Know your Climbing

Know your Climbing

With so many different types of climbing and strange jargon we thought we would try and clear the mist and make things a bit easier. So if you don’t know your ‘top roping’ from your ‘bottom roping’ or what on earth ‘head pointing’ is then read on

sea cliff climbing course

There are four main categories of climbing:


Bouldering is climbing short distances without ropes or harness, usually on boulders. It is a great way of practicing and getting stronger. It is recommend to use a ‘bouldering mat’ which is essentially a small portable crash mat that you put under the climb.

Trad Climbing

Traditional climbing or trad climbing as it is often shortened to is climbing routes using ropes and placing your own points of protection as you climb. These points of protection are then removed by your partner as they climb up to the leader. This is the purest way of climbing bits of rock too high to boulder, because it relies solely on the climbers skill and knowledge to make the climb safe and does not damage the rock. Once these skills have been mastered it allows the climber to climb any piece of rock within their ability, it requires no pre-placed bolts or ropes.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing is similar to indoor climbing. There are pre-placed bolts drilled into the rock. The climber then uses these fixed points of protection to make the climb safe.

Winter / Ice climbing

Winter / ice climbing is climbing routes covered in snow or ice. Ice axes and crampons (spikes for boots) are used to stick into the ice.  It is a very weather dependent sport with routes in the UK often only coming into condition for very short amounts of time each year.

Within these categories there are several ways that a climb can be completed.

Top RopingDSC_0025

Climbing with a pre-placed rope controlled by somebody above the climber. Often used when it is not possible to access the base of a climb, such as on sea cliffs when the tide is in.

Bottom Roping DSC_0052

Climbing with a pre-placed rope controlled by somebody standing on the ground. The rope remains above the climber to minimise the distance they can fall. Bottom roping is often how many people are introduced to climbing.

Lead Climbing 100_0661

Lead climbing is when the climber trails the rope behind them as they climb. clipping the rope to protection points as they climb. Due to the rope generally being below them, when a lead climbers falls they will travel twice the distance they are above their last piece of gear/bolt. So if they’re 1m above they would fall approximately 2m, 2m above and they would be falling 4m plus the stretch in the rope. Lead climbing requires a very wide spectrum of skills to be done safely. It is essential that proper training is undertaken before trying, however once these skills have been mastered, there are no limits to what can be climbed. This is compared to top and bottom roping, which rely on being able to access the top of the cliff to secure pre placed ropes limiting the number of places it can be done.


Seconding is the term used for the person climbing up after the lead climber. Their job is remove the gear placed by the lead climber. It is also a great way to gain experience of how lead climbing works and provides lots of opportunities to look at how a leader has placed gear to make the climb safe.

A few bits of climbing jargon:


Belaying is controlling the rope to keep the climber safe. In top and bottom roping situations rope must be taken in as the climber moves and in a lead climbing situation slack must be paid out as the climber moves up the rock. There is a very wide range of belay devices on the market that enable the belayer to hold the rope securely should the climber fall off. It can be a difficult skill for beginners to master safely and should be learnt properly to ensure safety.


Abseiling is descending down a rope, it is an important skill and is often used to gain access to sea cliffs or to retreat from mountain crags after reaching the top of the climb.


Scrambling is the cross over between walking and climbing. It allows you to cover loads of ground and get to the top of some of the best mountains with a bit more interest than simply walking up the easy way. Scrambling routes usually follow short rocky faces and exposed ridges.

Multi-Pitch Climbing

Climbs  are often broken down into ‘pitches’ . A single ‘pitch’ climb would be when a lead climber starting at the bottom would reach the top of the cliff in one rope length. ‘Multi-pitch’ climbs are longer climbs requiring belays to be setup on the route. If both climbers are of a similar level of experience it is traditional for the climber seconding the first pitch to then ‘lead through’ and lead the second pitch. Pitches can then be alternated for as many times as required to reach the top.

Red Pointing

Working a sport route / practicing the individual moves before trying to climb the whole route. Developed by Kurt Albert in the 70’s, he would paint a red dot on the base of hard climbing projects once he had successfully climbed them. Another modern term that has arisen is ‘Pink Point’, this is the same as red point but the climbers uses pre-placed quick draws for the lead.

Head Pointing

Where a trad route is practiced on a top rope before being led, sometimes gear is pre-placed before the lead. This is only normally done on very hard trad climbs due to the seriousness of trying to lead them on-sight.

On-Sight / Ground Up

The purest form of climbing. Climbs are completed without practicing moves or pre placing gear. A climber simply starts at the bottom and figures out the moves and gear as they climb the route.

So now you know all the different types of climbing it’s time to get out there and enjoy some rock 🙂 Book your climbing course, experience or some private guiding now

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