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
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,"
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
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.
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