Free climbing

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Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber can only use climbing equipment for climbing protection, but not as an aid to help in their progression in ascending the route. [1] [2] Free climbing, therefore, cannot use any of the tools that are used in aid climbing to help overcome the obstacles encountered while ascending a route. The development of free climbing was an important moment in the history of rock climbing, including the concept and definition of what determined a first free ascent (or FFA) of a route by a climber.


Free climbing can be performed in several formats depending on the type of climbing protection used, including traditional climbing (uses temporary removable protection), sport climbing (uses permanently fixed in-situ protection), and bouldering and free solo climbing (uses no protection whatsoever).


The free climbing movement was an important development in the history of rock climbing. [3] In 1911, Austrian climber Paul Preuss started what became known as the Mauerhakenstreit (or "piton dispute"), by advocating for a transition to "free climbing" via a series of essays and articles in the German Alpine Journal where he defined "artificial aid" and proposed 6 rules of free climbing including the important rule 4: "The piton is an emergency aid and not the basis of a system of mountaineering". [3] [4] In 1913, German climber Rudolf Fehrmann published the second edition of Der Bergsteiger in der Sächsischen Schweiz (or The Climber in Saxon Switzerland ), which included the first binding rules for climbing in the area to protect the soft sandstone rock. The rules said that only natural holds were allowed, and these "rules for free climbing" are in still use today. [5]

In 1975, German climber Kurt Albert painted his first "Rotpunkt" (or redpoint) on the base of the aid climb Adolf Rott Ged.-Weg (V+/A1), in the Frankenjura, signifying he had "free climbed" it as a redpoint (i.e. after many failed attempts); the redpoint became the accepted definition of what constituted a "first free ascent". [6] [7]

First free ascent

The first "free climb" of a climbing route is known as the first free ascent, or FFA, and is chronicled by climbing journals and guide books. They also chronicle whether the "free climb" was done onsight (i.e. first try without any prior information), flashed (i.e. first try with prior information), or redpointed (i.e. completed after a first failed attempt). [8] [9] FFAs that create new grade milestones are important events in climbing history. [10]


Various forms of free climbing
Sport Climb Shipley Upper 2.jpg
Leading a sport climb
The Screamer E4 6a Reiff Scotland.jpg

Free climbing means using no form of artificial or mechanical aid to help progression in ascending a route. [5] Even the act of pulling on the climbing protection equipment (either placed by the climber while climbing or already in situ with pre-placed bolts) is considered aid climbing and carries an aid climbing grade of A0. [11]

Free climbing can be performed in a variety of types of climbing, and most importantly: [12]


Free climbing has been called "rock climbing's most commonly mistaken term", with problems including: [12]

Free climbing is related to, but separate from, the broader climbing topic area of clean climbing; however, clean climbing does not support bolted sport climbing routes on natural rock, and thus external redpointed first free ascents are not advocated.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climbing</span> Activity to ascend a steep object

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, 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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Traditional climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Traditional climbing is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber places the protection equipment while ascending the route; when the lead climber has completed the route, the second climber then removes the protection equipment as they climb the route. Traditional climbing differs from sport climbing where the protection equipment is pre-drilled into the rock in the form of bolts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climbing route</span> Path to scale a mountain, rock, or ice wall

A climbing route is a path by which a climber reaches the top of a mountain, or rock/ice-covered obstacle. The details of a climbing route are recorded in a climbing guidebook and/or in an online climbing route database, and will include elements such as the type of climbing route, the difficulty grade of the route–and beta on its crux(es)–and any risk or commitment grade, the length and number of pitches of the route, and the climbing equipment needed to complete the route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> For rock climbing and mountaineering

Glossary of climbing terms relates to rock climbing, mountaineering, and to ice climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First ascent</span> Mountaineering and climbing term

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 focused on reaching the tops of iconic mountains and climbing routes by whatever means possible, often using considerable amounts of aid climbing, and/or with large expedition style support teams that laid "siege" to the climb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Huber</span> German rock climber

Alexander Huber, is a German rock climber who is considered one of the greatest and most influential climbers in the history of rock climbing. Huber came to prominence in the early 1990s as the world's strongest sport climber after the passing of Wolfgang Güllich. He is the second-ever person to redpoint a 9a (5.14d) graded route by ascending Om in 1992, and has latterly come to be known as the first-ever person to redpoint a 9a+ (5.15a) graded route from his 1996 ascent of Open Air.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aid climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Aid climbing is a form of rock climbing that uses mechanical devices and equipment, such as aiders, for upward momentum. Aid climbing is the opposite of free climbing, which only uses mechanical equipment for protection, but not to assist in upward momentum. "Traditional aid climbing" involves hammering in permanently fixed pitons and bolts, into which aiders are clipped, whereas "clean aid climbing" avoids hammering, using only removable placements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sport climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Sport climbing is a type of free climbing in rock climbing where the lead climber clips into pre-drilled permanent bolts for their protection while ascending a route. Sport climbing differs from the riskier traditional climbing where the lead climber has to insert temporary protection equipment while ascending.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lead climbing</span> Technique of rock climbing

Lead climbing is a technique in rock climbing where the lead climber clips their rope to the climbing protection as they ascend a pitch of the climbing route, while their second remains at the base of the route belaying the rope to protect the lead climber in the event that they fall. The term is used to distinguish between the two roles, and the greater effort and increased risk, of the role of the lead climber.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Top rope climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Top rope climbing is a form of rock climbing where the climber is securely attached to a climbing rope that runs through a fixed anchor at the top of the climbing route, and back down to the belayer at the base of the climb. A climber who falls will just hang from the rope at the point of the fall, and can then either resume their climb or have the belayer lower them down in a controlled manner to the base of the climb. Climbers on indoor climbing walls can use mechanical auto belay devices to top rope alone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock climbing</span> Type of sport

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, across, or down natural rock formations or indoor climbing 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Multi-pitch climbing</span> Type of climbing

Multi-pitch climbing is a type of climbing that typically takes place on routes that are more than a single rope length in height, and thus where the lead climber cannot complete the climb as a single pitch. Where the number of pitches exceeds 6–10, it can become big wall climbing, or where the pitches are in a mixed rock and ice mountain environment, it can become alpine climbing. Multi-pitch rock climbs can come in traditional, sport, and aid formats. Some have free soloed multi-pitch routes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Redpoint (climbing)</span> Type of free climbing

In rock climbing, redpointing means to free-climb a route from the ground to the top while lead climbing, after having practiced the route or after having failed first attempt. Climbers will try to redpoint a route after having failed to onsight it, or flash it. The first successful redpoint of a route, in the absence of any prior onsight or flash, is recorded as the first free ascent (FFA) of that route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Josune Bereziartu</span> Spanish rock climber

Josune Bereziartu, also known as Josune Bereciartu Urruzola, is a Basque rock climber. For a decade starting in the late 1990s, she was considered the strongest female sport climber in the world and is regarded as one of the most important female rock climbers in history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free solo climbing</span> Form of climbing without protection

Free solo climbing, or free soloing, is a form of rock climbing where the climbers climb solo without ropes or other protective equipment, using only their climbing shoes and their climbing chalk. Free soloing is the most dangerous form of climbing, and, unlike bouldering, free soloists climb above safe heights, where a fall can be fatal. Though many climbers have free soloed climbing grades they are very comfortable on, only a tiny group free solo regularly, and at grades closer to the limit of their abilities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beta (climbing)</span> Climbing term for route information

Beta is a climbing term that designates information about how to ascend a climbing route. Traditionally sourced in climbing guidebooks, online databases and apps now provide detailed climbing beta. The term is attributed to Texan climber Jack Mileski.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of rock climbing</span> Key chronological milestones

In the history of rock climbing, the three main sub-disciplines—bouldering, single-pitch climbing, and big wall climbing—can trace their origins to late 19th-century Europe. Bouldering started in Fontainebleau, and was advanced by Pierre Allain in the 1930s, and John Gill in the 1950s. Big wall climbing started in the Dolomites, and was spread across the Alps in the 1930s by climbers such as Emilio Comici and Riccardo Cassin, and in the 1950s by Walter Bonatti, before reaching Yosemite where it was led in the 1950s to 1970s by climbers such as Royal Robbins. Single-pitch climbing started pre-1900 in both the Lake District and in Saxony, and by the late-1970s had spread widely with climbers such as Ron Fawcett (Britain), Bernd Arnold (Germany), Patrick Berhault (France), Ron Kauk and John Bachar (USA).

Beth Rodden is an American rock climber known for her ascents of hard single-pitch traditional climbing routes. She was the youngest woman to climb 5.14a (8b+) and is one of the only women in the world to have redpointed a 5.14c (8c+) traditional climbing graded climb. Rodden and fellow climber Tommy Caldwell were partners from 2000 to 2010, during which time they completed the second free ascent of The Nose. In 2008, Rodden made the first ascent of Meltdown, one of the hardest traditional climbs in the world and the first time in history that a female climber matched the peak of the highest climbing grades.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adam Ondra</span> Czech climber (born 1993)

Adam Ondra is a Czech professional rock climber, specializing in lead climbing, bouldering, and competition climbing. In 2013, Rock & Ice described Ondra 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 is one of the two male athletes to have won the World Cup series in both disciplines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big wall climbing</span> Type of rock climbing

Big wall climbing is a form of rock climbing that takes place on long multi-pitch routes that normally require a full day, if not several days, to ascend. In addition, big wall routes are typically sustained and exposed, where the climbers remain suspended from the rock face, even sleeping hanging from the face, with limited options to sit down or escape unless they abseil back down the whole route. It is therefore a physically and mentally demanding form of climbing.


  1. "Free climbing". Cambridge Dictionary . 2023. Retrieved 25 September 2023. the sport of climbing on rocks, up mountains, or up walls or buildings using no equipment to help you to climb, only ropes or other safety devices that prevent falling
  2. "Free climbing". Collins English Dictionary . 2023. Retrieved 2 October 2023. climbing without using pitons, étriers, etc, as direct aids to ascent, but using ropes, belays, etc, at discretion for security
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  7. Hobley, Nicholas (28 September 2020). "Remembering Kurt Albert, German climbing legend and father of the redpoint". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  8. Pardy, Aaron (5 November 2022). "Redpoint, Pinkpoint, and Headpoint – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  9. "What Is A Redpoint In Climbing? – Climbing Jargon Explained". Climber. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  10. Sanzarro, Francis (22 March 2022). "Who Did It First? Style, Grades and Dispute in First Ascents". Climbing . Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  11. Synnott, Mark (2 August 2021). "Climb Long Routes Faster With This Simple Aid Trick". Climbing. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
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