A Historical Association

Page 1.1a

Jahn's Climbing Apparatus  


ahn's climbing devices were both physically challenging as well as risky. Imagine climbing a 40 foot rope or cable with no protection, then exiting onto an overhanging ladder. Jahn states that the most difficult type of cable or rope climbing is, "with both feet and only one hand". In addition, he says, "Also, it is not easy to climb upside down". (
Eighty years later, in the 1896 Olympics, gymnasts were required to climb a rope approximately 45 feet long with arms only and legs in an L-position - only a couple made it to the top). 

You don't need simulated rock holds to enjoy challenges in artificial climbing!  The nameless master German rope, pole, and mast climbers of the early 1800s were as tough as they come.

Here are drawings of apparatus accompanying Jahn's Die Deutsche Turnkunst (1816) :  

Der Einbaum
Der Einbaum : This massive tower was 40 feet high. The top ladder section on the left could be angled into an overhanging position, like the one on the right. I have added a figure on the rope to show scale. Jahn recommended climbing the 25 foot supporting poles, as well.

Der Zweibaum

Der Zweibaum : The two supporting masts were 18 feet apart, and the height of the apparatus was 20 feet, although it doesn't appear that high in the drawing. The yardarms overhung 6 feet. A figure is added. Wooden ladder, rope, and poles allowed competition, since there were two of each.

Der Bierbaum

Der Vierbaum
30 feet high. A figure is added. The yardarms extend 8 feet from the central mast, supported by climbing poles. Four rope climbers could compete simultaneously (there were no stopwatches to establish speed records) - plus a long overhanging ladder climb, as well as the 30 foot pole climbs.



der Klimmel

Der Klimmel : A climbing cage standing 6 feet from the ground to the horizontal beams, then ladder rungs rising at 60º and a foot apart. Again, I have added a figure to show scale.

On the next page these devices appear in the background of an 1818 poster . .

Personal Commentary:   From 1954 until 1967 I climbed the 20 foot, 1.5" diameter rope for speed. More said about this later. But, I also did some rope climbing similar to what you see displayed above. I have climbed  long ropes - arms only - pulling over onto steel beams at the top. And periodically I did the 20 foot climb, arms only, from a seated position on the floor, then hand over hand back down to a seated position, then up again to the top - two consecutive climbs - this was harder than a continuous 40 foot ascent.  Frequently I would do the standard 20 foot climb, as described above, pull into a front lever on the beam at the top, hold, than come down hand over hand as usual. My gymnastic colleagues referred to me as a Big Spider because my long legs would be stretched out (not in a stiff-legged L-position) in a rolling gait going up and down.  Truth be told, I spent more "climbing" time doing these sorts of things than I did on the rock . . .and enjoyed it every bit as much!  

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