Rock Climbing

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You'd like to get to the top of a small mountain to enjoy the view. The front is a sheer rock face. The back offers an easy hiking trail. You consider which would be the better way to get to the top, and you pick the front. Of course! You're a rock climber!

If you're the kind of person who likes a challenge for both your mind and body, you'll probably like rock climbing.

Rock climbing involves using your fingers, toes, feet, elbows and any other helpful body part to creep up any rock face or cliff. There's usually very little to work with as far as ledges and steps go -- that's the way hard-core climbers like it.

Rock on! Rock climbing is a great sport for those people who want both the physical and mental challenge. It's just you against the rock.
Courtesy of: Scott Karren

While still on the ground, the climber studies the rock face, picking out a route. Planning the climb helps the climber take advantage of cracks to wedge a foot into, or tiny ledges onto which a few fingers can grip. This makes it as much of a thinking sport as it is a physical sport.

Most climbers take safety seriously. A harness is worn around the waist, to which a rope is attached. The rope runs up to the top of the face and back down to the bottom, where a friend hangs onto it tightly. If the climber should slip, their partner takes up the slack and prevents a fall.

Experienced climbers sometimes go up ahead of the rope, attaching it to the rock with special gear as they go along. Fellow climbers use this rope for safety as they follow behind.

Obviously, this sport is done best in mountainous terrain. There are superb cliffs in British Columbia, Arizona and California.

Living near mountains isn't an absolute requirement for this sport, however. Climbers who live in flat areas make use of indoor climbing gyms.

Indoor climbing centers allow climbers to experience a variety of climbing terrain with optimum safety. Even climbers who live in mountainous areas make use of these gyms in the winter.

All regular climbers make some use of climbing gyms, if only to work on a particular procedure and keep in shape.

As a form of recreation, climbing is growing extremely quickly. Susan Parker, of Mission Cliffs Rock Climbing Center in San Francisco, says her business is doing very well.

"This sport is growing like crazy," says Parker. "The interesting thing is that the young people are the ones who are excelling....The kids don't seem to have as much fear as the adults."

Women are another group of people who are getting into climbing in a big way.

John Mecklenburg, of Rock and Ice Magazine, agrees that this sport, along with all outdoor wilderness activities, is growing. "We're seeing a lot more stores popping up that specialize in climbing, hiking and that sort of thing," says Mecklenburg.

Not surprisingly, the circulation of his magazine has similarly climbed.

Rock climbing can be a pricey pursuit. You'll need special shoes, sort of like ballet slippers with sticky rubber soles. They'll cost you $100. A harness costs around $45. Another important piece of equipment, and probably the cheapest, is a chalk bag. Those are the personal essentials.

If you're lucky, you'll be able to go climbing with people who already have rope. Otherwise, rope can cost $100, depending on how much you get.

Kevin Stephens, a hard-core climber from Kansas, says he has over $3,000 worth of equipment. That includes all kinds of items, such as:

  • caribiners (commonly called beaners) are basically little clips -- fancy versions of the thing you use to attach a dog leash to a collar.
  • active camming units (commonly called friends) and stoppers are little wedgie-like things that get stuck into a crack in the rock so that a rope or person may be securely attached to them
  • belaying devices are special rings through which the rope is run -- they help keep the climber secure in case of a fall

Day passes for indoor walls vary. Some gyms charge monthly fees, others daily fees. You may pay $15 a day or more than $40 a month, depending on your climbing gym. The costs for classes and gear rental vary.

You have to be in great physical shape to do this sport. Suffice it to say, lots of finger pushups are recommended.

Exercise those toes, too. It may look like they're just standing on ledges looking for a foothold, but climbers use every muscle in their bodies to keep from falling off. That extra effort is always needed to make that near-impossible reach for the next ledge or crack.

Obviously, you can get injured doing this activity. Exactly what types of injuries you get depends on how far you fall. Most climbers, however, come away with nothing worse than scratched knees and a sunburn.

There aren't any big-time careers available for rock climbers, but seeing as the sport is becoming more popular these days, there are and will be opportunities to teach climbing at gyms and schools.

Climbing skills are valued in search and rescue organizations. When a plane goes down in a remote area, sometimes the only way to get to it is by climbing a cliff.

Getting Started

As mentioned earlier, you'll have to buy some equipment to climb on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the indoor climbing gyms, which you'll find in almost every city, will have rental equipment. This is a good place to start.

The easiest and safest way to get into rock climbing is to take a beginner's course. These courses supply all the equipment you'll need and they're a great way to meet others new to the sport. Afterwards, you'll have a pool of new friends to go climbing with.

Check out a night school calendar in your area for courses. You can also just look up a climbing gym in the phone book and take it from there.


Alpine Club of Canada


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Climbing FAQ
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American Mountain Guides Association
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Big Wall Climbing Home Page
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