Traditional climbing

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Trad climber in Joshua Tree National Park Rock Climbing - 25281459754.jpg
Trad climber in Joshua Tree National Park
Some classic trad routes, like North Overhang (5.9) on Intersection Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, use bolts to protect parts of the climb. Traditional climbing gear is still required for the other parts. Joshua Tree NP - North Overhang - 2.jpg
Some classic trad routes, like North Overhang (5.9) on Intersection Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, use bolts to protect parts of the climb. Traditional climbing gear is still required for the other parts.

Traditional climbing (or Trad 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 (often done by the second/follow-on climber). Traditional bolted aid climbing means the bolts were placed while on lead and/or with hand drills (the bolts tend to be much farther apart than for sport climbs). 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; for some of the world's hardest climbs (e.g. Realization/Biographie ), 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.



Characterizing climbing as traditional distinguishes it from bolted climbing—either trad bolted or sport climbing (in which all protection and anchor points are permanently installed prior to the climb — typically installed while rappelling) and free solo climbing (which does not use ropes or gear of any kind). However, protection bolts and pitons installed while lead climbing are also considered "traditional" as they were placed during the act of climbing from the ground up rather than on rappel, especially in the context of granite slab climbing.

Before the advent of sport climbing in the United States in the 1980s, and perhaps somewhat earlier in parts of Europe, the usual style of unaided rock climbing was what is now referred to as traditional—either bolted face climbs or crack climbs. In trad climbing, a leader ascends a section of rock placing their own protective devices while climbing. Before about 1970 these devices were often limited to pitons; today they consist mainly of a combination of chocks and spring-loaded camming devices, but may less commonly include pitons which are driven with a hammer. [1] John Long's 1989 technique manual How to Rock Climb! [2] used the term "sport climbing" repeatedly in reference to what is now considered "traditional climbing".

Important features of trad climbing are a strong focus on exploration, and a strict dedication to leaving nature unblemished by avoiding use of older means of protection such as pitons, which damage the rock. This evolution in climbing ethics has been attributed to the efforts of Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, and many others, who pioneered the "leave no trace" ethic in climbing. [3]


The term gear in climbing generally refers to equipment used during climbs (except harnesses, shoes, chalk bags, and chalk). Gear or protection are mechanical devices that provide safety, either by allowing greater stability in making a move (as in the case of aid climbing) or by dampening force and reducing the distance of a fall. The suitability of individual types of gear depends on the surface and formation of the rock face. The phrase placing gear denotes the act of setting a piece of gear into the rock face and then attach the rope (via carabiner or more typically a quickdraw) before ascending higher. In the event of a fall, the gear acts as a catch-point for the rope, thus preventing the climber from hitting the ground. Gear is placed at frequent intervals to avoid becoming too "run out" and provide protection in the case of a fall.

Nuts started being developed in the 1950s in the United Kingdom, with the original pieces being made from discarded machine nuts with slings threaded through them. Joe Brown is widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of this new type of gear. Urban legend suggests the first nuts were ones taken from the Snowdon Mountain Railway. [4] These gradually developed into purpose-built nuts.

Prior to about 1970 in the United States, climbing relied mainly on pitons; other types of gear such as nuts, Hexcentrics, Tricams and spring-loaded cams were largely unknown or did not yet exist. As other variants of climbing were not nominally in existence as well, all climbing was in effect trad climbing until the early 1980s when sport climbing emerged in Europe.

Since the 1970s, developments in protective gear have made climbing much safer and more dynamic. For example, nuts—removable pieces of metal which could be jammed into cracks to support weight during a fall but could be removed at the end of a climb—helped fuel trad climbing's growth in popularity and safety. Contemporary protective gear used in trad climbing consists of removable protective devices such as aluminum, steel, or brass nuts, hexagonal-shaped chocks, slings, spring-loaded camming devices, and Tricams.

If a climber is soloing they remove placed gear while rappelling back down the climb; [5] if climbing with a partner the second climber will clean the gear during their ascent up the pitch.

In protecting the lead climber in both trad and sport, carabiners and slings are used to connect the gear to the climber's lead rope, so that in the event of a fall, the rope can be used (by the belayer below) to catch the falling climber. Modern traditional climbs occasionally have fixed gear (pitons or bolts) in places where there are no opportunities to place adequate removable gear. It is considered bad style to install new protection bolts or pitons on existing climbs that can be completed without them. [6]

Many of the existing pitons, pegs and bolts from the first ascents of routes done many years ago are now considered to be in bad condition, having suffered from weathering. This is especially present on sea cliffs where the salt nature of the air has sped up the oxidization to create rust and weaken the protection. [7]


A number of knots are required for traditional climbing, to create anchors, to tie in the climbers, and to be used during the climb.


A climbing anchor; in this example, all three pieces are placed in the same crack. Generally, anchor pieces should be placed in different features, where possible, to protect against rock failure. Climing anchor.JPG
A climbing anchor; in this example, all three pieces are placed in the same crack. Generally, anchor pieces should be placed in different features, where possible, to protect against rock failure.

When a climber has reached the top of a climb an anchor must be set up to allow the leader to bring up the seconder safely. An anchor has a number of different components that should be put together in a redundant way to make the anchors safe.


In some cases, a traditional climb may be too difficult or there might not be enough time to complete the climb before dark. The lead climber may decide to abort the climb (or "bail") and descend to the ground before reaching the top. To do this an anchor is set up mid-climb and whatever protection that is required to ensure a safe descent is left on the rock after the climbers abseil to the ground. [8]

Typical sequence

Types of rock

A number of types of rock are climbed, each with a varying degree of suitability for traditional climbing. Some examples of rock types used in climbing are granite, sandstone, basalt, gneiss, quartzite and limestone. [9] [10] Granite (and other granitic rock) is popular for traditional climbing, being found in such climbing areas as the Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. [11] [12]


While it may arguably be more dangerous than sport climbing, traditional climbing leaves little or no trace of climbing, which preserves the natural environment of the cliff face (though many significant first ascents in the U.S. were done with a combination of permanent anchors or bolts and crack-fitting hardware were termed "traditional" when the term was first coined—see climbing styles).[ citation needed ] Sport climbing, on the other hand, requires bolts to be permanently drilled into the rock face providing the exclusive or primary means of protection. The difference between sport and traditional or "trad" styles has caused some periodic contention in the rock climbing community as the respective camps debate the merits of the differing styles.

Hardest routes

The following is a list of traditional climbs considered to be the hardest ever ascended (in order of difficulty): [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

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.

This is an index of topics related to climbing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ice climbing</span> Activity of ascending ice formations

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock-climbing equipment</span>

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Abseiling</span> Rope-controlled descent of a vertical surface

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aid climbing</span> Style of 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.

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

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Belaying</span> Rock climbing safety technique using ropes

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lead climbing</span> Competitive discipline of sport 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Top rope climbing</span> Rock climbing technique

Top rope climbing is a style in climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. The belayer takes in slack rope throughout the climb, so that if at any point the climber were to lose their hold, they would not fall more than a short distance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bolt (climbing)</span> Anchor point used in rock climbing

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clean climbing</span> Rock climbing techniques which avoid damage to the rock

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Piton</span> Metal tool used in rock climbing

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock climbing</span> Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

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.

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

In rock climbing, redpointing means to free-climb a route while lead climbing, but only after having practiced the route beforehand, or after having fallen or rested on the rope, on the first attempt. Climbers will try to redpoint a route after having failed to on-sight it, or flash it. Redpointing is sometimes narrowly defined as climbing a route after a failed first attempt.

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.

<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 1970s had spread widely with climbers such as Ron Fawcett (Britain), Bernd Arnold (Germany), Patrick Berhault (France), Ron Kauk and John Bachar (USA),

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tom Higgins (rock climber)</span> American rock climber (1944–2018)

Thomas John Higgins was an American rock climber with many first and first free ascents primarily in the western United States. He was noted for pushing standards using a purist, free climbing style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Saxon Switzerland climbing region</span> Climbing area in Germany

Saxon Switzerland is the largest and one of the best-known climbing regions in Germany, located in the Free State of Saxony. The region is largely coterminous with the natural region of the same name, Saxon Switzerland, but extends well beyond the territory of the National Park within it. It includes the western part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and is the oldest non-Alpine climbing region in Germany. Its history of climbing dates back to the first ascent in modern times of the Falkenstein by Bad Schandau gymnasts in 1864. Currently, there are over 1,100 summits with more than 17,000 climbing routes in the Saxon Switzerland area.


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