The Art of Harnessing Gravity


Joel Pontalti, Extreme Sports

“The best part of climbing is when it all clicks and gravity ceases to exist” says Chris Sharma. Imagine you have forgotten about all the struggles of life, the thoughts preoccupying your mind, and you feel free. For a moment you feel like what once seemed inconceivable has been conquered. These feelings all define the sport of rock climbing.

Rock climbing is a sport that is growing in popularity, but is still seen too be dangerous or too risky and many people will never try it. The fact of the matter is yes, climbing can be dangerous and risky, but like anything it becomes less dangerous when safety is considered. Now safety encompasses the amount of risk that is being taken as well as the skill of the climber themselves, as well as other variables that can impact the risk that accompanies climbing.

In rock climbing there are many different styles or ways to climb. Three of them are top roping, sport climbing, and traditional. All of these types of climbing involve different risk and different skills. But with all of them come their own feelings of accomplishment.

Top roping is the most basic form of climbing, and the type of climbing with the least amount of risk. Top roping is really fun and safe when done properly. It entitles a rope going from the ground up to the top of the wall or route, and going through an anchor at the top. At the bottom a person attached to the rope ascends the climb with a person belaying at the bottom. Belaying the person to pull the rope through a pulley like device and keep the rope tight if the person falls they won’t be going very far. The risk of this type of climbing is very low, if the anchor is built properly and the belayer does their job. I highly encourage anybody who has never climbed to try top roping at least once if they can hire a professional guide or go with a friend that knows what they are doing.

Sport climbing and traditional are similar types of climbing. They are different from top roping as they do not have a rope fixed to the wall; instead the rope is attached to the climber at the bottom, and they put in safety as they ascend the route. In both sport and traditional, the climber is known as the leader. This is what separates sport from traditional, or trad, is the safety and the leader. In sport climbing there are bolts or hangers which are pieces of metal that are bolted or glued into the rock. The leader uses clips which are two carabineers attached to a piece of material known as the dog bone. One End of a clip attaches to a hanger and the other end attaches to the rope which keeps the leader safe. Now trad is similar, but very different because there are no hangers. Instead, pieces of equipment called nuts, hexes, and cams are used. These are different devices that are put into cracks and crannies in the rock. They lock into place by using counter pressure against the rock. They have carabineers at the end which attach to the rope. Trad is by far the riskiest of all three types of climbing, as a piece of equipment could pop out of the rock even if applied properly.