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!


Friday, October 5, 2007

How to Read a Climbing Route or Boulder Problem

Many times I watch a climber get on the wall, be it a boulder problem or a route, and storm up a few moves only to stop and begin poking forward with their nose, straining in one position trying to figure out where the hell to go next. Often this results in a sequence-botching, a wasted use of energy, and a defeated plummet to terra firma. Then they get right back on and do it again.

The best way to avoid this unnecessary expenditure of energy and to achieve success faster is to read the route from the ground. Here are some tips that you can use to make this happen:

1. Use your hands to pantomime a route sequence*. Literally climb the route from the ground imagining exactly how your hands will move, and to what holds they will go from move to move. Also determine where your feet will go. This is a form of visualization or imprinting, and even if you don't have a photographic memory, your body will recall the sequence a lot better than if you didn't try this method. *This is often called ghosting and will potentially subject you to much pointing, smirking, and oral abuse from your 'friends,' but it does work for many people.

2. Isolate the crux(s) of the climb. After you have pantomimed the route you should have a pretty good idea where the hard part will be. Knowing this will allow you to figure out when/if/where you need to rest for a moment prior to the sequence before launching yourself into it. In a restful position you should have your arms straight, and the weight on your feet as much as possible. Also, you should be able to release one arm at a time and shake out any built-up lactic acid (that 'pumped' feeling).

3. Many times on a route there will be rests that allow you to reset and regroup. As a result, it's not necessary to memorize every sequence from the bottom to the top. Instead, break the route into sections separated by rests. In lieu or a rest, any hold that is big enough to match hands will give you the opportunity to reset. It's much easier for your brain to compartmentalize a route into small chunks and recall them one at a time.

4. Many times a sequence is determined simply by which hand you lead with going into that sequence. To further simplify the process, you may only need to remember which hand to move off of a rest to begin the next sequence. This will free your mind to focus on climbing, and being present in the moment, rather than worrying about which hand goes next for every single move on the route.

5. Watch other climbers do the route first. For the non-purists that don't mind getting beta, this can be a great way to conserve energy. Simply sit back, let everyone else botch the sequence before it is solved, or even figure out the correct sequence, and the "what not to do's" by witnessing your buddies destroy themselves on a problem. You then casually step up and flash, pre-armed with knowledge of exactly how the problem goes. This will cause your pals to shake their heads at you, but it works.

Essentially reading and climbing a route is like reciting a poem in a foreign language. It is both an expression of your body, and a demonstration of your understanding and mastery of the techniques of climbing. As you progress, and different moves are programmed into your body, sequences come to you more naturally and climbing becomes an expression of the individual. Reading a route is the thinking part of climbing. The execution of it is the act.

There is never a right or a wrong way to climb rock. One brilliant aspect of rock climbing is the creative, inventiveness it allows. I remember a first trip to Smith Rock where the locals had memorized the beta to every single route. When visiting climbers roped up they would be subjected to a spray-down of epic proportions while the local climbers spewed every nuance of every move from the ground to the chains. It may have made sending quickly easier for some, but ultimately it took away from the experience of discovery and self-discover that comes from interacting with a new rock climb or boulder problem. The most important thing to remember when you begin climbing? This moment will only happen once. Enjoy it, be present, relax, and have fun. If you lose the love on the pursuit to the goal, then you really haven't achieved at all.

Now get out there and send!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Understanding Climbing Terminology

"Dude, just slap up to that sloper, nail the undercling with your left and highstep up to that jib. Then dyno like a rocket!!"

Like many other sports and disciplines, climbing is filled with language that no one else could hope to understand unless they were involved with it. For the new climber this can be confusing to say the least.

Here you'll learn any term you need to know to be able to hang with the best of them. Even more important is that just like understanding words in another language help you understand the culture that it represents, knowing what these strange words mean can help you become a better climber.

While this is a good start, it is by no means comprehensive. Contributions from the climbing community are welcomed, and will be included. Eventually each term will be given its own page with images and/or videos that are linked with a searchable database. Enjoy!

General Terms

  • Bouldering: This is a type of climbing that typically involves climbing with just shoes, chalk, a pad, and sometimes a friend or group. The climbing focuses on technique and power over endurance on smaller-sized boulders ranging from 5 feet to 25+ feet.
  • Sport Climbing: This type of climbing takes place on tall rock faces and involves climbing gear like waist harness, rope, belay device, quickdraws, locking carabiners, cordelette, shoes, and chalk.
  • Trad Climbing: Short for 'traditional climbing' this type of climbing takes place on tall rock faces and usually involves a fair amount of crack climbing. Gear includes waist harness, rope, belay device, belay gloves, hand tape, assorted gear for protecting a fall, locking carabiners, cordelette, shoes, and chalk.
  • Aid Climbing: This type of climbing involves scaling tall rock faces where ascents are achieved by placing gear on the wall such that it supports the weight of the climber. Gear includes waist harness, rope, belay device, belay gloves, hand tape, assorted gear for protecting a fall, locking carabiners, cordelette, shoes, and chalk.

Types of climbing holds and moves - hands

  • Flat edge: This is a lip of rock that is usually held best by flattening the fingers along it and pulling down, or in whatever direction the edge is facing for maximum friction.

  • Sidepull: This is a lip of rock that is held best in the opposite direction the edge is facing.

  • Undercling: This rock feature is held best by turning the palm and fingers up and cupping the undercling, pulling the body into the hold and engaging the bicep for stability.

  • Sloper: This is a rounded projection or bulge of rock that must be held by initiating as much surface friction of the hand as possible. Additionally, the rest of the arm must be tucked down under the sloper (or in the opposite direction that the hand is positioned) so as to make the hold as positive as possible.

  • Jug: This is a huge hold that signifies either a good spot to rest or the finish of a climb.

  • Crimp: This hold is typified by a small edge that usually can only fit a the pad of your fingertips or less. It is held by placing the pads of however many fingers will fit on it (from 1-4), bearing down so that the fingers are arched over the hold, and then wrapping the thumb over the first joint of the index finger. This creates a 'lock' that allows for an exponential increase in holding power over the crimp.

  • Gaston: This hold is a side-pulling type of hold that must be held in a position that is similar to opening an elevator door. The elbow is held at a right-angle from the body.

  • Throw: This move involves dynamically propelling the body in the direction of a hold. It differs from a dyno in that some points of contact are still maintained during the move.

Types of climbing holds and moves – feet

  • Edge: This is a lip of rock that is best used by placing the first inch or two of climbing show toe-rubber upon it and pushing down to generate friction.

  • Slab / Slabby: This type of foothold is rounded with no edges for generating easy friction. The climber must place the foot upon it and drop the heel down as low as possible to put as much of the sticky-rubber from the climbing shoe on its surface to generate as much friction as possible.

  • Smear: This is the act of pressing the foot against a smooth surface and relying on pressure and sticky rubber to keep the foot on.
  • Toehook: This is an edge of rock that faces away from the climber and can be used to place the top of the foot (from the toe to the top of the ankle) upon. It is engaged by pulling the leg into it to create a 'hook' that will keep the body from swinging out from the wall.

  • Bicycle: This is a foot placement using both feet. It typically involves a projection of rock or a sequence of two holds that allows for pushing down on one hold, and hooking up with another to create a lock with the feet that holds the climber onto the wall.

  • Knee scum: This can occur when a climber is unable to step high enough to a foothold, such that they place their knee upon the hold to take the weight of the climber for upward progress.

  • Heel hook: This is the act of placing the heel of the shoe on a flat edge or large incut. The weight of the climber is then supported by this hook.

  • Knee bar: This move is the act of engaging the foot and knee such that the knee is braced against another hold in tandem with the foot to create a lock that holds the climber onto the wall.

  • Jib / nubbin / frontpoint: These are the terms used for very small footholds that only engage the very front edge of the climbing shoe (1 inch or less).

Climbing Slang

  • Drive-by: This move usually involves some sort of horizontal and/or diagonal dynamic shift from one handhold to another.
  • Bomber: This is a term given to either A) a piece of climbing gear that is placed in a crack such that it provides excellent protection from a fall or B) a term given to a handhold or foothold that is huge and on really solid rock (unlikely to break off).
  • Choss / Chossy: This is a term that refers to a dirty rock face or climb that is usually unaesthetically appealing. "That route was a piece of choss. I thought every hold was gonna' break off in my hands!"
  • Screamer: This term refers to a long fall on a rope.
  • Beta: This term refers to information about a route.
  • Problem: This term is used to refer to a climbing route, usually in the context of bouldering. "Did you do that problem? I can't figure it out."
  • Chopped / Chipped: This term refers to a climbing route that has been subject to manipulation by human hands. It involves creating additional holds in the rock with the use of tools to hack hand or footholds into the rock. It is a controversial act and considered unscrupulous by many climbing communities.
  • Redpoint: This is a term for the ascent of a climb after having tried the climb at least once before. "I finally redpointed my hardest climb at the end of the season."
  • V-Grade: This is the prefix given specifically to bouldering grades. It originates from the nickname given to bouldering pioneer John Sherman. He was called 'The Verminator' by many, and as such his routes were given a 'V' grade followed by a number to indicate the difficulty.
  • Crank: This is a term that means to exert strength. "Set your foot and then crank up to that next hold."
  • Crater / Deck: This is a term for falling to the ground, usually (but not always) from a dangerous height.
  • Crux: This is a term given to the most difficult part of a climb. Some climbs can have multiple cruxes.
  • Deadpoint: This is a term for grabbing a hold at the apex of upward momentum.
  • Pumped: This is a term for when a climber's forearms are full of lactic acid from exertion and feel bloated and tight.
  • Typewriter: This is a horizontal movement achieved with a shifting of the hips and is associated with traversing type moves.
  • Beached Whale: This is a body position achieved when topping out a problem whereby the climber is unable to get their feet high enough such that they flop onto the top-out onto their belly. This is the source of much amusement for the climber and watchers alike.
  • Dab: This is the term for when a part of the body touches anything else other than the rock they are climbing on (the ground, another rock, a spotter, a tree, etc.). The significance is that the act of touching that other thing momentarily takes the weight of the climber and possibly preventing a fall.
  • Flash: This refers to completing a problem on the first try, usually with information about how to do the sequence (sighting, friend's advice, watching another climber complete it, etc.). It is usually associated with bouldering.
  • Onsight: This term refers to completing a climb on the first try with no previous knowledge of the sequences involved. It is usually associated with roped climbing.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Learning To Climb

Whether you are a beginner climber or a seasoned veteran climber, there is always more opportunity to improve. That's one of the brilliant and captivating aspects of climbing. It is such a basic instinct and yet it never ceases to evolve. Currently there are no notable online resources for those learning how to climb or for those interested in improving their existing technique or power. This is a gap that needs to be filled with a site that will become the 'go to' spot for up-and-coming climbers that want to learn more. This site will continually expand its knowledge base so that any question a climber has about any form of climbing can be answered. Our goal is to create a central point of knowledge and community for all types of climbers. We also strive to be the site where people who want to draw their friends and coworkers into the sport can point to as a great way to get into climbing.