Climbing does not really have any rules. There is no offside, no handball and no penalty boxes, and this is one of the things that make it great. Most people accept that you do not damage the rock and environment in any way, and that whatever you do you should be honest about it, but beyond that, you are free to enjoy climbing in whatever way you want, and the more fun you have while doing this the better.
However, what climbing does have are ethics. Ethics are a code of behaviour that people generally accept as being good things, and are used as a guide to the challenges that climbers set themselves. A very simple example of this is trying to do a route without falling off, or trying to do a boulder problem on your first try. This is because it is generally accepted that these are the best ways to do them.
A lot of the ethics in climbing revolve around the preservation of adventure. The challenges of climbing spread far beyond the purely physical. The management of risk is a huge part of it, as is the journey into the unknown. As such, many climbers seek to preserve the risk and unknown sides of the sport. The UK has a great tradition of bold climbing, climbing where reliance is placed on the climbing party, giving great rewards to all concerned. Many people worry that if bolts appear on all routes, then this adventure will be lost. As such, there are ethics involving the placing of bolts.
Another example of ethics is how people try to climb 'on-sight'. This means leading a route that you have no prior knowledge about, without falling off. In this way, the climb is more of a challenge.
Most of these ethics have been confirmed by over a century of endeavour on the rocks. Through the need to meet the challenges of climbing head-on, climbers have often been pushed to their limits, and the results have been amazing achievements and stories of adventure. To find out more about all this, and to get an appreciation of the development of the sport and why it is the way it is today, it is a good idea to read some history of the sport.
The easiest place to find any of this is in the history section of a climbing guide. These will often recount the most notable stories of a
local area. As well as being interesting reading, these histories can bring a lot of extra life to climbs. You might find out that a climb that you did was the most ferocious climb in the country in 1915, or that you have just climbed a Joe Brown classic. This sense of history brings extra rewards to a climb.
So as you venture forth onto the rocks, try to be aware that all this is more than just exercise. Try to understand that through a century of climbing, there has developed a set of ethics as to how you should aspire to climb. And remember that these are not rules to tell you what is disallowed, but are guides that can show you how to get the most from your climbing. Respect the rock, be honest, and enjoy yourself.
Left: Hope, Idwal Slabs, N Wales. First climbed in 1915 and still very popular Photo - Jon Garside
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