gear Guidance on North West Crags and Quarries". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  15. ^ Bordeau, Steve (18 July 2023). "Should We Really Retro-bolt That Dangerous Classic?". Climbing. Retrieved 12 September 2023.
  16. ^ a b Potter, Stephen (23 August 2022). "A Beginner's Guide to Lead Climbing in Sport Climbing". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  17. ^ Achey, Jeff (23 December 2014). "Built to Last? The Hidden Dangers Of Climbing Bolts". Climbing. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  18. ^ Carpenter, Shelby (4 November 2015). "What Happens When Climbing Bolts Go Bad?". Outside. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Grade Conversions: Alpine Grading System". Rockfax Publishing. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  20. ^ a b c "International Grade Comparison Chart". American Alpine Journal. 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  21. ^ Mandelli, Gabriele; Angriman, A (2016). Scales of Difficulty in Mountaineering. Central School of Mountaineering, Italy. S2CID 53358088.
  22. ^ a b c Bruijn, Bonnie (23 March 2023). "Understanding Rock Climbing Grades". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  23. ^ Hobley, Nicholas (26 June 2017). "Adam Ondra climbing towards the world's first 9c". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  24. ^ a b Cahall, Fitz (13 November 2013). "Adventurers of the Year: Climber Adam Ondra". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 23 July 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  25. ^ a b c d Oviglia, Maurizio (23 December 2012). "The evolution of free climbing". PlanetMountain.com. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Josune Bereziartu, interview after Noia 8c+ at Andonno". PlanetMountain.com. 31 October 2001. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  29. ^ Burns, Cameron (27 May 2020). "13 Great Climbing Films You Might Not Be Familiar With". Climbing. Retrieved 2 October 2023. Statement of Youth: The Birth of British Sport Climbing
  30. ^ "The Birth of British Sport Climbing in Statement of Youth". PlanetMountain. May 2019. Retrieved 2 October 2023.
  31. ^ a b Bisharat, Andrew (6 September 2022). "The 20 Best Climbing Films of All Time". Outside. Retrieved 28 September 2023.
  32. ^ Brown, Nick (8 April 2020). "Lockdown – Sport Climbing films to get you through isolation". UKClimbing. Retrieved 2 October 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]