Rock Climbing Page

Like many sports, I rock climb off and on through the years.  I pick it up, do it for a few years, then get tired of it, then pick it up.  I started back in 1987 in New England.  I was lucky enough that Dave Plaisance started dragging me out of bed to go.  I climbed for a few years, went to Arizona and climbed for a few more years.  Arizona was tougher since I didn't know anyone and there really weren't any gyms.  You just had to go, and hope to meet someone on the rock.  Between engineering college and three jobs, I didn't climb as much as I wanted, but enough to have fun.  By the mid 90's, however, gyms were popping up as meeting places.  What amazed me was how many people in Phoenix, with great rock all through the city and tons of climbing outside the city, preferred just to stay in the gym.  The gym was often a farther drive than real rock!

I moved to Dallas, and things changed.  I climbed for a while, but was drifting out of it.  There was no real rock anywhere close around, and what drove me to it was not so much the climbing (which was fun), but also the outdoors.  For about a year I went, first three days a week, then two, then just early Friday nights to the local gym.  I did this for a while, then got out of it altogether.  A few years later I did it again, on Tuesdays with some friends, then Friday's.  Simple routine:  climb for a while, go get a frozen margarita to wrap my hands around at Cantina Laredo (Denise, the wife of Ariel that I worked at TI/Raytheon with, worked there), and sat and read, minding my own business.  She always harassed me to hit on the women and had the bartender stealing my magazine.

I briefly got into it one last time, then quit.  Dallas just sucked the climbing life out of me, when meant I had time for other sports.  I took up kayaking and skydiving, for example.  I know I'll move someday to a spot where it's easier to get on the rocks.

Climbing Basics

You can learn all about the advanced stuff all over the web.  Here's a real quick summary on the very basics of climbing.

Well organized FAQ about climbing, see:
Mechanically Aided Climbing, an excellent history:
Climbing Terms:  I'm not going to repeat them. Definitions at Wikipedia.

Climbing Ratings:  There are many well-done explanations found by searching on Yosemite Decimal System.  I'm not going to try and repeat them.  Here's one good one by  A simple summary is that protected climbing starts with a 5, and full aid climbing with a 6.  What's harder to find is the history:  In North America, climbs are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System, developed by the Sierra Club Mountaineers in the 1930's.  When they developed this, they thought there would be no climb harder than a 5.7 that could be climbed without aid.  In 1952, the first 5.9 was climbed (Open Book at Tahquitz Rock in Southern California) by Royal Robbins and Don Wilson and suddenly, the decimal "ceiling" was in sight.  The first proposal was to take over Class 6 for harder free climbing, and push aid climbing up to Class 7.  This was voted down.  Next someone suggested breaking 5.9 down into subdecimals--like 5.91, 5.92, etc.  But then there was the prospect of climbing 5.9999's.  That plan was dropped.  Then someone dumped logic and math and said, "How about a five-ten?"  Five-ten?  That's a six!  Or five-one-zero, which is going backwards.  But beauty and simplicity won by popular use, and it can go on forever, ignorant of mathematical law. 

One thing to note about climbing ratings:  You don't rate yourself by the best climb you've ever done.  You rate yourself by what you climb sustained.  You must also include versatility.  What can you climb on slabs, overhangs, cracks, and face-climbs?  That's your rating.  There's no shame--be honest it.  I climbed an occasional 5.10, but with falls.  I was consistent 5.9 face, and in reality a 5.8 climber if you include mastering all types of routes.  Overhangs killed me...probably a 5.7 there, but I could pull it off.  The only time it's commonly accepted to give multiple ratings is in leading/following.  People will commonly say, "Lead 5.9, follow 5.11."

Climbing And Your Health
The rock climbing magazines keep advocating that rock climbing doesn't lead to arthritis.  Of course they do--much like weightlifting magazines never give an objective, scientific review of the supplements they sell.  Of course not--not only are the supplements 90% of their advertising dollar, but many of the magazines sell their own line (like Weider Nutrition and Joe Weider "Muscle and Fitness.") Years of research, however, don't support that.  In fact, they say the opposite.  

Time Magazine, February 8, 1999.  Page 76 (The Your Health section) summarized an article from Arthritis & Rheumatism magazine (1/99).  Time said:  New research on hundreds of Americans shows that those with a strong hand grip face higher odds of developing arthritis in the joints at the base of the fingers, including the thumb. Why? Hefty hand muscles exert excessive force on the joints. The picture they used was a rock climber. 

I requested information from the Arthritis & Rheumatism Medical Association and they sent me the abstract, not the whole article. It's tech talk like our engineering articles, and just as hard to read if you're not a doctor. Here's the summation:

Higher maximal grip strength was associated with an increased risk of OA (arthritis) in the PIP....blah blah blah.

Stronger hands are formed by putting more stress on weak joints.  The stronger the hands, the more likely. That's what you get for having fingers pulled by ligaments instead of muscle all the way--ligaments don't grow like muscle does.

The general advice seems to be:  Don't overdo it rock climbing and get get a girlfriend (Wayne's Interpretation), and you'll be fine. That also might explain why women score lower and they didn't measure thumbs. (Actual Grant ID:  AR-20613/AR/NIAMS and N01-HC-38038/HC/NHLBI )

Some Famous ClimbersThere is no way to do them all justice.  I'll stick them in here as I find them/think of them.  There are lots of  "currently famous" climbers out there, as climbing has become more commercial and Climbing magazines trumpet these currently-famous names, slapped with advertising stickers over whatever product they're selling (nothing wrong with that).  Others are more lasting and known outside the general climbing community (Sir Edmund Hillary).  Some become famous because they're good, but then are really launched (and climbing magazines are dedicated to) their breast implants.  Others are obscure, but had one major contribution.  I like those the best.  (Note:  Yes, there are tendencies for climbers to die young.  

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The top ten reasons climbing is better than love.
By James Jay Klavetter

10. The bond between you and your partner is more apparent.
9.  Your partnership doesn't often end up making children.
8.  Your partner and yourself are doing something together you BOTH enjoy.
7.  Your partner usually doesn't throw things at you when there is an argument.
6.  Your partner doesn't get mad at you if you forget the anniversary of your first climb together.
5.  If your partner leaves you, it is relatively easy to find another.
4.  You don't usually feel like jumping off a cliff if you fail at a climb.
3.  On most climbs, you can protect against something REALLY bad happening.
2.  Communication is easier and surer (even if windy and around corners).

And the number one reason climbing is better than love….

1.  If there is a fall, broken bones mend faster and more completely than broken hearts.

Why climbing is better than sex, A man's perspective, by John Byrnes

  1. When you climb, you only have to get yourself to the peak.
  2. If you climb with someone other than your regular partner, no one gets mad, in fact, you can all three climb together and share protection!
  3. You can reuse your protection, and someone else even cleans for you, provided you don't put it in too deep.
  4. There IS such a thing as being too overhung.
  5. You can get belayed without first bekissing.
  6. A good hand jam can be as satisfying as any other kind of jam.
  7. No matter how many times you fall off, you can always climb back on.
  8. Having a belay slave is not a criminal offense.
  9. The rocks never expect you to call afterward.
  10. Excessive friction is a positive quality when you're climbing.
  11. The rocks don't care if you show up late.
  12. The rocks don't complain after 7 or 8 pitches.
  13. When you're climbing, a good two-finger jam will support your body weight.
  14. Your belayer never hesitates when you yell "TAKE!"
  15. When you're climbing, weird body positions are considered "cool".
  16. The rocks don't scream for help when you try for the on-sight flash.
  17. Your climbing partner doesn't complain when you don't want to do cracks anymore and want to do some face.
  18. A three-finger pocket isn't too big.
  19. You don't have to wait an hour after getting pumped-out.

Why climbing is better than sex, A woman's perspective, by Ilana Stern

  1. The rock is always hard.
  2. Rocks are never busy watching football when you'd rather climb.
  3. Rocks don't complain about the kind of protection you want to use.
  4. You can go climbing with another woman and nobody will call you names or hassle you.
  5. You can use ropes and harnesses and nobody will think you're kinky.
  6. You can go climbing any time of the month.
  7. It's over when *you* reach the peak.
  8. You won't die of embarrassment if your mother finds your rock gear.
  9. If it's in too deep, you can yank on a nut.
  10. Nobody ever got pregnant rock climbing!
  11. If you need something REAL BIG, you can always put in a Big Bro'!

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Misc / Other Climbing Info

Ice Climbing Primer:

North American Alpine:  There are 69 "Fourteeners" in the continental United States, 54 of them in Colorado.

Himalayan Alpine:  There are fourteen "8K" (8,000 meters or 26,248 feet) mountains in the world, all clustered in the Himalayan and Karakorum ranges of Nepal, Tibet, India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.

Partial Pressure:  Refers to the equilibrium state of a gas and a liquid.  Ever notice in a 2-liter soda bottle, the gas makes the bottle stiff?  When you let the gas out and pour out some liquid, the remaining liquid is still full of dissolved gas.  Close the bottle, and the air left in the top is at a lower pressure than before.  The gas escapes from the remaining soda until the pressure in the bottle is raised back to the equilibrium state (or the gas runs out).  That equilibrium pressure is the partial pressure.  It varies with atmospheric pressure, which is why soda bubbles more at altitude, and not at all in the bottom of a mine (try it).  The partial pressure of oxygen in your wet body affects you as well.  It's most  noticeable in scuba divers, where every 33 feet underwater is another atmospheric pressure.  There, after 150 feet, the amount of nitrogen forced into the blood is so high, it causes "Nitrogen narcosis," even though you have enough (too much!) oxygen.  Climbing produces a reverse effect.  As you climb, there is less air pressure around you.  Your body is "pressurised," and over time you "outgas" your excess oxygen to match the current partial pressure rate.  Every time you breath in, your lungs hold approximately 1 liter of air, but the air is thinner.  At 8000 meters, there is 2/3 less oxygen available.  Add to that your lowered ability to absorb the oxygen, and you see the problem.