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Rock climbing is the act of scaling rock formations using natural hand and footholds.  This individual sport grew out of mountaineering in the 1800s.  During the 1950s, climbing accessories were greatly improved, and the sport's focus changed to scaling a specific rock wall rather than an entire mountain.  Rock climbing evolved into an organized sport in the 1970s, and during the 1980s indoor and outdoor climbing walls became a popular way of practicing the sport in a controlled environment.

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rock climbers Outdoor rock climbing is practiced on cliffs ranging from 33 to 3300 feet in height.  Experienced climbers usually climb in pairs.  One climbs while the other belays, or feeds the rope to the lead climber through a belay device.  This is known as "lead climbing."  "Bouldering" is a term used to describe the way that outdoor climbers practice before an actual climb.  Difficult climbing moves are practiced without ropes and hardware on boulders or rock outcroppings several feet above the ground.  "Top-roping" is a technique used to ascend cliffs less than 160 feet high.  The climber is anchored from above.  On higher cliffs, more than one rope length must be used, and this is referred to as "multipitch" or "continuous climbing."  Rock climbing movements include "friction climbing" (moving up smooth, low-angled rock slabs); "face climbing" (using knobs and edges to ascend a sheer wall); "crack climbing" (placing hand and feet into fissures in the rock); and "overhang climbing" (utilizing bursts of energy and muscle to swing past overhangs).  Rappelling is often used to move back down the face to the bottom of the cliff.

Free climbing and aid climbing are two types of rock climbing.  Free climbing uses equipment only as a precaution, and mainly relies on the climber's fingers, hands, arms, legs, and feet to scale the cliff.  In aid climbing, ropes and hardware are used to support the climber's body weight.

rock climber Many rock climbing faces are given a difficulty rating; in the United States, as rated by the Yosemite Decimal System, it ranges from 5.0 (easiest) to 5.15 (hardest).  Three factors taken into consideration in a rating system are the difficulty of the hardest move, the stamina needed to climb the route, and the danger of the climb.

Necessary equipment includes a climbing harness, rope, belay, and one or more carabiners.  Special shoes made of leather or synthetic materials with sticky rubber soles are recommended, as is a helmet for outdoor climbs.  Layers of lightweight clothes work best for outdoor climbs, where shorts and a t-shirt are usually sufficient for climbing indoors.

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