History of Rock Climbing



  • I don't mean personal histories, rather historical content pre, say, 1950. I just got off the phone with Jim McCarthy and we reminisced about the 1960s, among other things, and Jim challenged me to answer the question of when and who in all probability did the first recognized (no prehistorical speculations, etc.) rock climbing at what nowadays is 5.10. The American, Oliver Perry-Smith, came immediately to mind, for his climbing in Germany around 1900 probably reached that level of difficulty, although the routes on sandstone in the Elbsandsteingebirge may be difficult to assess these days since the holds are not quite the same as they were a century ago.

    I don't know if there are any history buffs on this forum, but thought I'd give it a try.

    😎



  • @jgill said in History of Rock Climbing:

    who in all probability did the first recognized (no prehistorical speculations, etc.) rock climbing at what nowadays is 5.10.

    Paul Preuss comes to mind. I'm not sure what the technical grade of his hardest climbs would be, and he probably did them around 1910 or so, so he might not be the first.



  • Emanuel Strubich did 5.10 in the Ebaldstien in 1918.



  • I spoke with Perry-Smith's son about 12 years ago and got a little first hand information. I think there may be a consensus among climbing historians that OPS climbed at that level in the late 1890s and the early 1900s. Upon return to the USA in the mid 1910-20s he pretty much gave up anything but occasional climbing, but he founded a ski area in the northeast USA.

    History

    History

    There were a number of competing climbing clubs around Dresden at that time, and they would plant their club flag on a spire when they made a FA. OPS's club had a skull&Crossbone flag. By the 1930s there were over 200 such clubs in that area.

    I didn't mean to imply this thread focus of the first 5.10. I just used that to illustrate what conversations might evolve.



  • Doug Scott's "Big Wall Climbing" is an excellent treatise on the history of climbing. Used to have several other reference books, but for various reasons no longer have them. Jeff Lowe's "Ice Experience" does a good job with early ice climbing in the US.

    I found it amazing people were doing .11-12 in the 1960s.



  • This is not a bad rough history of RC:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rock_climbing

    Are there other lists out there? Clint Cummin's list seems to have disappeared.



  • Paging Kerwyn.....



  • @jgill said in History of Rock Climbing:

    This is not a bad rough history of RC:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rock_climbing

    Are there other lists out there? Clint Cummin's list seems to have disappeared.

    I could cross post some of Clint's posts from ST, but it is not allowed. I've wondered why toby won't let us reference ST to add content here (he has granted some exceptions). There was a lot of good info on the taco. Seems using it as a resource here would only add to this place, not detract.



  • Sometimes when comparing climbs from the late 1800s or the early 1900s with current ascents acceptable practices are overlooked. At that time shoulder stands were used not infrequently, and, checking my notes, when I spoke of OPS doing 5.10, that is the way the climb is rated today, but he used a shoulder stand, thus reducing its rating. Fritz Wiessner used to say, "Two climbers, one unit", or something like that. Also, hand and footholds on sandstone formations may have changed considerably over time. And the spirit of the times, the expectations, make a huge difference.



  • @jgill I know they were tougher then. I've suffered one shoulder stand in my life, during our 1971 3rd ascent with my pal Harry, of a 1949 Fred Beckey, Pete Schoening & Jack Schwabland, obscure first ascent in Idaho's Sawtooth Range. Schwabland describes Fred & Pete doing a shoulder stand on their ascent in a 1950 AAJ article, that I never saw until 30 years after we followed their route, because it was the obvious route.

    Fishhook Spire, since renamed El Pima at top center left.

    14 Saw_02_037-small.JPG

    I kept a journal during the trip & described my experiences. Harry was wearing REI brand klettershues with a lug sole.

    First, Harry stepped onto my knee, then onto my hip, paused a while to adjust his hands upward, while grinding his boot-toe back & forth on my hip bone, then up and lightly onto my back, then a boot on one shoulder, and after a little grinding, then a second boot onto the other shoulder.

    I slowly stood straighter, while he fished for handholds, worked up on tiptoe (grind, grind on my shoulders) and at last vanished upwards on free moves, where Fred had aided on a piton.

    Harry on the summit.
    15.0Harry on Fishhook.jpg



  • Awsome! at least he was not wearing crampons! πŸ˜‰ We eliminated the shoulder stand on one of the very early ascents of Cleopatras Chair. My friend Alex bouldered it w/ no gear, probably not much if any belay anchor???? I can't really remember that part but do remember thinnking a fall would be bad?? and gave me a top rope. then we stashed ropes and 3rd classed a long way to the summit.



  • I dunno. Never done a shoulder stand. Ouch!



  • @johntp said in History of Rock Climbing:

    Doug Scott's "Big Wall Climbing" is an excellent treatise on the history of climbing.

    I'll second that. Absolute treasure trove of history.

    A couple of others I'd recommend are "Climbing in North America" by Chris Jones, and the relatively recently published "Desert Towers" by Crusher Bartlett.

    Also, for those interested in the Great White North, check out "The Canadian Mountaineering Anthology." Close to 150 years of climbing writing in that one. Edited by Bruce Fairley (with me as co-editor and designer).

    Finally, if you want to know what it is really all about, get a copy of W H Murray's "Mountaineering in Scotland". Bill Murray and his partners pretty much invented hard winter climbing, and he's a fine writer. What they were doing 75 years ago will open your eyes (and curl your hair and shrivel your scrotum).



  • History

    The question remains, is there a history of rock climbing that is truly international in scope and covers all the varieties of the sport?

    Kerwin, what happened to the book you were writing? ✍



  • That’s gotta hurt, with crampons!



  • There is a movement to study all aspects of mountains and possibly form the basis of an academic discipline. It's labelled "Thinking Mountains" , and is supported by the University of Alberta and other organizations. The initial conference occurred in 2018 and the next may be in 2021:

    http://thinkingmountains.ca/assets/thinking-mountains-program-(web).pdf

    There is very little about climbing history, however, and more about climate change, indigenous peoples, gender issues, eschewing traditional mountaineering practices, and preservation. I wonder if and when climbing history - beyond simple lists of ascents and tales of daring-do - will be sanctioned as a legitimate academic subject. If Kerwin were here he might provide some insights.

    As an amateur climbing historian I gathered material for my website, going beyond bouldering, and found a considerable literature from various climbing cultures, but I was not trained as an historian to pull it all together and speculate philosophically. As an example of social evolution that had a huge impact on the creation of rock climbing as a sport, care to speculate on a significant reason British rock climbing coalesced in the 1880s? Hint: think the stabilization of railroads and affordability of transportation for the general public, especially with trips originating in London.



  • Great thread and a very important subject.

    A comprehensive history of rock climbing is long overdue. I think it's hard for us to realize its true importance; just a few decades away, we are still too near the origins to comprehend how significant it really is.



  • @jgill said in History of Rock Climbing:

    The question remains, is there a history of rock climbing that is truly international in scope and covers all the varieties of the sport?

    Not that I've come across. The information is out there for specific regions and periods, but truly comprehensive? No. That would be quite a tome that few would really be interested in. Complitation of such a work would be and act of love, not reward.



  • My old friend Pat Ament did a good job of documenting American free climbing a few years back, but this aspect of the sport has grown so that Pat's book is now more a starting point rather than comprehensive reference for studies in the subject.

    http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12200344800/Wizards-of-Rock-A-History-of-Free-Climbing-in-America

    By setting aid climbs in a separate category the focus is narrowed to a topic more manageable. A tighter focus on formal competitions takes one into something quite different, where first ascents are meaningless within hours. And of course taking into consideration entire societal perspectives and practices is where academic types would shine.



  • @jgill said in History of Rock Climbing:

    By setting aid climbs in a separate category the focus is narrowed to a topic more manageable. A tighter focus on formal competitions takes one into something quite different, where first ascents are meaningless within hours. And of course taking into consideration entire societal perspectives and practices is where academic types would shine.

    Certainly if one broke it down to include all genres, regions and periods, that would change things up. One could spend a lifetime cataloging information. And when it was complete, it would be out of date. The only way to make the task manageable is to narrow down the topic to specific genres and periods. Look at the StoneMasters; a full book on one region in a short period in time.

    A book that only deals with the specifics of routes, grades and participants without the personal stories behind them would be boring.


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