Summer Rock Climbing & Rock Craft

Content by Ken Harris

What is rock craft?

Over the years many club members have enjoyed a bit of sport on the crags and mountains of Scotland and abroad. This is a brief overview of what it's all about.

Rock craft is the general term that describes the various ways you can climb on rock and has many flavours; free climbing, aid climbing, and alpine climbing being the main offerings. Free climbing includes bouldering, sport climbing, traditional climbing and free soloing; these are the most popular flavours of rock craft and a brief description of what each of these involve is described below. Alpine climbing involves all aspects of rock craft as part of the bigger picture of alpinism and is described here. The practise of aid climbing is not covered as it plays such a small part in British climbing.

Dumbarton rock boulder topo


Bouldering aficionados climb short technically difficult sections of rock, often only a couple of metres high. These are known as ‘boulder problems’. The objective here is to unlock the problem by linking the necessary moves to complete the route: because of their short height bouldering problems tend to be fairly intense and technical. Most boulder problems are climbed un-roped and close enough to the ground to be safe to jump off from though crash mats are commonly used when the problems are getting a bit high or the landing is rough. Bouldering is a great form of training for all forms of rock craft and is often practised indoors at climbing centres during the winter. Thousands of bouldering areas exist some of them world famous for the quality of the problems.

Bolted anchor point

Sport Climbing

Sport Climbing is a type of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock at intervals for protection. Modern sport climbing routes tend to use bolts as anchors; a bolt is a permanent anchor fixed into a hole drilled in the rock, usually consisting of a glued-in or expansion bolt. There are two main types of bolt placements: bolt hangers and bolt runners.
Bolt hangers consist of a bolt that permanently fixes a hanger to the rock face. Bolt runners (often simply referred to as just 'bolts') consist solely of a bolt placed with the bolt head sticking out slightly from the rock face, requiring climbers to clip on bolt plates that they bring up with them. Once the bolt plate is in position it functions very much like a bolt hanger.
Passing climbers then clip a short sling with attached carabiners called a quick draw to the bolt hanger or bolt plate. The rope is then clipped into the free end of the quick draw to protect the climber against a fall. This bolt is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall. At the top of sport routes, there is typically a multiple-bolt anchor that can be used to return the climber to the ground or previous rappel point. Since the need to place protection is virtually eliminated, the climber can concentrate on the difficulty of the moves rather than placing protection or the consequences of a fall. This often means that sport climbing places an emphasis on gymnastic ability, strength and endurance, as opposed to adventure, risk and self-sufficiency however on some sports routes the bolt protection may be fairly sporting and traditional protection will not go amiss – check before you set off.

Traditional mountain route

Traditional Climbing

In Trad Climbing, climbers use their own gear for protection. Trad climbers use passive devices such as nuts, hexcentrics and slings and active devices like friends to protect the route as they ascend. These are devices that work in conjunction with rock features such as cracks or spikes to provide protection without damaging the rock. This is called clean climbing and is the only acceptable way of climbing in some areas.

Like in sport climbing climbers then clip a quick draw to the protection that has been placed and the rope is then clipped into the free end of a quick draw to protect the climber against a fall. The placed protection is now protecting the climber in the event of a fall but the level of protection is only as good as strength of the gear. Proper judgement of when to place gear and knowledge of how to place gear quickly and effectively is a key skill in traditional climbing. 

At the top of most trad routes in Scotland you can pack the gear up and walk or scramble off. In some cases the easiest way down might be the way you have just come up; in trad climbing getting down safely is not a given and often hillwalking skills such as navigation are called for.

Ropework is the key to climbing safely - you must be able to use the equipment properly. There are many good articles written by well informed people so rather than cover the same ground again here are some usefull links: