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Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress. The term contrasts with free climbing in which no artificial aids are used to make progress. Aid can take the form of everything from resting on the rope and pulling on gear to bolt ladders and étriers.

In Scotland Aid climbing is not really undertaken and there are no aid routes as such. However where a route contains a move or sequence that is out of line with the difficulty of the rest of the route a point of aid may sometimes exist.



Until the 1960s or so, aid climbing was normal practice in most climbing areas. But as improvements in technique and equipment meant that many aid routes could be climbed free, some influential climbers began to criticise the use of aid as being against the spirit of mountaineering. Reinhold Messner wrote, "Rock faces are no longer overcome by climbing skill, but are humbled, pitch by pitch, by methodical manual labour … Who has polluted the pure spring of mountaineering?" (from "The Murder of the Impossible").

Free climbing is now the mainstream of climbing. But aid climbers have answered the criticism of Messner and others by climbing routes where the absence of holds or features in the rock make free climbing impossible, and by eschewing purely mechanical techniques (such as repetitively drilling bolts).


In a typical ascent with aid the climber places pieces of equipment ("protection") in cracks or other natural features of the rock, then clips an aider (a ladder-like device, also called stirrup or étrier) to the protection, stands up on the aider, and repeats the process. Just as in free climbing, the usual technique involves two climbers, a leader and a belayer. The leader is connected by a rope to the belayer, who remains at one spot (the "belay station") while the leader moves up. As the leader advances, the rope is let out by the belayer, and clipped by the leader into the pieces of protection as they are placed. If the leader falls, the belayer locks off the rope and, assuming the protection doesn't rip out, catches the leader's fall on the rope. When the leader, moving up, reaches the end of the rope, or a convenient stopping point, he or she builds an anchor, hangs on it, and fixes the rope to it. This then becomes the next belay station. The belayer then ascends the fixed rope using mechanical ascenders, retrieving the protection that was placed by the leader. Meanwhile, the leader sets up a hauling system and, using another rope brought up for that purpose, hauls up a bag (the "haul bag" or "pig") containing the climbers' food, water, hammocks or "porta-ledge", sleeping bags, and so on. Many variations on this basic technique are possible, including solo aid climbing and climbing with a team of three.

Until the 1940s the only protection was the piton, driven into a crack in the rock with a hammer. Today, aid climbing uses a considerably larger array of hardware than the pitons used by the first climbers although the primary technique of ascension has not much evolved. The typical gear of an aid climber includes pitons, hooks, copperheads, nuts, camming devices, ascenders, hauling pulleys, aiders, daisy chains and wall hammers. The invention of camming devices or "friends" and other non-damaging rock gear has resulted in the practice of clean aid, where nothing is hammered, a great bonus for popular routes which could be disfigured from continual hammering.

The hardest aid routes are poorly protected and the climber must make long sequences of moves using hooks or tenuous placements. On these routes, a climber may have to commit to moving up onto the most marginal of placements. For example, if a copperhead is pounded into a shallow crease in a rock, and if it rips, the climber is in for a wild ride, as a whole string of tenuous pieces rip out one by one.

Freed Routes

These are some routes in Scotland that where orgionally climbed as aid routes but have since been freed:

Origionally climbed as an aid route by Ian Clough and Hamish MacInnes in 1959 - Freed by Mick Fowler and Phill Thomas in June 1977 (pipping Cubby and Hamilton to it by a few days). A milestone in Scottish climbing!

  • Abraxas 105m E4***
    The Bastion, Cioch na h-Oighe, Arran

Climbed in 1980 by Rob and Graham Little using a 'controversial' 12 points of aid and bolt belays. Freed in 1985 by Craig Macadam and Derek Austin (again pipping to Cubby the the post - this time by just one day)

Routes with a 'point of aid'

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