Artificial wall climbing, otherwise known as sport climbing, has grown in popularity, so much so it earned a spot at the 2021 Olympics.

A climbing wall is a man-made wall withholds for your feet and hands, used for climbing. Modern artificial wall climbing started in the United Kingdom. 

One of the earliest artificial climbing walls was constructed in 1964 by Don Robinson at Leeds University.

He was a Physical Education Lecturer and was the initiator of the DR Climbing wall by slotting in rock pieces in a corridor wall. 

The other artificial climbing wall was constructed in Sheffield, and since then, there have been many more built throughout the world.

Mostly, artificial walls were utilized for ascending as a convenient practice setting for rock climbing, where a rock was not available. Eventually, it has grown into a professional and autonomous sport. 

Here we cover more on artificial wall climbing from what it is and its history to the wall types available and the tallest walls in the world. Let’s get started!

What Is Artificial Wall Climbing
What Is Artificial Wall Climbing? | Free to use this image with proper credit

What is Artificial Wall Climbing?

Artificial wall climbing is a sport that involves climbing a man-made, rock-like wall featuring hand and footholds and a belaying device. Artificial wall climbing is one of the most popular types of climbing these days.

Artificial Wall History

The first artificial climbing walls featured tiny concrete aspects with handholds made of medium-sized rocks.

It is believed that Seattle’s Schurman Rock was the first man-made climbing wall in the US, and it was built in 1939. 

After that was a more modern artificial climbing wall version built in the UK in 1964 at the University of Leeds by Don Robinson, a physical education lecturer.

He placed rock pieces in a corridor wall, which the climbers used as handholds and footholds. 

The original commercial climbing wall was constructed in Sheffield, conventionally England’s climbing center, because of its vicinity to the Peak District.

A few years later, the pioneer indoor climbing gym was built, Vertical World, in 1987 in Seattle, US. 

What are the Artificial Wall Types?

Climbing walls are made using a handful of materials, but the easiest wall type to build is plywood. This is normally referred to as woody among climbers with a mixture of either screw-on or bolt-on grips.

Screw-on grips are usually small due to the nature of their setting. Again, these are typical screws, and you can fix them anywhere on the wall’s surface. 

On the other hand, bolt-on grips are affixed to the walls using iron bolts, typically placed via the hold, which comes with pre-positioned bolt points, and then secured into the pre-assigned holes on the wall. 

Other wall types include pre-designed fiberglass panels, textured fiberglass, inflatable, manufactured aluminum, and steel panels; concrete gushed on a wire mesh and granite walls.

The most recent and impressively magnificent innovation is a rotating artificial climbing wall. It is typically a mechanical wall that revolves like a treadmill to complement your style of climbing. 

Indoor Climbing 

Indoor climbing has become quite popular; it is a discipline of rock climbing done on artificial walls that try to copy the experience you get when outdoor rock climbing.

In 1987, the pioneer indoor climbing gym was established; Seattle’s Vertical World. Before that, the original indoor climbing hall was constructed in 1974 in Bolzano, Italy, by Eric Abram. 

The abundance of indoor climbing gyms has surged, thus boosting the popularity and accessibility of this climbing discipline.

Since weather conditions, from the integrity of the structures and the gear worn to the adequate utilization of the gear and weather elements, can be better regulated in an indoor setting, indoor climbing is probably a more secure and beginner-friendly environment. 

Initially, indoor climbing walls were constructed mainly with brick, which restricted the wall’s steepness and range of the holds.

Of late, indoor climbing routes are built of plywood instead of metal frames, with bolt-in plastic foot and handholds, and at times layered with texture to emulate the surface of a rock.

Many climbing contests are held in indoor climbing gyms; thus, they are part of indoor climbing. 

Indoor Climbing Compared to Outdoor Climbing

Outdoor and indoor climbing can be different when it comes to gear, climbing style, and techniques.

Ascending artificial walls, particularly indoors, is significantly safer as the holds and anchor points are securely fixed, and the environmental elements are more controlled. 

When indoor climbing, the grips are visible compared to natural structures, where locating a convenient hand or foothold may be tricky.

Then again, climbers on artificial walls are relatively controlled by the grips set up on the terrain, while on natural structures, the climber can exploit any of the cracks and slopes on the wall surface.

Some natural rock features can be challenging to mimic on artificial climbing walls. 

Artificial Wall Construction 

The most common builds are bolt-in resin foot and handholds on boards. These boards could be of different steepness and heights, with a combination of different holds affixed.

You can find anything from entirely horizontal designs to almost vertical designs in terms of steepness. 

The holds can range from tiny pinches, slanted slippers, and crimps to jugs, typically easier to grasp.

This wide array of holds, plus the ability for the route to be adjusted by shifting the grips to different placements on the wall, has led to indoor climbing becoming quite a popular sport. 

What Is the Equipment Needed for Artificial Wall Climbing?

Adequate climbing gear is mandatory when indoor climbing. Most gyms rent belay gadgets, auto belay devices, ropes, and harnesses. Some will also offer you chalk bags and climbing shoes.

Again, some gyms will require you to use chalk balls or liquid chalk, instead of loose chalk, to lessen chalk dust in the gym and spill when the chalk bag is stepped on or hit.

Decreasing the chalk in the air is handy in preventing congesting the ventilation systems and lessening the dust which builds upon the not-so-vertical walls. 

Artificial Wall Climbing Routes and Grading

Grips come in a wide range of colors. Those with similar shades are typically utilized to symbolize one route, letting routes on unalike complexity levels be overlapped.

Colored tape positioned beneath the climbing grips is another technique utilized to mark routes with different complexity. 

In trying to ascend a route, you can only use holds of a given color as handgrips.

However, you’re typically permitted to utilize both footholds and handholds of the given color and the textures and structures of the surface as footholds. 

The terrain’s grade, normally the difficulty, is an agreed-upon decision between the person who sets the route and a few climbers who ascend this route first.

Multiple indoor climbing walls have climbers who’re given the task of setting different ratings. They are known as the course or route setters. 

Since climbing walls are typically utilized to assess the growth of your ability, routes are usually color-coded.

Every indoor gym features a chosen terrain to climb, known as the route. Every route is differentiated by marked tape pieces or a monochromatic series of climbing grips. 

Therefore, if the path is taped, each grip on the route will feature tape of the same color, showing which grips to hold or step on.

Some modern climbing gyms have adopted the monochromatic mechanism; rather than utilizing colored tape as terrain indicators, this mechanism applies colored climbing grips. 

Every monochromatic terrain is set up with grips of the same color; this way, climbers follow the grips with one color the whole route.

Setting a route is designing the terrain by positioning climbing grips in a technical, planned, and fun way, determining how it will look.

There are many different methods concerned when setting routes, and about five certification levels are awarded to qualified individuals. 

Therefore, route setting is the heart of indoor climbing, as, without a reliable set of terrain, a climbing gym cannot accommodate a decent number of climbers. 

What is the Tallest Artificial Climbing Wall in the World?

The tallest chimney in Europe was converted to the tallest artificial climbing route globally. Slovenia’s rarely-used 360-meter-long chimney was equipped with a multi-pitch 5.14a path. 

Domen Skofic and Janja Garnbret, documented by various film crews, were the first to attempt ascending this route.

The attempt looked especially tiring for these two championship sport climbers. Simon Margon and Katja Vidmar, sport climbing designers, called this establishment the Never-Ending Story.

Honestly, the title fits as Skofic and Garnbaret spent about 12 hours on their first ascend on this route. 

The documentary based on this ascend maps the route’s construction and Skofic’s and Janja Garnbret’s climbs. Every pitch provides different demands and a unique feel.

And even though the gradient is consistent on this vertical route, the designers desired to make sure it did not feel like one challenge throughout the entire 360 meters. 

Nine of the World’s Most Unique Climbing Walls

In this list, we will take a look at the 9 of the world’s most unique climbing walls.

  1. The Mighty Excalibur
  2. The Dam Route
  3. Indoor Ice Climbing
  4. The Fairytale Wall
  5. Frozen Grain Silo
  6. Color Climb
  7. Against the Grain
  8. Cathedral Climbs
  9. Go Psicobloc

1. The Mighty Excalibur

This Excalibur is situated in Bjoeks, Netherlands. It’s a climbing wall that’s more than 120ft tall and features a 36ft overhang.

The climber Jorg Verhoeven graded this route a 9a and promised the first person to ascend it to completion 1000 Euros. 

2. The Dam Route 

This is a large dam located in Blenio, Switzerland. This dam was converted into a climbing wall of 540 ft.

Climbers require utilizing a ladder to reach the first 20ft to the grips. All the same, once you climb the entire route, you will get a picturesque Alps view. 

3. Indoor Ice Climbing 

As the name suggests, this is an indoor ice wall situated in Kinlochleven, Scotland. It allows climbers to practice climbing indoors throughout the year, without the hassle and inconvenience of environmental conditions.

It is a 39 ft wall, and it’s the biggest indoor ice wall globally. The well-known West Highland Way terrain inspired its design. 

4. The Fairytale Wall

The fairytale designer wall is in Tokyo, Japan. It combines Tokyo’s incredible fashion with outdoor sports.

Its design is inspired by the Illoiha club and utilizes interior design aspects to build the wall, allowing climbers to attempt this sport effortlessly.

5. Frozen Grain Silo

This ice-layered grain silo is a group of grain silos in Cedar Falls, Iowa, turned into fascinating ice-climbing paths.

Don Briggs came up with this idea in 2001 and perfected a technique to rig horses to develop winter-like weather. 

6. Color Climb 

The colorful climbing walls are ideal for kids and have a wide array of colors, which offer them an alluring look.

They’re located in Auckland, NZ, and they’re versatile and complex enough for grownups as well. 

7. Against the Grain 

Here, at this grain silo route, in Bloomington, Illinois, you get the chance to enjoy climbing 65ft high silos.

They’re three silos, and two of them facilitate chimney ascends. In the middle is an outdoor wall, the main area with a handful of terrain and bouldering caves. 

8. Cathedral Climbs

The previously called Victorian cathedral was redesigned for climbing and is situated in Manchester, UK.

The routes in this structure are showered with lights of different colors and stained glass for a glorious view as you climb. 

9. Go Psicobloc 

This deep-water soloing scene in Utah Park offers you a lavish feel as you ascend. Most routes in the Utah park are deep-water structures, which is quite awesome. St. George in Utah is a popular place for rappelling and canyoneering.

What are Wall Climbers Called?

Wall climbers are called sport climbers. While there are several disciplines of sport climbing, like rock climbing, lead, and wall climbers are often referred to as sport climbers. 

How Much Does a DIY Climbing Wall Cost?

A DIY climbing wall will cost you approximately 75 to 600 dollars per M2. Therefore, it depends on the complexity and size of the design you want.

Again, a rock climbing wall is about 40 to 60 dollars per sq. ft, though this will depend on the grips and board you’ll use. 

What are the Three Basic Forms of Climbing?

Climbing is a sporting activity loved by many, and due to its popularity, there are numerous types of climbing invented for various reasons. However, the three basic forms of climbing are; 


Climbing is a varying and vast activity and can take up multiple forms. On the other hand, some people think climbing on artificial walls should not be seen as true climbing.

And while all forms of climbing are beneficial in their way, this write-up concentrates on artificial wall climbing, and hopefully, it has helped you understand what it is and its wonderful history. 

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