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About Climbing: Myths and Facts

by Mark Lamendola, who started climbing in the previous century

Many people completely misunderstand climbing. It’s not about pulling yourself up with your arms on an impossibly sheer rock face.

The first thing to understand is there are many types of climbing. We typically think of climbing natural features. The types of climbing involved include (in descending order of object size, but not technical difficulty):

  • Mountaineering. People who ascend K2 or Everest are mountaineers. Much gear is required.
  • Rock climbing. Instead of climbing a mountain, you climb large rock formations. A varying amount of gear is required, but typically much less than in mountaineering.
  • Bouldering. This is typically done with no gear other than climbing shoes.

The original idea of outdoor climbing up mountains didn’t involve super-steep grades. People walked up those inclines, and they still do. This is possibly the most common form of climbing. Or maybe climbing stairs is.

Stairs, as you know, are manmade. And so are many other surfaces that people can climb. In fact, many types of climbing that involve artificial surfaces. These include outdoor concrete formations made explicitly for this purpose, but also those monkey bars you used as a kid. There’s a wide range of things to climb.

The type of climbing that’s really gaining in popularity, though, is indoor climbing in a climbing gym. This setting provides many advantages, not just protection from the weather. The climbing walls can be reconfigured and frequently are. This way, people don’t get tired of the same old routes.

An expert sets a route on a wall, using colored pieces of varying sizes and shapes. These are bolted on in a set pattern to produce a route of a specific difficulty level. Climbing routes are graded on a difficulty scale, and in a climbing gym there are routes for people at all skill levels.

Gym climbers focus on technical climbing. They learn a variety of foot and leg maneuvers. They master toehold techniques and handhold techniques, too. Their primary goal is to solve the spatial puzzles that preset climbing routes present.

The single biggest challenge to new climbers at these gyms is keeping their body weight over their center of gravity. The natural tendency is to crab crawl up the wall. That’s exhausting because it relies on upper body strength and because this kind of positioning means your own body weight is always pulling you off the wall. These kinds of climbers get very sore forearms, because they apply a death grip the whole time they are trying to climb.

By contrast, a skilled climber uses his/her body weight to actually stick to the wall. This can be done in many ways, and a skilled climber has learned specific techniques toward that end.

Most climbing gyms have “top roping” available. This kind of climbing appeals to new climbers the most. As the name implies, there’s a safety rope that’s secured at the top. This is as opposed to lead climbing, which means the climber brings the rope up with him/her and attaches it to anchors on the way up. In bouldering, there are no ropes. Most climbing gyms have bouldering areas.

Just as top roped routes heavily appeal to beginning climbers, more seasoned climbers spend a great deal of time bouldering. The will also top rope climb and lead rope climb, but it’s on the boulders where they can really develop their technical skills.

And it’s skill, not power, that makes the difference between a good climber and someone who simply struggles to make it.

Rock Climbing On Steep Rock Face
Rock Climbing On Steep Rock Face
24 in. x 18 in.
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Perseverance - Cliffhanger
Perseverance - Cliffhanger
28 in. x 22 in.
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