A Brief History of Rock Climbing and Climbing Equipment

Rock climbing is said to be one of those sports which gradually evolved from necessity, emerging from life in the alpine regions of Europe where the simple act of travelling from one place to another could mean a sharp ascent or descent using some sometimes tricky terrain.

As a sport it is believed to have begun conterminously in three areas of Europe during the last quarter of the nineteenth century – in the Elbe Sandstone mountains in Saxony, in the Dolomites in Italy and in our very own Lake District in the North West of England.

One early example of the sport having been practiced in the United Kingdom was the ascent of Kem Knotts Crack in 1897 by O.G. Jones. Kem Knotts lies on the southern flank of the Great Gable mountain in the Lake District. During the last years of the Victorian period as many as sixty or more enthusiasts would gather at a time at the Wastwater Hotel during the holiday periods.

As the sport developed, a more scientific and organised approach to it was devised in order to measure and compare the respective performances of climbers at different locations and on different peaks, and this heralded the introduction of a number of grading systems. There are a several contributing factors when assessing the relative difficulty of a climb, including the level technical ability needed to affect the ascent, the amount of strength and stamina required, the level of commitment, and the logistical demands of protecting the climber from possible danger.

The evolution of rock climbing equipment and accessories

Just as the nature of the sport and of the rules governing it, such as they are, have evolved over the past century and a quarter, so too has the specification of the rock climbing equipment used to participate in it. From ropes, hooks and harnesses through hats and cooking utensils to waterproof clothing and footwear a climber’s portfolio is carefully put together at the start of each climb to ensure that each eventuality and every conceivable difficulty is planned for.

Rock climbing equipment is today a specialist industry, with companies, high street shops and online stores dedicated wholly to its manufacture and retail. Suppliers such as Patagonia, La Sportiva and Mammut, as well as many more, each offer the climber specialised products to make his or her adventure as safe, comfortable and as productive as is humanly possible.

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