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Logical progressions through types of climbing?

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Hi folks,

My Son and I were chatting about logical progressions through different types of climbing - you're classic 'no right answer' question about how a beginner, who's goal is to become a good all-round climber (and not just a specialist), should plan to progress through different types of climbing?

In the olden times the answer would have been 'find a climber and do what they do' but there are clearly a lot more options these days.

We reckoned the 'classic' progression these days is arguably:

  • Indoor boulder (easiest access and least amount of kit required)
  • Indoor toprope (to build safety and belay skills)
  • Outdoor toprope (to build psyche)
  • Outdoor boulder (to build strength)
  • Indoor Sport lead (to build technique and mental toughness)
  • Outdoor Sport lead (to build psyche again)
  • Outdoor Trad second (to build gear placement skills & confidence)
  • Outdoor Trad lead (to put it all together)

Clearly you might decide to choose a Sport-only branch or a Boulder-only branch if that's what you find rewarding.

We had some debate about Outdoor bouldering - we definitely didn't think it was a good introduction for complete beginners, but it does involve the least amount of kit for outdoors and you can do it on your own if needed. Having said that it's pretty brutal, and some folk just aren't psyched by walking 30mins to fall off a 4 move boulder problem (me, for example).

My Son threw in a wildcard and suggested that outdoor 'French free' style aid climbing of harder trad routes with good protection (or even aid bouldering - it's a thing, apparently!!) might actually be a better introduction to gear placement than just seconding up a trad lead and pulling the gear out on your way up.

On easier trad routes you really shouldn't be getting much feedback on your placements as you're hopefully not relying on them. Placing non-permanent gear (cams, nuts etc.) then standing on it to progress up a crack, for example, not only gives immediate non-fatal feedback on placement quality but also allows access to routes that would be beyond the climber's physical capabilities.

Anyway, you can, of course consider endless variants of the above progression, and it's clearly heavily weighted by what you have access to locally and whether you find a good climbing partner, but in the spirit of similar lockdown hypotheticals,  do folk think there's a better/alternative ordering for beginners to target?

In reply to drconline:

> On easier trad routes you really shouldn't be getting much feedback on your placements as you're hopefully not relying on them. Placing non-permanent gear (cams, nuts etc.) then standing on it to progress up a crack, for example, not only gives immediate non-fatal feedback on placement quality but also allows access to routes that would be beyond the climber's physical capabilities.

I think anything you place you should be willing to rely on otherwise what is the point of placing it? You can place loads of the ground and dual asses anything but when you're off the floor you need to be 100% that everything you place is going to save your life and you should absolutely ask for feedback on placements otherwise what you think is good could be a really bad placement!

I wouldn't recommend getting on any route that you think is outside of your abilities and standing and pulling on gear to help. If the gear pulls/pops then you are in a world of trouble! Take your time with trad. It's fun to just progress naturally rather than thinking you need to up the grade all the time.

 gravy 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

Most people start by pissing around climbing rocks and trees long before "progressing" to indoor climbing where, frequently, their introduction is to roped climbing first (because it's safer and easier to group manage) at parties.  This initial indoor exposure is turning to bouldering as more dedicated bouldering walls open.

 stp 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

I think for many outdoor sport tends to be a progression from trad. That's because in this country the number of lower grades sport routes is limited and tend to be poor quality.

Combined with that is the fact that above E5 climbs tend to get more serious to the point that many people don't want to do that kind of climbing or, at the very least, don't want to do it all the time.

In reply to McKEuan:

> I wouldn't recommend getting on any route that you think is outside of your abilities and standing and pulling on gear to help. If the gear pulls/pops then you are in a world of trouble! <

 Agree with that. One safe of trying out gear placements might be to place nuts, slings etc near ground level and stand in slings clipped to them, might be able to traverse along foot of some cliffs in this way just above ground level.
My personal progression, years ago, was basically bottom rope on southern sandstone, read good manual, lead easy climbs with inadequate borrowed gear. That is certainly not the best way from either a safety or learning viewpoint.
However, as other replies mention, there are still some people who enter climbing from, say, a hillwalking background, and are not attracted to indoor gyms etc. I see no reason why seconding routes with a competent partner would not be a good introduction....they would quite possibly later develop an interest in other aspects of climbing, eg indoor, for training or enjoyment.
 

 Mark Haward 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

I think it very depends on where you live and possibly what your family or friends do. For example another pathway is hillwalking, scrambling, outdoor bouldering and then on to climbing either indoors or outdoors.

   Then of course there is UK winter walking, UK winter climbing, alpine summer, alpine winter, greater ranges.

In reply to drconline:

If I might, the next stages can look like:

Get well into trad, obsess about it for years and have all manner of adventures 

Scottish winter walking

Scottish winter climbing

Alps snow plodding

Alps technical climbing

Discover sport climbing in the sun, fit a couple of trips in over winter

Get married

Have kids

Get back into bouldering 

Get into cycling

reminisce about your glory years.....

 kevin stephens 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

In my day (not so long ago) we only had 7 and 8.  I still don't see why 1 to 6 are required first

 GrahamD 12 Jan 2021
In reply to kevin stephens:

In a way having a load of strength before trying trad makes it a very unbalanced experience.  That can lead to some unrealistic (and dangerous) expectations. 

If you start with easy trad leading, it's a shorter step to sport, alpine, whatever.

Obviously if your only ambition is indoor, ignore this, but the OP was asking about rounded climbers (I'm certainly feeling well rounded right now)

In reply to kevin stephens:

1 to 6 are certainly not required, but these days they are easier to access, so more climbers will pass through this progression.

My second path (I did a tiny bit of 7 and 8 in the 60s, then returned to climbing in the 90s when indoor walls opened) was forced by the lack of an experienced trad partner: indoor climbing and bouldering, outdoor bouldering, deep-water-soloing! DWS doesn't need a partner (I was careful where I experimented) or gear, and is great for dealing with fear.

Unfortunately DWS is a bit limited other than summertime, so I started looking for other opportunities ....

 Michael Gordon 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

I wouldn't think aid climbing was a good way to learn how to place gear! Best to find someone experienced and get feedback from them.

 Joffy 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

I've noticed that there is a sentiment in some climbers that theirs is the best or the goal. I'm definitely happy just sport climbing and using bouldering for training, and im sure the opposite is true for some trad climbers. 

Don't think there is or has to be a set path, and like others said do dependant on circumstances!

 Marek 12 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

As with so many thing 'classic' and 'logical', in practice very few do that.

I can't help feeling that the commentary in the last two stages is all likely to go:

  • Outdoor Trad second ("Hey, this is piss easy! I'm an Esomething climber!")
  • Outdoor Trad lead ("Oh, TIGHT! Ping, ping, splat")

Yes, there are some very good sport climber who have gone on to do some impressive trad climbing, but they are very few.

In reply to Marek:

I'm not sure that you are correct; in the distant past there was no indoor climbing or sport climbing in Britain, so all of our heroes came from trad, and of course enjoyed that trad challenge.

Now most newcomers will experience indoor climbing first, so will learn to lead in this bolted environment. When they come outdoors some will react as you have suggested, but others love the additional challenge of placing gear, and embrace the British tradition. I've certainly had the pleasure of seeing one or two progress through to being passionate trad leaders.

 Mark Stevenson 13 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

Several issues with your suggestion.

The most glaringly obvious one is that unless you live in London or near Southern Sandstone "outdoor top-roping" doesn't actually exist in the UK as a coherent activity compared to how it perhaps does in the US. Whether it should, is another issue but in reality it just doesn't. 

The second issue I'd suggest is that in theory there are two very different generic paths onwards from indoor bouldering.

For anyone who can get to the stage they can boulder pretty hard, the jump to outdoor sport can be fairly straightforward as they can rapidly get onto climbs where it is objectively safe to fall off and push themselves. I've run sport courses for such individuals and their progress from bouldering straight into sport in be very quick. The intermediate stages you hypothesise are completely unnecessary. 

Unfortunately for mediocre grade indoor climbers, whether boulders or lead climbers, the progression through to confident leading outdoors on bolts can be surprisingly daunting. First, low grade UK sport routes are just shit. Second, falling from f6a routes with only averagely good belayers generally results in at least a few scrapes and bruises which tends to dramatically slow progress (compared to say f7a routes where falls will be significantly cleaner). Therefore, the more logical progression for less technically talented climbers is via lower grade trad climbing. It is sometimes dismissed as "ledge shuffling" but it is enjoyed by thousands who are content to progress very slowly and steadily without the mental (and often physical) stress of doing hard moves above gear which is pretty much a requirement with sport climbing.

That said, I know various individuals who've done completely random progressions. One chap I climbed with in the Alps stands out. As a Lake District local he started trad climbing as a teenager and then progressed via every other possible style but now a decade after I first him he seems to be mainly pushing himself on sport around f8b.  Equally, another pretty hardcore younger climber is well known for having done a grade V Winter route as his first introduction to climbing and he climbed extensively on ice before becoming an accomplished trad climber.

Overall, I think location makes such a big difference that generalisations will only ever be valid for a minority. For most individuals, what climbing is available on their doorstep will be the determining factor, rather than what seems logical. 

 Andy Gamisou 13 Jan 2021
In reply to McKEuan:

> I wouldn't recommend getting on any route that you think is outside of your abilities and standing and pulling on gear to help. If the gear pulls/pops then you are in a world of trouble! Take your time with trad. It's fun to just progress naturally rather than thinking you need to up the grade all the time.

Yes.  I have a blog post that describes the potential consequences of doing this: https://maggotbrain.blog/2018/09/17/getting-back-in-the-saddle/

In reply to drconline:

I'm by no means well rounded but for me:

Hill walking

Scrambling

Outside top rope 

Winter hill walking

Trad - seconding 

Winter - seconding 

Trad - lead 

Indoor top roping / bouldering - not very often

In reply to Kalna_kaza:

Thanks everyone for the responses. Some good points raised. It underlines that there really is no ‘right’ way and it’s far more important to follow your own individual psyche and motivation than any set path.

 Cheers.

 C Witter 13 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

The "classical" route is:

  1. Hillwalking and messing around on rock
  2. Seconding and occasional bottom-roping
  3. Leading (trad) routes
  4. Scottish winter climbing
  5. Alps
  6. Big mountains

I think this classical model has gone out the window somewhat, but not in the way you describe. There will be major geographical differences, as many people in urban centres may not actually manage to do hill-walking or quality outdoor climbing very frequently, but become very strong and technically proficient on plastic. Some of these will go on to competitions and from there to hard sport or bouldering, without much experience of trad. People who tend to visit sandstone or grit venues are perhaps more likely to bottom-rope; people who live in the Lakes and Wales probably get into into seconding and leading easy multipitch trad routes earlier.

There are other factors: if you are young and fall in with the right crowd in the right place, you might get into hard bouldering quite quickly; if you live in Sheffield or the Peak, you might well get into headpointing high Es before you are fully confident with placing gear or multipitching. If you are wealthy, you might well pay guides and instructors and get out in the Alps before you've done much in the UK.

In short, there are geographical, sociological and cultural determinants to involvement in different aspects of climbing - or what you're mistakenly calling "progression" through disciplines - rather than an internal logic related to ability and risk management.

In reply to ChrisBrooke:

My progression between age of 15 and 21 was:

Hillwalking in Ireland and Scotland
Tree climbing in Hertfordshire
More hillwalking in Scotland (Munros) and Wales
Alpine snow plodding (Zermatt) Facile
South-east sandstone toproping (Harrison's) up to 5b
Four-day beginner's rock climbing course in Snowdonia with Mountaineering Association - up to V Diff
Alpine rock climbing and bouldering (Zermatt) up to AD inf.
South-east sandstone toproping, Harrison's, (intense), 5c +, combined with
Very hard tree climbing (the big boles below first branches) = 'boledering' in Hertfordshire. 6a
Trad climbing in Snowdonia (from Mod to HVS in 4 weeks): strictly alternate leads with my brother
One week's ice climbing course in Glencoe with Hamish Macinnes, up to Grade III/IV
Big routing in Norway and the Alps (mixed snow and rock) Romsdal, Bernina, Bregaglia, Chamonix. Up to TD sup.
More trad rock climbing (up to E1), sea cliffs etc, in south wales, and snowdonia.
(then five years away from it while getting into the film industry; then very irregular, mostly S/E sandstone; then another 4 years away from it; then big comeback at age of 33, E2; then much more irregular again; then more regular in my forties around E1; then less so, VS/HVS until I stopped rock climbing altogether in my mid-50s; hillwalking ever since; much gentler since hip replacement two years ago.) Scientific fact: hills now much bigger. Great Gable and Wetherlam, for example, are about 2 or 3 the size they were when I was in my 30s ...

Post edited at 09:40
 JohnBson 16 Jan 2021
In reply to drconline:

Hillwalking, Alpinism, Scottish Winter, summer trad, aid climbing, bouldering. Skip the indoor stuff it's not worthwhile. 


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