Competitive climbing usually takes place on a purpose-built climbing wall where climbing is measured either by speed or by difficulty. In the speed event of competitive climbing, contestants race up identical routes to be the first to touch a buzzer at the top of the walls. The competition continues as a tournament, with the last remaining climber being declared the winner.

In events measured in terms of difficulty, climbers are given a choice of routes at varying levels of difficulty with a scoring system measuring the height reached in a given time period and the difficulty of the route chosen.

Another form of competitive climbing is lead climbing, where the route is demonstrated to climbers and competitors may be given time to consider their route. The time allotted for examining the route is known as observation. Other competitions work in isolation, where climbers are given no prior knowledge of the moves they must make and are not allowed to watch any of the other contestants climb.

There are numerous climbing competitions and events around the UK every year. The British Indoor Climbing Championship (BICC) is open to anybody and takes place in indoor climbing centres all over the country. Competitors have a series of ten problems to tackle and are then ranked on completion of the routes. There is also a British Bouldering Championship, which works on a similar format but is dedicated to boulder routes.

The best British climbers are represented by the British climbing team, who compete in a series of national and international events including the World Cup, World Climbing Championships and European Climbing Championships.

Climbing Routes

Britain has plenty of good natural rock formations that are well-suited to climbing of all levels. The Peak District in the North of England is particularly renowned for climbing, having over 10,000 recorded climbs, and there is also a plethora of routes in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands.

The Global Rock Climbing Database is a comprehensive list of worldwide climbing routes and has links to all the outdoor climbing routes in Scotland, England and Wales, detailing route descriptions, directions and Ordinance Survey map references. There is also a good list of British routes on the Mountain Days and Climbing Club websites.

Grading System

The American grading system for treks and climbs goes from 1 to 5, with grade 5 climbs (those necessitating ropes and technical equipment) being sub-graded from 5.0 to 5.14.

In the UK, however, the grading system uses two figures, the adjectival and the technical grade of the climb. The adjectival grade is a descriptive overall rating of the climb which rates the level of difficulty of the climb. The technical grade is a measure of the hardest move of the climb. The two grades are not related, meaning a climber at the level of 5c climbs will be able to conquer E2 5b climbs but not E1 6a climbs, even if the overall level of the second route may be easier than the first.

The adjectival grading system in order of difficulty (lowest to highest) is as follows:

S, HS, VS, HVS, E1, E2, E3, E4, E5, E6, E7, E8.

The technical grading system in order of difficulty (lowest to highest) is as follows:

4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c

To view a table of comparative grading systems across the world, visit the UK Climbing Club website.