An Introduction to Rock Climbing in London
As you are probably aware there aren't lots of mountains or rocks around London but that doesn't mean there aren't some fantastic places for rock climbing in London. We are blessed with probably the most condensed selection of purpose built indoor climbing walls and centres in Europe. Some 20+ walls ranging from small walls housed in gyms to huge purpose built climbing centres, check out the London Climbing Guides section on Places to Climb in London for more information on where to get your climbing fix.
This section below gives an introduction to climbing walls and covers the basic types of climbing in London and those you may encounter farther afield.
4 Main types of climbing in London and one exception
- Lead climbing (sport)
- Conditioning - Campus boards and Fingerboards etc
- Exception - Ice Climbing at Vertical Chill
Other types of climbing for trips outside of London and those even farther away
- Lead climbing (Sport, Trad or Traditional)
- Bouldering - on boulders
- Winter climbing
- Mixed climbing
- Ice climbing
- Alpine climbing
- Via Ferrata
Rock climbing is inherently dangerous and people that partake in it are at serious risk of injury and even death. Your own personal safety should always be your number one priority when climbing and you must accept the risks and be responsible for your own actions when climbing or entering into climbing centres. Take good safety precautions and learn to climb in safe and controlled manner. This site is meant purely as a guide - see our t&c's
Climbing in London
Rock Climbing in London
What is a Climbing wall?
So lets start at the beginning with what are indoor climbing walls. A climbing wall (also known as climbing gyms) are an artificially constructed wall with grips for hands and feet, usually used for indoor climbing, but sometimes located outside as well. The aim is to simulate rock climbing in the outdoors in the controlled indoor environment.
Some obvious advantages are that you are sheltered from weather and that safety is usually higher than in the outdoor environment, with purpose built safety matting, trained staff and regularly checked equipment.
There are a multitude of climbing walls in London check out our places to climb section for more info
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs over a padded mat called a crash pad or bouldering mat so that a fall will not result in serious injury.
Most of the climbing walls in London will have a bouldering section with some centres like the Biscuit Factory being completely dedicated to bouldering.
Like all indoor skills, bouldering does also refer to the same activity outdoors which normally takes place on boulders or the bottom of larger rock faces.
This is the place where most climbers start their climbing careers due to its low barriers to participate. You don't really need any of the more specific equipment (ropes, harnesses etc) to boulder, you can start climbing by yourself and no advanced skills are need to get going.
Top Rope Climbing
Top rope climbing or 'Top roping' is a style in climbing in which a rope, used for the climber's safety, runs from a belayer at the foot of a route through one or more carabiners connected to an anchor system at the top of the route and back down to the climber.
This is predominant way of climbing in most indoor centres and where the majority of climbers will first climb with a rope and harness. To top rope climb safely the belayer and climber will work together to to ensure the safety of both parties. Presuming that the anchor holds; and that the belayer pays attention, the top-rope climber generally will not fall more than a short distance and can thus safely attempt even the most difficult routes.
Most top-rope anchors and ropes will be pre-placed at the climbing centres and many have the addition of accessible ground anchors for the belayer for additional anchoring.
Top-roping does transfer to the outdoors and most top-rope anchors can be reached through non-technical means, such as by hiking or scrambling to the top of the cliff.
Indoor lead climbing - Sport
Lead climbing is a rock climbing technique used to ascend a route. This technique involves a lead climber attaching themselves to a length of climbing rope and ascending a route while periodically attaching themselves to protection (quickdraws) placed on the face of the route and clipping in to it.
The lead climber must have another person acting as a belayer. The belayer has multiple roles: holding the rope in the event of a fall, and paying out or taking up rope as the climber moves. This differs significantly from top roping.
As lead climbing does not require a pre-placed anchor at the top of the route, it is often seen as less restricted than top roping. At the same time there is a need for a higher level of technical skill, as climbers will need to climb and attach themselves to protection at the same time.
Protective devices are only placed to catch the climber in the event of a fall and if a climber hasn't clipped into protection or is in the process of doing so at the time of a fall, they may drop much farther than compared top toping.
Climbing centres do not provide ropes for lead climbing, so climbers need to bring there own for such routes. Lead climbing should only be attempted by climbers with a high level of climbing and belaying skill.
Training and conditioning
Most of the climbing centres in London have a dedicated training area consisting of climbing training aids such as campus boards,finger boards and rock rings etc. These training training tools have been widely adopted to improve rock climbing performance.
Typically, a user ascends or descends the campus board using only their hands. On the whole a campus board comprises of horizontal thin slats or rails of wood attached to an inclined board in a ladder like configuration.
Finger Boards / Hang boards
Usually a slab of plastic or wooden board with multiple holes sunken into it. The aim of these climbing aids are to increase finger strength and power.