PEHD 252 Outdoor Education
College of Charleston
Rock Climbing

Types of Climbing

Bouldering - a form of climbing where the emphasis is on practicing and executing moves and occurs more along a horizontal route rather than a vertical one. In our class, and as a precaution, the climber will not climb above 6-8 feet above the ground.

Top Roped Climbing - here the climber ties-in to a rope that runs from the climber's harness to an anchor point at the top of the climb and back down to the belayer. Belay here refers to a person in control of the rope to "catch" the climber who falls. Our class will use this form of climbing.

Lead Climbing - requires the climber to set the protection along the route as he climbs upward. The climbers that follow benefit by having the protection already in place when they begin their climb.

Free Soloing - is climbing without the use of a rope or other protective devices. There is no margin of error for this type of climbing.

Trad Climbing - traditional climbing refers to climbing where removable protection is used for the climbers' safety. This "pro" comes in a variety of styles and sizes to be wedged into irregularities in the rock surface. Two common forms of pro are cams and nuts.

Sport Climbing - involves rock faces that have permanent protection in place so that the climbers can work on the mechanics of the climb without the burden of placing pro during the climb.


Helmet - the wearing of an approved helmet is a requirement during this class.

Shoes - climbers have a considerable range of moves available due in large part to the sticky rubber soles and stiffness built into the climbing shoes.

Carabiners - are aluminum snap-links that are used in many climbing applications from belaying to clipping onto a rope.

Chalk bag - an optional piece of gear worn on the back of the harness. Chalking up allows the climber to eliminate slipping caused by excessive moisture on the hands.

Harness - a nylon belt secured around the hips and the legs. The harness allows you to tie-in to the rope and in the event of a fall distributes the forces exerted upon the climber.

Belay devices - now come in a great variety of styles but their purpose is to provide a friction brake on the rope should the climber fall.

Artificial anchors (pro) - protection that is wedged into cracks in the rock surface. The climber's rope is then run through the protection device.

Rope - this climber's friend has undergone numerous technological advances over the years. The kernmantle rope uses a protective nylon outer coat that surrounds a core of woven nylon fibers. Climbing ropes range 50-60 meters long and 8-11 mm in diameter. The ropes have an average of a 6% stretch built in that allows for a lessening of the forces transmitted to the climber during a fall.

Webbing - this "flat rope" is primarily used to build anchor systems for the climber.

Visit for a brief look at climbing equipment and  climbing techniques.


There are many knots used by climbers for the various situations they encounter. For this class you should be able to tie without fail the figure 8 follow-through with the double overhand stopper. You will also be expected to tie the knots listed below.  This website should prove helpful in learning to tie these knots. Visit the Animated Knots site at: .

Figure 8 Follow-through || In-line Figure 8 || Triple Fisherman's || Clove Hitch || Prusik || Girth Hitch || Bowline || Butterfly || Water Knot


This short description of belaying is just that. Proper belaying techniques should be demonstrated to you followed by several practice sessions with a back-up belayer before you attempt to belay on your own.

The one rule that cannot be violated while you are on belay is to never remove the brake hand from the rope. To belay a climber, the hand that grasps the rope that leads to the climber is the guide hand and the other hand that pulls the rope through the belay device is the brake hand. As the climber moves up, the guide hand pulls the rope and the brake hand simultaneously pulls the rope out and away from the belay tool. At the end of this movement, the guide hand must grasp the rope just beyond the brake hand which allows the brake hand to slide back to the starting position. The guide hand then moves back to its original position and grasps the rope ready to begin the process again.

When the belayer is not actively moving rope through the system it is a good idea to rest in the brake position. The brake hand will move back toward the hip thereby causing a sharp change of direction in the rope's angle as it exits the belay device. In the brake position the rope is "locked off" and the climber should he fall will be caught.

To lower the climber, the brake position is first assumed and then the guide hand grasps the rope next to the brake hand. With the climber now securely held, the rope is slowly fed through the belay device. The rate of the climber's descent can be controlled by how fast the rope is fed through the belay device.

Contract with the climber
Once you state that you are "on belay" that climber's life is literally in your hands. Your focus must remain on the climber and you must correctly perform your duties until the climber has returned to the ground and you declare that you are "off belay".

Proper tie-in
Thread the climbing rope through your harness' strong points and then tie the figure 8 follow-through with a double overhand stopper knot. Double check that your harness is buckled correctly and worn snugly; your tie-in is correct; and your belayer is tied-in correctly and anchored.

Voice commands are essential in preventing accidents. These simple phrases must be used correctly each time.
"On belay?" The climber will first ask his belayer.
"Belay on" The response by the belayer once everything is correct with the belay system.
"Climbing" The climber indicates he is ready but will not begin until the belayer responds.
"Climb on" The climber may now begin ascending.

Other verbal commands
"Tension" or "Take" which means the climber wants the belayer to remove any slack in the system.
"Slack" is a request by the climber for more rope to be fed into the system. One example of this may be when a climber wishes to rest on a ledge and there is too much tension on the rope preventing him from assuming a resting position.
"Got me?" means I am about to make a move I am unsure of and I want to know that you are prepared to catch me if I should miss.
"Falling" is shouted out by the climber to alert the belayer to spring into action.
"Rock" means that something is falling toward the ground. It is used to alert those below to protect themselves.

See Princeton University's "Outdoor Action Guide to Belaying at the Climbing Wall" by Rick Curtis.
Visit: .

4 Movement Principles of Climbing

Three points of contact.
Keeping three points of contact with the rock will improve your balance and stability while climbing. As a beginning climber you will learn to shift your body weight to "unload" one of your four points of contact in order to make the next move.

Keep your center of gravity over your feet.
Better balance and stability will require this. The greater the load you can support with your strongest muscles (in the legs), the more endurance you will have in reserve at the more demanding parts of the climb. Good climbers are constantly looking for the next good foothold. Try to be precise as you cleanly set your foot in place on each hold.

"Feel" the weight transfer.
As you move from one contact point to another, feel the transfer of weight from one body segment to another. If for example you have a foot placement 20 inches higher than the current foothold, you will have to load that contact point by moving your bodyweight over your foot. Then you will be able to effectively stand up on the placement. Learning new movement patterns will not take long.

Learn to rest.
Higher and more difficult routes can be climbed when you learn to rest in between moves. Whenever possible allow the extra forces to be carried by the skeleton as opposed to muscular contractions, for example hang using a straight arm position rather than one flexed at the elbow. Avoiding early fatigue will help you to be more successful on your climbs.

Hand placements

You should be able to demonstrate the hand placements for each of these holds or moves.

Open || Pinch || Crimp || Jam || Undercling || Mantle || Layback || Chimneying

Foot placements

Smearing - placing as much of the sole of the shoe against the rock face and exerting pressure to provide for support.

Stemming - placing the feet against opposing surfaces in a corner or crack as you attempt to scale the rock feature.

Edging - placing the edge of the sole along a slight break in the rock. It is surprising how your bodyweight can be supported along a thin edge in the rock.

Flagging - moving one leg behind the other to offset the body's swinging away from the rock in the "barndoor movement".

Climbing Classifications

Class 1 - Easy. Walking on a flat, or nearly so, ground.

Class 2 - Not difficult. Travel over uneven terrain.

Class 3 - Moderately difficult. Steep terrain where scrambling is necessary.

Class 4 - Difficult. Climbing using arms and hands for support and where a fall could be fatal.

Class 5 - Very difficult. Climbing where protection is provided by the use of ropes, anchors, and other specialized equipment.

Class 6 - Extremely difficult. Referred to as "aid climbing". This climbing requires other means to ascend: rope ascenders, ladders, etc.

Rock climbing falls under class 5 climbing, but is further subdivided by level of difficulty that ranges from extremely easy at 5.0 to immortals only at 5.14. These upper level climbs are further subdivided using the letters a - d. Climbs of 5.0 - 5.4 generally will have two handholds and two footholds for each move. As you move up the scale, the holds become smaller, less obvious, and sometimes just not where you need them. The Yosemite Decimal System as it is called is not very precise and is open to interpretation and dispute. Other classification systems exist.

For a more elaborate description of the classifications, go: .

Climbing Vernacular

Climbing terminology is as varied as any other technical sport. Here is just a sample of words you may hear. For many more terms, try: .

barndoor - when the body pivots away from the rock face in response to a side pull for example.

belay - in the simplest terms means using a rope to ensure the climber's safety.

bomber - anything that is truly first-rate! Used to comment on anchor strength, specific holds, etc.

carabiner -  or biner for short (pronounced "beaner").  The aluminum gated links used in climbing and belaying.

cam - an anchoring device using the cam principle to set itself more solidly into the rock crack as force is applied.

chimney - a large crack in the rock face that permits the climber to climb inside of it.

cling grip - a handhold that permits the climber to reach the fingers inward.

crimper - a tiny hold whereby to gain any grip the climber must hyperextend the first digits of the fingers. This type of hold places extreme forces on the tendons and delicate tissues of the fingers and joints.

exposure - a portion of the rock face that is extremely steep and distant from level ground.

fixed pro - permanent anchors that are bored into the rock.

jam - twisting or moving a body part, whether a hand, fist, or foot, to take up maximal space and wedge itself into a crack in the rock thereby creating a hold.

lead - in lead climbing, this individual climbs first and installs anchors along the route for the other climbers.

layback - a demanding climbing technique where the climber uses the opposing pressures of the hands and feet to scale a section.

mantle - to move the body up onto a ledge, the climber will place both hands upon the ledge and while trying to get the upper body over the arms to then extend them is then able to bring the feet up.

match - to place either both feet or both hands on a single hold.

open grip - a large rounded handhold that permits you to place the palm over it for support.

pinch grip - as the name suggests, a handhold that requires you to pinch it for any type of support.

pumped - fluid accumulation in the forearm muscles that impairs performance and is usually a sign of fatigue.

quickdraw - a short length of webbing that has a carabiner connected to a loop in each end.

redpoint - to complete a route without a fall after having had many practice attempts.

ring grip - a hold where you use the thumb to hold down a finger.

runner - sewn loops of webbing used in setting anchors.

screamer - a fall that evokes some type of spine chilling scream from the climber.

sewing machine leg - an apt depiction of an involuntary muscular contraction of the climber's leg due to standing with the heel higher than the toe for an extended period of time.

top rope - a climbing safety system where the rope runs from the climber to the top of the climb and back down to the belayer.

whipper the sudden jarring stop a falling climber experiences when a section of slack rope instantly becomes taut.

Suggested Readings

All of these are available from the College of Charleston Library's electronic book reserve.

Bensman, B. Bouldering. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1999.

Lewis, S. Toproping. Helena, Montana: Falcon Press Publishing, Co. Inc., 1998.

Long, J. How to Rock Climb! Evergreen, Colorado: Chockstone Press, Inc., 1993.

Strobl, T. Freeclimbing: A Complete Guide to Rock Climbing. London: Ward Lock, 1997.

Watts, P. Rock Climbing. Champaign: Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc., 1996.

updated: May 10, 2007