Before sport climbing became popular, traditional climbing was all there was, and it was just called “rock climbing.” Only after the sport-climbing rage took off in the late 1980s did the term “trad climbing” even come into existence.
Up until then, people became climbers by learning how to place protection and use all the tools to safely protect a lead and build an anchor. Today, it is not unusual to find highly skilled climbers-people who can climb really hard sport routes-who have never placed a nut in a crack.
There is danger in this. The transition from sport climbing to traditional climbing is even more complex than the transition from indoor climbing to sport climbing outdoors.
With the high strength of today’s fixed protection, most beginning sport climbers can rely on the fixed protection they find at the crags and focus on doing the moves. Judgment is still needed, but the fundamental choices of how to protect a /lead and build a top anchor have been made by someone else.
The climber standing at the base of a long crack system with nothing but a guidebook and a rack of equipment will start making judgment calls before he or she leaves the ground and will keep making decisions every step of the way while placing protection, building anchors, and belaying his or her partner. Safe traditional climbing depends on the proper use of a wide variety of equipment in complex systems.
It takes time and experience to climb traditional routes safely. But do not feel daunted; it is worth putting in the time to learn the systems.
There are few greater satisfactions in rock climbing than leading a traditional pitch at your limit, protecting it well, and building a bombproof anchor at the top. Looking down the long line of protection points as your partner cleans the pitch is an immensely satisfying experience – perhaps more so than looking down a pitch of quickdraws on someone else’s bolts.
Also, when you have mastered the traditional climbing systems, a whole world of climbs opens up.
You will no longer be limited to climbing only half a rope length off the ground.