A Brief Look into the History of Rock Climbing

Worldwide, 25 million people climb on a regular basis. Rock climbing is fun, and it’s great exercise.

Are you a rock climber? Are you interested but haven’t started yet? Rock climbing’s not a modern invention. The history of rock climbing goes back a long way.

The Story

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing wasn’t always a sport like it is now. Rock climbing takes strength and endurance. It works almost every muscle in the body. It’s a sport that’s not for the faint of heart.

The rock climber climbs natural steep rock formations or man-made rock climbing walls. The sport takes not only physical strength but mental strength as well.

Ancient History

There are Chinese watercolors depicting rock climbers as early as 400 BC.

In the 10th to 12th century, Puebloans in Colorado built cliff dwellings requiring drilled post holds and carved steps.

The Frenchman, Antoine de Ville, climbed Mont Aiguille on June 26, 1492. His feat was not repeated until 1834. Mont Aiguille stands 6,800 feet and is south of Grenoble. The climb was done at the behest of Charles VIII.

Antoine de Ville was the king’s chamberlain and military engineer. He had ten companions with ropes and ladders on the climb.

Rock climbing wasn’t a sport at the time. De Ville was the first “grimpeur,” or climbing specialist.

Early Climbing

In the Alpine mountains of the 16th and 17th centuries, rock climbing was for rescue operations. Toward the end of the 18th century, Mont Blanc was climbed. Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe at 15,777 feet.

John Muir was a famous conservationist and the first president of the Sierra Club. In 1869 he was in Yosemite and tried his hand at climbing Cathedral Peak. By today’s standards, that’s a Class 4 out of 5.

He climbed it without ropes!

The Modern Era

The 1940s brought improved gear and more climbers. In 1958, Warren Harding ascended The Nose on El Capitan. It’s a 3,000-foot climb up a sheer wall once considered impossible.

The arduous climb took 45 days. Climbers now take less than 3 hours!

Rock climbing was popular in Germany, and the Germans were the first to embrace the sport.

England saw its share of climbers in the 1900s as well. There were lots of climbs centered on complicated rock formations.

Although there were no climbing clubs like there are today, people met on an informal basis to discuss techniques and experiences.

Not to be left out, the Italians started climbing the Dolomite Mountains. But this was only after a young German from Munich made the climb solo.

A Brief History of Rock Climbing

Rock climbing went from mountaineering and rescue operations to a full-blown modern sport. It takes fitness and grit, but like many challenging sports, it’s rewarding.

Now you can learn to climb without even going outside! With the advent of climbing gyms, there are all sorts of options for climbing. If you don’t have access to the mountains, try a gym.

Looking for some gear to get started? Shop for climbing shoes here.

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