Traditional Climbing

4 Janvier 2010 , Rédigé par Revalpin Publié dans #Escalades

What does "traditional" mean when we're talking of climbing? It depends on what you need to have the feeling you're off the beaten track! Some of us are feeling adventurous if the pitons are far from each others. For others, it will take a whole piton-free pitch before to experience the same feeling. The surroundings of the route also are significant parameters: the remoteness, the altitude, the accessibility, the quality of the rock... Finally, a traditional climbing route is not only a sport, but a quest: the climber will have to contemplate the consequences of undertaking  a non-equiped pitch, make choices about the route, about where to cling protections...

In the climber's dialect, we usually call a trad climbing route, a route which is not fully equiped and to which it will be necessary to add more protections.

Here are the milestones of this kind of climbing:

We often follow the cracks. As a matter of fact, the proctections we add are way more reliable on cracked rock: camalots, stopers, hexentrics. All these protections are gathered under one word: nuts, which are made FOR cracks. Cracks with parallel edges, cracks in a V-shap, each crack has its nut. Among all the nuts, the camalots are your best friend because they adapt to almost every kind of crack.


Sans titre 2

  Mumu is climbing in a nice crack of the Devenson in the route called "Riz au lait".

This route in the Calanques is particularly well-adapted to belaying on camalots in nice cracks with parallel edges, which is not so common in limestone.

The climbing guidebook recommends to bring a hammer, which happened to be useless as there are only few pitons anyways!

We also use natural protections invented way before the mechanical nuts existed: a ring around a bloc of rock, stuck knots and even "lunules" which are rings of rope going through a hole in the rock and creating a belaying point.

DSCN7579   On this picture: Ben Degroisille in the beautiful second pitch of the route called "Les Cons" in the St Jeannet Baou. In this TC (Trad Climbing) route,
some belays have to be built on several "lunules".
Hammers are not necessary. There already are pitons in the harder paths.


In order to set all the protections needed to avoid taking any risk, one of the milestone of Trad Climbing is to find positions of rest. But not a fake flat in one hand which would merely give you enought time to get a quickdraw to cling to a bolt. You will need to hold on in this position for a little time, while you're choosing the right size of nut. Once you found the good one, you will have to try to stick it in different ways in order to find the position in which it won't blow off in case of fall. It is important to pay great attention to this stage because it will enable you to serenely climb up some yards until you consider it usefull to protect yourself again.
You can now understand that Trad Climbing sharpens the anticipation abilities of the climber who must plan yards ahead in order to not get trapped in a too difficult path with no protection.



Still in the route called "Riz au Lait".


Here Mumu is firmly settled, doing the splits. She is trying to find the right size of stoper which will perfectly stick in the crack. Too big you woundn't be able to thrust it completely in the rock, too small it would blow off too easily in case of fall.Most of the time there are only 1 or 2 sizes which are suitable for one crack.


Once the nuts are set, you have to set up the rope. But which rope? In Trad Climbing we use "half ropes" most of the time. The more precarious the protection is, the more essential it becomes to hang only one strand of the rope. As a matter of fact, the stretch of a single strand absorbs more energy, in case of fall, than two strands would. In Trad Climbing, as we depend on favourable spaces to stick nuts, it won't be possible to line them up. In setting wisely one strand of the rope in a nut on the left and the other strand in a nut which lies far on the right, your protections will soften the blow.


Sans titre 3

Here we are on the first pitch of the route called "Boule de Gomme" at the Baou in St Jeannet.

The ropes are well separated.

The grade of the first pitch is 6b/A1.

Ropes are needed to change the "lunules" and 5 or 6 pitons.

The last milestone of trad climbing the pitons hat we thrust in cracks with a hammer. Climbing guidebooks are not accurate at all about the number of pitons needed, if any. Most of the regular routes in Trad Climbing won't need any added pitons as the essential ones already are permanently installed.

Despite that, it is recommended to bring a hammer and some nails in case of an old nail gets pulled out. When the route really needs to hammer in pitons, two hammers are needed: the last person on the rope will need to get the pitons back, in order to use them again in the next pitch.


DSCN7685   The view plunges to the sea in the route called "Bidule" in the Calanques.

It is tempting to not weigh ourselves down with hammers and pitons in this unremitting route. But you will quickly get into troubles if you can't replace old pitons, worn away by the sea salt, on your way down in the overhang.
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Finally, the renowned Roof of the Bidule.

This route is a blend of all the best we can find in trad climbing: cracks, overhangs, route selection, artificial climbing, swings...

Unforgettable memory. When we came out of it, we had forgotten it was raining that afternoon...

That's the end!

Don't rush, there will be enough camalots for everyone in your favorite mountain goods store!

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