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History of Climbing

Climbing and mountaineering have a long and colorful history. Learn about the history of climbing, landmark first ascent, and famous climbers.

Layton Kor: American Climbing Legend PART I
Layton Kor (1938-2013) is one of America's legendary rock climbers. Read about Layton Kor's early climbing career through the 1960s, a time when he made many first ascents in Yosemite Valley, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, near Moab, Monument Valley, Rocky Mountain National Park, and around his home in Boulder, Colorado.

Climbing in the Black Canyon with Layton Kor
Layton Kor, one of America's all-time great rock climbers, recalls a funny climbing adventure in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in 1962 during the first ascent of a high pillar.

The Supercrack of the Desert — 1976 First Ascent of an Historic Utah Climb
Supercrack, a hand-size splitter crack in Indian Creek Canyon, was first climbed in 1976 by Earl Wiggins, Ed Webster, and Bryan Becker. Here is the story of the first ascent of Supercrack told by Webster a few months after the ascent. Webster's simple story recounts Wiggin's brave ascent of the first pitch and brings an immediate freshness to...

Harvey Carter: King of First Ascents
Harvey T. Carter, a long-time Colorado climber, probably climbed more first ascents than any other American climber with over 5,000 routes, variations, and boulder problems. Read this remembrance about Harvey Carter, who died in 2012 in Colorado Springs.

A New Desert Route With Layton Kor -- Climbing With a Legend
A story about the first ascent of a desert tower that I climbed with the legendary rock climber Layton Kor, Everest climbing hero Ed Webster, and British climber Dennis Jump in the Arizona desert.

First Ascent of The Titan
The Titan, the tallest freestanding sandstone tower in the United States, was first climbed in May 1962 by Layton Kor, Huntley Ingalls, and George Hurley. Read the dramatic story of their landmark ascent of one of America's great classic climbs in the canyon country east of Moab, Utah.

1957 First Ascent of Half Dome
The landmark first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley in 1957 was the biggest wall yet climbed in the United States as well as the first Grade VI route.

John Otto Climbs Independence Monument
A short article and photo essay on the historic 1911 first ascent of Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument by John Otto.

Castleton Tower's TV Commercial
Castleton Tower, one of the Utah canyon country's most famous sandstone towers, was used in a 1964 black-and-white television commercial for Chevrolet. Read the crazy story behind this commercial and view the commercial before you go climb Castleton.

Ed Webster Utah Canyon Country Photo Gallery
Enjoy this gallery of historic rock climbing photographs by Ed Webster of his many landmark first ascents in the Utah canyon country.

Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum
The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, Colorado, explores the history of American climbing and climbers.

Julia Archibald Holmes
In 1858 Julia Archibald Holmes became the first woman to climb Pikes Peak, one of Colorado's most famous Fourteeners. Read all about Holme's landmark ascent here.

Reinhold Messner: Murdering the Impossible
Read this excerpt on National Geographic about Reinhold Messner's tragic ascent of the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbet.

John Gill and Early Bouldering History
Join John Gill, the father of modern bouldering, for an entertaining history of Early British Boulderers.

Zion Rock Climbing History Part I
Zion National Park, one of America's major rock climbing areas, has a long and colorful climbing history. Learn more about Zion's climbing history from 1920 until 1970, the start of Zion's "Golden Age," in the first part of Zion Rock Climbing History.

Zion Rock Climbing History Part II
Zion National Park, one of America's major rock climbing areas, has a long and colorful climbing history. Learn more about Zion's climbing history from 1920 until 1970, the start of Zion's "Golden Age," in the first part of Zion Rock Climbing History.

Speed Climbing on The Nose
So you want to climb fast? Read about speed climbing up The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley and the current record by Hans Florine and Yuji Hirayama.

John Bachar: American Rock Climbing Icon
John Bachar (1957-2009) was an iconic American climber who died in a fall free-soloing in California. Bachar, from southern California, was perhaps the best climber of his generation with numerous landmark ascents in Yosemite Valley, Joshua Tree, Colorado and other climbing areas. Read more about John Bachar and a timeline of his life and times.

1916: First Ascent of Classic Colorado Peaks
In 1916 pioneer climbers Albert Ellingwood, Eleanor Davis, and two others made the first ascents of Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle, the last two of Colorado's 54 Fourteeners or 14,000-foot peaks to be climbed. Read about the landmark ascent and two great American climbers.

1924: First Ascent of Ellingwood Ledges
In 1924, pioneer climbers Albert Ellingwood, Eleanor Davis, Stephen Hart, and Marion Warner made the first ascent of one of Colorado's classic and most beautiful alpine routes up a prow on the North Face of Crestone Needle. Read about their landmark first ascent, creating perhaps America's hardest long climbing route at the time.

The Spirit of the Mountains
Mountains, high cliffs, and summits have always been sacred places to humans and climbers all over the world. Find out more about mountains as sacred places, including sacred mountains in Judeo-Christian mythology, as well as sacred peaks in Greece, Japan, and Asia. America too has many sacred mountains like the four sacred mountains of the...

Facts About Shiprock — Sacred Navajo Peak in New Mexico
Shiprock, a towering rock mountain in northwestern New Mexico, is sacred to the Navajo Indians. Shiprock figures prominently in many Navajo legends and myths. Find out about Shiprock's geology, climbing history, and Navajo mythology.

First to Climb Lizard Head -- 1921 Account of Lizard Head by Albert Ellingwood
In the November, 1921 issue of Outing Magazine, Albert Ellingwood wrote about the first ascent of Lizard Head in southwest Colorado. His 1920 ascent, done with a hemp rope and 3 pitons, was one of the hardest rock climbs in the USA at the time. Read Ellingwood's account of this landmark American climb.

The Evolution of Pitons in Rock Climbing
Pitons are one of the oldest tools used for rock climbing, originating from 1492 on the first ascent of Mont Aiguille in France. In the 20th century climbers refined the use of pitons, making lots of different sizes and shapes for different-sized cracks. Learn all about pitons; early use of pitons in Europe and the US; the use of pitons on...

The Clean Climbing Revolution
Pitons, repeatedly hammered into and out of cracks, cause a lot of environmental damage to rock surfaces, leaving unsightly piton scars behind and forever altering the rock. About 1970, climbers began using nuts instead of pitons to lessen rock damage and preserve rock resources. Read about piton use; the damage that pitons cause; the first nuts...

1970: First Ascent of Thunder Pyramid
Thunder Pyramid in Colorado's Elk Range wasn't climbed until 1970 when a party of six including climbers Stewart Green and Spencer Swanger reached its summit. The mountain, originally called Peak 13,932, was the last of Colorado's Centennial Peaks (100 highest mountains) to be climbed. Read Stewart Green's first-person account of its first ascent.

Survey of India Discovers Mount Everest in 1852
The Great Trigonometrical Survey, beginning in 1800, mapped all of India. In 1852 the Survey calculated that Peak XV was the highest mountain in the world at 29,002 feet high. Another three years of calculations confirmed that the mountain, called by Mount Everest by Surveyor General Andrew Waugh for his predecessor George Everest, was indeed the highest peak. Read the story of Everest's discovery and the Survey of India.

Albert Mummery Profile
Albert Mummery, a British climber from Dover, was one of the leading alpine climbers in the late 19th century. Mummery made many first ascents in The Alps and the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. He died attempting to become the first person to climb an 8,000-meter peak--Nanga Parbat in Nepal--in 1895. Read an Albert Mummery profile and learn about...

Dateline 1902: First Attempt to Climb K2 PART II
In 1902, a, expedition led by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley was the second team to attempt to climb an 8,000-meter peak. The goal was K2, 2nd highest mountain in the world. The expedition reached a high point above 21,000 feet but two months of bad weather along with constant bickering doomed the team. Read Part II of the strange story...

Dateline 1902: First Attempt to Climb K2 PART I
In 1902, a, expedition led by Oscar Eckenstein and Aleister Crowley was the second team to attempt to climb an 8,000-meter peak. The goal was K2, 2nd highest mountain in the world. The expedition reached a high point above 21,000 feet but two months of bad weather along with constant bickering doomed the team. Read Part I of the strange story of...

Dateline 1927: Stettner Brothers Climb Hardest American Route
Joe and Paul Stettner, two German immigrant brothers in Chicago, came out to Colorado in September 1927 and put up a new route called Stettner's Ledges on the East Face of Longs Peak. The route, now rated 5.8, was the hardest climbing route in the United States until the 1940s. It's ascent was a worthy achievement by two modest brothers.

Francesco Petrarch and The Ascent of Mont Ventoux
Francesco Petrarch and his brother Gherardo climbed Mont Ventoux in the Provence region of southern France in 1336. Petrarch later wrote a famed essay "The Ascent of Mont Ventoux" about his experience and why he climbed a mountain just for fun. For his long hike and famous essay about climbing, Petrarch is considered the first modern alpinist...

Mount Everest News 2011
Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, saw both triumph and tragedy in the spring of 2011. Read four articles about notable achievements and deaths on Mount Everest in 2011.

Todd Skinner: Legendary American Climber
Todd Skinner (1958-2006) was an iconic American rock climber that was killed in a rappelling accident on the Leaning Tower in Yosemite Valley. Todd was a prolific climber that roamed all over the world putting up new routes, including major climbs in Pakistan, Africa, Greenland, Canada, as well as Yosemite Valley and his home cliffs in Wyoming.

1971: First Ascent of The Bride
In 1971, legendary American rock climbers Fred Beckey and Eric Bjornstad made the first ascent of The Bride, a 300-foot-high sandstone tower hidden in a canyon near Moab in eastern Utah. Here is an account of the ascent written by Eric Bjornstad and published in Summit Magazine in 1972.

Dateline 1893: Cowboy First Ascent of Devils Tower
Two cowboys made the first ascent of Devils Tower in Wyoming by climbing a ladder of wooden stakes hammered into a crack in 1893.

The Matterhorn: Photographs and Climbing Quotes of a Classic Mountain Peak
Photographs and quotes by famous climbers about the Matterhorn, Switzerland's most famous mountain.

Edward Whymper: Climbing Quote
A quote about climbing and mountaineering by Edward Whymper, a great 19th-century British climber who made the tragic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865.

Patrick Edlinger: Great French Free Climber Died in 2012
Patrick Edlinger, a great French climber, was a superstar rock climber during the 1980s. Edlinger traveled the world for climbing adventures, approaching climbing as a meditation and yoga. He died after a fall in his home in 2012.

Mount Fuji: The Art of Japan's Sacred Mountain
Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan and one of the world's most beautiful mountains, is sacred to the Japanese people. Mount Fuji occurs in many folktales as well as art works. Learn more about artist Hokasai's interpretations of Mount Fuji in his classic "36 Views of Mount Fuji" woodblock prints.

Layton Kor: Legendary Rock Climber Died in 2013
Obituary for Layton Kor (1938-2013), a legendary American rock climber who established many routes in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California, and Europe. Kor was one of the best American climbers in the 1960s.

10-Year-Old Climber Ascends 5.14a Route
Jon Horst from Pennsylvania became the youngest person in the world to climb a 5.14a route without falling at the age of 10 years 7 months at Kentucky's Red River Gorge.

Dateline 1961: First Ascent of Castleton Tower in Utah
In 1961 the great American climber Layton Kor and Huntley Ingalls climbed the first ascent of Castleton Tower, a 450-foot-high sandstone pinnacle near Moab in eastern Utah.

Rocker David Lee Roth Climbs Half Dome in Yosemite

Nose Speed Climbing Record Smashed in 2012
In early July, 2012, climbers Hans Florine and Alex Honnold broke the speed climbing record up the 3,000-foot-high Nose route on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Here is their story.

Mark Hesse: Colorado Climber & Conservationist

The Discovery of Kilimanjaro by Europeans in 1848
Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, was undiscovered by Europeans until German missionary Johannes Rebmann trekked inland and saw the great snowcapped mountain in 1848. Read about Rebmann's journey to Kilimanjaro and the denial of its existence by geographers.

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