Why Do People Climb? Is Rock Climbing Dangerous?
To those who have never rock climbed before, climbers must appear like suicidal thrill seekers. Hanging above stomach lurching drops that make most people squirm, surely there must be something wrong with people who climb?
WHY DO PEOPLE CLIMB?
I’m scared. And I scare easily. The exposure of hanging above the ground, attached to ropes and gear is not something I easily get used to. But I love climbing, and wouldn’t stop it for anything in the world.
So why did I get into rock climbing?
Was it the rush?
None of the above actually!
Like most climbers, we are drawn to the challenge and the rewards of climbing. But everyone has different reasons. For some, it's just about being outside. For others, they want to keep fit.
Climbing can fight depression, increase motivation, and help deal with problems and challenges in life.
And like anything challenging, the rewards of completing a climb fuel a satisfaction in oneself unlike any other.
SO WHAT IS THE APPEAL OF CLIMBING?
► Climbing Requires Focus, Determination, Self Control, Strength and Endurance
These are valuable skills not only in climbing, but other activities as well. Climbers can often look at problems or challenges in life with new perspectives. It increases motivation and with failing so often on hard climbs before succeeding, it's the embodiment of the saying “never give up”. Climbing will develop these qualities and hone them to perfection.
► Boosts Confidence
The act of trying hard routes and accomplishing climbing feats gives people more confidence and improves self esteem. Often, other things in life seem easier after getting into climbing.
► The Experience
This is probably the biggest driver for climbing outdoors. The whole experience, from being in amongst nature, to forming unique bonds with your fellow climbers, is just incredible. You get to see the world from literally new perspectives and tread in areas few get to go. This makes most climbers very protective of the environment. After all, no one wants to see the places they love disappear to pollution, mining or other negative human imposed circumstances.
► Unlimited Challenges
With so much rock around the world that hasn’t been touched, there is a never ending amount of climbing that can be done. Does it get boring? Not at all! Not only can you always climb harder routes, but there are also many different styles of climbing to indulge in. Rock climbing itself can vary considerably just in the rock type alone, let alone trying to climb Ice or snow in alpine pursuits for the adventurous.
► Take Responsibility
Climbing helps people understand risk and responsibility again. In this day and age of being able to sue for everything, lots of fences, barriers and signs, climbing puts responsibility back onto the individual.
IS CLIMBING SAFE?
This is THE question that gets asked all the time.
Is it safe?
Can you hurt yourself?
Will you die?
Before I started climbing, I did think that the people that did were insane! But then I learnt about actual risk and perceived risk.
By managing the variables that are dangerous, we can mitigate the risk.
But isn’t life all about eliminating risks?
No, it isn’t.
As the old saying goes;
A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for!
Once you learn the safety procedures, gain experience in the outdoor environment, you will find rock climbing as safe, if not safer, than many other sports.
To put it in perspective, we can look at the serious injury and death rate per 100,000 participants of a sport. Using data from the state of Victoria in Australia, we find the following:
Motor sports- 113
Water skiing & power boating- 31.5
Horse riding- 9
Rock climbing- 6.6
As you can see, our fears are unfounded. Remember, actual risk VS perceived risk.
What about gear failing and ropes snapping?
The gear is made to well above average safety standards. So a rope ‘breaking’ or bolts popping off the wall like portrayed in some Hollywood movies, does not happen. Gear failure is so rare, it's almost nonexistent. And when gear failure does occur, human error lead to it such as improper use of the gear or it was very poorly maintained.
The key thing to managing safety is to get proper instruction, think about what you are doing, and to be honest about the terrain and weather. And most importantly, be honest to yourself about your abilities and limits.
A great book to read is Warrick Cairns “How to live dangerously. The Hazards of Helmets, the Benefits of Bacteria, and the Risks of Living Too Safe”.
It is an awesome book that really puts things into perspective, and is a ‘must read’ for everyone in my opinion. Climbing gets a very brief mention, but mostly, it deals with our inability to judge what is actually dangerous and what is not. Human bias is a funny thing, much like the book I might add!
CAN ANYONE CLIMB?
The great thing about rock climbing is ANYONE can do it! All ages, all sizes, all genders. Climbing is a great way to stay fit, but you don’t have to be fit to start.
Do I need strong upper body and arms? No!
With proper technique, you can actually climb quite well without being able to do a pull up! In fact, females often tend to display better climbing technique than men!
And it’s starting to show with climbing one of the few sports approaching a 50/50 gender division of both recreational and professional climbers.
So when it comes to fitness, having upper body strength is not as important as forming good technique and footwork. You will get ‘climb fit’ in time, so the best time to start is right now!
HOW DO YOU START CLIMBING?
Your first step should be to head to your local club or indoor climbing gym. Indoor climbing can be less intimidating than climbing outdoors, but generally most climbers prefer being outdoors for the good views and fresh air.
However, indoor climbing has a great social aspect to it, and you will often find fellow climbing partners quicker than by other means.
Going to an established rock climbing club is a great way to meet other experienced climbers as well as other beginners. Simply search Google with ‘rock climbing clubs’ for more information on local clubs and groups around you.
Finding other people can be the hardest step in starting. But go to one of the above options and you will be bound to find some help.
For more resources to get started, including gear, techniques and guides, try the following websites:
As you begin your climbing journey, remember, the learning never stops. Never stop progressing in your safety skills and climbing experience.
Oh, and as to answer the question as to why I climb?
Because it makes me feel like this!