I have a confession to make…I may be addicted to sport climbing.
First of all, what exactly is sport climbing?
Sport climbing is a discipline of rock climbing and means that a climb is protected with permanently installed bolts that a climber clips a quickdraw and the rope into for fall protection as she climbs up a cliff. It’s exactly the kind of climbing you would find in an indoor climbing gym, except these sport climbs are outside on a cliff or “crag”. The movement is gymnastic and when you find your flow, sport climbing can be down right addicting.
“I just want to give it one more try”, I said desperately and looked down at my swollen, pumped forearms. No matter that we had run out of time and that my veins were jammed with lactic acid. I was not troubled so much by being humbled on a sport climb that I had sent last year, but by the style in which I was climbing. I truly wanted to be back in the zone, where mind and body work together seamlessly to move gracefully through sequences. Sport climbing allows you to do this. If I did not push myself to reach that state during a day of sport climbing, then I had wasted a precious opportunity. It was as if there was one voice in my head that would say I was not good enough and another that said I could do anything if I put my mind to it. The question was, which voice would rule that day. A rock warrior would say these voices are judgment statements that I should let go of.
Setting the emotional aspect of sport climbing aside, the quickest way to improve our movement skills is to consistently test them in a variety of situations. Otherwise your body adapts to familiarity quickly and then plateaus. In the long term, your climbing will improve most when you are exposed to the different movement styles that are required on different different kinds of rock – sandstone, limestone and cobbles.
For example, we have a secret area near my home in Utah that is face climbing on vertical sandstone. Many of the moves require you to reach high with both hands, run your feet up vertical, smooth rock until you can turn one hand into a mantel. The other hand searches for a layback hold so you can bring a foot up onto the ledge and pull your weight over it.
Manteling, however, does not work so well on overhanging limestone. Limestone tends to either have solution pockets or be blocky with sharp edges like the kinds you find in Rifle, CO. Often times you have to move your body into a position so you are pulling and pushing together creating an opposition force so you stick and can stay on. If your body isn’t using the holds in a positive direction of pull, no amount of strength will keep you from skating right off the wall.
Have any of you tried cobblestone sport climbing like at Maple Canyon, UT? These holds tend to be more open-grip slopers and can range in size from a golf ball to a watermelon. Most people are used to crimpers and the thought of grasping rounded cobbles the size of a tennis-ball just sounds insecure. I try to remember not to rush the moves and that subtle shifts in balance will make the tennis ball feel good enough if I stay focused and trust.
Just thinking about it all makes me want to shut down the computer, grab my rope and draws and a climbing partner and “give ‘er”. Ah, so much fun to be had and so little time.