by Jullie

May 5, 2021

What is French Free Climbing

If you’re new to climbing, you may wonder what all specific terms mean. Today we’re going to go over a specific term: French Free Climbing. It’s not easy to find the true meaning of French free.

A quick Google search asking, “What is French Free Climbing?” will tell you that French free is a type of climbing technique, but it’s not that simple.

It’s one of the rarer terms in the sport, but knowing more about what it is and how to do it will make you a better climber.

What is French Free Climbing?

The term “French free” can mean a lot of things, depending on who you ask. In its most pure form, “French free” refers to a style of climbing where climbers place protection, but not removed, until it is no longer needed, and people mostly use the rope is mostly to safeguard the climber.

The climbers grab hold of bolts and cams placed in the rock to help them round awkward sections of the rock climbing route. 

What is French Free Climb

Traditionalists often frown upon this style of climbing. It’s a controversial term since it implies that you’re cheating and not really free climbing the route. Read more about the differences between free solo and free climb.

But if you don’t have the head for leading, then sometimes you just have to use what gear is available. On the other hand, French-free climbing is still a form of aid climbing. 

Aid climbing requires nothing more than an ascender and a belay device. Aid climbing is a type of rock climbing where the climber places protective gear into cracks to help them progress upward. Aid climbing is also known as clean climbing or the clean technique. 

French Freeing also works well as part of the “Leave No Trace” ethic adopted by the climbing community. It ensures that climbers take reasonable steps to protect the rock face from damage.

This includes removing any fixed protection used as part of our route and ensuring there is no damage caused during this process.

Why French Free Climb?

If you know enough about climbing, you understand the dangers of getting stuck on a route for minutes, hours, or even days. Many times, you need to compromise on sending a route just to finish.

Climbing can be beautiful until you get too high up without a way around a specific section. This is where French freeing comes in handy. It’s a great way for climbers to work on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. 

French Free Climbing

If you’re a beginner climber, then using a French-free style is excellent for overcoming challenging obstacles. The French-free technique lets you climb with a little more freedom and less focus on climbing mechanics.

This allows you to adapt and rise to the challenges. It also enables casual climbers to have fun moving at their own pace.

Where Did the Term French Free Come From?

The French Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon) has been a climbing destination for over a hundred years. It was here that French free started as a term for a style of climbing that was popular in the ’60s and ’70s.

Today, aid climbing and bolting while on the route are still very much a part of the game. However, they were much more popular before French Freeing came into play. 

French-free is the style that allows climbers to clip and unclip as few bolts as possible. It allows for a maximum amount of free climbing while still placing bolts to safeguard the route. This style of climbing involves placing removable protection for the climber to clip at their own discretion.

This allows people to climb to a much higher standard without worrying about things like long runouts and gear placements. It allowed climbers to continue their ascents without returning to the ground and re-climbing a problematic section of a climb.

What Gear is Used in French-Free Climbing?

Trad gear, such as trad climbing shoes, is often the choice of professional climbers. They also climb with an extra bit of gear: a small cam called a Tri-Cams or TCU that they clip onto their belay loop and take with them.

French Free Climb

Ideally, you want to carry the least amount of gear as possible, but it’s better to bring too much gear and not need it than end up dying in a storm because you don’t have enough gear.

French Freeing Gear

  1. Cams (SLCDs);
  2. Slings;
  3. Quickdraws;
  4. Bolts;
  5. Belayer.

That’s it. No ropes. No partner to untie knots. Just you, the rope you set up at the base of the cliff (or fixed anchor), and your gear. French Free climbers also use a fifi hook.

This is a type of aid-climbing hook that climbers can operate in both crack climbing and face climbing situations. A fifi hook is also known as a split hook.

French freeing is all about using only natural protection to access an ascent on rock or ice. It’s not about bushwhacking or using gear in unorthodox ways–in fact. Most climbers would consider this cheating if they could see it from below.

Is Hangdogging the Same as French Freeing?

Hang dogging is somewhat like French freeing. Hang dogging refers to climbing while hanging in the rope or locking the legs on the rope.

The difference is that you are hanging on the gear in French free climbing. Hang-dogging is when you climb up to a high point, then fall off and rest on the rope before climbing back up and doing it again. 

The basic concept behind it is that when climbing, there are specific techniques that you need to learn and practice to improve your climbing.

While you are hanging on the rope, these techniques are easier to figure out. At first sight, it looks like a silly thing to try, but once you learn the method and start using it, it can be beneficial.

Today, many people have begun to accept hangdogging as a form of climbing, but it wasn’t always that way.

The rules and regulations concerning Hangdogging vary from venue to venue. Instead of starting over time and time again from the bottom, a Hangdogger would “hang” at the last move or two and rest. Meaning that he is resting while still on the wall but not touching the ground.

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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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