How it all began - The birthplace of free climbing

Elbsandsteingebirge: Schmilka

People have been climbing in Saxon Switzerland for a long time. Climbing here has been documented for around 140 years. For many, it is March 1864 that stands as the birthday of Saxon climbing: this was when five gymnasts from Schandau scaled the Falkenstein with the help of tree trunks and ladders. In 1874, two mountain climbers from Hohnstein succeeded in climbing the Mönch without any equipment.

Then in 1910, the "Saxon climbing rules" were laid down for the first time. These have remained almost unchanged ever since. The most important part of the rules is the "Relinquishment of artificial aids to overcome gravity". This idea then spread around the globe. Nowadays this principle is known as free climbing and is practised in the USA, Australia, France, Spain, Thailand and other countries throughout the world.

Stages of development

Herkulessaeulen Elbsandsteingebirge

The so-called early opening-up of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains took place between 1777 and 1890. It was shaped by ascents with artificial tools. Between 1890 and 1910, the area was almost fully opened up through Alpine sports. Besides the easy channels of ascent, crevices and walls were also climbed, creating numerous new routes up previously unmastered summits. This period produced climbing legends such as Oscar Schuster, Friedrich Meurer, Albert Kunze, Rudolf Fehrmann, Fritz Wiessner and Oliver Perry-Smith.

Between 1912 and the Second World War, crevice and wall climbing became more and more risky and difficult, and the climbers mastered not just new peaks, but also more difficult climbing routes. Significantly improved climbing techniques and safety methods led to the so-called final opening-up of the region between around 1945 and 1965, which also came to signify the end of classic Saxon mountain climbing.

Henceforth, the climbers made more and more extreme climbing routes accessible, with difficulty ratings ranging from VIII to XII. Bernd Arnold, Manfred Vogel, Jürgen Höfer and Klaus Schäfer are said to be representative of this period. More recent extreme athletes from the 1990s include Sven Scholz, Uwe Richter and Gunter Gaebel.