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 nineteenth century in at least three areas: Elbsandsteingebirge, in Saxony near Dresden Goldammer, Albert & Wächtler, Martin (1936). "Bergsteigen in Sachsen", Dresden] , the Lake District of England Jones, Owen Glynne (1900). "Rock Climbing in the English Lake District", G. P. Abraham & Sons, Keswick] , and the Dolomites in Italy "Bergakrobaten: Die Dolomiten und die Erfindung des Kletterns", Città di Bolzano, Bolzano 2006] . 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:

*Heralded as a sport in England in the late 1880s after the (well publicised) solo first ascent of the "Napes Needle" by Walter Parry Haskett Smith, rock climbing attracted increasing numbers of participants. An early benchmark approaching modern levels of difficulty was the ascent, by O. G. Jones, of "Kern Knotts Crack" (VS) in 1897. Jones was attracted to the new sport by a photo of the Needle in a shop window in the early 1890s. By the end of the Victorian era as many as 60 enthusiasts at a time would gather at the Wastwater Hotel in the Lake District during vacation periods Hankinson, Alan (1972). "The First Tigers", J. M. Dent & Sons, London] .

*Inspired by the efforts of late 19th century pioneers such as Oskar Schuster ("Falkenstein", Schusterweg 1892), by 1903 there were approximately 500 climbers active in the Elbsandstein region, including the well-known team of Rudolf Fehrmann and the American, Oliver Perry-Smith; their 1906 ascent of "Teufelsturm" (at VIIb) set new standards of difficulty. By the 1930s there were over 200 small climbing clubs represented in the area Goldammer, Albert & Wächtler, Martin (1936). "Bergsteigen in Sachsen", Dresden] .

*The solo first ascent of "Die Vajolettürme" in 1887 by the 17 year-old Munich high school student, Georg Winkler, encouraged the acceptance and development of the sport in the Dolomites"Bergakrobaten: Die Dolomiten und die Erfindung des Kletterns", Città di Bolzano, Bolzano 2006] .

As rock climbing matured, a variety of grading systems were created in order to more accurately compare relative difficulties of climbs. Over the years both climbing techniques and the equipment climbers use to advance the sport have evolved in a steady fashion.

Some historical benchmarks

*400 BC: Chinese watercolors that depict men climbing rocks.

*1300's : The Anasazis in the southwest United States drilled holes for posts and carved steps up the steep rock cliffs in Chaco Canyon. There are cliff dwellings scattered throughout the southwest. Given the difficult approaches to some of these cliff dwellings it seems reasonable to assume that the natives had the skills necessary to ascend what would now be considered technical climbing terrain.

*1492 : Antoine de Ville ascends Mont Inaccessible, Mont Aiguille, a 300 meter rock tower south of Grenoble, France. Under orders from his king, he used the techniques developed for sieging castles to attain an otherwise unreachable summit. The ascent is described by François Rabelais in his Quart Livre. Middendorf, John. " [http://www.bigwalls.net/climb/mechadv/index.html The Mechanical Advantage] ". Ascent 1999.]

*1695 : Martin Martin describes the traditional practice of fowling by climbing with the use of ropes in the Hebrides of Scotland, especially on St Kilda. [Martin, Martin (1703) [http://www.appins.org/martin.htm "A Voyage to St. Kilda" in "A Description of The Western Islands of Scotland"] . Retrieved 3 March 2007.]

*1786 : The first ascent of Mont Blanc is often referred to as the start of mountaineering’s “modern era”. It took another century before history documents the use of devices similar to today’s fixed anchors: pitons, bolts and rappel slings.

*By the 1800s, climbing was developing as a recreational pastime. Equipment in the early 1800s began with an alpenstock (a large walking stick with a metal tip), a primitive form of three- point instep crampon, and a woodcutter's axe. These were the tools of the alpine shepherd, who was shortly to move from guiding sheep to guiding men, a much more lucrative enterprise. With time the alpenstock and the axe were combined into one tool: the ice-axe. Add a large, thick (and weak) rope, to help the client climb, and guide and novice were off to the mountains.

*1869 : John Muir, famed naturalist and climber, wearing hiking boots, makes the first ascent of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows as an on-sight, free solo. He is also known for spending a night at the top of a 100+ foot tall pine tree during a lightning storm, now known as the John Muir Tree. A History of Free Climbing in America, Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament] Climbing in North America by Chris Jones]

*1875 : Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is first climbed by George Anderson. He uses eye bolts in drilled holes as hand and toe holds. He uses a fixed rope to return to his high point each day. [Muir, John (1912). " [http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/frameindex.html?http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/the_yosemite/chapter_10.html The Yosemite] ".]

*1880s : The Sport of Rock Climbing begins in the Lake District and Wales in Great Britain , Saxony near Dresden, and the Dolomites. W. P. Haskett Smith is frequently called the "Father of Rock Climbing" in the British Isles, and Oskar Schuster was an early climber at Elbsandsteingebirge.

*1886 : W. P. Haskett Smith makes the first ascent (in free solo style) of the 70 foot Napes Needle, in the Lake District of England. The resulting publicity introduces the general British public to the new sport of rock climbing.

*1887 : Georg Winkler, at the age of 17, makes the first ascent - solo - of "Die Vajolettürme" in the Dolomites, initiating the sport of rock climbing in that area.

*1892 : Oscar Eckenstein, a British climber, conducts a bouldering competition, with cash prizes, among the natives while on an expedition to the Karakoram Mountains. ( [http://www.johngill.net] ).

*1893 : Devils Tower is first summited by ranchers William Rogers and Willard Ripley through the use of wooden spike pounded into a crack and then connected with a rope. After 6 weeks they summited on the Fourth of July. [National Park Service. " [http://www.nps.gov/deto/upthere.htm Devils Tower Study] ".]

*1897 : O. G. Jones leads Kern Knotts Crack (ca 5.8) on the Great Gable in England

*1900 (approximately) : Oscar Eckenstein demonstrates to British climbers the concept of modern balance climbing on his eponymous boulder in Wales. ( [http://www.johngill.net] )

*1906 : Oliver Perry-Smith, W. Huenig, Rudolf Fehrmann climb Teufelsturm in the Elbsandsteingebirge, 5.10 (with original shoulder stand around 5.8+).

*1910 : Hans Fiechtl replaces the attached ring on pitons with an eye in the body of the piton which is a design used to this day.

*1910 : Otto Herzog designs the first steel carabiner, specifically made for climbing.

*1910 : Willo Welzenbach creates the standard numerical rating system for the amount of time typically needed to complete a route (Grades I to VI)

*1910 : Austrian development of rappelling.

*1910 : Oliver Perry-Smith, M. Matthaeus, H. Wagner ascend The Grosser Falknerturm, "W. Route" in the Elbsandstein, 5.9.

*1910 to 1914 : Hans Dülfer suggests using equipment to ascend otherwise unclimbable rock, devises dulferitz rapelling technique.

*1914 : Paul Preuss, an advocate of Free climbing, coins the term "artificial aid" to describe the use of mechanical aids to progress up a rock. His rule number four (of six) stated: "The piton is an emergency aid and not the basis of a system of mountaineering."

*:Note: The two principal uses of pitons on an ascent were as "protective safeguards" (not used for actual hand or footholds - climbers refrained from putting weight on them except in the event of a fall) and as "direct aid" (used to physically assist in ascending a steep or overhanging slope rather than merely as protection). Climbers like Paul Preuss and Geoffrey Winthrop Young argued strongly against direct aid, but others of that era, including Hans Dülfer and Tita Piaz, advocated using such devices as artificial aids in order to climb otherwise unscalable walls. After World War I most European climbers chose to employ artificial aid when necessary. However, from the beginning days of rock climbing as a sport, through the 1940s, another form of artificial assistance was at times employed by teams of two or more climbers: the "shoulder stand". From our current perspective it seems odd that many of those climbers who strenuously objected to hanging on a piton found the shoulder stand to be quite acceptable. Occasionally, historical climbing photos, (e.g., [http://www128.pair.com/r3d4k7/HistoricalClimbingImages1.html] ) illustrate this strategy, which arose from the perception that ascending a route was a team effort, with two climbers constituting one natural climbing unit. Something to keep in mind when reading of very early climbs in the 5.8 to 5.10 range.

*1914 : Siegfried Herford and companions climb the "Flake Pitch" on Central Buttress of Scafell (5.9), England's hardest climb at the time

*1919 : Sees the publication of Guido Rey’s book, "Alpinisme Acrobatique", on the "artificial" techniques utilizing the latest, easily available pitons and carabiners

*1920s - 1930s : Robert Underhill and Miriam Underhill (Miriam E. O'Brien) - One of the early rock star climbing couples. Robert is remembered for introducing "European climbing techniques" to the west coast of the US through an article in the 1931 Bulletin of the Sierra Club.

*1922 : Paul Illmer and party ascend the "Illmerweg" on Falkenstein (5.9/5.10), Elbsandstein

*1925 : Solleder and Gustl Lettenbauer climb the "Northwest Face" of the Civetta in a day, a 3800 foot 5.9 route in the Dolomites, using only 15 pitons for protection and belays.

*1925 : Albert Ellingwood and a party of three climb the 2000 foot "Northeast Buttress" of Crestone Needle (5.7, 14,197 feet).

*1927 : Laurent Grivel designs and sells the first rock drill and expansion bolt.

*1927 : Joe Stettner and brother, Paul, apply European techniques in the USA on their ascent of the "Stettner Ledges" on the East Face of Long's Peak.

*1927 : Fred Pigott's experiments with slinging natural chockstones and later machine nuts, for protection at Clogwyn Du'r Arddu on Snowdon, directly led to the development of the modern Stopper.

*1930 : Jack Longland climbs "Javelin Blade" (5.10), Hollytree Wall, Idwal

*1931 : Emilio Comici and the Dolomites. Comici is the inventor and proponent of using multi-step aid ladders, solid belays, the use of a trail/tag line, and hanging bivouacs. Pretty much the origin of big wall climbing and techniques. He uses them to good purpose with an ascent of the 26 pitch, 4000 foot "Northwest Face" of the Civetta.

*1934 : Pierre Allain champions bouldering at Fontainebleau; climbs "L'Angle Allain" (V2)

*1934 : Dick Leonard, teams up with Jules Eichorn and Bestor Robinson for the first ascent of the Eichorn Pinnacle of Cathedral Peak in the Sierra Nevada. He also creates the concept and practice of the dynamic belay at Indian Rock.

*1935 : Pierre Allain produces first soft-soled climbing shoe. Revised for extreme rock 1948

*1938 : Ricardo Cassin ascends the "Walker Spur" of the Grandes Jorasses "...perhaps the finest in existence" - Gaston Rebuffat from "The Mont Blanc Massif - The 100 Finest Routes".

*1938 : "North Face" of the Eiger ascended by Heinrich Harrer, Fritz Kasparek, Andreas Heckmair and Wiggerl Vörg.

*1939 : David Brower and the rest of his Berkeley crew use four bolts in the process of ascending Ship Rock in New Mexico.

*1940s : World War II leads to the development of inexpensive army surplus pitons, carabiners and the newly-invented nylon rope.

*1946 : Rene Ferlet climbs "Marie-Rose" (V3) Fontainebleau

*1946 : John Salathe, at the age of 46, attempts to rope-solo aid the first ascent of the Lost Arrow Spire, one of the most exposed features in Yosemite Valley. (The protection bolt he places on that attempt was the first, or one of the first, in the valley.) He is also known for his forged pitons made from the axle of a Model A Ford.

*1952 : Lionel Terray ascends the Patagonian peak, Fitzroy, with his partner Guido Magnone.

*1952 : Joe Brown makes the FA of "Cenotaph Corner" (5.10) Dinas Cromlech, Wales

*1952 : John Streetly makes the FA of "Bloody Slab" (5.9) Llanberis Pass, Wales

*1953 : Robert Paragot climbs "Le Joker" (V5) Fontainebleau

*1954 : Joe Brown and Don Whillans climb the West Face of Aiguille de Blaitiere, including the famous "Fissure Brown" (5.11), in the Alps.

*1955 : Walter Bonatti Considered one of the greatest climbs of all time, his solo first ascent of a new route on the "Southwest Pillar" of the Dru takes six days.

*1955 : John Gill introduces chalk & modern dynamics; first V8 (1957), V9 (1959) ; freesolos FA "Thimble" overhang (5.12a) (1961) Stone Crusade A Historical Guide to Bouldering In America by John Sherman]

*1958 : Warren Harding and team climb the 3,000 foot "Nose" of El Capitan using "siege" tactics, taking a total of 45 days over an extended period. Almost entirely aid climbing, with many bolts (125), the climb is given world-wide recognition.

*1961 : Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Tom Frost ascend the 3,000 foot "Salathe Wall" on El Capitan. Continuous ascent by Robbins & Frost in 1962, Spirit of the Age by Pat Ament] .

*1964 : Robbins, Pratt, Frost, and Yvon Chouinard climb the "North American Wall" on El Capitan,

*1967 : Pete Cleveland climbs "Superpin" in the Black Hills (5.11X)

*1968 : Royal Robbins solos the "Muir Wall" on El Capitan,

*1971 : Al Rouse climbs "Positron" (5.11) Gogarth, Anglesey

*1971 : Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard design Hexcentrics.

*1974 - 1977 : Jim Holloway establishes - in Colorado - the hardest bouldering problems in the world, at the time. These include "Slapshot" (V13) and "Meathook" (V11),

*1976 : John Bachar initiates an era of free soloing with his ascent of "New Dimensions" 5.11a

*1977 : Pete Cleveland climbs "Phlogiston", at Devil's Lake, 5.13a/b or V9

*1978 : Ray Jardine invents the first modern spring loaded camming device (SLCD or cam)

*1979 : Tony Yaniro climbs "Grand Illusion", Sugarloaf (CA), 5.13b/c

*1970s : "Sport Climbing" is developed, in France

*1980 : Boreal introduces the first "sticky rubber" shoe, the "Fire"

*1980 : Bill Price climbs "Cosmic Debris", Yosemite, 5.13b

*1983 : Alan Watts introduces "sport climbing" to the US, with "Tots", 5.12b at Smith Rock, Oregon

*1985 : Wolfgang Gullich climbs "Punks in the Gym", Mt. Arapiles, (some say the first 5.14a/b some say 5.13d)

*1986 : Antoine Le Menestral climbs "La Rage de Vivre", Buoux, (many credit this as the first 5.14a) [http://www.stanford.edu/~clint/yos/hard.htm Hard rock climbs] ]

*1987 : Wolfgang Gullich climbs "Wallstreet", Frankenjura, 5.14b

*1990 : Ben Moon climbs "Hubble", Raven Tor, 5.14c

*1991 : Wolfgang Gullich climbs "Action Directe", Frankenjura, 5.14d

*1992 : John Middendorf and Xaver Bongard climb "The Grande Voyage", in 18 days on the world's tallest sheer rock face, Great Trango Tower, Karakoram, considered the hardest big wall climb in the world. 5.10+,A4+,WI4

*1994 : Lynn Hill makes the first free climbing ascent of the 3,000 foot "Nose Route" of El Capitan (~5.13). Although there had been many ascents of the "Nose", none had been done entirely without artificial aid. For years this had been the most coveted goal in the world of rock climbing.

*1995 : Fred Rouhling climbs "Akira", Charente, ~5.15

*1998 : Bernabe Fernandes climbs "Orujo", Malaga, ~5.15

*2001 : Chris Sharma climbs "Realization", Ceuse, ~5.15 American Rock by Don Mellor]

ources and notes


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