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Rock Climbing: embracing the vertical world

by Matthew Lapierre November 17, 2015
Rock Climbing: embracing the vertical world

A spotlight on one of the most terrifying and dangerous sports in the athletic world

The sport of rock climbing is visceral, its only goal being go up and don’t fall.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Rock climbing is a cross-cultural pastime, and can be practiced just about everywhere on Earth,  from the local gym where climbers pull on plastic, safely belayed from above, to the highest cliffs and mountains on earth where very often the elite of the sport climb with little to nothing protecting them should they fall.

The ludicrous amount of risk which must be accepted to undertake some forms of rock climbing (like traditional climbing and alpinism) transport pros beyond the recreational realm. With climbing and alpinism, the ability to be cool under pressure is paramount. There are however sport branches where speed, strength and technique are highlighted.

When rock climbing becomes competitive, the goal is simple: climb higher than your competitors. The three main styles of competitive climbing are bouldering, speed climbing and sport climbing.

Bouldering is climbing on a small scale. A competitor must figure out the proper sequence to get to the top of a small, but extremely challenging “problem” with gymnastics mats to catch them should they fall. These “problems” are aptly named as they require problem solving skills and creative body contortions to get to the top. Bouldering is becoming increasingly popular on the world stage and one does not have to be an aficionado to appreciate the spectacle of watching the world’s most elite climbers perform flashy moves to get to the top of a hard problem.

Speed climbing is perhaps not as popular as bouldering but it is even more sensational. The set route is the same at every competition, so athletes memorize the sequence to the point where they seem to fly up rather than climb. Don’t believe me? Type “speed climbing” into YouTube and see what you find.

The final form of competitive climbing is “sport” climbing, in which athletes climb up long technical routes. Endurance and technique are highlighted and the winner is the one who climbs the highest. Simple. Sport climbing was on a short list to be included in the 2020 Olympics but after a long decision process the IOC decided not to adopt it.

Rock climbing outdoors will perhaps always remain fringe due to the risks involved, but maybe one day the athletic versions of the sport will help familiarize the broader public with the vertical world.

For those who want to try the sport, Allez Up on St-Patrick street is a great place to practice. Another place would be the Shakti Rock Gym on Saint Viateur East. Both places offer classes for beginners.

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