Traditional Climbing vs. Sport Climbing

Traditional Climbing — What is Trad Gear? Traditional gear (or natural protection) is hardware that can be placed on a route to protect a climb and then be later removed. This includes cams, stoppers, hexes and other removable gear that can be used to protect a route.

Traditional climbing is the most pure form of rock climbing on a cliff. One of the beauties of trad climbing is that you leave no trace of your being there. Unfortunately though, trad gear requires a crack, a hole or some area in the rock that pinches down small enough to accept a piece of gear, so some cliff faces are unprotectable to traditional gear.

Open door policy
Many places that bolts are found today are on these faces of cliffs where traditional gear cannot be used. So in a way, bolts open a door to climbers that was previously closed. Occasionally you will find a climb that has been bolted and within an arms reach you could have put in natural protection. Most climbers would find this to be unethical. Although the beginning trad climber would enjoy learning to place pro (another word for trad gear) with a bolt as a safeguard, the great thing about trad climbing is the adventure of trusting your judgment and gear placements.

Rest stop
On traditionally protected multi pitch routes, climbs that require more than one rope length to ascend, and big wall climbs, bolts are very handy when reaching a belay station. The lead climber can clip in and have a secure place of protection from which to belay the second climber without using gear that may be needed for the pitch above.

Any beefs with bolts?
The list of the disadvantages of bolts is just as long, if not longer, than the advantages. Most of the opponents of bolts cite the unnecessary visual impact on the rock and the invitation to climb in certain areas that could be environmentally threatened. Some opponents of bolting argue that bolts are sometimes placed too close together which may “handicap” the beginning climber. Others though are more concerned about keeping climbing areas “pure” and as undisturbed by people as much as possible.

Tough decisions
Really, bolting has become more of a question of ethics rather than the environmental impact that the 3/8 inch hole might be on the rock itself. The questions are not easily answered. Truly, both advocates and opponents of bolting have good arguments for both sides. Hopefully route developers will be mindful of ethics and the traditions of rock climbing when deciding where to put a route, and opponents of bolting more accepting of the changes in rock climbing to come.

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Sport Climbing
Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing
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