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March 21, 2016 by
Jay Medley
Rock climbing is a fun activity, but it can be more than a hobby – if you love it, you can compete! It’s even being considered as one of the competitions for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (the International Olympic Committee will decide this August.)

So how exactly does competitive rock climbing work? There are different types of competition and different organizations for various age groups. Here’s a quick guide to introduce you to competitive rock climbing!

So how exactly do you climb to compete?

There are a few different ways to compete, like speed, on-sight, red point, and flash. Depending on the organization, they may have even types, but these are the most common:

-Speed is what it sounds like, climbers are timed as they ascend the wall to make for a fun event for spectators. This can be done individually or by a team.

-On-sight climbing adds a challenge by only allowing climbers a brief preview of the climbing route before the competition. Once climbers register, they are taken to an isolation area. They are eventually taken to see the wall briefly, then returned to the isolation area until it is their turn to climb.

Climbers aren’t allowed to discuss the route with each other, and after they complete the climb, they aren’t allowed to return to the isolation area. This is the type of competition used by the National and World Cup competitions. On-sight climbs can be either bouldering or difficulty. Climbers are judged by the highest hold that they reach.

-Red point involves a variety of routes with climbers awarded points for each route that they complete. This is strategic, as climbers have to try to complete the more difficult routes to earn more points, but also need to complete a minimum number of routes. They need to figure out which climbs they can complete and in what order to attempt them.

Climbers will usually complete easier climbs to warm up, then attempt the most difficult route that they think they can handle. If they can’t complete a route, they can try it again, but they risk tiring themselves out before completing enough routes. Red point can be either bouldering or difficulty climbs.

-Flash lets climbers watch each other climb the route, but each climber may only attempt the route once.

What Kind of Walls Do Rock Climbing Competitions Use?

Competitions can be done on either bouldering walls or with lead climbing. Bouldering walls are lower routes completed without ropes, with crash pads on the floor to protect climbers from falls. Lead climbs are done with a rope that is hung from the ceiling. Either way, the routes will be difficult.

Who Can Compete?

Almost anyone! Well, anyone who is willing to put in the work and has the skill to be a competitive rock climber. Depending on your local climbing organizations, there will likely be competitions for different age groups for youth, then there are other groups like Collegiate for undergraduate and graduate students, and an adult group. There are also adaptive climbing competitions for those with physical challenges.

How Do You Get Started in Competitive Rock Climbing?

Talk to your rock climbing gym to see if they have a practice team or if they have any details on local climbing competitions. If you live in the United States, you can also join USA Climbing by purchasing a membership. As a member, you’ll earn points from your competitions and your results will be posted on their site. This is necessary for advancing to regional and national competitions.

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