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What Is Adaptive Rock Climbing?

Updated: Apr 14

What is Adaptive Rock Climbing

Adaptive climbing is rock climbing aimed at making climbing accessible to folks of all abilities. Depending on each individual's ability level, various rope systems, specialty harnesses, ascenders, and even prosthetics designed for climbing are utilized by folks with ranging physical, mental, and developmental disabilities to send indoor, outdoor, and alpine climbs. Adaptive climbing aims to focus away from an individual's disability and instead work with existing skills and evolving climbing technology to get folks on the wall!

The goals surrounding adaptive climbing are not just to make climbing more accessible but to provide this accessibility in safe and supportive environments that work to foster community in climbing. The world of adaptive climbing focuses heavily on growing and caring for the community by making these methods of climbing accessible through programming and training opportunities in and out of gyms across the country and around the world. As groundbreaking adaptive climber Mark Wellman has discussed, no climber is restricted by their desire or ability to climb, only by a lack of adaptive climbing tools and resources.

History of Adaptive Climbing

As with most histories, adaptive climbing climbing climbing stretches back much further than we think. Though most examples of adaptive climbing only began appearing in the mid-1800s, adaptive climbers have likely been on the scene as long as climbing has been around. Some of the first adaptive climbers we have a history of were our early mountaineers in the mid-1800s who continued climbing after sustaining injuries during climbing, war, or other accidents. As there was not yet any equipment widely produced for adaptive climbers, these individuals carved out their systems and techniques.

Sir Francis Joseph Campbell was the first blind climber to summit Mt. Blanc in 1872. By remaining closer to the climber in front of him than was typical, Campbell followed the moves of his peers and ascended routes with ease. This is an excellent example of early adaptive climbing practices that have evolved into what adaptive climbing is today! Some climbers still utilize similar techniques of paired or guided climbing.

Geoffrey Winthrop Young climbed from 1897-1935. In August of 1917, Young's left leg was amputated during World War I after a bombing. Less than a month later, he sent letters to fellow climbers stating his intent to climb with a prosthetic. He went on to summit multiple mountains in the Alps and became one of the community's earliest well-known adaptive climbers.

More than a century later, engineer and climber Hugh Herr was making his climbing prosthetics for all sorts of rock and ice climbing terrains. Herr's achievements in the world of prosthetics were revolutionary, not just for climbers but for prosthetic technology worldwide!