Rock Climbing Becomes a Popular Sport in South Korea

Harry tries out rock climbing in his South Korean community. 

In South Korea, rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular. More than 600 climbing areas are scattered across this East Asian country of about 51.6 million people. More than 500,000 enthusiasts have taken up the sport.

Why is climbing so popular in Korea? Let’s find out.

Rock climbing started to catch on in South Korea in the early 1990s. The sport includes a range of events, each with its own challenges and thrills. Bouldering is about climbing short but difficult routes without ropes. The endeavor requires strength, agility, and problem-solving skills.

Lead climbing involves longer routes, where climbers clip onto fixed points. This tests both their physical endurance and mental focus. Speed climbing is a race against the clock to ascend a pre-determined route as quickly as possible.

One reason for the rise in the sport’s popularity is its presence in popular culture. For example, a 2019 Korean movie called Exit features several rock-climbing scenes. The dramatic scenes have sparked a lot of interest and curiosity among viewers. Many have been inspired to try climbing for themselves.


“Climbing feels like playing,” one young enthusiast told Harry. 


I recently talked with two young rock climbers about their interest in the sport. “I took up climbing because I wanted to quit taekwondo [a Korean martial art],” said Shin Hyeon-gyu, 12. “I got hooked after watching the Asian Games and seeing climbers in action.”

Kim Ji-eun, who is also 12, said that rock climbing is a natural fit for her. “I enjoyed climbing things when I was little,” she said. “So climbing seemed like the perfect sport for me.”

Both climbers expressed similar sentiments about why they love the sport. “It’s fun to hang on the wall and use the strength in my arms,” Hyeon-gyu said.

“Climbing feels like playing,” Ji-eun added, “or being on a ride at an amusement park.” 


Photos courtesy of the author