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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.
In early versions of the Yosemite Decimal System, aid climbing was class 6, but today the YDS uses only classes 1-5. Aid climbing has its own ranking system, using a separate scale from A0 through A6. 
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, the leader and 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 ascensionists. 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 A6, 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.
Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or other parts of the body to ascend a steep topographical object that can range from the world's tallest mountains to small boulders. Climbing is done for locomotion, for sporting recreation, for competition, and is also done in trades that rely on ascension; such as rescue and military operations. Climbing is done indoors and outdoors, on natural surfaces, and on artificial surfaces.
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.
Traditional climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the climber places all the necessary protection gear required to arrest any falls as they are climbing, and then removes it when the pitch is complete. Traditional bolted aid climbing means the bolts were placed while on lead and/or with hand drills. Traditional climbing carries a higher level of risk than bolted sport climbing, as the climber may not have placed the safety equipment correctly while trying to ascend the route, or – in some cases – there may be no protection available to keep a climber from a ground fall or serious injury. For some of the world's hardest climbs, there may not be sufficient cracks or features in the rock that can accept protection gear, and the climb can only be safely attempted by bolting as a sport climb.
This is an index of topics related to climbing.
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.
In mountaineering and climbing, a first ascent is the first successful, documented climb to the top of a mountain or the top of a particular climbing route. Early 20th-century mountaineers and climbers were focused on reaching the tops of iconic mountains and climbing routes by whatever means possible, often using considerable amounts of aid climbing, or with large expedition style teams that laid "siege" to the climb.
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.
Rock-climbing equipment requires a range of specialized sports equipment, for training, for aid climbing, and for free climbing. Developments in rock-climbing equipment played an important role in the history of rock climbing, enabling climbers to ascend more difficult climbing routes safely, and materially improving the strength, conditioning, and ability of climbers.
Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is the controlled descent of a steep slope, such as a rock face, by moving down a rope. When abseiling, the person descending controls their own movement down the rope, in contrast to lowering off, in which the rope attached to the person descending is paid out by their belayer.
Solo climbing, or soloing, is a style of climbing in which the climber climbs alone, without the assistance of a belayer. By its very nature, it presents a higher degree of risk to the climber, and in some cases, is considered extremely high risk. Note that the use of the term "solo climbing" is generally separate from the action of bouldering, which is itself a form of solo climbing, but with less serious consequences in the case of a fall.
Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors, permanently fixed into the rock for climber protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall; it can also involve 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.
Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers use to create friction within a climbing system, particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.
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.
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.
A piton in climbing is a metal spike that is driven into a crack or seam in the climbing surface using a climbing hammer, and which acts as an anchor for protecting the climber against the consequences of falling or to assist progress in aid climbing. Pitons are equipped with an eye hole or a ring to which a carabiner is attached; the carabiner can then be directly or indirectly connected to a climbing rope.
Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, across, or down natural rock formations. 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 above or onto a 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.
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.