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Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.
The term contrasts with free climbing in which progress is made without using artificial aids: a free climber ascends by only holding onto and stepping on natural features of the rock, using rope and equipment merely to catch them in case of fall and provide belay.
In general, aid techniques are reserved for pitches where free climbing is difficult to impossible, and extremely steep and long routes demanding great endurance and both physical and mental stamina. While aid climbing places less emphasis on athletic fitness and raw strength than free climbing, the physical demands of hard aid climbing should not be underestimated.
Aid climbing is sometimes erroneously referred to as class 6 climbing, as it relies on ascent by one's equipment rather than merely being protected by it. It is regarded by purists as falling outside the traditional Classes 1–5 Yosemite Decimal System rankings that rely on making progress with one's hands and feet in direct contact with the rock alone. Aid climbing has its own ranking system, using a separate scale from A0 through A5.
In a typical ascent with aid the climber places pieces of equipment called protection in cracks or other natural features of the rock, then clips a ladder-like device, called an aider, stirrup or étrier, to the protection, stands up on the aider, and repeats the process.
Just as in free climbing, the usual aid technique involves two climbers, a leader and a belayer. The leader is connected by a rope to the belayer, who remains at the belay station while the leader moves up. As the leader advances, the rope is let out by the belayer, and clipped by the leader into the pieces of protection as they are placed. If the leader falls, the belayer locks off the rope and, assuming the protection doesn't pull out, catches the leader's fall on the rope. When the leader, moving up, reaches the end of the rope, or a convenient stopping point, they build an anchor, hang on it, and affix the rope to it. This then becomes the next belay station. The belayer then ascends the fixed rope using mechanical ascenders, retrieving the protection that was placed by the leader. Meanwhile, the leader sets up a hauling system and, using another rope brought up for that purpose, hauls up a bag containing the climbers' food, water, hammocks or porta-ledge, sleeping bags, and so on. Many variations on this basic technique are possible, including solo aid climbing and climbing with a team of three or more.
Until the 1940s protection was provided by the piton, driven into a crack in the rock with a hammer and stoppers. Today, aid climbing uses a considerably larger array of hardware than the pitons used by the first climbers although the primary technique of ascension has not much evolved. The typical gear of an aid climber includes pitons, hooks, copperheads, nuts, camming devices, ascenders, hauling pulleys, aiders, daisy chains, and wall hammers. The invention of camming devices or "friends" and other non-damaging rock gear has resulted in the practice of clean aid, where nothing is hammered, a great bonus for popular routes which could be disfigured from continual hammering.
The hardest aid routes are poorly protected, requiring the climber to make long sequences of moves using hooks or tenuous placements. On these routes, a climber may have to commit to moving up onto the most marginal of placements risking long and sometimes dangerous falls. By contrast, the vast majority of aid ascents are done on popular free climbs which are too difficult for the aid party to free, but offer excellent gear placements. Since aid climbing is extremely slow compared to free climbing, this can lead to some conflicts between aid climbers and free climbers waiting to climb a route. There is additional tension caused by the damage that aid climbing often does to routes. Hooks frequently break or otherwise damage holds that human hands and feet do not. New aid climbers also often compulsively "bounce test" pieces the reliability of which experienced leaders can often assess at a glance; removing a "bounce-tested" nut often requires hammer blows which further expand and sometimes fracture holds.
Until the 1960s or so, aid climbing was normal practice in most climbing areas. But as improvements in technique and equipment meant that many aid routes could be climbed free, some influential climbers began to criticise the use of aid as being against the spirit of mountaineering. Reinhold Messner wrote, "Rock faces are no longer overcome by climbing skill, but are humbled, pitch by pitch, by methodical manual labour … Who has polluted the pure spring of mountaineering?" (from "The Murder of the Impossible").
Free climbing is now the mainstream of climbing. But aid climbers have answered the criticism of Messner and others by climbing routes where the absence of holds or features in the rock make free climbing impossible, and by avoiding purely mechanical techniques (such as repetitively drilling bolts).
Today, many routes which were originally done using aid are being climbed free by a new generation of climbers with immensely improved skill, physical ability, and significantly advanced equipment including modern ropes, high-friction rubber shoes, and modern camming devices. Some of the techniques used to achieve free ascents of aid routes, for example placing extra bolts for protection (retro-bolting), are now sometimes thought to have "polluted the pure spring of mountaineering" by destroying the route as it was climbed by the first ascenionists. The solution is often a compromise in which an absolute minimum of bolts is added to allow safe protection for free climbers, while not totally destroying the challenge of the route as an aid climb. However, as with most compromises, this is not a solution that satisfies everyone.
The A grading scale (A for 'artificial' or 'aid') incorporates difficulty of placing protection, and the danger associated with falling. The original scale was a closed gradation scale from A0 to A5, modern aid climbers have adopted "new wave" grading which compresses the scale but still uses A0–A5. A parallel scale of C0–C5 has been used to describe routes which can be climbed clean.Clean in this context refers to routes that can be completed without a hammer and the associated pitons even if the route still uses previously installed expansion bolts.
Long, John and John Middendorf, Big Walls, Chockstone Press, Evergreen, Colorado, 1994. ISBN 0-934641-63-3
McNamara, Chris, "How to Big Wall Climb", Supertopo, South Lake Tahoe, California, 2013. ISBN 978-0983322511
Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.
In rock climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a grade to a climbing route or boulder problem, intended to describe concisely the difficulty and danger of climbing it. Different types of climbing each have their own grading systems, and many nationalities developed their own, distinctive grading systems.
Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.
Traditionalclimbing, is a style of rock climbing in which a climber or group of climbers place all gear required to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete. Traditional bolted face climbing means the bolts were placed on lead and/or with hand drills. The bolts tend to be much farther apart than sport climbs. For example, a trad bolted route may have bolts from 15–75 feet apart. A sport route may have bolts from 3–10 feet apart, similar to a rock climbing gym. The term seems to have been coined by Tom Higgins in the piece "Tricksters and Traditionalists" in 1984. A trad climber is called a traditionalist.
This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Ice climbing is the activity of ascending inclined ice formations. Usually, ice climbing refers to roped and protected climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water. For the purposes of climbing, ice can be broadly divided into two spheres, alpine ice and water ice. Alpine ice is found in a mountain environment, usually requires an approach to reach, and is often climbed in an attempt to summit a mountain. Water ice is usually found on a cliff or other outcropping beneath water flows. Alpine ice is frozen precipitation whereas water ice is a frozen liquid flow of water. Most alpine ice is generally one component of a longer route and often less technical, having more in common with standard glacier travel, while water ice is selected largely for its technical challenge. Technical grade is, however, independent of ice type and both types of ice vary greatly in consistency according to weather conditions. Ice can be soft, hard, brittle or tough. Mixed climbing is ascent involving both ice climbing and rock climbing.
A wide range of equipment is used during rock or any other type of climbing that includes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.
Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. Free climbing more specifically may include traditional climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and most forms of solo climbing. Free climbing a multi-pitch route means free-climbing each of its pitches in a single session. At the end of each pitch, climbers are allowed to anchor themselves to belay stations and rest. If they fail climbing a pitch, they are allowed to use the rope to return to the beginning of that pitch and try it again.
Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that may rely on permanent anchors fixed to the rock for protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall, or that involves climbing short distances with a crash pad underneath as protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Sport climbing usually involves lead climbing and toproping techniques, but free solo and deep-water solo climbing on sport routes is also sometimes possible.
Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest.
In rock climbing, a bolt is a permanent anchor fixed into a hole drilled in the rock as a form of protection. Most bolts are either self-anchoring expansion bolts or fixed in place with liquid resin.
Clean climbing is rock climbing techniques and equipment which climbers use in order to avoid damage to the rock. These techniques date at least in part from the 1920s and earlier in England, but the term itself may have emerged in about 1970 during the widespread and rapid adoption in the United States and Canada of nuts, and the very similar but often larger hexes, in preference to pitons, which damage rock and are more difficult and time-consuming to install. Pitons were thus eliminated in North America as a primary means of climbing protection in a period of less than three years.
In rock climbing and ice climbing, a pitch is a steep section of a route that requires a rope between two belays, as part of a climbing system. Standard climbing ropes are between 50 and 80 metres long, so a pitch is always shorter, between two convenient ledges if possible; longer routes are multi-pitch, requiring the re-use of the rope each time. In free climbing, pitch refers to classification by climbers of the difficulty of ascent on certain climbing routes.
Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.
An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.
In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load to the climbing surface - typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building - either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection; primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting a rope.
Bob Kamps was an American rock climber whose climbing career spanned five decades. Born in Wisconsin, he began climbing in California in 1955, and was a member of that cadre of Yosemite pioneers who first ascended many of its great walls in the 1950s and 1960s. He was particularly adept on steep rock faces, and was among the first to shift attention from aid climbing to free climbing. Over the years he made more than 3,100 climbs. Many were first ascents or first free ascents.
Although the practice of rock climbing was an important component of Victorian mountaineering in the Alps, it is generally thought that the sport of rock climbing began in the last quarter of the 19th century in at least three areas: Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony near Dresden, the north of England including the Peak district and Lake District, and the Dolomites in Italy. Rock climbing evolved gradually from an alpine necessity to an athletic sport in its own right, making it imprudent to cite a primogenitor of the latter in each of these three locales. Nevertheless, there is some general agreement on the following:
Alpine climbing is a branch of climbing in which the primary aim is very often to reach the summit of a mountain. In order to do this high rock faces or pinnacles requiring several lengths of climbing rope must be ascended. Often mobile, intermediate climbing protection has to be used in addition to the pitons usually in place on the climbing routes.