Climber on an overhang

Rock Climbing – A Guide For Your Mum

The most difficult challenge you will face as a climber will be explaining to your mother that rock climbing is not that much of a dangerous sport. It seems to be that the general perception of climbing is terribly inaccurate and outlines the sport in a negative manner. So, I’m going to cover some of the most popular questions asked and statements made about climbing to ensure you are fully prepared when faced with someone who may need clarification.

To begin with then, the most common you tend to hear – “That seems terribly dangerous!”

Well, let me tell you something, rock climbing itself, more often that not, is safer than the drive to the crag itself. Yes, accidents do happen. But that’s a given in most sports, isn’t it? And these accidents in climbing are almost always due to human error. If you believe your climbing partners are smart and responsible, you don’t have much to worry about. Then again, if she’s a reckless idiot, feel free to worry as much as you do when she commutes to work or visits the tattoo parlor after one too many. It’s been estimated that in Yosemite National Park in America, a .0001% of people die in a climbing accident in a year. Showering while elderly is much more dangerous. 

Something that certainly your Nan will ask – “What if you fall?”

Yes, there is the chance we will fall, but why do you think we tie into the rope? Falling is a common thing in climbing, and not really seen as an event. You will feel like you’re free-falling for about 10ft, and then the rope stretches and slows you down. You’re more likely to hurt a finger from overuse than anything serious.

“But there are people that climb without ropes, you wouldn’t try that, would you?”

Well yes, there is an extremely small percentage of climbers, including “that one guy” Alex Honnold, who sometimes climbs without a rope. Millions of people go rock climbing every year, and most of us do view climbing without a rope as an unacceptable risk because, like most human beings, we fear death, so no, probably won’t be trying that one!

“I don’t understand, how do you get the rope up there?”

The easiest way to describe this is as follows:

We climb with the rope hanging from our harness and clip it to thingies in the rock as we go up. Sometimes we clip the rope to metal bolts drilled into the wall if they are available. Sometimes there are no bolts, and we place aluminum devices into cracks as we go. Both are more than capable of holding the weight of a car. They’re very secure, designed by very smart people with engineering degrees, and thoroughly tested. If we fall while climbing above our last clip, the rope stretch absorbs most of the force. Actually, the higher we are off the ground, the more the rope can stretch, and the safer it is to fall. Weird, right?!

Does being a climber make you an adrenaline junkie?

Um, no. Adrenaline junkies go for sports based around throwing yourself off high things (BASE jumping, wingsuit flying, freestyle motocross and so on). The goal of climbing is not to plummet through the air. Climbers like to be calm and controlled, we like our movement to be technically precise. Our sport is closer to gymnastics than jumping a skateboard over a flaming bus. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle using every muscle in your body. 

“Your arms must be super duper strong”

I mean, it doesn’t hurt to be able to crank out 100 pull-ups, but—believe it or not—it’s not that important. Rock climbing is more about finger strength, core strength, and most importantly, technique. We try to keep our weight on our feet and use leg muscles to push us up the wall whenever possible. If you do see someone pulling himself up a wall with his arms then yes, he is absurdly strong, but also a terrible climber!

“How do you not get scared when you’re that high up?”

Fear of heights isn’t actually a real thing. Sounds ridiculous I know but just stay with me on this one. You become fearful of something when you have had a bad experience with it – I am point blank terrified of needles because it once took a medical student 15 minutes to find a vein in my arm…! But when people say they are scared of heights, more often than not they have just never tried to go up high, because they assume it will be terrifying. Climbing proves that there is actually nothing that scary about being high up. You’re in a harness, your ropes won’t fail, and when you get to the top you are still going to be stood on a form of land, certainly not nearly as scary as singing karaoke in front of a load of strangers!

The favourite though always seems to be – “Why do you do it?”

Well, why do you do anything? Why do you play sport? Why do you go to the pub? Why do you run a marathon? I can’t think of anything more boring than running 26 miles, I just don’t have the attention span, but that’s just me! It could be the satisfaction of overcoming seemingly impossible physical challenges. It could be the gratification that comes from experiencing beautiful natural areas from vantages few others will ever see. It could be the simple joy of spending a day outside with friends. I don’t know, it’s different for everyone, but it’s certainly better than sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day.

 

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