Bob Wightman

Why do you Climb?

George Mallory’s answer to this question, posed by an American journalist, was “Because it’s there”. Though one suspects that he was being somewhat flippant. A more subtle answer would have been “Because I’m here”. This page is intended to describe not so much why I climb as to describe modern climbing. For the purposes of this page I will limit the discussion to rock climbing rather than ice climbing or mountaineering. If you are a climber and are simply looking for the climbing section then follow this link.

At its simplest climbing is the ascent of a piece of rock. This may be further categorised as “free” or “aid”. Free climbing describes the ascent as being by the use of hands and feet only, equipment is only used for reasons of safety. Aid climbing uses equipment for both safety and progression. Since aid climbing is very mechanical and somewhat complicated to describe in a short space the following attempts to give a flavour of what rock climbing is about and provides a short glossary that will help in reading the rest of this section.

The press in describing an accident often describe a cliff face as “sheer” implying that the cliff is holdless. This is rarely the case, closer inspection reveals that the face is covered with features: holds, flakes, cracks. It is these features that provide the climber with a means of ascent. The level of difficulty of the climb depends on how hard it is moving between those features.

So a climber is standing, fully equipped, at the foot of a cliff, for the moment we will assume that it is around 20 metres in height, since most modern climbing ropes are 50 metres or more long this means that he should be able to climb from bottom to top without having to stop on the way. The line that the climber wishes to climb is described in a guidebook to the cliff which indicates the name of the climb; where to start; what features to follow; how hard the climb is.