Rock climbing involves several basic methods. Two are: free climbing and aid climbing.
A free climber depends entirely upon his footwork, ability, skill, and physical strength to pull himself up the rock face. The equipment used while free climbing is essentially for safety, i.e., protection to stop a fall. Equipment is not used to ascend the face directly. If you were to place a piece of protection in a crack and hang on it, or use it to reach a higher hold, you would not be free climbing in the "pure" sense of the word.
Any use of equipment to directly ascend a rock face is called aid. Aid techniques are used when a section of rock cannot be free climbed and equipment must be used to make progress up the rock.
Many modern free climbs involve the use of aid and free climbing techniques combined. The methods used to preplace bolts and other protection and the process of practicing moves are closely related to traditional aid climbing. Basic free climbing techniques are the foundation for advanced modern climbing. It is important to be proficient in the use of equipment and free climbing skill to be successful on today's modern rock climbs.
A Little HistoryWhat is Traditional Climbing?
Rock climbing has been around for a long time, and the activity has only recently been described as a "sport." Past and pioneer climbers were interested above all in the adventure of climbing or the art and spirituality of it and did not consider their activity as sport. Would an astronaut consider a mission to the moon sport? Seriously, mountaineering, like space travel, is an adventure of the greatest magnitude. The mountaineer's competition is within himself and against the elements. His objective: to reach the summit and return alive.
Pushing the Envelope
Pure difficulty became the objective of those with a more localized focus. Nationalism spurred competitiveness as countries subtly pitted themselves against one another in an attempt to reach the ultimate level of difficulty in the mountains. The glory won by success fueled the competition. Climbers have always tried to outdo each other, usually in a friendly way.
Free climbing is a more natural style of climbing, less dependent upon equipment and technology. In the early days, climbers resorted to the use of equipment only if they could not advance beyond a "hard" move. The equipment used was so primitive that its lack or its ineffectiveness often caused failure (retreat) more so than did the weaknesses of the climber. The spirit and/or art of the climber had to rise to the surface as the decisive factor in success.
With the invention of the piton, aid climbing became an acceptable method to achieve the summit. For a short time, pitons were the primary tools for climbing and allowed skillful climbers to ascend any piece of rock that had even the smallest crack in it.
Sometime in the mid-1960's, climbers in America began to realize that repeated ascents of routes using pitons were causing obvious permanent damage to the rock. Something had to be done. Enter the "clean climbing age." Following the example of the British, America's Royal Robbins and climbers around the world began slinging machine nuts. These crude slung nuts were slotted into constrictions in cracks, offering a "clean" alternative to the use of pitons.
A few climbers manufactured nuts that were specifically designed for climbing. American climbers, Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, designed some of the best. Their Stoppers and Hexentrics greatly contributed to the possibilities for clean climbing. In fact, nuts were easier than pitons. They were more creative but took less physical effort to place and remove. The introduction of clean climbing gear thus accelerated the free climbing movement, and climbers continued to push their limits but with a greater ecological sensitivity.
Climbers were challenged to free many of the routes that had previously only been climbed using aid climbing techniques. A strong new breed of free climber was being created. This continued for a number of years, and just when climbers thought they had reached their limit a new clean climbing device appeared on the scene: the spring-loaded camming device or SLCD.
The first commercially available SLCD was the Wild Country "Friend." SLCDs enabled the climber to place protection in perfectly parallel cracks with little or no effort, opening up a multitude of possibilities. All types of crack climbs could be done faster and with a high level of safety. The level of difficulty that could be achieved climbing with Friends certainly pushed the grade scale of crack climbing higher. Modifications on the camming device soon showed up. Three cam units, or TCUs, were smaller versions of the Friend and allowed for placements in cracks down to three quarters of an inch wide.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication