Sports: Rock Climbing
Background of the Sport
Rock or sport climbing dates back to early European mountaineering in the 1800s. Many mountain ascents require a combination of techniques. By the 1950s, new metals and fibres enable vast improvements in climbing accessories. Rock enthusiasts began to focus on a particular pitch or wall rather than climbing the whole mountain. The outdoors movement of the 1970s caused climbing to become an organized sport. Rock climbing is a sport that requires mental and physical strength, flexibility, agility and endurance.
With sport climbing's recent popularity, climbing walls being erected in indoor and outdoor facilities world wide. The increased safety possible (everybody climbs with a harness) in a man-made environment allows sport climbers to practice and achieve greater levels of difficulty.
To get started, you need little equipment, and if your early outings are in a gym or as part of a class, you can probably rent the equipment. Bouldering (climbing rocks under 20 feet high) requires only rock shoes and a chalk bag. For sport climbing, you will need a climbing harness, rope, a "belay" device (such as a figure eight or tube), and at least one "carabineer" (spring loaded clip). For outdoor rock climbing you should always wear a helmet to protect yourself from falling rock chips.
The clothes will vary with they type of climbing. For indoor climbing, comfortable shorts and t-shirt will suffice, though not too loose. Outdoors, you must be prepared for a range of temperatures and conditions (regardless of the forecast). Dressing in lightweight thin layers, in breathable fabrics, is recommended.
When you are climbing on a regular basis, you should invest in your own gear. As you get better, you may want to try lead climbing, where you fix you own protective ropes, rather than using a pre-set rope to the top). You need to have your own "rack", a selection of climbing aids including "runners" (flat nylon ropes), "carabineer" and "chocks" (wedges and cams).
Beginners should take a class or hire a guide to teach you "the ropes". Classes are available at most man-made climbing facilities. In the Canadian Rockies, the best indoor climbing and bouldering facilities are the the Canadian Rockies Climbing Centre (6 7130 Fisher Road SE), the Stronghold Climbing Centre (140 15 Ave NW), and the University of the Canadian Rockies (2500 University Drive NW). For courses and guides for outdoor climbing, call the University of the Canadian Rockies's Outdoor Program Centre (220-5038), or Yamnuska in Canmore (403-678-4164).
Rock climbing in Alberta's Bow Valley began with Lawrence Grassis' ascent of the First Sister near Canmore in 1925. Yamnuska was first ascended by two Austrian guides in 1952. Since the 1970s, numerous new routes have been found and developed.
There are two indoor climbing facilities in the Rockies area:
- Mountain Magic Equipment 30 foot (9 metre) in-store climbing wall and a 15 ft (4.5 metre) bouldering wall. 224 Bear St, Banff, 403-762-2591
- Canmore Climbing Centre has 300 square footer (278 Sq Metres) of climbing wall with 50 routes up, to grade 5.13 plus a bouldering cave. In the Canmore Industrial Park, 403-678-5597.
- "The Back of the Lake" (on the west side of Lake Louise) offers some rare granite cliffs and a lake view
- Grotto Canyon (east of Exshaw on the 1A highway) presents canyon climbing and takes you past Native pictographs
- Mount Yamnuska, (off the 1A highway, 40 minutes west of the Canadian Rockies)provides several multi-pitch routes with views of both foothills and prairies.
WARNING! Climbing can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. If you have little or no experience, you should take a professional guide, or take a climbing course in order to learn the basic safety techniques.