Rock Climbing History

Quick Rock Climbing History & Facts

The vast popularity of rock climbing today will surely make Walter Parry Haskett Smith, Georg Winkler, Oscar Eckenstein, and other climbing enthusiasts swell with pride.

In rock climbing history, they inspired and helped climbing receive significant attention in the late 19th century and early 20th century. These names may be unrecognizable to you, but these men, and several others who came before and after them, played an integral role in the popularity of rock climbing, its disciplines, and rock climbing history.

The task of conquering the tallest mountainous structure, natural and artificial above sea levels today, has generated so much thrill and attention.

Thousands of fanatics scattered across the globe take up these challenging tasks, bragging rights, and a sense of achievement. Aside from the self-satisfying purpose of climbing, which has attracted several climbers today.

Rock climbing has further transcended to become a sports activity, which, although still sits at the infancy stage, has been greeted with waves of excitements.

Know More: Rock Climbing Basics: How To Get Started

Rock Climbing History Timeline

The popularity of rock climbing and its activities, such as the universally comprehensible grading system for climbing routes of any sort, has made many ponder on how rock climbing became mainstream in modern cultures.

In effect, we’ll review rock climbing history.

200 BCE

Ample reasons exist to believe that rock climbing traces its history, as far back as 200 BCE, as revealed by Chinese paintings.

Archeological findings such as the Himalayan burial caves located in cliffs sitting as high as 13,800 feet above sea level, provide such indications, that rock climbing was embraced in ancient civilization.


Before the late 19th century, few individuals took on the challenge of mountain climbing. Antoine de Ville, a servant to French King, Charles VIII, climbed the Mont Aiguille, popularly known as “Mountain Inaccessible,” following orders from Charles VIII.

Antoine de Ville successfully climbed Mont Aiguille by applying the techniques used in sieging castles. That was the last known rock climbing history expedition recorded before the inception of “climbing in the modern age.”

19th Century

Jacques Balmat’s successful ascent of Mont Blanc is often heralded as the beginning of climbing in the modern era. The 19th-century marked the first century, where several successful ascents of different mountains and rocks were recorded.

More than half a dozen of these ascents were recorded. Such ascent includes John Muir ascent of the Cathedral Peak section of the Cathedral Range in 1869, and Otto Ewald Ufer and H. Frick’s successful climb of the Mönch in 1874, which is the first known free solo climb in history.

By the 1880s, Rock climbing place in history took an impressive turn. Rock climbing began to be considered a sport and not just an activity reserved for an extreme taste of adventures.

W. P. Haskett Smith, a free solo climb of the Napes Needle in 1886, generated so much publicity, compared to previous ascents, that the British came to know rock climbing as a sport. Haskett Smith’s actions seem to be very inspiring, as different a new wave of climbers, embraced sports climbing.

About a year after Smith’s ascent of the Napes Needle, 17 years old George Winkler successfully ascended the Die Vajolettürme. Winkler’s action, probably inspired by Smith, introduced rock climbing as a sport in the Dolomites.

As rock climbing as a sport spread to corners of the earth at a reasonably slow pace, the sports further evolved to birthed more discipline. One such discipline, bouldering, traces its inception to the 1890s.

One of its earliest advocates, Oscar Eckenstein, whose interest in rock climbing spread further than bouldering, promoted bouldering by holding a bouldering competition in the Karakoram Mountains.

20th Century

The early 20th century saw an improvement in the popularity of rock climbing as a sport.

As the sports evolved, the need to make climbing that was then receiving considerable attention in parts of Europe easier saw the invention of rock climbing gear, such as the first-ever steel carabiner, manufactured by Otto Herzog in 1910. Aside from the manufacture of gear, new techniques to make climbing of steep rocks terrains were further developed.

It was revealed in books evidenced by the publication of the second edition of Rudolf Fehrmann’s book entitled “The Climber in Saxon Switzerland.”

Though the book detailed climbing techniques peculiar to rocks in Switzerland. Basics of the techniques have survived the evolution of rock climbing as a sport down to this day, especially in free climbing.

These newly introduced techniques proved useful as the known hardest climbing route in the world as in the second decade of the 20th century, Elbe Sandstone Mountains’; The Wilder Kopf, Westkante, rated a 5.10c, was ascended in 1918.

In the early 20th century and late 19th century, the happenings in rock climbing solidly laid the foundation of rock climbing as a sport in human history. That led to more climbers, taking up climbing various peaks, including the highest known peak on land in the 20th century.

As always, the sports evolved, as new techniques revealed in books and advancement to the gear manufactured as far back as the early 20th century, were made.

The basic idea for the improvement of rock climbing and its derivatives disciplines, by the publication of techniques in books, was expressed by climber John Percy Farrar, who contributed to Geoffrey Winthrop Young, mountaineering manuals, entitled “Mountain Craft.”

Farrar expressed this idea when he wrote to Young following the book’s release, stating, ” The book will be standard for so long as mankind is interested in mountaineering.”

Adaptation to make climbing easier was also introduced in the 20th century. One climber credited with such adaption was mathematician John Gills, who introduced chalks in climbing and the rarely used B grading system.

The 20th century also saw the establishment of sanctioning bodies, which oversees competitive climbing, such as the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup.

21st Century

By the 21st century, rock climbing as a sport became established in modern culture, with its growing number of participants. The 21st century so far has seen incredible feats in rock climbing as a sport.

So far, the century has seen the hardest known climbing route in history, named Silence and rated 9c, by the man, to have climbed it twice, Czech climber, Adam Ondra, climbed. It also has seen the approval for rock climbing as an Olympics medal sports.

Do you ponder on how many rock climbers are there in the world?

According to a report by The International Federation of Sport Climbing there are 35 million climbers worldwide as at 2015.


We hope with these rock climbing history and facts, you have been able to connect to this exhilarating sport. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.