In mountaineering and climbing, a first ascent (abbreviated to FA in guide books), is the first successful documented climb to the top of a mountain or the top of a particular climbing route. Early 20th-century mountaineers and climbers focused on reaching the tops of iconic mountains (e.g. the eight-thousanders) and climbing routes (e.g. the great north faces of the Alps) by whatever means possible, often using considerable amounts of aid climbing, and/or with large expedition style support teams that laid "siege" to the climb.

As all the key tops were summited, the manner in which the top was reached became important, particularly the ability to complete the ascent without artificial aid, which is called free climbing. In free climbing, the term first free ascent (abbreviated FFA) is used where a mountain or climbing route is ascended without any artificial aid (devices for protection in the event of a fall could be used as long as they did not aid progression). Completing the FFA of a climbing route is often called freeing (or more latterly sending) a route.

As the sport of climbing developed, additional types of ascent became notable and chronicled in guidebooks and journals. In mountaineering, and alpine climbing in particular, the first winter ascent is recorded, given the significantly greater difficulty. The first solo ascent is also commonly noted, although the first free solo ascent is a more controversial aspect, given the concerns about advocating such a dangerous form of climbing. With the rise in female participation in climbing, the first female free ascent (or FFFA) has also become notable.

Related terms edit

Mountaineering and alpinism edit

As mountaineering developed in the 20th century, the attainment of a summit by almost any means was replaced by ascents that reflected the style used and the conditions faced. In 2008, the most prestigious annual prize in mountaineering, the Piolet d'Or, amended its focus to small light-weight alpine-style teams using no form of aid or support, rather than on large expedition-style teams using "siege" techniques.[1]

The most notable types of mountaineering first ascents that are chronicled are:

  • First winter ascent. The winter climbing season is between December 21 and March 20.[2] The first winter ascents of the great north faces of the Alps were a coveted prize, particularly the "Trilogy" of the three hardest, the Eiger, the Matterhorn, and the Grandes Jorasses. The most notable first winter ascents were the Himalayan and Karakoram eight-thousanders,[2] where the hardest, K2, was only summited in winter in 2021 (66 years after its first ascent) and considered a "holy grail" of mountaineering prizes.[3]
  • First alpine-style (or unsupported) ascent. In 2008, the charter of the prestigious Piolet d'Or prize was amended to focus on small teams with no support making fast, but riskier, ascents on routes that had previously been done by expeditions (called alpine style).[4][5] Multiple Piolet d'Or winners, whose ascents embodied this style, included Marko Prezelj, Mick Fowler, and Ueli Steck.[4] The charter was amended to de-incentivize excessive risk-taking after several winners died (e.g. David Lama, and Hansjörg Auer).[1][6]
  • First solo ascent. The most dangerous form of alpine-style ascent is the solo climbing ascent, performed by a single climber. The first solo ascents of the alpine north faces, including the first solo winter ascents, were coveted (the winter solo "Trilogy" was completed by Ivano Ghirardini in 1977–78); one of the most famous practitioners was the Italian Walter Bonatti.[7] Himalayan solo ascents are also coveted, although problems around verification are more frequent due to the more remote nature of the routes, with notable disputes such as Tomo Česen's first solo ascent of the south face of Lhotse.[7][4][6]

Rock climbing edit

 
Adam Ondra making the first redpoint ascent of Silence, the world's first 9c (5.15d) sport climb.

In rock climbing, the manner in which the first free ascent was achieved became important to chronicle by climbing journals and magazines. The key differentiators were the style on which the route was free climbed (e.g. traditional climbing, sport climbing, or free solo climbing), whether the free climb was done on the first attempt (e.g. onsighted), and whether the climber had prior information (e.g. beta) on that first attempt.[8][9][10]

The most notable types of rock climbing first ascents that are chronicled are:

  • First free ascent (traditional climbing only). Pre-1980s, the FFAs were by traditional climbing techniques. A distinction was recorded if a climber practiced the moves on a top rope, called "headpointing", although with the post-1980s dominance of "redpointing" as the definition of an FFA, such a distinction was dropped.[a][9][10] FFAs that set new grade milestones are notable, for both male and female climbers.[12]
  • First greenpoint ascent (traditional climbing only). In the 2010s, traditional climbers used greenpointing (as a counterpoint to a "redpoint"), to describe climbing a pre-bolted sport climbing route, but only using "traditional protection" (i.e. protection that is not permanently fixed via pre-placed bolts or pitons).[13][14] Sonnie Trotter's greenpoint of The Path (5.14a R, 2007), is a notable example.[15][16]
  • First redpoint ascent (sport climbing only). In the 1980s, climbers wanted to ascend routes that had no opportunities for traditional climbing protection, and they had to be pre-bolted with protection (but not aid), which was called sport climbing. The greatest progression in grade milestones was now in sport climbing. The "redpoint" became the accepted definition for what determined a "first free ascent" in sport climbing.[9][10]
 
Heinz Zak [de] makes the first repeat free solo ascent of Separate Reality in Yosemite
  • First repeat ascent (traditional or sport climbing). The grading of a route can be complicated as the person making the FFA had no prior information or beta. The first repeat is therefore chronicled for confirmation of a grade, particularly when a new grade milestone is proposed. For the highest grades, the first repeat can take years (e.g. Action Directe or Jumbo Love), or even decades (e.g. Open Air [de]).
  • First onsight ascent (traditional or sport climbing). An FFA that was onsighted, means it was done at the very first attempt, and without prior information (or beta).[9][10] Climbing journals chronicle the progression of grade milestones of onsights both male and female climbers.[12]
  • First flash ascent (traditional or sport climbing). An FFA that was flashed, means it was done at the first attempt, but with prior information (or beta).[9][10] Climbing journals chronicle the progression of grade milestones for flashed routes by male and female climbers.[12] With the availability of route beta online (e.g. videos of prior ascents), the distinction between onsight and flash ascents has diminished.[17]
  • First free solo ascent (independent of traditional or sport climbing). Free soloing is practiced by a smaller community of climbers and is a controversial area given the risks undertaken and whether such risks should be recorded and thus implicitly endorsed.[18] Free solo climbing grade milestones are chronicled,[12] the most notable being Free Solo, the Oscar-winning film of Alex Honnold's first free solo ascent of Freerider in Yosemite.[18]

Gender edit

 
Josune Bereziartu on the FFA and FFFA of Yeah Man (8b+ 5.14a, 300-metres, 9 pitches), on the Grand Pfad in Bern, Switzerland

Notable disputes edit

There have been notable disputes over claims of a first ascent (or first free ascent), for various reasons (disputes over the style employed, issues with verifiability, accusations of bad faith and fraud), and the most notable are where a new grade milestone and/or major advancement in difficulty is being proposed:[8]

Mountaineering edit

  • First ascent of Cerro Torre: In 1959, Cesare Maestri claimed he and Toni Egger [it] summited, but that Egger who had the camera, was swept to his death by an avalanche on the descent. Lionel Terry called it "the greatest climbing feat of all time".[23] Inconsistencies in Maestri's account, and the lack of equipment on the route, led most to doubt his claim.[23] Maestri further inflamed the controversy by returning in 1970 and drilling 400 bolts onto his new Compressor Route, to claim the second ascent.[23] In 2012, yet more controversy followed when American climbers Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk, removed Maestri's bolts, enabling David Lama and Peter Ortner to make the FFA, for which all four won a 2013 Piolet d'Or.[23]

Rock climbing edit

  • In 1995, French climber Fred Rouhling created a major controversy when he proposed Akira [fr] as the world's first-ever 9b (5.15b) route, when the highest grade at the time, Action Directe, was only at 9a (5.14d).[24] Rouhling faced an unprecedented level of personal vilification from parts of the climbing community on whether he had actually climbed the route, as all other attempts had failed.[24] In 2020, Sébastien Bouin made the first repeat of Akira and estimated its grade at 9a (5.14d), a grade Rouhling has climbed on other routes, and thus his FFA became accepted.[25][26]
  • In 2003, Spanish climber Bernabé Fernández proposed Chilam Balam [fr] as the world's first-ever 9b+ (5.15c) route, when the highest grade at the time, Realization, was at 9a+ (5.15a). As with Fred Rouhling on Akira, his claim provoked a significant backlash from parts of the climbing community, and accusations that he did not actually complete an FFA (the person who belayed him could not be identified to help verification).[27] The route was repeated in 2011 by Adam Ondra who downgraded it,[27] and further repeats reduced its grade to circa 9a+ (5.15a).[28][29]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ While headpointing was once considered a lesser form of first free ascent in traditional climbing (and an FFA that had been headpointed would be asterisked as such), leading traditional climbers eventually followed the redpointing practices of sport climbers (i.e. practicing the route over-and-over in a safe way), and dispensed with the stigma associated with headpointing.[11]

References edit

  1. ^ a b Levy, Michael (2021-11-29). "A Climbing Award That May Be a Winner's Last". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2021-11-30. Retrieved 2021-11-30.
  2. ^ a b Bisharat, Andrew (27 February 2016). "Climbers Make History Making First Winter Ascent of Pakistan's "Killer Mountain"". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  3. ^ Beaumont, Peter (6 January 2021). "Nepalese team makes first successful winter ascent of K2". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b c McDonald, Bernadette (2017). "Piolets d'Or: A Short History of the Golden Ice Axe". Himalayan Journal. 72. Archived from the original on 19 February 2022. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  5. ^ Boermans, Menno (14 April 2015). "Highlights from the 23rd Piolets d'Or". Alpinist. Archived from the original on 1 January 2023. Retrieved 1 January 2023. The Piolets d'Or (Golden Ice Axes) were long considered to be the "Oscars of Mountaineering,"
  6. ^ a b Parnell, Ian (1 July 2006). "Victors of the Unwinnable". Alpinist. Archived from the original on 13 January 2020. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  7. ^ a b Twight, Mark (2001). "My Way: A Short Talk with Tomo Cesen". Kiss Or Kill: Confessions of a Serial Climber. Mountaineering Books. p. 63-74. ISBN 978-0898867633. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 10 January 2023.
  8. ^ a b Sanzarro, Francis (22 March 2022). "Who Did It First? Style, Grades and Dispute in First Ascents". Climbing. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d e Pardy, Aaron (5 November 2022). "Redpoint, Pinkpoint, and Headpoint – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Archived from the original on 22 December 2022. Retrieved 21 December 2022.
  10. ^ a b c d e "What Is A Redpoint In Climbing? – Climbing Jargon Explained". Climber. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  11. ^ Huttom, Mike (3 November 2022). "How the World's Boldest Climbing Area Got that Way: How headpointing became a legitimate, go-to tactic on Peak District gritstone". Climbing. Archived from the original on 28 August 2023. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d e Oviglia, Maurizio (23 December 2012). "The evolution of free climbing". PlanetMountain.com. Archived from the original on 4 January 2022. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  13. ^ "Heiko Queitsch greenpoint climbing in the Frankenjura". PlanetMountain. 3 August 2012. Archived from the original on 22 December 2022. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  14. ^ "Chasin the Trane greenpoint in the Frankenjura". PlanetMountain. 7 November 2011. Archived from the original on 22 December 2022. Retrieved 22 December 2022.
  15. ^ "Sonnie Trotter finds The Path 5.14 R at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada". PlanetMountain. 23 August 2007. Archived from the original on 8 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  16. ^ Lambert, Erik (31 August 2007). "Trotter Chops Bolts, Sends Marathon Project". Alpinist. Archived from the original on 8 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  17. ^ Pardy, Aaron (2 November 2022). "Onsight and Flash – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 January 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  18. ^ a b Osius, Alison (4 June 2022). "Free Solo Rock Climbing and the Climbers Who Have Defined the Sport". Climbing. Archived from the original on 30 October 2022. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  19. ^ "North America, United States, Nevada, Rainbow Wall, Various Activity". American Alpine Journal. 41 (73): 228. 1999. Archived from the original on 2023-02-11. Retrieved 2023-02-11. A month later, Roxanna Brock teamed up with Bobbi Bensman to do the first female free ascent (FFFA) of the route in a day.
  20. ^ Editorial (1 June 2016). "The 25 Greatest Moments in Yosemite Climbing History". Outside. Archived from the original on 4 December 2022. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  21. ^ Bishart, Andrew (1 March 2017). "American Woman Reaches a New Milestone in Rock Climbing". National Geographic. Archived from the original on January 4, 2022. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  22. ^ a b Walsh, Megan (14 November 2017). "Can't Keep Her Down: A Consolidated History of Women's Climbing Achievements". Climbing. Archived from the original on 29 January 2022. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  23. ^ a b c d Roberts, David (29 January 2012). "Patagonia's Cerro Torre Gets the Chop: Maestri Unbolted". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  24. ^ a b Ward, Pete (2004). "The Other Side of Fred Rouhling". Climbing. Archived from the original on 22 June 2022. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  25. ^ Corrigan, Keven (23 November 2020). "Fred Rouhling's Akira Sees First Repeats Since 1995 FA, Receives Downgrade". Climbing. Archived from the original on 22 June 2022. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  26. ^ "Fred Rouhling's Akira finally repeated after 25 years by Sébastien Bouin, Lucien Martinez". PlanetMountain. 23 November 2020. Archived from the original on 22 June 2022. Retrieved 22 June 2022.
  27. ^ a b Fox, Amanda (13 April 2011). "Ondra Grabs Ascent of Chilam Balam". Climbing. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 9 February 2023.
  28. ^ "Sébastian Bouin Claims Third Ascent of Chilam Balam (5.15b), Spain". Rock & Ice. 2014. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  29. ^ "Dani Andrada does fourth ascent of Chilam Balam". Climber. 16 November 2015. Archived from the original on 10 February 2023. Retrieved 10 February 2023.

External links edit