Surmount Klätterkurser

Klättring utomhus

What is climbing?

People have been climbing things for as long as there have been things to climb. Climbing on artificial walls began as a way to stay in shape during off season when it was too cold or wet to climb outdoors. Since then, it has become a thing of its own. Nowadays there are plenty of climbers who only climb indoors. It’s a fun way to get stronger and stay in shape!

Climbing always involves a certain level or risk. Exactly how dangerous it is depends very much on what type of climbing you are doing. Climbing indoors is a pretty safe sport these days. Injuries typically consist of sprained ankles and injuries due to overloading fingers, elbows, or shoulders.

Climbing outdoors is a bit more dangerous than indoors, but it’s still statistically safer to climb bolted routes outdoors than it is to drive a car or play soccer. The most dangerous ways to climb are free soloing, and climbing at altitudes above 6000 meters. Above this height, low temperatures and altitude sickness pose significant risks to your health and life. You can read more about risks in climbing here.

There is a number of different disciplines in climbing, and various kinds of climbing competitions in different events. These include bouldering, lead, and speed climbing. In competitions, lead refers to more or less the same thing as lead climbing indoors. Whoever gets the farthest on a route wins. Speed climbing is a race to the top between two climbers on a standardized wall. Bouldering is climbing on shorter routes without ropes or harnesses, typically with a scoring system where whoever gets the most tops on the least amount of attempts wins.

Bouldering

A boulder is a large rock. Bouldering is about climbing these rocks without any harnesses or ropes, but with a mat or pad of some kind to land on in case you fall. These climbs are usually fairly short, up to around 3 or 4 meters, but higher climbs, called “highballs” also exist.

Indoors you climb artificial walls of limited height with thick mats below you to land on. Bouldering is one of the easiest ways to start climbing, since you can do it alone, and you only need a pair a climbing shoes and maybe some chalk to keep your hands dry. Outdoors you also bring a portable crash pad to land on in case you fall.

To avoid injury when bouldering, I recommend learning how to fall and land safely. Since you always hit the ground if you fall off the climb, there are inevitable risks, such as sprains and broken bones. Attempts to catch your fall with outstretched arms against the ground can easily result in broken bones or dislocated joints. Do your best to always land on your feet with your knees slightly bent.

A spotter who can help you land on your feet if you fall can be helpful. It’s important that this person knows how to spot effectively and safely, and that you know how to be spotted. A bad spotter might be worse than no spotter at all. If they don’t know what they’re doing, you might end up with two injured people instead of one.

Climbing on top rope

To climb with ropes you need someone to climb with, a harness each, a carabiner and a belay device. You also need to learn how to belay safely and how to check your equipment before climbing. Outdoors you climb at your peril, but indoors you are required to have a green card. The green card is a kind of driver’s license for top rope climbing and proves that you know how to belay someone safely.

In top rope climbing, the climber is tied into one end of the rope. The rope goes through an anchor at the top of the wall, and the belayer manages the other end of the rope to catch the climber in case they fall. The rope is kept more or less taut the whole time. If the climber falls, the rope catches them almost right away, so falls are usually very short.

You can get a green card by attending a top rope course and passing a small test at the end of the course. The green card is valid in all indoor climbing venues in Sweden.

Lead climbing indoors

In lead climbing, the climber brings the rope from the bottom of the wall and clips it into quickdraws at regular intervals on the way up. Because of this, there are a few more risks involved compared to top roping. If the climber falls before they have clipped the first quickdraw, they will hit the ground. If the climber falls after clipping one or several quickdraws, they will fall until the rope catches them, which is usually at least twice the distance to the last quickdraw they clipped. Since the falls are longer, the forces involved are larger as well, which requires more of both the climber and the belayer. To lead climb indoors, you need to have a red card. You can get the red card by taking a lead climbing course or a sport climbing course.

Sport climbing

Sport climbing is essentially lead climbing but outdoors. You climb routes with bolts permanently attached to the wall, attach a quickdraw to the bolt, and clip your rope to the quickdraw. When climbing outdoors, you need to know a few more things than just how to climb and belay. You will need a bit more equipment, and you’ll need to know how to set up an anchor, and how to get all the stuff off the wall safely when you’re done climbing. You might also need to know how to rappel down from a wall.

All of this you can learn at a sport climbing course. You’ll need to already have a green card, and after passing a small test at the end of the sport climbing course you receive a red card. You can also get a red card by doing a lead climbing course indoors.

Trad climbing

Trad climbing, or traditional climbing, is about climbing a rock face that doesn’t have anything pre-placed on it. You place your own protection during the climb by inserting stoppers and spring-loaded cams in cracks. This method of climbing requires a lot more equipment and knowledge to do safely than sport climbing or indoor climbing. Among other things, you will need to know more about rope handling, belaying, how to build different types of anchors, how to place protection well, and what kind of rock to place the protection in for it to actually work.

I recommend taking a trad climbing course with a certified rock climbing instructor to get started with this. The Swedish climbing federation has two standardized courses, called Grundkurs Klippklättring 1 and 2, that you can take with most qualified rock climbing instructors.

Ice climbing

As the name implies, this is climbing on ice. The climber ascends frozen waterfalls, giant icicles, glaciers, and other types of ice formations by using ice axes and crampons. The rope is attached to the ice using ice screws and quickdraws.

Ice climbing

Access

The term “access” in climbing refers to having access to the rock you want to climb. Sweden has this thing called “right of public access”, which allows you to move around and camp outdoors in forests and nature, pick berries, and more. But this does not by default mean that you’re allowed to climb everywhere.

Access to climbing may be limited if the site is located on private property, in a nature reserve, or other type of protected area. Many areas have limitations in when you’re allowed to climb there. This could be for example because of birds nesting during certain times of the year, or to protect endangered animals or plants.

As climbers, it is very important for us to respect these limitations. Causing problems by violating restrictions, littering, or just being too loud, could lead to climbing being banned completely in the area. You can read more about access on the Swedish climbing federation website and the Environmental Protection Agency page about climbing.

The Swedish climbing federation maintains an access database. In it you can find information about access and any limitations in access to specific areas. Make it a habit to always check the access database before going climbing outdoors, to avoid accidentally walking into areas where climbing isn’t permitted. Click here to get to the database: access.klatterforbundet.se.(In Swedish only.)

Leave no trace

Surmount applies the principles of Leave no trace whenever we’re outdoors. In short, this means we leave nothing behind when leaving a location. We bring all the trash back with us, and take nothing from the location. We’re respectful towards wildlife and other visitors, and we don’t damage trees or plants. Once we’re gone, there should be no sign of us ever having been there.

Cliffs in Vilanova de Prades

Equipment

What gear do you need for climbing? It depends on what kind of climbing you want to do. To climb indoors in a climbing gym, you will need at least the following:

A harness, a carabiner and belay device, and climbing shoes.

If you want to climb outdoors (and in some venues indoors) you will also need your own rope. I suggest a dynamic single rope, 60 meter long and with a diameter of about 9.7-10.0 mm. A shorter rope may be enough, but with a 60 m rope you can climb most routes outdoors in Sweden. The term "dynamic single rope" is important. There are other types of ropes, like static ropes, or double ropes. You don't want to get the wrong kind.

I strongly recommend wearing a helmet when climbing outdoors, both when climbing and belaying. It can save your life if you fall and hit your head, or if a rock or other heavy object falls down from above you.

If you want to lead climb on bolted routes, you will need about 10-12 quickdraws. You can get them one by one, or in packs of 5 or 6. Two 6-packs are enough for most routes you will encounter.

A "cow tail", or tether, is very useful for when you need to hang out on the wall for a while, for example when setting up or cleaning an anchor. You can use a 120 cm sling and a carabiner or two with it. There are also purpose made products for this, like the Petzl Connect or Black Diamond PAS, to mention just a few.

You also need one or two "Prusik" slings. This is a piece of climbing accessory cord, 6 mm in diameter, about 120-130 cm long, and tied as a closed loop. It is used as a third hand when rappelling, or in various rescue scenarios. Don't leave home without one.

Anchors can be built in many ways with different kinds of gear. What we use during the sport climbing course to build anchors on bolts or trees is two HMS carabiners, two D-carabiners, a 120 cm or 240 cm sling, two quickdraws, and about 10 meters of static rope, 8-10 mm in diameter.