Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hand Care for Climbers

You look down at your hands, marveling at their rhino-like thickness. Experimentally you hover your yellowed, thickened pads over the flame of your campstove burner, roaring at a temperature roughly equivalent to that of the earth's molten center. The pads darken slightly in response, but you feel no pain. Oh yes. Then the next day you rip off a pocket in an overhanging face, and one of your callous pads catches on the vicious lip and rips off to the pink, vulnerable skin underneath. Doh!

It turns out that those thick, elephantine callous buildups on your fingers aren't exactly the best thing for you, as a climber. When the corn-like swells appear it is usually the cause for celebration by newer climbers that think the days of plastic-scoured tips are over. The callouses have arrived Mr. Johnson, rejoice, for yee shall suffer no more! Well, not exactly.

Yes, callouses are an integral part of climbing. The protection they afford is invaluable, and allows you to climb much longer and on much rougher surfaces that you normally could with your previously baby-pink mitts. However, letting them build up too much can cause other problems to crop up. They form thorny ridges on the insides of your fingers, and bulbous buildups on the joints of your fingers. These then in turn create little malleable skin clusters that greedy, sharp rocks will snag onto and unceremoniously shred right off, often down to the moist, vulnerable skin a few layers deeper than your normal skin layer. Additionally those buildups can dry and crack, causing painful splits in areas where you need to make direct contact with the rock.

However, all is not lost. With a little bit of diligent care, you can have tough grips that stand up to any day of hard climbing, and also won't give your hands what your feet look like they have: unsightly, and potentially climbing-trip-ending corns.

Necessary Tools

  • Sanding block or pad (about 160-220 grit will do, sold at painting supplies stores)

  • Climbon or Monkey Skin (or regional equivalent)

  • Neosporin

  • Band-Aides

Sanding the Skin

The idea here is to sand down your calluses so that they are uniformly smooth with the rest of your skin surface. You don't want to sand down to the normal skin layer, you just want the irregularities that can snag on the rock to be taken away. This allows you to climb on your calluses but reduces the chance that you'll rip a flapper. Gentle back-and-forth passes over the thicker calluses with the thicker grit sandpaper can take away the unevenness, and then the finer grit can be used to smooth it out. I've found that the peskiest calluses happen just under the first joint of my index, middle, and ring fingers. I can tell by bending the finger joint and looking at a sideview. Instead of the skin folding over, there is a callus gap that prevents the fold. This area is usually the first victim of a split, since the snag will happen just at the joint bend, and we all know how difficult it is for splits in joints to heal. Try to make sure that you give this area a good sanding pass too. If you've built up those calluses for a long time without sanding, you probably won't get it all even in the first go. In fact you probably shouldn't since overdoing it will result in too-thin skin. Just get the ball rolling with an initial go, and the pay attention to where the build-up occurs the most compared with where you get any tears or flappers the most.

Skin Balms and Salves

Climb-on (or equivalent) is fantastic for repairing skin overnight. Just apply it liberally over the tips of the skin and on any tears or rips you've acquired throughout the day's climbing. I've found it is best to do this just before I go to sleep to allow it to really soak into the skin, so I'm not doing other things that will wipe the material off.

Another sure bet for serious tears is to apply some Neosporin over the area and then a Band-Aid overnight. All the bacteria that was feasting on your cut will be destroyed and the healing process can occur all night long. Try not to wear the Band-Aid throughout the next day though, because you want oxygen to help with the healing during the day as much as possible. These method has (at the insistence of my nurse friend) helped me to much speedier recoveries from skin injuries, and got me back on the rock much faster.

Time and Rest

Another thing to stress on the heels of this advice is the time-honored method of, well, time. It heals all wounds and as hard as it may be to resist, taking an extra rest day to allow for the skin to heal up can work wonders.

So, if you can endure the jeering of your friends calling you a 'poofter' for giving yourself a loving manicure before a day's session, you'll have the last laugh as you continue climbing strong on solid skin while they whine about their bloody flappers and almost-sends. Good luck and good climbing!



At January 16, 2008 5:48 AM , Anonymous Amanda said...

Thanks for the advice on hand care. I've had a break for just two months and my hands are falling apart! Admittedly, I'm used to climbing fingery crimpers and am now working more on overhang. So, I'm really hitting some virgin skin and tearing 'em' up! Your advice on repair is great, but any ideas on prevention? Is there a way to toughen up the skin even before hitting the crag?

At April 15, 2008 6:32 PM , Anonymous Sue said...

Hi Amanda. My name is Sue and I am the owner of RUSH essentials. I specialize in hand care for climbers.

Actually there is something you can do but don't over due it.

Get some heavy salt and Silica gel (you can find cat litter made with Silica gel in some grocery stores)

MIx the 2 together about a 50/50 mix in a big bowl and just play in it like a kid playing in a sand box.

The Salt will draw out excess moisture between the layers of you skin, making it feel tighter. The Silica will simply trap the moisture. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes a day until you get the desired results.

If you are going to go this route I would recoment Hand jam oil. It will keep you newly toughened skin, flexible and it will prevent cracking and flappers.

Good Luck, I hope tis helps.


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