Here are the five main types of rock climbing – from the most simple to the most … dangerous:
Full-safety climbing is the safest way to climb, but it’s also the least exciting. With full-safety climbing, you are tied to all kinds of ropes and you climb up a surface by grabbing onto pre-installed grips. Furthermore, someone on the ground will be pulling on the rope (if you need it) to help you haul your body up to the top, just in case you’re not strong enough to do it yourself. Basically, it’s just like rock climbing on one of those walls in the mall. You can do it, but it’s not nearly as fun.
This is the extent of my climbing at the moment and I love it … you have the feeling, possibly false but hopefully not!, that nothing can possibly go wrong. You have faith in the person at the bottom holding the rope, and although I like to look for the cracks on the rock face it’s nice to know that the pre-installed grips are there. The children, of course, have long since outgrown this stage, and are up cliff faces like monkeys.
This video, taken in China, shows you, a little, what it’s like when you first start.
Free climbing is the most common type of rock climbing out there, and is considered to be the “essence” of the sport. Equipment is used only for safety, not for creating holds (the places where you grip the rock). Your first climbing experience will consist of quite a bit more safety, but this will still most likely be the type of rock climbing that you will do as a first-timer. In your own good time, you, too, can hang off a cliff face with only one hand and one small safety rope between you and disaster!
Another popular first-time climbing option is bouldering, or a short climb unaided by equipment. This style is used on a low, freestanding rock or at the base of a larger rock (where falls aren’t very steep or dangerous). Nevertheless, a spotter should always be present.
Aid (or artificial) climbing
This should be left to pros. Used mainly when free climbing becomes impossible, aid climbing uses equipment (like hand-held suction cups) to create artificial holds in the rock. Complicated and scary and definitely only for the professionals.
Soloing should be left to those with a death wish. It is a longer climb unaided by safety equipment. This style is very dangerous, and even many professionals refuse to do it. Dean Potter, who I have shown a couple of times before, is a master at this – but this isn’t him!
Within these types of climbing, there are other safety features you can use. A very
popular safety feature is belaying: when two people climb together while hooked up to each other. Used in free and aid climbing, belaying prevents long falls (definitely a good thing!). The “leader” climbs first, and the “second” follows. While one is climbing, the other belays him/her — that is, releases enough rope for him/her to climb. The rope is anchored to some fixed point on the rock (like a crack or a tree) while the belayer stays steady at that point to attend to the rope. Should you fall, you will only fall as far as the amount of rope that has been anchored.