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Christian Core climbing Gioia, 8c boulder, Antro dei druidi, Potala di Varazze (Italy)
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Alexander Huber in 1992 on the crux of Om 9a, Triangel, Austria.
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Chris Sharma during the first ascent of Pachamama 9a+ at Oliana, Spain.
Photo by Pete O'Donovan
Luisa Iovane & Lynn Hill
Photo by Anna Piunova

The evolution of free climbing

23.12.2012 by Maurizio Oviglia

Switzerland's Claude Remy provides a chronological analysis of the evolution free climbing (bouldering and difficulty). An article which clearly is not and cannot be definitive, but is merely a stimulus for further analysis and discussion about the evolution of this sport.

About a year ago Claude Remy told me he had repeated a route established by Paul-Henri Girardin, first ascended in 1954, which had an absolutely obligatory 6b move. Deeply impressed by this and moved by Paul's death in 2010, Claude decided to write an article about this Swiss this free-climbing pioneer. Whilst doing this he could not help but wonder if Paul's achievement had been important on a global scale or limited only to his country. It is probably from here that the crazy idea came about to create a chronological list of achievements grade by grade, limiting it to free climbing as we know it today. A list which, to our knowledge, no one had ever tried to make or, at least, put down on paper. We can easily imagine why... some of the reasons are mentioned in Claude's introduction below.

The history of free climbing is something we tend to consider as "young" and perhaps partly because of this not yet analysed. Claude, with his meticulous month-long search (after all, he is Swiss), not only shows us that free climbing came into being many years ago, at the start 20th century even, and also that many of our convictions about the chronology of events are fundamentally flawed. For example, was the seventh grade really climbed in 1978, the year the UIAA scale was recognised, or much earlier? And if it was climbed earlier, who was the first to do so? Obviously Claude has taken into account the thousands of objections that can be made with a list of this sort... One worth bearing in mind: we all fully understand the concept of free climbing in accordance to modern standards (repoint), but we also know that in the past things were somewhat different... Having said that, why shouldn't we consider as "free climbing" a several meter high section, unprotectable, climbed by the early pioneers? What should we do in cases like these? And before the end of the seventies, when the redpoint ethic came into being, were there already climbers who climbed without using or resting on pro? So what can one consider as the start of free climbing?

I helped Claude a little to make his list and I also played the devil's advocate, asking him some questions related in particular to a list of multi-pitch routes he was working on at the same time. He however replied with his usual irony:

"... I know full well that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a list of free climbing in the Alps! It wouldn't dare think that it's possible to, using the current rules, it's possible to make a comparison of various different eras. It's true that it seems impossible... but you can always give it a go! I've done this above all because of my love for climbing and because I hope this list will provide some clarity, help us understand our history and above all prevent us from forgetting our predecessors. These climbed many routes which were very exposed, but they too had their human limits, and when these were reached the waltz of placing pegs began or, as an alternative, along came fatal falls. I believe it's a good thing to publish these chronological lists, even those that include climbing in the Alps, despite the fact that they exclude Greats you mentioned such as Comici, Carlesso, Vinatzer, Messner. Closer inspection at the history of climbing in the Alps reveals that there is a pretty long, confused period if one wants to determine "the hardest route or the best climber." Also because every region, every country, tends to exaggerate the quality of their respective heroes. I say all this simply to underline the fact I've only mentioned those who I'm certain of, seeing from a current perspective. It's very difficult to make comparisons between the Greats you mentioned. To do so one would need to do what I did on certain historical routes in many regions in Switzerland, namely repeat them one after the other, with the same gear and find out what out what the first ascentionists used. Only like this can a list be made. It's possible, but there's a whole lot of routes that would need repeating! I have to say that sometimes in life we need to do silly things... at the end of the day I don't think this list is silly, but I'm sure that many will think it is, but that's their tough luck!"

So I see the list of Claude as a beginning, a promising start, an attempt to write a history that has not yet been written, with many obscure points. Some things have probably been forgotten, mistakes made, others will cause bewilderment. But it provides a basis for discussion. The aim is not to establish "the best climber in the world" as Bernard Amy said. Rather, one hopes to give credit to those who, at times forgotten about, have shown the way for thousands of climbers today.

Maurizio Oviglia

THE EVOLUTION OF FREE CLIMBING by Claude Remy

While it may seem difficult to collect information in order to create a chronology of free climbing, it is even more difficult to establish a list which takes into account all the different climbing styles, the gear, the various different grade scales... seeing that these factors change depending on the era and countries they come from. How, for example, can one compare the pioneers who used heavy and unreliable gear with modern-day climbers with their sleek climbing shoes and bomb-proof gear? And how can different performances be rated; a short, well-protected climb achieved after various attempts compared to a committing mountain route climbed on-sight? And what about integral solo ascents... Despite all these doubts, here are some dates, names and facts published according to two criteria: boulder problems and pure difficulty. Please note that some achievements could get stray away from this narrow context and embrace different styles, maybe pure alpine climbs. In addition, other details are included: solo (climbing without a rope); on-sight (OS); expo which indicates runout gear; obl. stands for obligatory; Female = F; not confirmed or unrepeated = NC.

Climbing grades are not an exact science; in addition some achievements haven't yet been confirmed and the difficulty of more than one of these routes has changed over the years due to broken (or modified) holds. This list, which adheres to the French grading scale, is therefore an initial proposal which needs integrating with bouldering traverses trad routes, and hybrid climbs (which begin with a boulder and continue with a rope).

BOULDERING
YEAR GRADE CLIMBER BOULDER PROBLEM

1914

4B

Jacques de Lépiney

La Presta, Fontainebleau, France

1934

5C

Pierre Allain

L’Angle Allain, Fontainebleau, France

1946

6A

René Ferlet

La Marie Rose, Fontainebleau, France

1950

6B

Paul Jouy

La Stalingrade, Fontainebleau, France

6C/6C+

Paul Jouy

Le Carre d’As, Fontainebleau, France

1953

7A

Robert Paragot

La Joker, Fontainebleau, France

1958

7B

John Gill

Gill Right Problem, Tetons, Wyoming, USA

1959

7C

John Gill

Red Cross overhang, Tetons, Wyoming, USA

1960

7A/+

Michel Libert

L'Abattoir, Fontainebleau, France

1975

8A

Jim Holloway

Trice (AHR), Flagstaff Mountains, Colorado, USA

1977

8A+

Jim Holloway

Slapshot, Dinosaur Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, USA

1978

7B+

John Bachar, Ron Kauk

Midnight Lightning, Camp 4, Yosemite, USA

7C+

John Gill

The Groove, Colorado, USA

1979

7C

John Long

Speed of Light Dyno, Black Mountains, USA

1983

7C

Pierre Richard

L’Abbé Resina, Fontainebleau, France

1984

8A

Jacky Godoffe

C’était Demain, Fontainebleau, France

1987

8A+

Ron Fawcett

Careless Torque, Peak Districk, GB

8A+

Jacky Godoffe

Partenaire particulier, Fontainebleau, France

1988

8A+

Alain Ghersen

L’à plat du gain, Fontainebleau, France

8A+

Jerry Moffat

Superman, Cressbrook, GB

1989

8B

Jacky Godoffe

Le mouvement perpetuel, Fontainebleau, France

1992

8B

Fred Nicole

La danse des balrogs, Branson, Valais, Switzerland

8B

Philippe le Denmatt

Enigma, Fontainebleau, France

1993

8B

Jacky Godoffe

Fatman, Fontainebleau, France.

8B

Jerry Moffat

The Dominator, Yosemite, USA

1996

8B+

Fred Nicole

Radja, Branson, Valais, Switzerland

1998

7B+, F

Lynn Hill

Midnight lightning, Camp 4, Yosemite, USA

1999

8A, F

Catherine Miquel

Duel, Fontainebleau, France

2000

8C

Fred Nicole

Dreamtime, Cresciano, Switzerland (presa rotta: 8B+)

8B+

Fred Nicole

Oliphant's Dawn, Rocklands, South Africa

2002

8C

Fred Nicole

Monkey wedding, Rockland, Sud Africa

8C

Fred Nicole

Black Eagle, Rockland, Sud Africa

8B+, F

Josune Bereziartu

La traversia De Balzola, Baltoza, Spain

8C

Bernd Zangerl

Viva l'evolution, Tyrol, Austria

2003

8C, F

Josune Bereziartu

E la nave va, Lindental, Switzerland

2004

8C+

Mauro Calibani

Tonino 78, Meschia, Italy

8C

Fred Nicole

Le poinçonneur des lilas, Jura Bâlois, Switzerland

2005

8C

Fred Nicole

Terremer, Hueco Tanks, USA

2008

8C+

Christian Core

Gioia, Varazze, Italy


These are followed by other 8C+ basically all by Fred Nicole, Dai Koyamada, Christian Core, Paul Robinson, Daniel Woods, Chris Sharma, Dave Graham....

DIFFICULTY
YEAR GRADE CLIMBER ROUTE

1918

6a expo

Emanuel Strubisch

Wilder Kopf- Westkante / Elbsandsteingebirge, Germany

1930

6a+ expo

Frank Elliot, Harry Dovere Gilbert Ellis

Wall End Slab Direct at Stanage, Peak District, GB

1936

6b/6b+ expo

Willi Hänztschel

Schrammtorwächter nord, Elbsandsteingebirge, Germany

1949

6c expo

Peter Harding

Demon Rib, Black Rocks, Peak District, GB

1952

6c expo

Wulf Scheffler

Schwager-Talseite / Elbsandsteingebirge, Germany

1958

7a solo OS

Don Whillans

Goliath, Burbage, Peak District, GB

1960

6c solo

John Gill

Final Exam, Castle Rock, Colorado, USA

1961

7b+ solo

John Gill

Thimble, Needle, Dakota, USA (12m high)

1970

7a

John Stannard

Foops, Gunks, USA

1972

7b

John Bragg

Kansas City, Gunks, USA

Alan Manson

Invents the Figure of 4 (Yaniro)on the University of Leeds climbing wall

1973

6c solo OS

Jim Erickson

Cassandre, USA (new route integral solo)

1974

7c

Steve Wunsch

Supercrack, Gunks, USA

1977

8a

Peter Cleveland

Phlogiston, Devil's Lake, USA

7b, F

Lynn Hill

Shawangunk Ridge, Gunks, USA

1979

7c, F

Lynn Hill

Ophir Broke, Telluride, Colorado, USA

8a

Tony Yaniro

Grand Illusion, Sugar Loaf, California, USA

7b+ expo

Bernd Arnold

Direkte Superlative, Elbsandsteingebirge, Germany

1980

7b+ OS

Patrick Edlinger

La polka des ringards, Buoux, France

7b+ OS

Patrick Edlinger

Parties carrées, Buoux, France

1981

7c+ expo

Maurizio Zanolla (Manolo)

Il mattino dei maghi, Totoga, Dolomiti, Italy

1983

8a+

Jerry Moffat

The Face, Altmühltal, Germany

1984

8b

Wolfgang Güllich

Kanal im Rücken, Altmühltal, Germany

8b

Martin Scheel

Vuelo a ciegas direct, Montserrat, Spain

7c+ OS

Jerry Moffat

in USA e in Europa, citiamo Pol Pot, Verdon, France

7c+, F

Lynn Hill

Vandals, Gunks, USA

1985

8b+

Wolfgang Güllich

Punks in the gym, Mount Arapiles, Australia

8a solo

Antoine Le Menestrel

Revelations, Raven Tor, GB

1986

8b+/c

Antoine Le Menestrel

Ravage, Chuenisberg, Jura, Switzerland

8b+

Antoine Le Menestrel

La rage de vivre, Buoux, France

8b+

Antoine Le Menestrel

La minimum, Buoux, France

7c solo

Wolfgang Güllich

Weed Killer, Raven Tor, GB

8a, F

Luisa Iovane

Come back, Valle San Nicolò, Italy

1987

8c

Wolfgang Güllich

Wallstreet, Krottenseer Turm, Frankenjura, Germany

8a+ solo

Jean-Christophe Lafaille

Rêve de gosse, Les Arnauds, France

8a, F

Christine Gambert + Lynn Hill

Rêve de papillon, Buoux, France

8a OS

Antoine Le Menestrel

Samizdat, Cimaï, France

7b, F OS

Lynn Hill

plusieurs aux USA

1988

8a+, F

Catherine Destivelle

Choucas, Buoux, France

8b, F

Isabelle Patissier

Sortilèges, Cimaï, France

8c

Fred Nicole

Anaïs et le canabis, St-Loup, Switzerland

1990

8c+

Ben Moon

Hubble, Raven Tor, GB

8c/+

Jerry Moffat

Liquid Ambar, Lower Pen Trwyn, Galles, GB

8b+, F

Lynn Hill

Masse critique, Cimaï, France

1991

9a

Wolfgang Güllich

Action Directe, Frankenjura, Germany

8b solo

Alain Robert

Compilation, Omblèze, France

1992

8a, F OS

Lynn Hill

Simon, Frankenjura, Germany

9a

Alex Huber

Om, Triangel, Endstal, Germany (9a+)

1993

9a

Fred Nicole

Bain de sang, St-Loup, Switzerland

9a

Fred Rouhling

Hugh, Les Eaux Claires, France

8b OS

Elie Chevieux

Les liaisons dangereuses, Calanques, France

1994

9a

Alex Huber

Weisse Rose, Schleierwasserfall, Austria

8a/+, F OS

Lynn Hill

Overdose, Lourmarin, France

1995

9b

Fred Rouhling

Akira, Grotte de Vilhonneur, Les Eaux Claires, France (NC)

8b+ OS

Elie Chevieux

Massey Fergusson, Calanques, France

1996

9a+

Alex Huber

Open Air, Schleierwasserfall, Austria

9a+

Neil Carson

The big bang, Lower Pen Trwyn, Wales, GB

8b+ OS

Elie Chevieux

Maldita Maria, Cuenca, Spain

1997

9a/+

Fred Nicole

Elfe, Grimsel, Switzerland.

1998

8c, F

Josune Bereziartu

Honky Tonky, Onate, Spain.

9a+

Bernabé Fernandez

Orujo, Malaga, Spain (une prise visée, NC)

1999

8b, F OS

Katie Brown

Omaha Beach, Red River Gorge, USA

2000

8c+, F

Josune Bereziartu

Honky Mix, Onate, Spain

8a+, F OS

Josune Bereziartu

Bon viatge, Terradets, Spain

9a+

Eric Talmadge

Im Reich des Shogun, Tüfleten, Switzerland

2001

9a+

Chris Sharma

Realization, Céüse, France

2002

9a, F

Josune Bereziartu

Bain de sang, St-Loup, Switzerland

9a/+

Fred Nicole

La chimère L2, St-Loup, Switzerland

2003

8b solo

Alex Huber

Opportunist, Schleierwasserfall, Austria

8b+ solo

Alex Huber

Kommunist, Schleierwasserfall, Austria

9b

Bernabé Fernandez

Chilam Balam, Archidona (80m)

9a+

Ramon Puigblanque

La Rambla Ext, Siurana, Spain

2004

8b, F OS

Josune Bereziartu

Steroid performance, Hourai, Giappone

8c OS

Yuji Hirayama

White Zombie, Baltzola Spain

9a/+

François Nicole

Bimba luna, St-Loup, Switzerland

2005

9a/+, F

Josune Bereziartu

Bimba luna, St-Loup, Switzerland

9a+

Dave Graham

Coup de grâce, Sonlerto, Switzerland

2006

8b+, F OS

Josune Bereziartu

Hydrofobia, Montsant, Spain

2007

8c+ OS

Patxi Usobiaga

Bizi Euskaraz, Etxauri, Spain

2008

9b

Chris Sharma

Jumbo love, Clark Mountain, USA (75m)

9b

Chris Sharma

Golpe de estado, Siurana, Spain

9b

Dani Andrada

Delincuente natural, Rodellar, Spain

2009

9b

Chris Sharma

Neanderthal, Santa Linya, Spain

2010

8c, F OS

Charlotte Durif

Les rois du pétrole, Pic St-Loup, France

2011

9b

Adam Ondra

La Capella, Siurana, Spain

9b

Adam Ondra

Chaxi Raxi, Oliana, Spain

9b

Adam Ondra

La planta de shiva, Villanueva del Rosario, Spain

9b

Chris Sharma

First round First minute, Margalef, Spain

2012

9b+

Adam Ondra

The Change, Flatanger, Norway

Tahnks to:
Josune Bereziartu, Stephan Denys, Nicolas Favresse, Lynn Hill, Andreas Kubin, Fred Labreveux, Bernard Newman, François e Fred Nicole, Rikardo Ortegui, Maurizio Oviglia, Maurizio Zanolla.

Claude Remy, CH-1864 Vers-l'Eglise, Switzerland, 024 492 26 73.

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