The Sport Climbers’ Guide to Trad Climbing

See, it's just like sport climbing!

The second part of our attempt to further peace, love and understanding between rivaling groups in the climbing community, you need not look any further if you are a sport climber who just doesn’t get trad climbing. Have you always wondered why it’s fun to slog up some less than vertical choss pile with twenty pounds hanging off your harness? Or why you’d want to try climbs that hurt you and leave gobies on your hands all the time? Or why people actually watch the Twilight Series? (OK, we don’t know the answer to that one either.) Again, we take a look at some common misconceptions our underfed, bolt-clipping friends make about the dark and mysterious world of trad climbing.

They’re All Old and Crusty

OK, let’s get this one out of the way first. While trad climbing has been around longer than sport climbing, in no way does this mean that all trad climbers are older people who don’t sport climb. In fact, most of the older climbers in this area mostly sport climb, since it’s a casual way to enjoy some vertical mileage. And you don’t have to look far to find some of the young guns in the sport today who enjoy trad climbing. For many, it’s as simple as what kind of climbing you have where you live. In the Northeast, for example, there ain’t much sport wanking to be had, so most folks plug gear. In the South, you have both, so you can do whatever you fancy. The sooner we all come to a live and let live attitude about this, the better off we’ll all be.

It’s Just for Gear Heads

Another misconception is that trad climbers are people who like to play with gear more than actually climb. What you might not realize, my cave dwelling hunchbacked friends, is that there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from mastering any skill, and placing gear quickly is no exception. The biggest lag I have when I haven’t trad climbed in a while is the ability to look at the crack and pick the right piece the first time. When this is moving like a well oiled machine, it’s a thing of beauty, to be plugging up some corner, firing in gear with easy, as the ground fades below your feet. Setting up belays quickly, moving efficiently up a large cliff, there’s an unencumbered joy in the freedom of movement. The more honed your skills, the bigger you can dream.

Is It Really Fun to Climb a Bunch of Easy Pitches on Top of Each Other?

Yes! Getting high off the ground is one of the best things about climbing, and in this country, it’s difficult to do if you only clip bolts. There’s nothing quite like the adventure of casting off for some summit, watching the world below fade as each pitch brings you closer to the sky. Much like the clarity gained during a hard redpoint, as you get higher, the only thing that matters is the next pitch, and then the one after that. Even the most devoted sport climbers I know enjoy cruising long, moderate trad routes. And if you want to step it up a notch, it’s just as easy to take on an outing that will push you physically as well. There’s nothing like the commitment of tackling a crux pitch a thousand feet off the deck, with nothing but the birds for spectators. No beta spraying, no fan club, heck, your belayer might not even be able to see (or hear) you. It’s just you, your mind and body, and the stone.

Crack Climbing is Painful (& Boring!)

Some will be quick to lambaste pure crack climbing as a boring discipline, lacking the variety of a sport pitch. While there are indeed climbs in places like Indian Creek that might be the same size for a hundred feet, the truth is these are few and far between, and most trad routes offer a variety of techniques. You might layback, pull a roof, sketch out a slab, and jam a splitter, all in one pitch. This requires a variety of skills, and certainly makes you a more well rounded climber than grabbing big holds on steep stone. Trad climbing generally requires a mastery of a variety of skills, both technical and movement-wise. And as for the painful part, yes, pure cracks can be painful, but once you know what you are doing, you’ll find that it fades to the back of your mind, and you can focus on the fun.

Bottom line, trad climbing is a blast! It adds an interesting element to climbing, and it can get your butt way off the ground, where you can wave to your sport climbing friends down below, who might still not quite get why you love what you do. But that’s OK, because they don’t have to, and you know why you’re there!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini series, and that we’ve helped people reconnect with friends who they thought they’d lost to the dark side years ago. Unless they’re into bouldering or mountaineering, we still don’t understand those, and it might be a lost cause. ;-)

5 Responses to The Sport Climbers’ Guide to Trad Climbing

  1. Once you understand trad climbing, mountaineering is easy to understand. Mountaineering is what you do when trad climbing doesn’t take long enough, doesn’t require enough gear, and isn’t painful enough.

    Laurel Fan July 18, 2012 at 11:28 am Reply
  2. I did not even think about the “gear-head” stereotype, but it is totally true. Every die hard trad-climber I know is an excellent source of information about new clothing and gear innovations. They also tend to be handy and able to fix a sink or make a harness out on anything. Maybe trad-climbers and sport-climbers can coexist in a state of mutual respect. The appeal of climbing extremely high and seeing the ground below you is also undeniable. Thanks for the new perspective.

    Jason Keck July 19, 2012 at 4:18 pm Reply
  3. I just started climbing 2 months ago and after some time on the climbing wall I went trad clicking. I was a second and never led but still had a mix of fear and excitement the whole time. I can’t wait to go again.

    BTW, found you courtesy of Episode 4 of the Enormocast.

    Baz J Scott September 1, 2012 at 7:28 am Reply
  4. All this talk about peace, love and understanding yet this article, with condescending remarks like “underfed, bolt clipping friends” and “cave dwelling hunchbacked friends” is doing the same thing to sport climbing that it is claiming to be a victim of in the first place…

    Emmanuel Z. March 29, 2013 at 3:13 am Reply

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