A Beginner's Guide to Types of Climbing!

Siddhartha Chattopadhyay
Posted on
April 7, 2020
Climbing comprises different sub-disciplines and beginners often seem to confuse one form of discipline with another. In this article, we will attempt to explain as simply as possible, the different forms of climbing. 
Climbing in general can take multiple forms. While a few climbing related activities are aided and are carried out with the help of ropes and protection, some are invariably done without the use of ropes or protection. 


Bouldering is a form of climbing which typically involves climbing short faces either indoors or outdoors. It requires a pair of climbing shoes and chalk. The only protection involved is a landing pad, generally referred to as a crashpad. Crashpads help reduce the impact of the fall on the ground. Bouldering routes are called “problems”.  Boulderbox is a dedicated bouldering center. 

Varun bouldering outdoors in Sanjay Van, Delhi.
Varun bouldering indoors at Boulderbox.


Freesolo refers to a form of climbing wherein you climb without the use of any protection or rope. You’re on your own and the only thing you have is a pair of climbing shoes. For example: Alex Honhold free soloed the nearly 3000 foot granite wall called Elcapitan in Yosemite National Park. This was heralded as the greatest feat in the history of rock climbing. 

Viraj climbing Ecstasy Tree, a boulder so high that you might as well call it a free-solo, says the guidebook.
Bryan Kennedy solos the "Kennedy variant" direct start to Battlements Organ Pipes Mt Wellington Tasmania 1977. Organ Pipes, Mt Wellington - Battlements, Bryan Kennedy.jpg

Ice Climbing

As the name suggests, ice climbing involves climbing either on ice or snow. It is generally carried out outdoors using ropes, harness and protection. The system used is similar to rock climbing. Gear involved are ice axes, crampons and warm clothing etc.

Prerna ice-climbing a route called Tarbatarr in Keh Nallah.


Mountaineering involves climbing a mountain. It entails walking, scrambling as well as climbing on both rock and ice. The Himalayas are home to the youngest and the highest mountain systems in the world. 

Climber taking the final few steps onto the 20,305 ft. (6,189 m) summit of Imja Tse (Island Peak) in Nepal. Summitting Island Peak.jpg


Unlike the name suggests, Free-climbing isn’t to be mistaken with free soloing. It’s different in that it involves using a rope and protection while climbing. It also involves a belayer who is in control of the rope and protects the climber from falling. Free-climbing is further divided into two kinds climbing:

1) Traditional climbing

2) Sport climbing

Traditional Climbing

Traditional climbing involves using protection such as cams, nuts and other hardware that climbers use to place in walls or cracks. Using protection in the right manner helps climbers prevent falls. Delhi is fortunate enough to have a local crag in the Aravali range which developed in the 80s as a trad climbing area.

Mohit Oberoi free-climbing the runnel wall in Dhauj, Delhi. From the GritFest.

Sport Climbing

Sport Climbing involves climbing pre-bolted routes. Some of the rock faces have very little room for removable protection and hence are best explored with pre-bolted routes. Sport climbing also allows climbers to get on a route with a higher level of difficulty when compared to trad. In general, it’s also considered to be fun. 

Yadu Bhageria sport climbing Samsara in Badami.

Multi-pitch Climbing

Some long climbs like the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan has 30 pitches. Which means the climb has to be broken into multiple pitches, 30 in this case. The lead climber leads the first pitch while using protection and then eventually sets up an anchor after the finish of the first pitch. The belayer then follows and is on belay with the rope held by the lead climber. Once the belayer meets the lead climber at the top of the first pitch, the lead climber then moves on to the second pitch.

Aid Climbing

As the name suggests, aid climbing involves using protection like cams, chocks and pitons but also an aider: a webbing ladder that is often used to pull oneself up on a rock rather than on rock itself. An aid climber may also use protection to pull himself up on a rock.

Royal Robbins aids the third pitch of the Salathé Wall in Yosemite during first ascent in 1961. Royal Robbins by Tom Frost.jpg

Deep Water Soloing

A form of climbing which involves climbing over a deep body of water. The water body should be deep enough to break a fall. One only needs a pair of climbing shoes and not much. It also depends on how accessible the water body is. .

Prerna deep-water soloing on a lake.
Varun topping out a boulder on a lake.


*Please note that this is an informative piece on climbing and its sub-disciplines. Climbing is a dangerous activity and should be carried out with utmost safety. The article doesn't in any way encourage its readers to climb or practice any of its disciplines. Few images shared are a courtesy of creative common.

Posted on
April 7, 2020
in the
category by
categories by
Siddhartha Chattopadhyay