Climbing Information

What is Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is a growing and diverse sport that millions of Americans participate in every year.  Climbers ascend rock faces, and while sometimes perceived as a risky activity most forms of climbing are very safe.  This page lists the four main disciplines of climbing and gives a description for each.  At the bottom of the page is information on climbing injuries and injury statistics.

Bouldering is a form of climbing in which participants scale small,shorter rock faces, usually on boulders.  Instead of using ropes and harnesses they protect themselves from injury by using thick foam pads, called "crash pads".  Climbers use multiple crash pads and place them below the rock so that if the climber falls they land on the pads instead on the ground.  Bouldering is one of the newer forms of climbing and has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few decades.  One of the appeals of bouldering is the simplicity of the gear required.

Sport Climbing
Sport climbing uses ropes, harnesses, and pre-placed bolts for safety.  Holes are drilled into the rock, and durable metal bolts are put in.  Climbers are belayed by a partner, and can ascend the rock face using the bolts, a rope, and their harness to protect themselves if they fall.  As they climb the attach gear to the bolts they pass, meaning the size of the fall a climber takes is limited by the distance between bolts.  The bolts are permanently left in the rock.  

Bouldering and sport climbing are the two climbing disciplines that can be done indoors as well as outdoors, and they form most peoples introduction to the sport.

Traditional Climbing
Before sport climbing was invented traditional climbing, or "trad" climbing, was the only form of rock climbing.  Traditional climbing involves placing specialized gear in cracks or other weaknesses in a rock face.  If a climber falls the rope running through their gear to their harness stops them.  Traditional climbing is more complex than sport climbing and requires more knowledge and training, but many of the basic ideas are same.  Trad climbers can use some bolts as well, but many trad climbs contain no permanent gear in the rock.  

Mountaineering and Alpinism
Mountaineering and alpinism involve climbing mountains.  Climbers use ice axes, crampons, and other equipment to scale rock, snow and ice to complete the route they are climbing.  Mountaineering and alpinism are very different to bouldering and sport climbing, though there can be overlap with traditional climbing in the mountains.

Climbing Injury Statistics

There are several resources for statistics on climbing injuries.  The American Alpine Club publishes the Accidents in North American Mountaineering Statistical Tables on their website.  A 2009 national study on rock climbing related injury statistics can be found here.  This article is useful for seeing how injuries are divided among different climbing disciplines.  Unroped climbing of large faces caused most of the severest accidents.  Traditional climbing causes more serious injuries than sport climbing because of its nature.  Sport climbing sees more finger and arm injuries because of overuse and strain.  Bouldering saw the least number of injuries.  Climbing areas with only bouldering and sport climbing saw lower injury rates than climbing areas with traditional climbing.

For more information
These links have more information on rock climbing and its different forms:
Wikipedia page on rock climbing