The history of free-climbing (Olivier Aubel)


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Sport climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 31, 2012 - 10:41am PT
The history of free-climbing (including America) as seen from Nice, France:

"Un clivage s’établit cependant entre un intégriste comme Jim Erickson et ceux qui comme Steve Wunch ou Roger Briggs se situent dans la perspective du grimpeur des Schawagunks John Stannard. La devise de Jim Erickson « if you fall you fail » signifie que tout échec lors d’une tentative implique l’abandon définitif du projet : « Il s’agit de s’interdire tout ce que ne peut pas faire un grimpeur en solitaire (…) la tendance étant d’aller vers de moins en moins d’équipement jusqu’à réaliser un jour le free-climbing ultime consistant à grimper sans corde totalement dénudé »[58]. J. Stannard opte quant à lui pour une position médiane. Il s’autorise le préplacement des protections, intègre la chute comme un moyen de progresser techniquement, mais aussi le travail des mouvements durs avec repos préalable sur les protections. Désormais la performance purement athlétique et technique semble primer sur l’engagement et la pureté du style même si ce grimpeur utilise les méthodes « clean » anglaises en se servant exclusivement de coinceurs. Sa réalisation après plus d’un an de travail de Foops en 1968 (5.11 soit 6c) marque ainsi l’entrée de l’escalade libre dans l’ère de sa modernité. Le radicalisme de Jim Erickson passe alors pour anecdotique La méthode de J. Stannard emporte les suffrages des grimpeurs de tous les massifs américains et deviendra le standard international dès le milieu des années soixante-dix. C’est dans cette perspective que s’inscriront les grimpeurs du Colorado, Steve Wunch, Duncan Ferguson et Roger Briggs qui marqueront le début des années soixante dix."

Trad climber
Jul 31, 2012 - 12:17pm PT

aubel blames stannard for the rise of what eventually became sport climbing.

all that work on foops, john. if you'd been a bit lazier, we'd still be climbing like erickson.

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 31, 2012 - 02:59pm PT
I don't speak the language, but I can see it's a very superficial
assessment and hardly close to any sort of an insight into the
history of free climbing. Maybe I don't understand its purpose
or what its focus might be... Kerwin?

Trad climber
Jul 31, 2012 - 03:26pm PT
I haven't looked at the site yet, but the bit Marlow posted is a sort of pre-history of free climbing as it evolved out of the older styles that mixed aid and free climbing. He describes the contrast between Jim Erickson's approach and Stannard's as a key fork in the road--

Erickson promoted a purist approach-- any fall onto the rope invalidated a free ascent ---while John notoriously put many roped falls and attempts into the freeing of Foops.

It would be one way of imagining a sort of pre-history of red-pointing. It's only a few hundred words, so its terrifically compressed. I don't find anything about it especially objectionable, given its limitations.

I find it interesting largely because when continental accounts of modern climbing history bring in US events, it's usually either Yosemite or the clean climbing revolution. Stannard here figures not because he was a major figure in popularizing the use of clean pro, but because he was willing to work a roped route to push limits.

Jul 31, 2012 - 03:52pm PT
It also seems a bit confused about UK climbing, top-roping grit routes to death was de-riguer decades before even I started climbing and points of aid were absolutely normal everywhere else on harder routes. And clean climbing, does that include the pegs and hammers that were still standard equipment in the 70´s?

Social climber
Jul 31, 2012 - 04:26pm PT
Erickson promoted a purist approach-- any fall onto the rope invalidated a free ascent ---while John notoriously put many roped falls and attempts into the freeing of Foops.

Agree with Ament. It's a tad simplistic, trying to pigeonhole a person by one part of their career. I watched a movie, long ago, that includes footage of Jim Erickson, with Art Higbee, repeatedly and happily falling on the Zigzags while attempting to free Half Dome.

There was an appropriate soundtrack that accompanied this section, made it really stand out.

A synthesis of the development of free climbing, comparing what was going on in UK, US, France, Germany, Australia, would seem a pretty ambitious task. Within each country there were and are so many cliques, each with their own set of guidelines as to what was okay, what not okay. And these guidelines not static, but shifting over time and as individuals came and went.

So much cross-pollination; keeping track of it all would be insanely challenging.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jul 31, 2012 - 04:46pm PT
I agree Crunch. Plus not such an interesting endeavor to toil at the unravelling!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 31, 2012 - 10:21pm PT
Erickson, of course, is my dear friend, so I don't mean to
discredit him, but it is a bit off to suggest his approach was
"pure." He brought a kind of Devil's Lake mentality to Eldorado,
the forearm endurance leads and such. His thought was to fall
as often as possible, actually, if necessary, whereas I
tried to avoid falling. I felt there was greater danger
to fall. One might his his/her head, in a fall. One girl, for example,
stepped up on the first hold of a little red slab west of Boulder,
her foot slipped off, and she dropped to the ground a foot lower.
She bumped her head in that tiny fall and died right there of
a cerebral hematoma. I felt one showed greater control by
either lowering down, or downclimbing, or, failing by grabbing
at a point of gear... but not to fall unless on rock steep enough
that there was no way to hit the rock. A fall off an overhang,
with gear nearby was perfectly fine. But often some of us
could have pushed much harder had we been willing to simply
climb to our limit... and beyond, without fear of a fall. Jim
seemed to have no fear of falling. Our debate was whether it
was better style to fall or not to fall. I argued, for
example, that Jim's 60+ foot, wild, near-grounder off Kor's
Black Walk, when Jim freed the crux move and found holds to
move past that bulge where Layton used one or two points of aid,
was not as good style as if one had led the pitch without a fall
or had retreated, not willing to risk that fall, or even if a
point of aid was used. The safety/control factor was part of good
style. I mean, just to get up something -- and sometimes to
thrash and flail at the end of ability and beyond -- was not
necessarily the higher goal. It was better to become the measure
of the climb, do it in good control, and/or make one's "failure"
one of control. Jim was a brilliant climber, no doubt. I have
always admired and loved him. We simply had that "debate," without
necessarily coming to an ultimate conclusion. But Jim took many
falls, failed at many climbs, fell free soloing and nearly died,
fell off climbs easier than climbs he made solidly, was
a relatively weak boulderer, but had Popeye forearms and could
really hang on for a long time.
He had his ideas about style and expressed them -- without
being at all times able to live them. "Pure" would not be a word
I ever would have associated with his style, rather "tenacious" and
"all-out." He was always really a lot of fun to climb with.

I'm sure, in my beaten up state right at the moment, I didn't do
a very good job of saying what I just said, and I hope people will
forgive me....
john hansen

Jul 31, 2012 - 10:45pm PT
I think we all enjoy your insights Pat, thanks for the stories.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Aug 1, 2012 - 12:12am PT
Yes, Kevin. I agree, a real champ. We had a great time
together back at that Eldorado Action Committee get together
recently with Layton. Jim is so funny. He was telling us he
is so glad, that he is his (ex) wife's favorite ex-husband... etc.
Only Jim...
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