The history of climbing is a recent history. Unlike many sports, climbing does not date back to ancient times. People tended to climb the steep faces of rocky cliffs only when they had to and now they do it because they want to do it.
There was some rock climbing down as a part of Alpine mountaineering. This was done most for rescue type operations. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that rock climbing was first seen as a sporting activity. It seems to have emerged in three distinct European areas around this time. The first was in Germany in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in the Southeastern part of the country near the Czech border. By 1903, there were almost 500 climbers active in this region and climbing clubs were being formed.
Around the same time, rock climbing was being viewed as a sport in England. Some of the early climbers attracted a lot of attention with solo climbs of very difficult cliff formations. It is here that the practice of assigning difficulty ratings to various formations began. Although formal climbing clubs were slow to form here, many climbers began to meet informally to discuss their climbs and share notes on techniques.
In the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy, a 17 year old student from Munich, Germany, made a daring solo climb and this led to this area being the third great European hotbed of rock climbing. In the United States, rock climbing and mountain climbing were viewed as similar activities, and it was not until the 1950's that it began to emerge as a separate sport. Still much of the techniques used in rock climbing were developed as a part of mountain climbing.
In recent years, rock climbing has going through a period of rapid evolution. New styles and improved equipment are constantly being introduced. Many rock climbers are starting to consider the hobby as almost more of a lifestyle than a sport. One trend has been the introduction of indoor rock climbing in urban areas. These facilities have artificial rock faces that are designed to simulate actual formations. The safety equipment used in the indoor arenas have made it possible to practice and experience much of the thrill and demanding nature of rock climbing without the risk.
Despite the safety equipment and improved techniques, rock climbing is not only a sport that demands a great deal of physical strength and stamina, but is also hazardous. The history of rock climbing is recent history because mankind had enough challenges to his strength and stamina in just routine living in the past. Rocks were only climbing if there was some compelling reason to climb them. It says much about our modern society that rock climbing is becoming a popular activity. There is something in human nature that always seeks a challenge. Rock climbing came into existence because of that basic drive.