Rock Climbing as a Sport – Part 2

This is the second article in a two part series on Rock Climbing as a Sport by Mr. Ajit S. Kushe, International Rock Climbing Referee.


Bringing Home the Wilderness


Artificial Climbing Walls are a sporting innovation that has brought the thrills of the wild right into our backyards. Simply speaking it is a vertical wall with some slopes and grips built in to simulate a mountain face or a particular route.


The early origin of the climbing wall was to try and simulate the difficulties and the challenges of climbing in the natural environs. Over the years it has metamorphosed into a competitive international sport. The overriding principle is to capture the thrills and the spills of natural climbing in an easily accessible and safe environment.


An artificial climbing wall principally comprises of a climbing surface. The climbing surface is supported on an independent structural framework or sometimes on existing structures. Climbing is facilitated by means of ‘Holds’ mounted on the climbing surface. Safety is ensured by means of a belay system. This comprises of anchor points at the top of the wall, in between on the wall and the ground level. A rope passed through these anchor points and attached to the climber via a safety belt, allows for a foolproof safety.


The climbing surface is predominantly vertical in profile. The surface is often given slopes of various degrees to simulate natural & challenging conditions. These slopes vary from around 20 degrees known as overhangs to horizontal surfaces known as roof. Sometimes inwardly sloping surfaces known as slabs are also built in.  The levels of difficulties that a climbing wall presents are a function of the various profiles built in and their locations. Climbing routes may be vertical (straight up) or across the face of the wall. The simpler routes are designed to be vertical and the complex routes are cross routes that incorporate various profiles.


To begin with these surfaces were made of plywood panels. With time better options such as epoxy-coated plywood, Ferro-cement and now Fibre Glass panels are used to build the climbing surface. Fibre Glass is the most commonly used material nowadays as it offers high strength, is resistant to weather, has less weight and is easily mouldable into various shapes. Fibre Glass panels can also be given any desired face profile and texture. This allows for various natural features and textures to be simulated.


Holds are bolted on to the surface of the wall to facilitate climbing. These holds are made of fibreglass. Holds are made in various shapes and sizes to simulate various grips on a natural rock face. They are also designed to give specific support viz. foot, clips and roof jugs.


Holds are the crowning glory of artificial climbing walls. Conceptually very simple, these holds allow for innumerable variations to be built on climbing routes. Since holds are externally bolted on to the wall surface, an instructor can easily change their location and density. Reduce the number of holds in a given route and we get a more difficult route and vice-versa. As a result the wall can be customised for the first timer to the experienced pro, on the same route.


The top and ground anchors, together with a rope and the right climbing gear ensure cent percent safety for all climbers. This is the greatest advantage of artificial climbing walls. Any first timer can safely get initiated on to the sport. This builds confidence and encourages more and more people to take to the sport, casting aside their fears.


A combination of holds and cross routes can simulate an unbelievably large number of routes. These routes can test various facets viz. strength, endurance, speed or a combination for all grades of climbers. Thus, an Artificial Climbing Wall gives you flexibility and variety.  Climber can easily practise and hone specific skills and techniques. The controlled environment allows climbers to experiment with various difficulty levels.  This results in faster development of climbers in terms of skill levels, strength and endurance.


Artificial Climbing Walls also facilitates climbers to practise various types of climbing; viz. Bouldering, Top Rope Climbing and Lead Rope Climbing. The same wall can be slightly altered to allow for these.


Artificial Climbing – The Competitive Sport


Artificial Climbing has developed into a competitive sport and become organised in the last 20 years.  The first world championships were organised in Italy in 1985 with 10 countries participating. By the time the second championships were held in 1986, the number of countries participating had risen to 17. The next championships held in France saw the competitions move indoors for the first time.


Union Internationale des Associations D’Alpinisme (UIAA) is an apex body that administers and regulates all mountaineering activities worldwide. The UIAA had initially created the International Committee of Climbing Competitions (ICC) and now it is an Independent Sports Federation ‘International Federation of Sports Climbing’ approved by the International Olympic Council to regulate Sports Climbing as an Competitive Sport.


In India the Indian Mountaineering Foundation administers the sport. The country is further divided into zones for local administration.


In India the first Nationals were held in Delhi in 1996. It is now an annual feature with Zonal championships, leading to the Nationals.


Competitions are held for Boys & Girls separately in Junior & Senior Category for:


  1. Difficulty now called Lead Climbing.
  2. Speed Climbing
  3. Bouldering


In Conclusion

Artificial Wall Climbing is a sport that is becoming very popular in India. There is a mushrooming of walls all across from schools and colleges to shopping malls; & as a source of recreation or serious competitive types more and more people are flocking to the sport. The sport has a very bright future among the new confident adventure seeking India.


The author, Mr. Ajit S. Kushe, is a International Referee for Sports Climbing, and a Rock Climbing Coach.