Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber can only use climbing equipment for climbing protection, but not as an aid to help in their progression in ascending the route. Free climbing therefore cannot use any of the tools that are used in aid climbing to help overcome the obstacles encountered while ascending a route. The development of free climbing was an important moment in the history of rock climbing, including the concept and definition of what determined a first free ascent (or FFA) of a route by a climber.


The free climbing movement was an important development in the history of rock climbing.[1] In 1911, Austrian climber Paul Preuss started what became known as the Mauerhakenstreit (or "piton dispute"), by advocating for a transition to "free climbing" via a series of essays and articles in the German Alpine Journal where he defined "artificial aid" and proposed 6 rules of free climbing including the important rule 4: "The piton is an emergency aid and not the basis of a system of mountaineering".[1][2] In 1913, German climber Rudolf Fehrmann published the second edition of Der Bergsteiger in der Sächsischen Schweiz (or The Climber in Saxon Switzerland), which included the first binding rules for climbing in the area to protect the soft sandstone rock. The rules said that only natural holds were allowed, and these "rules for free climbing" are in still use today.[3]

In 1975, German climber Kurt Albert painted his first "Rotpunkt" (or redpoint) on the base of the aid climb Adolf Rott Ged.-Weg (V+/A1), in the Frankenjura, signifying he had "free climbed" it as a redpoint (i.e. after many failed attempts); the redpoint became the accepted definition of what constituted a "first free ascent".[4][5]

First free ascent

The first "free climb" of a climbing route, is known as the first free ascent, or FFA, and is chronicled by climbing journals and guide books. They also chronicle whether the "free climb" was done onsight (i.e. first try with no prior information), flashed (i.e. first try but had prior information), or redpointed (i.e. completed after a first failed attempt).[6][7] FFAs that create new grade milestones, are important events in climbing history.[8]


Free climbing means using no forms of artificial or mechanical aid to help progression in ascending a route.[3] Even the act of pulling on the climbing protection equipment (either placed by the climber while climbing or already in situ with pre-placed bolts), is considered aid climbing and carries an aid climbing grade of A0.[9]

Free climbing can be performed in a variety of types of climbing, and most importantly:[10]


Free climbing has been called "rock climbing's most commonly mistaken term", with problems including:[10]

Free climbing is related to, but separate from, the broader climbing topic area of clean climbing; however, clean climbing does not support bolted sport climbing routes on natural rock, and thus external redpointed first free ascents are not advocated.

See also


  1. ^ a b Wilkinson, Freddie (14 March 2019). "Rock climbing: from ancient practice to Olympic sport". National Geographic. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  2. ^ Middendorf, John (1999). "The Mechanical Advantage: Tools for the Wild Vertical". Ascent. Sierra Club: 149–173. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  3. ^ a b Zhu, Beifeng; Chen, Ruizhi; Li, Yuan (9 August 2021). "The Origin and Early Evolution of Rock Climbing". Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. Atlantis Press. 571: 662–667. doi:10.2991/assehr.k.210806.124.
  4. ^ Hobley, Nicholas (29 October 2010). "Kurt Albert is dead. Goodbye to a climbing legend". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  5. ^ Hobley, Nicholas (28 September 2020). "Remembering Kurt Albert, German climbing legend and father of the redpoint". PlanetMountain. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  6. ^ Pardy, Aaron (5 November 2022). "Redpoint, Pinkpoint, and Headpoint – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  7. ^ "What Is A Redpoint In Climbing? – Climbing Jargon Explained". Climber. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  8. ^ Sanzarro, Francis (22 March 2022). "Who Did It First? Style, Grades and Dispute in First Ascents". Climbing. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  9. ^ Synnott, Mark (2 August 2021). "Climb Long Routes Faster With This Simple Aid Trick". Climbing. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "What Is Free Climbing? – Rock Climbing's Most Commonly Mistaken Term". Climber. 11 April 2021. Retrieved 8 February 2023.

Further reading