What is Aid Climbing?

aid climbing

About Aid Climbing

  • Invented: 1786
  • Founded By: Horace Bénédict de Saussure
  • Highest Governing Body: International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA)

Aid climbing is a classic form of rock climbing that features soaring and multi-pitch routes, as well as the use of ascension devices to allow climbers to reach areas they would otherwise be unable to access. The mountaineering craze of the nineteenth century was the first time aid climbing was widely practiced, with wealthy Europeans using these techniques to summit peaks throughout the Alps. Aid climbing techniques also contributed to the sport of ice climbing. Aid climbing was the most widely practiced form of rock climbing until free climbing eclipsed it in the 1960’s. A contributing factor to the decline of aid climbing was its use of permanent anchors, such as pitons and copperheads, which caused damage to the rock itself. Modern temporary anchors, such as camming devices and nuts, are much less damaging to the rock. Today, many free climbers still use aid climbing to scout a route or pitch before they free climb it.


What is aid climbing?

Aid climbing is a traditional style of rock climbing in which climbers use mechanical devices attached to permanent or temporary anchor points to ascend up a tall rock face. These ascent devices take the form of either a ladder-like structure of webbing called an aider or a camming mechanism called an ascender. Aid climbing is done in pairs or groups, with one climber advancing up a wall while another remains below, providing protection from falls by keeping a rope on belay. 

How are aid climbs rated?

Aid climbs are rated on scales that assess both difficulty and danger to the climber. The older and more traditional scale of rating aid climbs is the A system, which scores danger and difficulty from a mild A1 to an extreme A5+. “A” ratings reflect the challenge of a route when using fixed anchor points such as pitons and copperheads. The more modern C rating system makes a similar assessment, scoring from C1 to C5, but reflects a route’s difficulty with the use of temporary anchors. 

What equipment do I need to go aid climbing safely?

A large and varied amount of equipment is required to go aid climbing safely. Some basic gear is shared with other forms of rock climbing, including a harness, locking carabiner, belay device, rock climbing shoes, ropes, and helmet. Each aid climber also needs an aider for ascending between anchor points, a set of daisy chains for securing ropes and gear, a personal anchor system for extra security on belay, and a fifi hook for temporary weight support while securing a more stable anchor point.