There are several different climbing styles and whilst some climbers master more than one technique, many others specialise in a particular climbing discipline and the skills are often quite different from one style to the next.
Traditional Rock Climbing
Often referred to as a ‘trad climbing’, this is the most practised climbing technique amongst the climbing community. Basically, it involves two people who are connected together by a rope. The first climber starts to climb whilst you stay at the start point below them.
As the leader ascends, they pick out cracks or rock spurs in the rock face into which they place temporary nuts and hexes which secures them to the rock face. This is called passive protection and means they are safe up to that point. The rope they carry is attached through a sit harness and then you’re attached to the other end of the rope. As you, too, begin your ascent, the person above you feeds the rope as you need it through a belay device removing any no longer needed protection as you go until you reach the leader above. Once you reach them, the process is repeated until you reach your destination point.
This is very similar in technique to traditional climbing with the exception being that the emphasis is on getting to the top as quickly as possible. To enable climbers to do this, there is no need to pick out cracks in the rock to place any passive protection as there are already safe holds which have been fixed to the rock. It is usually considered less dangerous than traditional climbing in that the protection has already been fixed and secured so the climber can simply get on with finding the next fixed anchor point and continue with the climb as quickly as possible as opposed to having to try to find safe anchor points. Therefore, more distance can be achieved over the same period it would take a traditional climber.
This is a climbing technique where there are no ropes or anchors required as the climber barely gets more than 12 feet off the ground. It is, therefore, an ideal way for climbers to get confident at practising manoeuvres without protection as, if they fall off, there is usually a crash mat to land on. It can be a great introduction to traditional climbing and allows you to practice difficult manoeuvres without running the risk of serious injury.
Going it alone provides more of a challenge and is similar to bouldering in that you don’t rely on anyone else’s help but it is more risk laden as a solo climber’s intention is still to reach the summit so there’s no small drop or cushioning mat should they fall. There are also two different forms of solo climbing.
The solo climber still carries a rope and a self-belay system whereas a free solo climber attempts to reach the summit without the use of any equipment or safety devices so it’s only for the most highly experienced and confident climbers.
The whole purpose of a mountaineer is to reach the summit of any particular mountain they are scaling. Using a similar style to the traditional climber, it is made more difficult when scaling peaks at high altitude and worsening weather which both have to be treated with respect and this form of climbing requires guts, stamina and endurance to unprecedented levels.
Using specialist tools, climbers can ascend vertical ice formations, such as frozen waterfalls. The danger lies in the fact that the structure is made of ice and is, therefore, subject to movements and mutations hour by hour making it even more risky.
This is probably the most challenging of all climbing disciplines. Firstly, it involves climbing at high altitude. Climbs usually take place at a height of anything between 5000 and 20000 feet, battling against frozen temperatures and often severe weather conditions. It can involve crossing glaciers which can be covered in snow and because you have to carry a backpack in often freezing conditions, the climber cannot afford to waste any time.
Whichever form(s) of climbing you are looking to try, make sure you have the specialist training required firstly and that you’re carrying all the relevant equipment and know how to use it correctly.