Finding Your Climbing Discipline

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Within the climbing world there are a few camps, but all of them share two essential things: climbing (duh) and a helluva lot of fun. That means whatever you pick, you’re in for a darn good time. But each discipline offers its own perks and unique flavour – take a look at our breakdown of each and find the discipline that will take you on the adventure you’re looking for…

TRAD

Short for traditional climbing, trad offers big adventure and the perils (read: excitement) that comes with it. This might be your climbing match if you:

● Enjoy hiking (LOTS of hiking) and being whacked by bushes
● Are a self-confessed gear nut
● Want beautiful scenery and an ultra-rewarding summit
● Put safety first (this is not negotiable – your partner’s life depends on it)
● Want maximum adrenaline and exposure
● Prefer a ‘leave no trace’ approach to climbing
● Have a preference for multi-pitching
● Want to get into big wall climbing (think Yosemite)
● Enjoy silly and/or juvenile puns (see: crack, rack, nuts, jams, etc.)
● Want clout (because we all know trad is RAD)

Robert Breyer on Escalator (17), Table Mountain.

SPORT

Sport climbing refers to climbing outdoors, with a rope, on routes that already have permanent bolts and anchors in the rock. It’s fantastic for a fun day out, whether you’re looking for a chilled session or a hard project burn. Sport might be the one for you if you:

● Enjoy the adventure of outdoor climbing but don’t want to dive into placing your own gear just yet
● Enjoy working projects and testing out new grades (just make sure there’s someone strong enough to fetch your draws if you don’t send)
● Want to get comfortable with heights and exposure outdoors
● Like clinky clanky gear
● Enjoy multi- and single-pitch climbing
● Want to build up your endurance
● Enjoy a good mix of climbing and socialising
● Have good belay skills and safety knowledge (wear your helmet ALWAYS)

Hannah Sealy-Fisher on The Butterfly pitch one (26) Waterval Boven.

BOULDER

Bouldering, unsurprisingly, refers to climbing boulders, i.e. rocks that are small enough to climb safely without protective anchors. The only gear you need is a pair of shoes, chalk and one or more boulder pads… or just really generous friends. You may be a boulderer if you:

● Like lying down as much as you like climbing (extra points if flail your limb around to ‘visualise’ the climb while doing so)
● Enjoy a quick, low-effort mission with little gear to carry
● Prefer power to endurance
● Hate wearing shirts and LOVE wearing beanies
● Are opposed to helmet hair
● Know how to spot and move pads (this is the boulder equivalent of belaying)
● Enjoy socialising with climbers just as much (or more) as you enjoy actually climbing
● Have a fondeness for dirtbaggery
● Don’t mind touching your mates’ bottoms (consensually)
● Are a bit broke

A bouldering session at the Wilds, Johnnesburg.

SPEED

Speed is a relatively new discipline that’s been gaining significant traction since its inclusion in the Olympics. It involves yeeting yourself up a 15m standardised wall as fast as possible. You might be a speed climber if you:

● Are a shameless adrenaline junkie
● Like climbing the same route two million times
● Want a very clear goal
● Want to get into competition climbing
● Have the cardiovascular system of an ox
● Enjoy both power and endurance climbing
● Are a bit of a masochist

Alistair Stubbs goes head to head with Nick Meinel at the 2018 Rock Master competition.

GYM

Whether or not gym climbing can be considered its own discipline, it’s an excellent way to complement your outdoor training, or get a taste of the climbing world before venturing outdoors for the first time. Many people have also adopted gym climbing as their regular exercise and may not be looking to venture into outdoor climbing at all – different strokes for different folks. You may be a gym rat if you:

● Want to find solid friends and adventure buddies
● Like training specific skills (e.g. slab climbing, endurance, power, overhangs, etc.)
● Want to train multiple disciplines in one session
● Want to push yourself to your limits in a safe environment
● Enjoy browsing gear shops (bonus points if you know you can’t afford new gear anyway)
● Like comfy mats and bean bags
● Need caffeine on standby

CityROCK Cape Town

Of course, a big mish-mash of flavours is way more exciting than sticking to one discipline, and the best way to discover what you love is to try everything! So, get out there, find your passion and don’t forget to enjoy a good deal of monkeying around along the way.

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