French free, French freeing, or French free climbing is when a free climber ascends a rock face and uses occasional moves of aid, that is pieces of gear like bolts and cams placed in the rock, to bypass difficult sections that the climber either can’t free climb, can’t climb in the current weather conditions, or would need to work on the moves to be able to free climb them. A French free move then is simply a single move or couple moves of aid climbing on a free route.
Speed Climb Doing French Free
Every free climber will do French free moves, particularly when working on a difficult route or when trying to make a long free climb and speed is important. The amazing speed records established on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley were climbed by teams that used French free techniques to climb fast. Many times the second climber following up a pitch will climb French free by grabbing gear for the sake of speed.
Term Originated at Verdon Gorge
The term French free originated in southern France, particularly the Verdon Gorge, back in the 1960s and 1970s when pioneering climbers there pushed new and difficult routes up the long steep limestone cliffs in the canyon. These routes were too hard for the climbers to completely free climb so they grabbed carabiners clipped to bolts or used hooks placed in pockets to pass the hard climbing sections.