The drumming noise of my heartbeat and the whistling sound of my breath as I’m figuring out the next move on my way to the top remind me it is myself I’m fighting against. The rock is not my enemy, it is my battlefield. The vertigo of the height has become addictive. I draw my energy from my own fear, while the challenge keeps me focused as I push myself to the edge. It’s all about setting new personal boundaries, an utter sense of achievement that is simply beyond words.
But first, let me introduce all you adventure-lovers to some rock climbing basics. To call it a sport would be a massive understatement. Once bitten by the bug, it becomes a way of life. It doesn’t matter if you are tall or short, young or old; with the right mindset it can be done!
There are several types and styles of outdoor climbing. Over the last years, sport climbing has become the most popular of them all. Focused on strength, technique and endurance on routes averaging from a few dozen feet to 200 ft or longer, sport climbing lines are equipped with permanent anchors and bolts for protection. They are the perfect playground on which climbers can try difficult moves, tackling problems that are close to or even beyond their limits.
Multi-pitch or big wall routes are about adventure and self-sufficiency. Long routes on high walls, with several stops at belay stations, sometimes taking days to complete, do involve a certain amount or risk and require experience and specific training.
Bouldering, on the other hand, is about freedom. Just as the name implies, it means climbing boulders with only a crash pad for protection. There are no ropes, harness or other protective gear, just a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag.
Called “the purest form of rock climbing,” deep water soloing (DWS) means climbing without any gear except a pair of shoes and chalk bag above a water surface that is deep enough to support a big drop. Deep water soloing can be practiced just about anywhere you have a nice crag above the ocean, sea or nearest lake. Just think of the water as your natural crash pad. It should go without saying that you must be a good swimmer and assess the drop zone wisely.
There are rock climbing spots all over the world, each remarkable in its own way. But what are the top destinations, you ask? It’s a matter of personal taste of course. Maybe it’s the challenge, the breathtaking scenery, impressive number of routes, or simply a unique vibe that makes certain places so popular. What is sure is that there are several revered routes and crags that have earned themselves a well-deserved place on every passionate climber’s bucket list. So let’s all embark on a journey around the world in 30 amazing rock climbing destinations, definite must-sees in a lifetime.
With such geologically diverse landscapes, no wonder the UK is rated one of the best rock climbing spots in the world. With long multi-pitch and sport climbing routes, spectacular coastal cliffs, ice and mountaineering, the UK is an all-year-round destination offering a little something for every taste.
From Peak District, considered the top climbing destination in the UK, to Lake District with its spectacular mountain peaks and Pembrokeshire in South Wales, climbers enjoy a picturesque show on the backdrop of some pretty challenging routes.
There’s just so much rock in Spain it’s almost a crime. This is of course good news for climbers. With excellent weather from autumn through spring, Spain is one of the world’s premiere winter climbing venues. Home to some of the hardest routes in the world, Siurana, Margalef and Montsant near Barcelona have become climbing meccas, with over 5,000 lines on a splendid mixture of limestone and conglomerate in the heart of the Sierra de Prades Mountains.
From bouldering on ancient sandstone in Albarracin to the over 1,000 multi-pitch and sport routes in the limestone gorges of El Chorro and the coastal crags in Costa Blanca, Spain will teach you the true meaning of fiesta and siesta.
The sport climbing in Mallorca is pretty outstanding, but most climbers come here for the thrill of the psicobloc, aka deep water solo. Considered Europe’s best DWS venue, eastern Mallorca has no less than a dozen crags rising out of the azure water, home to some really hard climbs.
The very birthplace of bouldering as a separate branch of rock climbing, Fontainbleau is definitely on every climber’s bucket list.
Nature chiseled bizarre balls of sandstone, now home to thousands of boulder problems. Another cool aspect about Fontainbleau is that it is only 55 miles from Paris. Best time to come here is late autumn to early spring.
Climbers agree it’s the top sport climbing area in France. Some will go as far as to say it’s the best in the world. Ceuse is indeed a coveted summer destination. Stamina routes on sheer limestone walls pierced with gazillions of pockets will put both your physical and mental endurance to the test. The unbroken line of crags set high in the mountains, at an altitude of 5,250 feet, is home to some of the world’s most challenging routes.
Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, rises proudly above the Chamonix valley. While the sharp summits and ridges make it a coveted destination among mountaineers, it is its granite towers that attract climbers. There are plenty of multi-pitch routes to be found here, some reaching an altitude of over 10,000 feet and requiring more than one day to complete.
The rolling meadows and forests of Switzerland are home to over 3,000 bouldering problems.
Some of the toughest routes in the world can be found at Magic Woods, to the east of the country. It may not be the world’s biggest climbing area, but it is definitely one of the most magical. Set at an altitude of over 4,000 feet, it is a great destination from spring through autumn.
To the south of Switzerland, Ticino area offers the highest concentration of boulders. Home to world-renowned spots like Cresciano, Chironico and Gottardo, the high-quality granite hosts over 1,500 boulder problems for all levels, perfect to climb from late fall to early spring.
When it comes to rock climbing, the crags at the Frankenjura are Germany’s crown jewels. There are some 1,000 limestone crags scattered all around the mystical forests near Nuremberg, a total of over 10,000 routes and counting. The climb is short and powerful, usually overhanging and with plenty of pockets, but there is something for every level and taste. Frankenjura is a summer destination, best time being from late spring through early autumn.
To the south of the Austrian-Italian border, vertical limestone peaks dominate the Alpine meadows. It is a contrast that has become emblematic for the Dolomites. The 2,600-foot tall rock sentinels make for a colossal climbers’ playground, its centerpiece being the north face of Cima Grande, one of the greatest walls in the Alps.
Imagine picture-perfect Mediterranean scenery, crystal clear waters, a chilled atmosphere and some 2,000 sport climbing routes to feast on. The small island of Kalymnos is dotted about with limestone crags as far as the eye can see, with excellent weather all year round.
Welcome to South Africa, a destination few climbers would’ve bothered to consider some years ago, now a world-class venue for traditional, multi-pitch and sport climbing.
Just 37 miles from Cape Town, Paarl Rock is the world’s second largest granite outcrop after Yosemite’s El Capitan. Its smooth surface, with apparently no holds, poses a challenge even for the most experienced climbers.
In southern India, Hampi is more than a climbers’ paradise, it is an outdoor museum sprinkled with dozens of 800-year-old ruins. It is the world’s largest bouldering area, with hundreds of granite balls thrown about like dices. One lifetime seems hardly enough to tackle all the boulder problems Hampi has to offer, especially since the best time of year is November through December.
Thailand, with its tropical climate and beaches, is an exotic location that attracts an international community of climbers each winter. Nature endowed these lands with spectacular cliffs rising over the Andaman Sea at Railay and Ton Sai beaches, with intricate shapes just yearning to be climbed and crystal-clear waters just waiting to be tested.
It’s always better to save the best for last, so here goes! With its emblematic granite cracks, Yosemite Valley is the ultimate climbers’ mecca. Standing 3,300 feet tall, El Capitan dominates the scenery, the largest continuous wall in the US and the world’s largest exposed granite monolith. Known as the cliff with “almost no joints”, there was a time when it was thought impossible to ascend. Now, climbers put their training and endurance to the test on some of the world’s hardest big wall routes, the most famous of which being The Nose, a long, sustained and difficult line that requires spending three to four days on the wall.
It may seem overwhelming at first glance, but Yosemite offers all styles and lengths of climbing for beginners and experts alike on the equally impressive Half Dome and Sentinel walls.
Now that you have a few starting points, what are you waiting for? And if you’ve already taken the plunge, why not share your favorite climbing spots with us in a comment below? No matter the place, don’t forget to give one hundred percent. It’s climb or die, or in other words: A Muerte!