Free climbing

Last updated

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. [1] The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. [2] 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.


The term free climbing is used in contrast to aid climbing, in which specific aid climbing equipment is used to assist the climber in ascending the climb or pitch. The term free climbing originally meant "free from direct aid". [3] Aid climbing may be used to study a route or pitch before free-climbing it.

Methods and techniques

Free climbing near Cologne, Germany. Freiklettern347x500b.jpg
Free climbing near Cologne, Germany.

Free climbing varies; however, some principles apply universally. Smooth hand and feet coordination, balance, flexibility and agility are all important. [4] In lead climbing, a climber climbs a route from the ground up. For protection against a fall, the lead climber trails a rope which is managed by a belayer who remains on the ground or at an established anchor. As the leader climbs, they either place traditional protection such as cams and stoppers, or clip their rope through pre-placed bolted hangers or fixed anchors. The belayer feeds rope to the lead climber through a belay device, keeping a minimum amount of slack in the system, and keeping themself ready to catch the leader in case of a fall. The leader climbs until the top is reached, and they can then belay the following climber from above.

Both climber and belayer attach the rope to their climbing harnesses. The rope is tied into the climber's harness with a figure-of-eight loop or double bowline knot. The leader either places their own protection or clips into permanent protection already attached to the rock. In traditional climbing, the protection generally is removable. However, many significant first ascents in the U.S. done with a combination of crack gear and bolts placed on lead were termed "traditional" at the time (see below discussion). Usually nuts or spring-loaded camming devices (often referred to as "cams" or "friends") are set in cracks in the rock (although pitons are sometimes used). In sport climbing the protection is metal loops called hangers. Hangers are secured to the rock with either expanding masonry bolts taken from the construction industry, or by placing glue-in bolt systems. In ice climbing the protection is made-up of ice screws or similar devices hammered or screwed into the ice by the leader, and removed by the second climber.

The lead climber typically connects the rope to the protection with carabiners or quickdraws. If the lead climber falls, they will fall twice the length of the rope from the last protection point, plus rope stretch (typically 5% to 8% of the rope out), plus slack. If any of the gear breaks or pulls out of the rock or if the belayer fails to lock off the belay device immediately, the fall will be significantly longer. Thus if a climber is 2 meters above the last protection they will fall 2 meters to the protection, 2 meters below the protection, plus rope stretch (typ., 0.10–0.16 m) and slack, for a total fall of over 4 meters.

If the leader falls, the belayer must arrest the rope to stop the fall. To achieve this the rope is run through a belay device attached to the belayer's harness. The belay device runs the rope through a series of sharp curves that, when operated properly, greatly increases friction and stops the rope from running. Some of the more popular types of belay devices are the ATC Belay Device, the Figure 8 and various assisted-braking belay devices such as the Petzl Gri-Gri.

If the route being climbed is a multi-pitch route the leader sets up a secure anchor system at the top of the pitch, also called a belay, from where they can belay as their partner climbs. As the second climber climbs, they remove the gear from the rock in case of traditional climbing or remove the quickdraws from the bolts in the case of sport climbing. Both climbers are now at the top of the pitch with all their equipment. Note that the second climber is protected from above while climbing, but the lead climber is not, so being the lead climber is more challenging and dangerous. After completing the climb, and with both climbers at the top of the pitch, both climbers must rappel or descend the climb in order to return to their starting point, or top out and walk off. All climbs do not necessarily require the lead climber to belay the second climber from the top. The belayer could lower the lead climber down after they have completed a single pitch route. Basic equipment used in free climbing includes the use of rock shoes, chalk and helmets. [4]


Kurt Albert climbing the rock "Streitberger Schild" near Streitberg. Kurt Albert 03.jpg
Kurt Albert climbing the rock "Streitberger Schild" near Streitberg.

There are no rules per se to free climbing, beyond showing respect for the rock and for other climbers. Free climbers gain upward progress physically by using holds such as cracks, edges and flakes. [4] Climbing can be beneficial to health. Studies show climbers have healthier bodies and less fat, in addition climbing is shown to enhance cognitive function. [5] There are some hazards associated with climbing, most injuries occur within the fingers, wrists, shoulders, knees and elbows. [6]

Over the years, as climbing has become more popular and climbers more skilled, an entire generation of aficionados has been spawned from and with the ethics of climbing gyms and sport climbing. These climbers now share the rocks in some places with traditionally-trained adherents. Social benefits of climbing have been recognized, as many climbers choose to climb together providing opportunities to meet and interact with new people. [5]

In the newer generation as in previous ones, certain new conventions have emerged as the state of the art changes. Conventions are not universal: in fact, many older and/or more traditionally oriented climbers may ignore or actively disdain certain newer conventions, and the reverse is true as well: The more traditional values may be regarded as irrelevant, antique or "un-fun" by those who have different experience, goals and cultural identity.

Sport climbers are more likely than traditional climbers to repeatedly attempt complex ascents until successful. Both sport and traditional climber cultures value the following.

Across free climbing culture, the following styles are generally regarded as not being "good style" and to be avoided, though they are not actually wrong to do, and can be useful in some circumstances, especially to newer climbers.

Common misunderstandings of the term

While clear in its contrast to aid climbing, the term free climbing is nonetheless prone to misunderstanding and misuse.[ citation needed ]

The two most common errors are:

Wolfgang Gullich starting the crux move of Action Directe, first 9a (5.14d) route in history, 1991. Bild auf dem Gedenkstein fuer Guellich (retuschiert).jpg
Wolfgang Gullich starting the crux move of Action Directe , first 9a  (5.14d) route in history, 1991.

Notable first ascents

In free climbing, a first ascent (FA), or first free ascent (FFA) is the first successful, documented climb of a route or boulder performed without using equipment such as anchors, quickdraws or ropes for aiding progression or resting.

In many cases a first ascent (FA) will allow a climber to explore new sections of rock, this can directly influence the frequency of other first ascents (FA) as new routes are found. [7]

The fifth class decimal system is used to rate climbs throughout the United States. [4] However, Ratings on the hardest climbs tend to be speculative, until other climbers have had a chance to complete the routes and a consensus can be reached on the precise grade. This becomes increasingly difficult as the grade increases as there are fewer climbers that are capable of repeating the ascent of a route and passing judgment on its grade.

As of October 2017:

Related Research Articles

Climbing Activity to ascend a steep object

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.

Grade (climbing) Degree of difficulty of a climbing route

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 Style of rock climbing

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.

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs, primarily used by mountaineers in the United States and Canada. It was first devised by members of the Sierra Club in Southern California in the 1950s as a refinement of earlier systems, particularly those developed in Yosemite Valley, and quickly spread throughout North America.

Glossary of climbing terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

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.

Rock-climbing equipment

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.

El Capitan

El Capitan, also known as El Cap, is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face, and is a popular objective for rock climbers.

Aid climbing

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.

Sport climbing Form of rock climbing

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 Competitive discipline of sports 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

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 Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

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.

Multi-pitch climbing is the ascent of climbing routes with one or more stops at a belay station. Each section of a climb between stops at belay stations is called a pitch. The leader ascends the pitch, placing gear and stopping to anchor themselves to the belay station.

Redpoint (climbing)

In sport climbing, redpointing is free-climbing a route, while lead climbing, after having practiced the route beforehand. Many climbers will frequently try to redpoint a route after having failed to on-sight or flash it, although occasionally a climber will forgo an onsight attempt if they suspect that the route is so difficult that an attempt would be pointless. Redpointing differs from headpoint, in that it is exclusive to sport routes with protection equipment fixed into the rock at regular intervals.

History of rock climbing

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:

Adam Ondra Czech climber (born 1993)

Adam Ondra is a Czech professional rock climber, specializing in lead climbing and bouldering. Rock & Ice magazine described Ondra in 2013 as a prodigy and the leading climber of his generation. Ondra is the only male athlete to have won World Championship titles in both disciplines in the same year (2014), and he is also the only male athlete to have won the World Cup series in both disciplines.


  1. hiking, Stewart Green Stewart M. Green is a lifelong climber from Colorado who has written more than 20 books about; Green, rock climbing our editorial process Stewart. "What is Free Climbing? Definition of a Rock Climbing Word". LiveAbout. Retrieved 2020-05-22.
  2. Mountaineering The freedom of the hills (7th ed.). Seattle, Washington, USA: The Mountaineers Books. 2009. p. 209. ISBN   978-0-89886-828-9.
  3. Bachar, John; Boga, Steven (1996). Free Climbing With John Bachar. Stackpole Books. p. 1. ISBN   9780811725170.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Long, John, 1953- (2010). How to rock climb! (5th ed.). Guilford, Conn.: FalconGuides. ISBN   9780762766741. OCLC   841504640.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. 1 2 Kristiyanto, Agus; Sugiyanto, Sugiyanto; Rahman, Faisal Adam (2018-10-01). "Benefits Recreational Sports of Mountain Climbing for Physical Health, Psychology, Social, and Spiritual". International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding. 5 (5): 43–48. doi: 10.18415/ijmmu.v5i5.292 . ISSN   2364-5369.
  6. Rooks, Michael D. (1997). "Rock Climbing Injuries". Sports Medicine. 23 (4): 261–270. doi:10.2165/00007256-199723040-00005. ISSN   0112-1642. PMID   9160482. S2CID   27116545.
  7. Hamilton, Lawrence C. (1979). "Modern American Rock Climbing: Some Aspects of Social Change". The Pacific Sociological Review. 22 (3): 285–308. doi:10.2307/1388760. JSTOR   1388760. S2CID   147562997.
  8., ed. (September 4, 2017). "Interview: Adam Ondra climbs world's first 9c at Flatanger in Norway" . Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  9. Planet Mountain (ed.). "Interview with Angela Eiter, the first woman to climb 9b" . Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  10. Planet Mountain (ed.). "Angela Eiter climbs historic first female 9b" . Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  11. Planet Mountain (ed.). "Nalle Hukkataival climbs Burden of Dreams and proposes world's first 9a boulder problem".
  12. "First 9A onsight by Alex Mesgos".
  13. Björn Pohl (9 July 2013). "La cabane au Canada, 9a, onsight by Ondra". Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  14. Bello, Marisol (January 15, 2015). "Yosemite free-climbers reach top of El Capitan". Archived from the original on July 10, 2017.
  15. Bisharat, Andrew (January 15, 2015). "Summiting Yosemite's Dawn Wall, Climbers Make History". Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2015.
  16. Czech free-climber Adam Ondra scales Yosemite rock wall in record time Archived August 2, 2017, at the Wayback Machine (The Daily Telegraph)


Further reading