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Types of Climbing

Check out information on some of the most popular forms of climbing




This is basically what you would do to reach the summit of Mount Everest.  It is what is usually associated with climbing in the eyes of the general public because it receives much of the publicity due to the high fatality rates and extreme challenges.  Paths to the top will or can involve: glacier travel, ice climbing, hiking, rock climbing and dealing with the unpredictability of avalanches and extreme weather conditions.

Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing, like Rock Climbing, originated as training for conditions encountered while Mountaineering. Today Ice Climbing is a pursuit unto itself where climbers use ice axes and crampons to climb waterfalls of ice and use 'ice screws' to attach ropes to the ice they are climbing to secure a fall. Ice climbing is also a competitive event on man-made ice walls. The sport is now being pushed to new levels through Mixed Climbing where ice tools are used on climbs that mix both ice and rock - an advent which has led to climbing at extremely high difficulty levels.


Traditional or “trad” climbing is rock climbing utilizing removable protection such as nuts, friends, hexes, stoppers and cams (wow, sounds cool!) which are placed in cracks or pockets to arrest a potential fall.  These pieces are placed by the lead climber (see Sport Climbing – Lead Climbing).  The challenges are different in traditional climbing as you are relying on your abilities to place your protection securely as well as being able to climb the rock.  Traditional climbing is done only outside (some facilities will teach the skills indoors).  This the type of climbing you will likely see in National Geographic or in alpine settings and require extensive experience and training.

Sport Climbing – Lead Climbing

This is when a climber “leads” a route from the ground up, trailing the rope behind and anchoring in as they ascend (Mother nature is not so kind as to supply ropes at the tops of climbs in the mountains – See Top-roping).  There is no rope above you and if you fall, you will fall double the distance to your last piece of protection.  Not to get too confusing but you also lead climb when you are traditional climbing or mountaineering.  Someone has to get the rope up there!

Check out a film of ASPIRE II graduates sport climbing in Nordegg!

Sport Climbing – Top-roping

Top-roping (or TR’ing) is the safest and easiest aspect of roped climbing – the rope is already through a secure set of anchors at the top of the wall or cliff and if the climber falls, it will result in simply hanging on the rope.  This is the main feature of indoor climbing gyms, an abundance of pre-set top ropes.  If you are new to climbing, or book a beginner group into the gym, this is the activity that you will partake in.  Top roping has the advantage of being able to give folks access to many different routes of varying difficulty while removing much of the risk.  You can top rope outdoors if there is access to the top of the route via a path or a friendly lead climber puts one up for you.

Sport Climbing – Bouldering

Bouldering is the purest form of modern climbing.  There are no ropes or other equipment used except for shoes and chalk.  This is not the type of climbing where you risk your life to ascend a route, climbers stay low to the ground.  Bouldering has exploded in popularity in the last few years because of its accessibility and low gear requirements.  As well, bouldering is very popular in gyms because it is an excellent way to get in loads of high intensity training without a partner.  Bouldering routes range from long traverses a few feet off the ground to very short and powerful routes called “problems” (as in “boulder problems” or puzzles).

Indoor Climbing

Indoor climbing gyms originated in Europe as a way to train for outdoor climbing.  Now, sport climbing and indoor climbing have become pursuits unto themselves.  To give you an idea of their popularity, in the early 1980’s there were no climbing gyms in North America.  Now there is at least one gym in most cities across the continent and climbing is classified as one of the fastest growing new sports today.

Indoor Climbing Gyms have taken the challenge and fitness benefits of climbing and removed the unpredictable nature of the mountain environment to offer a truly alternative form of active recreation.  Nowadays, climbing can be learned in a comfortable environment with ergonomically friendly hand holds (minimizing cuts and abrasions) even in the dead of winter.  Simply, gyms like VIRG have made the pursuit of rock climbing more accessible to all.

Indoor Gyms offer Top Roping and Bouldering with many facilities like VIRG providing Lead Climbing as well.  The safety systems are maintained by qualified staff and instruction in all aspects of climbing is provided. Climbing gyms allow people to pursue their fitness goals in a different environment. Check out the and see how climbing can work in your fitness routine.

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