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.

Ambassador Spotlight | Miriam Borgstrom

Miriam Borgstrom rock climbing butora ambassador

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV and Salt Lake City, UT

Q: What’s your climbing style?
A: I enjoy bouldering inside and out.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment in climbing, and outside of climbing?
A: This year I went from climbing V3 outside to V7. My favorite V7s were Buried Alive and The Dirty Rail in Red Rock Canyon (a photo of The Dirty Rail send made it in Climbing magazine’s September/October re-gram feature). Outside of climbing, Dancing Girl Press will be publishing my poetry chapbook next fall.

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Ambassador Spotlight | Nat Baird

Nat Baird Rock climbing


Hometown: Boise, Idaho

Q: What’s your climbing style?
A: Sport.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment in climbing, and outside of climbing?
A: My proudest accomplishment in climbing is probably being a part of The Climbing Academy. I am so stoked to be apart of such an amazing congruence of both kids and adults. My biggest accomplishment outside of climbing is probably pushing myself in the classroom and getting good grades. Although this isn’t that large, I am still very happy that I am able to stay motivated inside and outside of the classroom.

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Ambassador Spotlight | Kerry Scott

Kerry Scott Rock climbing

Hometown: Rockville, Maryland

Q: What’s your climbing style?
A: Sloth-like and technical

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment in climbing, and outside of climbing?
A: I would have to say Proper Soul is my proudest accomplishment in climbing. I had been dreaming about that route for so many years before I was ready to try it. It was also my first 5.14a, so I’ll remember that forever! In non-climbing, Surviving Real Analysis at UNC. I have never worked that hard in a class before in my life, and it was really rewarding to learn the material.

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Ambassador Spotlight | Sam Enright


Sam Enright Rock Climbing

Hometown: Reading, Massachusetts

Q: What’s your climbing style?
A: Power on pinches/edges

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment in climbing, and outside of climbing?
A: Sending The Shield (V12) when I was 16 is up there. It is not the hardest boulder I’ve done but definitely the most memorable. Outside of climbing, I did a few kickflips in my life.

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Ambassador Spotlight | Matthew Carpenter

Matthew Matt Carpenter

Hometown: Fayetteville, West Virginia

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment in climbing, and outside of climbing?

A: My proudest climbing accomplishment is the sheer volume of features I have climbed and the experience I have gained from the mountains. I’m more proud of the hundreds of 5.10 routes I have climbed all over the world than I am of the few 5.13 climbs I have managed to pull off. Outside of climbing, I am proud of all the students’ lives I have affected in my career as a science teacher in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Nothing makes me more proud than knowing I helped prepare students that are currently in medical school.

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Quick Tips | Steep Footwork

rock climbing techniques, bouldering techniques, steep footwork

Given that the most talented climbers of the 1980’s honed their skills on the polished vertical granite walls of Yosemite and the hyper-technical limestone of southern France, it is no surprise that a belief that dynamic climbing was inefficient was widely held.
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