Traverse (climbing)

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In climbing and mountaineering, a traverse is a section of a climbing route where the climber moves laterally (or horizontally), as opposed to in an upward direction. The term has broad application, and its use can range from describing a brief section of lateral movement on a pitch of a climbing route, to large multi-pitch climbing routes that almost entirely consist of lateral movement such as girdle traverses that span the entire rock face of a crag, to mountain traverses that span entire ridges connecting chains of mountain peaks.


Long traverses in rock climbing and alpine climbing may require additional climbing techniques (e.g. a pendulum or a tension traverse), and pieces of climbing equipment (e.g. ascenders) to manage the risks of the lead climber and/or the following climber falling far off the main route. Long traverses also place increased pressure on the abilities of the following climber than in a normal climb. Traversing is an even more regular feature in bouldering and is also a popular rock climbing training technique on indoor climbing walls.

Notable traverses include the 4,500-metre El Capitan Girdle Traverse on El Capitan, the world's longest rock climbing route, [lower-alpha 1] the Hinterstoisser traverse on the Eiger, which was the key to the famous 1938 Heckmair Route , and the Fitz Roy traverses (both directions) of the Cerro Chaltén Group, which are considered some of the hardest 'mountain traverses' ever completed. Climbers consider the 'Everest-Lhotse traverse', and the even harder 'Everest-Lhotse-Nuptse traverse', as some of the unfinished "holy grails" of mountaineering.

In rock climbing

The 'following climber' negotiates a traverse section on El Capitan. Peter Stocker in Yosemite.jpg
The 'following climber' negotiates a traverse section on El Capitan.

Some rock climbing routes have traverse sections that move horizontally for a period. There are many reasons for this including avoiding or side-stepping challenges whose grade is too hard (e.g. a major roof or a very 'blank' section of rock), or trying to follow a crack climbing route where a set of cracks run out and the climbers must move horizontally for a period to find the next set of cracks to continue upward. The term 'direttissima ' (or 'direct') is used for refinements of climbing routes that dispense with traverses and rise vertically upward in the straightest possible line from the ground to the top. [1]

Traversing uses specific climbing techniques such as 'crimping', 'side-pulls', 'laybacking', 'stemming', and 'cross-throughs' (the limbs are crossed so the moves are longer and fluid). [1] [2] On some big wall climbing traverses, such as King Swing on The Nose on El Capitan, the traverse cannot be climbed and is instead crossed using a 'pendulum' or 'tension traverse' rope technique. [3] Traversing also requires the following climber to have stronger technical abilities than they would normally need on a non-traverse route where the following climber is essentially top roped when belayed by the lead climber. [4] [5]

Long traverses require specific pieces of equipment and protection to handle the resulting 'pendulum falls' where a fallen climber (both the lead and following climber) can end up so far off-route that climbing back up is impossible and they will have to jumar back up to the route using ascenders. In addition, the lead climber will place strong protection both before and after a difficult (or crux) move on a traverse to allow the following climber to remove the first piece of protection before making the difficult move while still having protection against a more significant 'pendulum fall' from the protection that was placed just after the move. [4] [6]

Routes with traverses can be found at most climbing areas and some are famous for their 'girdle traverse', which are very long traverse routes that horizontally span the entire rock climbing area or crag. [7] Notable girdle traverses include The Great Wall of China (3,000 metres, 67-pitches, 5.9 R) on the Shawangunks in New York State, the Stanage Traverse (circa 5,000 metres but broken up in places, E5 6b) at Stanage Edge in England, and as of 2024, the world's largest continuous climbing pitch, [lower-alpha 1] [9] the El Capitan Girdle Traverse (4,500 metres, 75-pitches, 5.10 A4) on El Capitan in Yosemite. [10] [11]

In bouldering

Climber on Rave Heart traverse of The Wheel of Life 8C (V15) boulder Bouldering Hollow Mountain Cave 3.jpg
Climber on Rave Heart traverse of The Wheel of Life 8C  (V15) boulder

Traversing is an even more regular feature of bouldering, where there is less focus on moving exclusively upwards and many bouldering routes will involve a quasi-traverse of diagonal upward movements (e.g. Dreamtime ), or at the more extreme end, traverses across a low roof (e.g. The Wheel of Life ). [11] Long boulder traverses have been described as a "distinct sub-discipline in climbing", [11] and in the famous Fontainebleau bouldering area, specific amendments are made to the Font grade to allow for the increased stamina requirements of traverses (e.g. while a bouldering Font 9A is equivalent to an American V grade of V17, a long boulder traverse of 9A may only have the technical challenge of an American V13 grade). [11]

In mountaineering

Traverses on alpine climbing routes
Tamaras traverse.JPG
Climber on the "Tamaras traverse" of the Bibler-Klewin route (the "Moonflower" buttress) at Grade ED3, on Mount Hunter, Alaska
Traverse Dru.jpg
Climber on a traverse pitch on the Contamine Route (750-metres, grade TD 5c/6a, 22-pitches), South Pillar, Grand Dru, Chamonix

As in rock climbing, mountaineering also uses the term 'traverse' for sections of routes that require horizontal or lateral movement. Traverses are a particular feature in long alpine climbing routes, where —just like in big wall rock climbing—traverses are used to bypass unclimbable sections (i.e. where a direttissima is not yet possible and the climbers need to move laterally to access climbable features). [1] One of the most famous examples is the Hinterstoisser traverse (see image above), a critical 'tension traverse' on the 1938 Heckmair Route (ED2, V−, A0, 60° snow) on the north face of the Eiger. [12]

In mountaineering, the term is also used in a broader sense to describe large mountain routes that follow high ridges that connect several mountain peaks. A classic example of a 'mountain traverse' is Peter Croft's Evolution Traverse (VI, 5.9, 8-miles, over 3,000 metres of cumulative elevation gain CAG) in the Evolution Basin of the Sierra Nevada, which follows a rocky ridge that crosses nine peaks of over 13,000 feet in elevation, and takes circa 1-2 days to complete. [13] Other examples of notable 'mountain traverses' include the Cullin Ridge Traverse in Britain. [14]

The CAG is a key metric of 'mountain traverses' that gives the total amount of vertical climbing required (i.e. a flat ridge across a chain of peaks will have a zero gain outside of the gain to ascend the ridge). The greater the CAG, the less the route is like a traverse and more akin to an enchainment of peaks. Where a mountain traverse does not follow a well-defined ridge, it is also more likely to be an enchainment. A notable example of the distinction is the 'Everest-Lhotse enchainment', which was first completed in 2011 by American guide Michael Horst, [15] but the harder 'Everest-Lhotse traverse' that follows the crest of the sharp rocky ridge connecting the two peaks, remains an unsolved problem in mountaineering. [16] [17]

Mountaineering traverses
Fitz Roy (5455217030).jpg
Seven peaks of the 'Fitz Roy Traverse' / 'Moonwalk Traverse', one of the hardest
The "holy grail" of the 'Everest-Lhotse-Nuptse traverse' remains unclimbed

Some of the hardest 'mountaineering traverses' include the 5 km traverse of the seven main peaks of the Cerro Chaltén Group, which is called The Fitz Roy Traverse if done north-to-south, [18] and the Moonwalk Traverse if done south-to-north, [19] and has over 4,000 metres of CAG. [20] The traverse of the Mazeno Ridge, which is the longest continuous ridge of any of the eight thousander mountains, is also notable. [21] [22] The climbers who made the first ascents of these extreme 'mountain traverse' routes won the Piolets d'Or, which is the highest award in mountaineering. The unclimbed 'Everest-Lhotse traverse' and the even harder 'Everest-Lhotse-Nuptse traverse', are described by some as the outstanding "holy grails" of mountaineering. [16] [17]

In training

In climbing, traversing along a climbing wall is often performed as a warm-up exercise, and to also build finger strength and stamina. [23]

In 1964, a novice British climber named John Syrett, began training obsessively by continually traversing on a low newly built climbing wall in a long corridor of Leeds University—it was one of the first climbing walls ever constructed. [24] On one of his first ventures to outdoor rock climbing, Syrett onsighted Wall of Horrors, which at E3 6a was one of the most intimidating traditional climbing routes in Britain. [23] Several other British climbers would follow Syrett's example so that traversing on small holds (or even on brick walls), became a staple training technique for climbers. [23]

Standard variations include traversing using only side-pulls, or only just two fingers, or only cross-throughs. [25] [26]

See also


  1. 1 2 The world's largest vertical climbing route is considered to be the big wall climbing route, The Grande Voyage (1,340 metres, VII 5.10 A4+ WI3), which is on the Great Trango Tower in the Himalayas. [8]

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountaineering</span> Sport of mountain climbing

Mountaineering, mountain climbing, or alpinism is a set of outdoor activities that involves ascending mountains. Mountaineering-related activities include traditional outdoor climbing, skiing, and traversing via ferratas that have become sports in their own right. Indoor climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering are also considered variants of mountaineering by some, but are part of a wide group of mountain sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lhotse</span> Eight-thousander and 4th-highest mountain on Earth, located in Nepal and China

Lhotse is the fourth-highest mountain on Earth, after Mount Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga. At an elevation of 8,516 metres (27,940 ft) above sea level, the main summit is on the border between Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the Khumbu region of Nepal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dhaulagiri</span> Eight-thousander and 7th-highest mountain on Earth, located in Nepal

Dhaulagiri, located in Nepal, is the seventh highest mountain in the world at 8,167 metres (26,795 ft) above sea level, and the highest mountain within the borders of a single country. It was first climbed on 13 May 1960 by a Swiss-Austrian-Nepali expedition. Annapurna I is 34 km (21 mi) east of Dhaulagiri. The Kali Gandaki River flows between the two in the Kaligandaki Gorge, said to be the world's deepest. The town of Pokhara is south of the Annapurnas, an important regional center and the gateway for climbers and trekkers visiting both ranges as well as a tourist destination in its own right.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anatoli Boukreev</span> Kazakh mountain climber (1958–1997)

Anatoli Nikolaevich Boukreev was a Soviet and Kazakh mountaineer who made ascents of 10 of the 14 eight-thousander peaks—those above 8,000 m (26,247 ft)—without supplemental oxygen. From 1989 through 1997, he made 18 successful ascents of peaks above 8,000 m.

Peter Boardman was an English mountaineer and author. He is best known for a series of bold and lightweight expeditions to the Himalayas, often in partnership with Joe Tasker, and for his contribution to mountain literature. Boardman and Tasker died on the North East Ridge of Mount Everest in 1982. The Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature was established in their memory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fixed rope</span> Technique in mountaineering

In climbing and mountaineering, a fixed-rope is the practice of securing in-situ anchored static climbing ropes to assist any following climbers to ascend more rapidly—and with less effort—by using mechanical aid devices called ascenders. Fixed ropes also allow climbers to descend rapidly using mechanical devices called descenders. Fixed ropes also help to identify the climbing route in periods of low visibility. The act of ascending a fixed rope is also called jumaring, which is the name of a type of ascender device, or jugging in the US.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kangshung Face</span> Eastern-facing side of Mount Everest

The Kangshung Face or East Face is the eastern-facing side of Mount Everest, one of the Tibetan sides of the mountain. It is 3,350 metres (11,000 ft) from its base on the Kangshung Glacier to the summit. It is a broad face, topped on the right by the upper Northeast Ridge, and on the left by the Southeast Ridge and the South Col. Most of the upper part of the face is composed of hanging glaciers, while the lower part consists of steep rock buttresses with couloirs between them. The steep southern third of the Kangshung Face also comprises the Northeastern Face of Lhotse; this section may be considered a separate face altogether following the division of the South "Neverest" Buttress up to the South Col. It is considered a dangerous route of ascent, compared to the standard North Col and South Col routes, and it is the most remote face of the mountain, with a longer approach.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Enchainment</span> Mountaineering term to link up routes

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<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Self rescue (climbing)</span> Technique used in climbing

Self-rescue (self-extraction) are a group of techniques in climbing and mountaineering where the climber(s) – sometimes having just been severely injured – use their equipment to retreat from dangerous or difficult situations on a given climbing route without calling on third party search and rescue (SAR) or mountain rescue services for help.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Expedition climbing</span> Style of mountaineering

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alpine climbing</span> Type of mountaineering

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mazeno Ridge</span> Ridge in the Himalaya range of Asia

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Steve Swenson is an American rock climber, mountaineer, and author. Swenson served as the president of the board of directors for the American Alpine Club from 2009 to 2012.


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Further reading