What is French Free Climbing?

Definition of a Rock Climbing Word

Ian Spencer-Green climbs Biscotte Margarine in the Verdon Gorge in France.
French free climbing originated on the vertical limestone walls of the Verdon Gorge.in southern France. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

What is French Free Climbing?

, is when a free climber ascends a rock face and uses occasional aid climbing moves, that is he grabs onto pieces of gear like bolts and cams (SLCDs) placed in the rock, to bypass difficult climbing sections. These crux sections of a route are ones that the climber either cannot free climb, cannot 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 climbing move or a couple moves of aid climbing on a free route. French free moves are usually designated by the rating C0 or A0 in a guidebook or on a topo.

Speed Climb with French Free Moves

Every free climber will do French free moves, particularly when projecting or working on a difficult route or when trying to make a long free climb and speed are important. The amazing speed climbing records established on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley are set by climbing teams that use French free techniques to climb fast. Many times the second climber following a pitch on a long route will climb French free by grabbing gear for the sake of speed, saving valuable climbing time. 

Term Originated at Verdon Gorge

The term French free climbing originated in southern France, particularly at the Verdon Gorge (Gorges du Verdon), 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 often 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 hardest climbing sections. Even still climbers at the Verdon will carry a couple hooks on slings to French free hard route sections.

Learn French Free Skills

Want to learn how to do French free climbing moves? Read the comprehensive article French Free Climbing Uses Basic Aid Climbing Skills to learn French free techniques for speed climbing.

Go Climb at the Verdon Gorge

Verdon Gorge: Rock Climbing Adventures in France