Climbing is more than a race to the top


There is nothing quite like reaching the apex of a cliff face as the sun beams down upon your skin.

Chalk, blood, and dirt encasing your hands and embedding itself under your fingernails. Muscles aching and worn, your adrenaline is soaring.

In a world of community and sportsmanship, climbing is extreme.

People all over the world take part in one of nature’s greatest puzzles.

“It’s all about problem solving,” Romain Thevenot, the director of Sport Climbing Australia, said.

“It’s like a big puzzle.”

Cooper Walters, an avid adventurer, also recognises the mental and physical skills executed to complete a climb.

“The thing that really kicks in is problem solving,” Walters said.

“It’s, how do I do this, what sequence of moves do I need to arrange my body in to make this happen?”

Nothing compares to the rush you feel when hanging off a cliff’s edge, your body pressed against the rough edges of the slope, focusing only on breathing and the task at hand.

It is no surprise that climbing has become a popular phenomenon.

Climbing has seen a boom of participants since the early 2000s, and with more than 44 million climbers around the globe and over 140 countries having climbing walls, the sport is now adding a vertical dimension to the world’s most prestigious sporting event — the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Thevenot provided insight into the sports addition to the Olympics.

“One of the main reasons we were added is because they were trying to find new sports, and particularly lifestyle sports,” he said.

As the front line for Australian climbers, Thevenot has experienced first-hand the rapid increase in participation on a week-to-week basis.

“There is an interest for the sport that’s growing,” he said.

“The gyms are full and they can’t take anymore. There are people waiting to do it.”

Thevenot’s journey and passion for climbing was founded in his youth.

His father, an adventurous mountain climber, would drag him into the mountains.

“He attached me at the end of a rope. I just had to follow him,” Thevenot said.

“We did a little bit of climbing and then it became my thing, more and more.

However, it is the community that brings people together, and this amplifies Thevenot’s passion for the sport.

“There’s a social aspect that allows you to spend time with friends but also to make new friends,” he said.

“They all share that same spirit. Often, they end up having, you know, social competitions or little parties… just to socialise with each other”.

Although climbing is progressing into the area of a competitive sport, it will remain a form of adventure and a social hobby for many.

“It’s quite a social activity even though it’s an individual sport, particularly what we can find around the bouldering gym,” Thevenot said.

“There’s a really cool social aspect about it where everyone stands around chatting and that’s really what attracts people”.

Socialisation also plays a major role in climbers’ growing relationship with failure.

Climbing is filled with internal psychological battles and is a sport that often replies on others providing tips or tricks.

“Climbing is extremely personal because when you climb, it’s not against others, it’s only about you on the wall,” Thevenot said.

“There’s a lot of experience on how your body can move on the wall. Understanding your body movements, understanding the combination of forces …The muscle memory on your body. [The challenge] on your brain to learn how you can, and what you can do,” he said.

“Problem solving is a good way to work that [out], you know”.

The kind of satisfaction individuals experience on the walls is not only felt by those who consistently climb.

Even a child can be ecstatic in their accomplishment.

“They would just climb to the top of the wall. And then when they get there, they just feel like they won,” Thevenot said.

“What’s interesting, though, is that no matter what kind of satisfaction, no matter how hard it is, no matter what kind of climber you are, you can always find a challenge.”

Trust is also something quickly learnt within the climbing communities.

Phillip Tingle, the current President of The Newcastle University Mountaineering Club, knows that, for many, climbing is about placing trust in yourself and others.

“You’re trusting your belayer not to drop you, building high trust relations whether or not you’re dealing with mental illness, or just, in general, it generates a kind of powerful enjoyment,” he said.


Sportsmanship is a main attribute of climbers and having large support groups is an inherent part of climbing.

“It’s an individual sport where you rely entirely on other people,” Tingle said.

“People seem to understand that they need to give support as well as receive it … people are very encouraging.”

Watching others succeed and taking pride in their accomplishment plays a major role in the community.

“Seeing other people being really stoked is the thing I take most joy from in climbing” Tingle said.

“There’s a degree of puzzle-solving in terms of figuring out where all the holds are and stuff like that.

“It’s quite a mental and technical aspect, something you don’t get in a lot of other things in life.

“It’s satisfying to find the most efficient way to get up a wall but then also there’s [a] fear factor as you’re worrying about if you’re going to fall; it feels good.”

With determination and strength being fundamental internal and external drives that surround the world of climbing, Thevenot also understands the intensity.

“That feeling of battling through something, then finding your way up, then eventually succeeding is extremely interesting,” Thevenot said.

Friendships are not the only joy that individuals experience; the ability to learn new skills, and completing complicated climbs, becomes a daily ambition.

According to Tingle: “There was this one boulder problem, I spent five weeks [working on] or something silly like that … I think I got on it two days after they set it and I finished it 10 minutes before they reset it … it got to a point where I was dreaming about that climb.”

Tingle would love to see more people out and about, taking advantage of the world outside.

“When you’re at the top of the wall you know you have achieved something” Tingle said.

However, climbing outdoors is not for the faint of heart.

In a world where you rely on one another, Cooper Walters understands the pain versus gain individuals experience when climbing.

“You can push your limits and it gets less scary,” Walters said.

“Climbing starts becoming a bit pushing for your boundaries and it becomes a puzzle solving piece.”

Working through patterns can be mentally and physically challenging, but confronting fears and socialising is not all that draws people in.

“It’s not so much the act of climbing, it’s the place is it gets you,” Walters said.

“When you’re on a wall, you’re bleeding from your knuckles, you think ‘I’ve got to do this’”.

Each climb is defined by different skills that are needed and gaining the skills to solve these strange puzzles allows individuals to experience things like never before.

“How often do you go on a climbing trip and have a nap on the cliff faces?” Walters said.

For Walters, climbing is a wild and wonderful experience.

“There have been a few moments … in the Blue Mountains … There was a point, I was hanging out of the ceiling [of a cliff] by my hand and there was a satisfaction, I guess an ego boost, a pride thing,” he said.

It is a moment of tranquility, hanging upside down puzzling out the next moves, as every fibre of you zones into what you have to do and what surrounds you.

“When you’re hanging off a cliff or sitting under a waterfall, the waters roaring over your head and bashing your helmet, there’s nothing else,” Walters said.

Climbing is a grating yet fulfilling experience, and while the world keeps spinning around you, climbing is one puzzle that can create special moments and memories.

“Heels flat against the wall, [toes] over a lip, and you’re leaning forwards over the edge… well, it’s a little feeling you keep locked up a little box for the rainy days,” Walters said.