Traditional climbing

Traditional climbing (or Trad climbing) is a style of rock climbing in which the climber places all the necessary protection gear required to arrest any falls as they are climbing, and then removes it when the pitch is complete (often done by the second/follow-on climber). Traditional bolted aid climbing means the bolts were placed while on lead and/or with hand drills (the bolts tend to be much farther apart than for sport climbs). Traditional climbing carries a higher level of risk than bolted sport climbing, as the climber may not have placed the safety equipment correctly while trying to ascend the route; for some of the world's hardest climbs (e.g. Realization/Biographie), there may not be sufficient cracks or features in the rock that can accept protection gear, and the climb can only be safely attempted by bolting as a sport climb.

Some classic trad routes, like North Overhang (5.9) on Intersection Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, use bolts to protect parts of the climb. Traditional climbing gear is still required for the other parts.


Characterizing climbing as traditional distinguishes it from bolted climbing—either trad bolted or sport climbing (in which all protection and anchor points are permanently installed prior to the climb — typically installed while rappelling) and free solo climbing (which does not use ropes or gear of any kind). However, protection bolts and pitons installed while lead climbing are also considered "traditional" as they were placed during the act of climbing from the ground up rather than on rappel, especially in the context of granite slab climbing.

Before the advent of sport climbing in the United States in the 1980s, and perhaps somewhat earlier in parts of Europe, the usual style of unaided rock climbing was what is now referred to as traditional—either bolted face climbs or crack climbs. In trad climbing, a leader ascends a section of rock placing their own protective devices while climbing. Before about 1970 these devices were often limited to pitons; today they consist mainly of a combination of chocks and spring-loaded camming devices, but may less commonly include pitons which are driven with a hammer.[1] John Long's 1989 technique manual How to Rock Climb![2] used the term "sport climbing" repeatedly in reference to what is now considered "traditional climbing".

Important features of trad climbing are a strong focus on exploration, and a strict dedication to leaving nature unblemished by avoiding use of older means of protection such as pitons, which damage the rock. This evolution in climbing ethics has been attributed to the efforts of Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, and many others, who pioneered the "leave no trace" ethic in climbing.[3]


The term gear in climbing generally refers to equipment used during climbs (except harnesses, shoes, chalk bags, and chalk). Gear or protection are mechanical devices that provide safety, either by allowing greater stability in making a move (as in the case of aid climbing) or by dampening force and reducing the distance of a fall. The suitability of individual types of gear depends on the surface and formation of the rock face. The phrase placing gear denotes the act of setting a piece of gear into the rock face and then attach the rope (via carabiner or more typically a quickdraw) before ascending higher. In the event of a fall, the gear acts as a catch-point for the rope, thus preventing the climber from hitting the ground. Gear is placed at frequent intervals to avoid becoming too "run out" and provide protection in the case of a fall.

Nuts started being developed in the 1950s in the United Kingdom, with the original pieces being made from discarded machine nuts with slings threaded through them. Joe Brown is widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of this new type of gear. Urban legend suggests the first nuts were ones taken from the Snowdon Mountain Railway.[4] These gradually developed into purpose-built nuts.

Prior to about 1970 in the United States, climbing relied mainly on pitons; other types of gear such as nuts, Hexcentrics, Tricams and spring-loaded cams were largely unknown or did not yet exist. As other variants of climbing were not nominally in existence as well, all climbing was in effect trad climbing until the early 1980s when sport climbing emerged in Europe.

Since the 1970s, developments in protective gear have made climbing much safer and more dynamic. For example, nuts—removable pieces of metal which could be jammed into cracks to support weight during a fall but could be removed at the end of a climb—helped fuel trad climbing's growth in popularity and safety. Contemporary protective gear used in trad climbing consists of removable protective devices such as aluminum, steel, or brass nuts, hexagonal-shaped chocks, slings, spring-loaded camming devices, and Tricams.

If a climber is soloing they remove placed gear while rappelling back down the climb;[5] if climbing with a partner the second climber will clean the gear during their ascent up the pitch.

In protecting the lead climber in both trad and sport, carabiners and slings are used to connect the gear to the climber's lead rope, so that in the event of a fall, the rope can be used (by the belayer below) to catch the falling climber. Modern traditional climbs occasionally have fixed gear (pitons or bolts) in places where there are no opportunities to place adequate removable gear. It is considered bad style to install new protection bolts or pitons on existing climbs that can be completed without them.[6]

Many of the existing pitons, pegs and bolts from the first ascents of routes done many years ago are now considered to be in bad condition, having suffered from weathering. This is especially present on sea cliffs where the salt nature of the air has sped up the oxidization to create rust and weaken the protection.[7]


A number of knots are required for traditional climbing, to create anchors, to tie in the climbers, and to be used during the climb.

  • Figure-eight loop is commonly used to tie in the climbers at both ends
  • Clove hitch is used when building an anchor using the rope and sometimes to make a climber safe quickly at a belay ledge
  • Alpine butterfly can be used to tie a climber into the middle of a rope
  • Munter hitch is commonly used to belay without a belay device
  • Slip knot or running knot can be used during a climb to sling a protrusion of rock known as a chickenhead or any trees that may be on the route
  • Lark's foot or girth hitch is used to attach slings to trees or spikes and also to a climber's harness
  • Double figure-eight loop is used for building a master point off of the climbing rope
  • Water knot is used for connecting two pieces of webbing together
  • Double bowline is used for tying in or anchoring around a fixed object


A climbing anchor; in this example, all three pieces are placed in the same crack. Generally, anchor pieces should be placed in different features, where possible, to protect against rock failure.

When a climber has reached the top of a climb an anchor must be set up to allow the leader to bring up the seconder safely. An anchor has a number of different components that should be put together in a redundant way to make the anchors safe.

  • Protection: an anchor typically consists of three to four pieces of protection with the minimum being two pieces. The anchor placements are chosen such that a failure of any single piece will not lead to loss of integrity of the entire system.
  • Cordelletes/Web-o-lettes/slings/rope: these are used to tie the pieces of protection of the anchor together with equalized tension using the above-mentioned knots.
  • Carabiners: are used to connect the pieces of protection to the rope and also to attach the belay device and lead climber to the anchor.
    • locking carabiners have a twistable ring that will close over the gate to prevent accidental opening
    • non-locking carabiners do not have this safety ring and are therefore more likely to be accidentally opened by rope or systems. When using non-locking carabiners in place of locking carabiners, they are placed with the gates opposite and opposed, so that it is significantly unlikely that both will be opened simultaneously.


In some cases, a traditional climb may be too difficult or there might not be enough time to complete the climb before dark. The lead climber may decide to abort the climb (or "bail") and descend to the ground before reaching the top. To do this an anchor is set up mid-climb and whatever protection that is required to ensure a safe descent is left on the rock after the climbers abseil to the ground.[8]

Typical sequenceEdit

  • Leader places gear on harness
  • Leader ties into the rope using a figure-eight knot.
  • Second climber ties into the other end of the rope.
  • Second puts the leader on belay using a belay device or Munter hitch.
  • Leader climbs up and places the first piece of protection. The first piece of protection should be multi-directional. This means that it should not be able to be pulled out if it moves up or down.
  • Leader uses a quick draw or extended draw to connect the first piece to the rope.
  • Leader climbs upwards and places the second piece of protection and repeats until the top of the climb.
  • Leader creates an anchor and attaches themself at two points to become safe.
  • Seconder takes leader off belay.
  • Leader pulls up all the rope until there is no slack between the leader and seconder
  • Leader puts second on belay. Leader says "On me" for safety and verification.
  • Seconder says "On you" to signify the seconder is on belay.
  • Second climbs up and removes the protection the leader has placed on the way up.

Types of rockEdit

A number of types of rock are climbed, each with a varying degree of suitability for traditional climbing. Some examples of rock types used in climbing are granite, sandstone, basalt, gneiss, quartzite and limestone.[9][10] Granite (and other granitic rock) is popular for traditional climbing, being found in such climbing areas as the Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree National Park.[11][12]


While it may arguably be more dangerous than sport climbing, traditional climbing leaves little or no trace of climbing, which preserves the natural environment of the cliff face (though many significant first ascents in the U.S. were done with a combination of permanent anchors or bolts and crack-fitting hardware were termed "traditional" when the term was first coined—see climbing styles).[citation needed] Sport climbing, on the other hand, requires bolts to be permanently drilled into the rock face providing the exclusive or primary means of protection. The difference between sport and traditional or "trad" styles has caused some periodic contention in the rock climbing community as the respective camps debate the merits of the differing styles.

Hardest routesEdit

The following is a list of traditional climbs considered to be the hardest ever ascended (in order of difficulty):[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Story Of The First Wild Country Friend". UKClimbing. 10 September 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  2. ^ Long, John, 1953- (1993). How to rock climb! (2nd ed.). Evergreen, Colo.: Chockstone Press. ISBN 0934641641. OCLC 29601922.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Essay by Yvon Chouinard & Tom Frost
  4. ^ "Nut's Story: 2001, a Nut Odyssey". Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  5. ^ Andy Kirkpatrick. "Rope soloing 101 part 1". Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Retro Bolting". Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  7. ^ Jeff Achey (24 April 2014). "Built to Last? The Hidden Dangers Of Climbing Bolts".
  8. ^ Long, John, How to Rock Climb! 4th ed., Falcon Publishing, Inc., 2004, p. 168. ISBN 0-7627-2471-4
  9. ^ Bell, Jessica. "Geology and rock climbing". American Geophysical Union blog. Archived from the original on Aug 1, 2019.
  10. ^ Eberhardt, Danny. "Don't Take it for Granite: Understanding Different Rock Types for Climbing". MojaGear. Archived from the original on Aug 1, 2019.
  11. ^ "Yosemite". National Park Service ( Archived from the original on Aug 1, 2019.
  12. ^ Kaiser, James. "How Geology Formed Joshua Tree National Park". Archived from the original on Aug 1, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Top 16 Hardest Trad Climbs in the World". 25 March 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  14. ^ Slavsky, Bennett (28 October 2020). "James Pearson Climbs Second Ascent of Tribe, Possibly The World's Hardest Trad Climb". Climbing. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  15. ^ Ethan Pringle on Blackbeard's Tears, 5.14c,, Sep 23, 2016
  16. ^ "Meltdown: Beth Rodden's Unrepeated Yosemite First Ascent", Climbing, Aug 25, 2016.
  17. ^ "Valle dell'Orco: Tom Randall climbs Pura Pura 8c+",, Jul 1, 2014.
  18. ^ "Nicolas Favresse climbing The recovery drink in Norway",, Jan 1, 2015.
  19. ^ "Dave MacLeod frees Rhapsody E11 7a at Dumbarton Rock in Scotland". Apr 12, 2006.
  20. ^ "Hazel Findlay Does "Magic Line," 5.14c Trad!". Nov 26, 2019.
  21. ^ "Desert Testpiece Century Crack (5.14b) Sees Third Ascent by Danny Parker", Climbing, Oct 29, 2018
  22. ^ "Sonnie Trotter frees Cobra Crack 5.14 b/c",, Jun 29, 2006.
  23. ^ "MacLeod's Boldest: Echo Wall". Retrieved 22 February 2006.

External linksEdit