Rock Climbing…What Does It Mean?

The time has come that we, as a climbing industry, establish a differentiation between climbing outside and climbing inside.

“I’m a rock climber.”

If anyone approaches me and says this phrase, I know right off the bat that they are either new to climbing or are referring to climbing indoors on plastic.

Why do I make such huge assumptions? Because I know that veteran-climbers don’t say rock climbing, they just say climbing. That truth alone is the key reason why we need to make an official differentiation between climbing real rock outside verses climbing plastic holds inside.

Joseph Smith at the Glenwood Springs Rec Center. Photo by Benjamin L Eaton.

Currently, the wrong impressions are being given around the world when someone says, “I just got done rock climbing.” One would assume that this person just got back from the local crag, or maybe even from a remote wonderland of rock, where they hung their own quickdraws or plugged their own cams. After hearing a bit more about their climbing session, it is determined that they just got back from the climbing gym where they spent the last 2-4 hours bouldering or top roping on a plywood wall that is riddled with plastic holds.

However, a totally different truth is told when someone says, “I just got back from climbing.” Even though a non-climber would respond with, “Climbing? Climbing what?” a weathered climber would already know that an outdoor climbing session just took place where they hiked an approach, braved the elements, and cut their fingers on abrasive limestone.

Benjamin L Eaton in Indian Creek, UT. Photo by Jennilyn Eaton.
Why would the elimination of the word “rock” change the meaning so drastically? It’s because our definitions for climbing have been left unattended like the garden that sits infested with weeds that strangle the life out of the ripening fruit.

The definitions for climbing currently look like this:
Rock Climbing = Climbing inside on plastic
Climbing = Climbing outside on real rock

The definitions for climbing should look like this from hear on out:
Indoor Climbing = Climbing inside on plastic
Rock Climbing = Climbing outside on real rock

The time is now. Use your words and speak the truth. Just because you climb in a gym doesn’t automatically mean you are ROCK climbing. Are you climbing on rock? NO! You are actually climbing…indoors, hence the term INDOOR CLIMBING.

A Note From The Author...ME: I have nothing against INDOOR CLIMBING. I actually do quite a bit of it myself, especially in the winter. What I do have something against is how we mis-label our actions. Example: If I rode a stationary bike for 2 hours, I wouldn't say to my friends afterwards, "I just got done with a 2 hour bike ride."