January 10, 2022

What is Free Climbing?

by Jullie

Free climbing is a type of climbing where one may use climbing gear like ropes or other climbing safeguards, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. Don’t get me wrong, climbing gear is used to protect the climber from fall injuries solely. The gear does not aid in climbing progress.

As climbers use footholds and handholds to traverse the rock, they rely entirely on their physical abilities to move forward. Trad climbing, rock climbing, and some kinds of solo climbing fall under free climbing.

It may still require you to climb a multi-pitch route in one go. The climber anchors themselves at a belay station at the end of each pitch for rest.

A climber who free solos will either descend via an alternate pathway or rappel down using a rope from the anchor at the summit. The cliff face from which climbers ascend can also be seen to be descended.


Table of Contents

How Do You Get Started with Free Climbing?

1. Begin your task indoors

Indoor climbing facilities are where most people begin their free climbing journey. When you are ready to venture outdoors, you will need to navigate shallow handholds, overhanging terrain, and inclement weather while practicing your technique in the gym.

2. Plan out your path

Consult handbooks, maps, and mountaineering websites to discover more about paths and methods prior to starting your first ascent. Making friends with climbers might also provide helpful data on sport peaks in your vicinity.

3. Make sure that your equipment is top-notch

Free climbing requires a good pair of mountaineering shoes and a good helmet. Even if you don’t plan on using a rappelling rope, you should invest in a high-quality rope to avoid any tragic fall.

4. Learn top-roping skills

At first, climbing a rock face alone might seem daunting. However, using a top rope can enhance your free climbing technique. Should you fall, the rope will prevent you from hitting the surface, and you will be able to tackle a more complex portion. You will be able to free climb when you slowly start to reduce your dependence on the rope.

5. Recognize your limitations

Yosemite National Park’s iconic El Capitan granite feature was not even the first challenge for the best rock climbers. They gradually improved their climbing skills by practicing on indoor climbing walls and rock faces.

6. Be mindful of the environment

Climbing outdoors is subject to Mother Nature’s whims. It’s far more important to return home safely than to reach the peak. So, if it is too tough due to rain, snow, wind, or even cold, be sensible enough to go back.

Climbing is a high-impact sport that has a significant risk of catastrophic injury. While pursuing a climbing endeavor, practice, competent instruction, and comprehensive safety procedures are required. And you might as well need a guide.

What are the Benefits of Free Climbing?

1. It improves the forearm and grip strength

You can usually tell climbers apart by looking at their forearms. All climbing activities are all about grip, which gets better with practice. It takes time and practice to grab hold of small objects and lift your body weight onto them.

You will notice that the biceps and forearms become stronger and more defined with each step. Starting with grip strengtheners requires no additional training. You need more rest for your tendons during the first year.

2. Improves your cardiovascular health

Climbing, strangely enough, is an extremely cardio-intensive activity. Even just an itsy-bitsy movement requires a huge amount of blood and oxygen. To stay on the wall and complete difficult maneuvers, all of your muscles, as well as your brain, require a lot of oxygen to function well.

Because of the coordination required to operate a route, breath management will be critical to your progress. Even atop a 13-foot boulder, you’ll be surprised at how hastily you breathe. You can lose weight and enjoy the experience of rock climbing.

Because climbing is so cardiovascular, it is a great workout. As you climb up and down the route several times, you can use this as a form of cardio. Boulders can also be repeated without stopping if “sets” are preferred.

3. Climbing has many psychological benefits

In addition to increasing self-confidence, mental agility, and self-awareness, it also enhances self-awareness. It boosts self-confidence, mental agility, and the subconscious. It is a wonderful stress reliever and a complete workout, so it is beneficial to your overall health.

Climbing demands a great deal of issue-solving, cognitive attention, and concentration, so it helps to improve your mind. Many individuals enjoy it because it helps them forget about their daily troubles and concentrate only on the ascent. It can also provide a strong sense of accomplishment.

4. It creates a sense of belonging

Several hikers will tell you that socializing is one of their most favorite activity components. By its very nature, rock climbing is a close-knit activity. When you go to a climbing gym, for instance, you are likely to be occupying the same wall area with different people simultaneously. This may lead to quick chats and partnerships as well.

What are Some of the Challenges of Free Climbing?

1. Redpoint Ascent

This ascent involves a climber ascending from the climber’s foot to the top. He has to use already placed anchors to avoid falling, hanging, resting on the rope, or placing clippings into bolts.

2. Pinkpoint

This involves a climber ascending from the climb of the foot to the top without falling. The climber employs pre-placed gear; generally, bolts are fitted with quickdraws, where the rope is clipped. Because putting gear on a redpoint requires more work, a pink point ascent is simpler.

3. Onsight ascent

Climbers free climb routes without relying on experience, beta, or previous information. They only rely on their abilities and power to figure out the movements from the anchors to the bottom.

4. Headpoint Ascent

Climbers practice and rehearse their moves on a toprope, usually on a very tough route. After memorizing all of the movements, he then attempts to fall redpoint. Headpoint ascents are common on gritstone cliffs in central Britain.

How is Free Climbing Different from other Types of Rock Climbing?

1. Aid Climbing vs. Free Climbing

The climber’s rope and other climbing gear such as cams and bolts are not utilized for additional stability or to help the climber move up whenever an athlete free climbs. He only uses the rope to shield himself from damage during falls. Aid climbs differ from free climbs in that the athlete installs equipment and either grips it or uses it.

Furthermore, he can also stand with his feet on ladders made of support and webbing that enable him to reach beyond a barren rock portion or ascend a steep climbing wall while supporting his weight.

2. Free climbing vs. climbing solo

In theory, free climbing is a type of solo climbing because the climber uses only the climbing wall’s features to ascend. But free solo climbers, on the other hand, use no safety gear and risk a catastrophic fall.

Related Article: Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing

What’s the Difference between Sport and Trad Climbing?

Sport climbing and traditional climbing are larger-wall climbing styles that include harnesses, ropes, and protection gear to keep climbers safe in the event of falls. Single-pitch climbs can reach 130 feet, and multi-pitched courses can reach hundreds of meters.

The sole distinction between the two is that although sport climbs feature protection bolts secured to the rock, trad routes require athletes to use all their safety equipment.

Different Types of Climbing Shoes to Suit Your Free Climbing Needs?

Climbing shoes differ in their make, which suits different climbing styles and climbing paths. They range from

1. Neutral

The neutral climbing shoes feature a relaxed fit for all-day comfort. The shoes allow the toes to lie flat inside. New climbers would benefit from neutral shoes, which are more comfortable, but they would also benefit experienced climbers searching for long-lasting, comfortable shoes for multi-pitch routes.

2. Moderate

Modest climbing shoes feature a downturned or cambered shape that makes them perfect for the hardest climbs. With these shoes, you can climb slab routes, cracks, long multi-pitch climbs, as well as sport routes on slightly overhanging terrain. Unlike neutral shoes, the downturned form places your feet in a more energetic stance, allowing you to ascend more difficult courses.

3. Aggressive

This shoe features downturned toes and a lot of ankle stiffness to place your feet in a stable and forceful position on difficult overhanging routes. A significant portion of aggressive shoes is asymmetrical in design, granting accurate placements on small holds because force is concentrated on the big toe. The tight fit and downturned design of aggressive shoes make them more suitable for the short-duration gym or even sport climbing routes.

How to Choose a Suitable Harness for Your Free Climbing Activities?

Different from sport climbing or gym climbing, traditional climbing requires more equipment. If you are doing multiple pitches of a climb, you will need to have complete anchor setups, rappelling equipment, and enough clothing and water to last the entire climb. So, to ensure that all of your protective gear is stored efficiently, you should search for a harness with four or more gear hooks.

Thick harnesses provide better support and comfort for longer-duration climbs on the climbing route or when hanging from a belay. Depending on the diameter of the waistline and the leg loops, climbing harnesses are available in various sizes. If you have the chance, try on a couple of different harnesses to find the one that fits best.

A good harness must fit tightly over your hipbones and have a comfy “lift.” Additionally, it should be made of adjustable loops, a clasp, and webbing to fit different sizes. Leg loops are also essential as part of a harness, which features an elastic portion for flexibility without any buckles or webs.

Who Started Free Climbing and Why Was It Invented?

Free climbing first surfaced in the early twentieth century, particularly in Germany and the United Kingdom. Climbers like Jim Bridwell and Ron Kauk helped it acquire popularity in the U.S. in the 70s. Lynn Hill performed the first real free ascent of El Capitan with her breakthrough ascent of the Nose.

During the following decades, she would continue to push the boundaries of free climbing, including scaling it in just one day. Its goal was to use a climber’s strength, endurance, agility, balance, and mental fortitude to avoid falling and reach a pre-defined climb’s summit or finish line.

Should You Start Free Climbing?

Maturity and stature are not limiting considerations when it pertains to climbing. Despite how large or old we are, our bodies will adapt, and they will make it to the summit of the path we choose to climb. It differs from most other sports because it does not need a good start or a special edge to attain significant success. What you need to do is learn the fundamental moves. Climbing is a way of forming more social bonds.

In addition, problem-solving is an important part of the ascent. Each path is a mystery that must be solved. In bouldering, routes are called “solutions.” To succeed at a new task, you must be creative, consistent, and perseverant since you are the one who must climb to the summit, regardless of beta or how long it takes you to reach a certain hold. It’s a discipline that needs a lot of mental acuities. You have to convince your body that you can complete the selected route even when your muscles are tired.

It’s also a terrific way to gain additional collaborative experience, form relationships, and assign duties to complete a task as efficiently as possible. Furthermore, if things go well, you may be able to pursue a career as a professional climber. Not to mention that the job can pay up to $300,000 per year, with the average professional climber earning $10,000.

Why is it called free climbing?

Free climbing is called “free” because the climber is not attached to any fixed point while they climb. The climber may use climbing gear such as ropes and harnesses, but only to assist progress, only to protect against injury during falls.

What is free climbing in rock climbing?

Free climbing is one of the most popular and practiced in rock climbing styles, but it can also be done in some cases of ice climbing.

What does it mean to free climb something?

To free climb, something usually refers to a rock climbing style – free climbing – in which the climber moves on the surface of a rock face without using any equipment to assist the climber’s progress.

Do free climbers use a rope?

Yes, free climbers use a rope in a free climbing style. Free climbing without a rope can be dangerous, especially when you’re inexperienced or have never climbed before. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best to use a rope when you first start out and try to master the skill without the risk of injury.

How do free climbers get down?

Free climbers usually get down by walking down the easiest route of the mountain. Often, free climbers use fixed ropes from the top to rappel.

What is french free climbing?

Essentially all the moves are free when French freeing, but you might just once or twice pull on some gear. It happens all the time. French free climbing is one of climbing’s rarer terms. To “french free” a climbing route is sometimes used as an insult or a description of a free climb gone away from the usual or expected course.

Does free climbing mean no ropes?

No, free climbing doesn’t mean that a climber shouldn’t use ropes. Don’t confuse free climbing with its subset free soloing.

Difference between free climbing and aid climbing?

The difference between these two terms can be explained by the type of aid equipment used. In free climbing, rock climbers will typically climb using their hands and climbing shoes, and to protect themselves from falls they use ropes and harnesses. In free climbing, the rock climber doesn’t use any gear aiding its progress.

In aid climbing, the climber will typically use aid climbing equipment to assist the climber in ascending the pitch. Often, aid climbing is used to study the pitch before free climbing it.

Who is the best free solo climber in the world?

It is considered that the best free solo climber in the world is Alexander Honnold. However, don’t confuse soloing a free climb with free soloing. Soloing a free climb means that the climber is climbing without a partner, and this could be done with self-belaying systems. Free solo climbing is something that Alex Honnold did when free soloing El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park in 2017. The following article explains more about Alex’s personal life and Honnold’s net worth.

What is the easiest free climb on El Cap?

The Nose, with difficulty rating 5.9 C2, is considered to be the easiest route on El Cap. It is a very popular full-length route, which draws beginner’ big-wall climbers. The Nose is still a complex climb and may require many climbing techniques that may be unfamiliar to beginner climbers.

Can you free climb Half Dome?

Yes, you can free climb the Half Dome. The first free climb of Half Dome was done in 1976 by Art Higbee and Jim Erickson in a 3-day push. It was a 24-pitch free climb with four pitches of 5.12 and three of 5.11.

In 2008 Alexander Honnold made the first free solo ascent of Half Dome in 2 hours and 50 minutes.

What is big wall free climbing?

Big wall climbing is a type of rock climbing where climbers ascend a long multi-pitch route in one day or more. Climbing big walls often requires the climbing team to live on the route using hauling equipment and portaledges.

Who has free climbed the Dawn Wall?

Only three people have free-climbed the Dawn Wall using just their feet and hands, and a rope for protection – Kevin Jorgeson, Tommy Caldwell, and Adam Ondra.

Read our comparison between Free Solo and Dawn Wall’s incredible documentaries.

Was Lynn Hill the first person to free climb El Cap?

Yes, Lynn Hill is the first person to free climb El Cap via the Nose. In 1993 in a four-day climb with her partner Brooke Sandahl, Hill became the first person to free the route. In 1994 Lynn Hill became the first person to free climb El Capi in a day via The Nose.

Climbing Free by Lynn Hill

Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World is an autobiography book about the American rock climber Lynn Hill. The book was published in 2002 by W.W. Norton & Company and is written by Lynn Hill and Greg Child.

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About the author 

Jullie

Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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