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Climbing | Under the Sun Sports to get a Suntan

When someone talks about climbing there are so many variations to choose from, such as mountaineering, sport rock climbing, recreational climbing, canyoneering and ice climbing, to name just a few. Climbing is a sport that requires knowledge, proper equipment and preparation due to the danger aspects. This is not an activity one should just jump into and there are many ways to gather information, as well as, receive instruction. This is definitely for those who love to challenge themselves or someone who needs a self esteem boost. Start with wall climbing or bouldering and find your niche.

Mountaineering is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “the sport or technique of scaling mountains”. Encyclopedia Britannica says it is “the sport of attaining or attempting to attain high points in mountainous regions, mainly for the pleasure of the climb”. This form of climbing has an extensive recommended clothing list, such as, plastic climbing boots, overboots or supergaiters for high altitudes, hiking shoes for around base camp, heavy wool outer socks and lighter liner socks, climbing gloves, T-shirts, long underwear of a weight appropriate for the weather, fleece jackets, wool or fleece pants, a Primaloft parka for lower elevations and Gore-Tex for higher elevations. Sunglasses or goggles, sunscreen and UV protective clothing should be part of this preparation as well as, the necessary safety and climbing equipment. Most forms of climbing require special equipment like ropes or webbing in various forms, harness, specialized climbing shoes, carabiners, belaying devices and helmets. Mountaineering and ice climbing require additional equipment, such as, crampons, an ice pick, an ice axe and ice screws.

The American Alpine Club, the Colorado Mountain Club and National Geographic joined forces and in 1993 founded the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden, CO. It has the largest mountaineering library in the Western hemisphere and is the second largest in the world. It also has a 350 seat auditorium with multimedia capabilities, gift shop, meeting rooms, Climbing Wall, Conference Center, Interactive Learning Center and offices for staff and volunteers. It houses the American Alpine Club, as well as, offices for Outward Bound, Wilderness. In 1939 the Colorado Mountain Club started a school to educate people in the sport of mountaineering, which continues today along with so much more.

Ice climbing can be either separate or a part of mountaineering. In order to make it safer and more accessible to many people, indoor facilities have been created with the Ouray Ice Park being the premier center. This park was formed in mile-long Uncompagre Gorge by creating a water piping system to spray the surrounding cliffs and rocks to create ice for climbing. Originally created by a volunteer force with the blessings of the landowner, it soon became so popular that Ouray Ice Park, Inc. was formed in 1997. The 15th Annual Ice Festival and Climbing Competition will be held January 7-10, 2010 drawing ice climbers, equipment manufacturers and spectators from far and wide.

Canyoning or canyoneering (the term used depends on where you are in the world) is the climbing sport that involves exploring canyons either by walking, rappelling, swimming or climbing. This tends to occur in warmer areas and though you may be in shade part of the time the sun is a factor to be considered when preparing your gear. Besides the proper climbing or swimming gear, you should pack the proper tanning lotion or sunscreen for your skin type and the activity (waterproof or not), sunglasses or goggles, brimmed sun hat and again based on your skin type, UV protective clothing.

Sport rock climbing and recreational climbing are interchangeable terms and there is little difference between the two. The primary difference is that sport rock climbing is an outdoor activity while recreational climbing is an indoor activity. Both types require use of ropes or being roped and all the apparatus related to rope use, climbing shoes, climbing gloves to aid in rope work and helmets.

An important association in international sports is SportAccord, the newly renamed GAISF/AGFIS, which is a federation of sport organizations from all over the world. This organization’s purpose is explained thus: “SportAccord’s role consists in recognizing, assisting and representing the IFs in realms of common interest within the Olympic and Sports Movement as well as governmental and non-governmental bodies”. It has 104 member organizations representing a variety of sports with mountaineering being represented by the UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations D’Alpinisme and Sport Climbing by the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing).

The Global Rescue Service is to climbing, hiking, skiing and mountain biking what the AAA is to driving. They offer up to $5,000 of coverage for rescue and evacuation to the nearest medical facility due to injury or illness that occurs after you have moved beyond the start of a trail and there is no elevation limitation. It does not cover medical bills in the medical facility only the search, rescue and evacuation from the site of the illness or accident.

Mountaineering and some other forms of climbing involve mountains and mountains are much closer to the sun so….besides being concerned about sun reflection you must be aware of the increased exposure concern at higher elevations. With altitude comes a thinning of the atmosphere so the stronger rays of the sun are not blocked to the extent they are at lower elevations. Then there is the probability of snow and ice which reflects 80% of the sun’s rays making for a “double whammy” chance of sun damage. Therefore tanning lotion or sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles and protection for your lips should be on your packing list. Think about your lips, they have very thin skin and very little melanin so they must be well protected from the sun, wind and cold. Without proper preparation your skin is open for sunburn, accelerated aging from sun exposure and your eyes are susceptible to sun or snow blindness.

Want to build your own climbing wall in your backyard? Check for the holds and climbing wall accessories produced by Metolius. They are also a manufacturer of training equipment, as well as, every type of climbing equipment you might need.

There is so much to climbing and if as a child you found climbing anything and everything your “thing”; then look deeper into this sport. There is a large variety of climbing types to choose from and styles to consider. Expense and time are two factors to be considered when investigating your options but bouldering or wall climbing are good inexpensive places to start.

Bouldering may be viewed as the introduction to rock climbing because it is inexpensive and does not require the skill that other forms of climbing require. As a child you may have enjoyed scrambling over big rocks and now find you enjoy the challenge of large boulders. Most boulders climbed are 15’ or less, this having been said it is still dangerous and you would be wise to gain instruction before attempting any climb. This is a minimalist type sport, in the activity itself and the gear required. Places to climb besides boulders are everywhere, bridge trestles, caves or even landscaped areas. The whole point is assessing a problem and solving it. The problem just happens to involve finding a climbing route up a specific target. All you need gear wise are climbing shoes, a chalk bag with chalk, and, if you choose, a crash pad made specifically for bouldering. Bouldering can be called the training ground but it does not make it any less dangerous. You are climbing over boulders that have dropped off cliffs or were left by glaciers that moved through a very long time ago. Many of us cannot envision the size of some of the boulders that exist and challenge these hardy souls to climb them. Occasionally, experienced climbers may choose to go bouldering in order to tweak their skills. Boulderers seldom use rope but it is nice to have it available if the situation arises where it is needed. There are two preferred systems for grading boulder climbs, the Yosemite Decimal System and the Sherman V-Scale.

Bouldering can be done in sneakers but actual climbing shoes will make a noticeable difference. These activity specific shoes are made of leather and rubber which maximize friction against the rock. They begin around $40 and go up from there. Downturned, full heel, slingshot, toe hooking and full toe are terms for types of shoes and each one has a certain advantage to a boulderer. Smooth sticky rubber soles are a definite advantage when climbing. They come in lace up, Velcro or slip-on styles and you should make sure they are snug but not too tight. When you shop for the shoes make sure the shop has a wall where you can try out different shoes. Don’t go by your normal shoe size if buying them online, as there is often a 2 size difference. Remember leather can stretch over time and requires some special attention. Now remember you are purchasing the shoes to climb in so if they are comfortable to walk in you may need to rethink your choice.

Chalk is a controversial addition to your bouldering gear based on where you climb and what type you use. Some boulderers consider the use of it “cheating” but more than that the damage chalk does to the boulder is to be considered. Chalk is a help for sweaty hands but can damage the boulder and, in certain situations, can cause hand holds to become slippery. One company has created a set of brushes to be used to clear handholds and all profits go to Access Fund Boulder Project. Magnesium carbonate is one type of chalk used by climbers or you can easily purchase gymnastic chalk at sport stores. Some companies formulate chalk specifically for climbers. Colored chalk is becoming more prevalent because regular chalk is considered unsightly on the boulders. Now a container for said chalk is also an important purchase. Nylon is the fabric of choice and it must be constructed so you can get your hand in and out easily, no fumbling.

Crash pads are used to cushion falls, saving climbers from sprains and breaks that were common before. Crash pads consist of a nylon/polyester cover over foam and from 3’x4’ to 4’x6’. They range in weight from 6lbs to 20lbs and include handles and even shoulder straps for carrying. Land managers are less enthusiastic about them because of damage to vegetation and the compacting of earth around the boulders.

As an outdoor sport consideration must be given to sun exposure. A good organic sunscreen or tanning lotion should first come to mind. Perhaps a spray sunscreen or spray tanning oil is best to avoid getting product on your hands. When at higher altitudes remember you are more prone to intense rays from the sun. A good broad brimmed sun hat, sunglasses and plenty of fluids will help make this a more pleasant experience.

Some of the competitions in the sport of Bouldering are governed by USA Climbing under the title American Bouldering Series. In September the 11th season of competitions began with the National Championship occurring in Alexandria, VA in February of 2010. Sport and Speed Climbing are also part of this group under the Sport Climbing Series and the Collegiate Climbing Series is also under this organization. The Mammut Bouldering Championships are sponsored by Mammut USA, a top producer of climbing equipment and clothing, as well as other companies that provide products to the climbing public.

The Access Fund Boulder Project, mentioned earlier, exists to purchase lands to maintain them for climbers and provide legal and legislative help to promote the sport of climbing. To date they have helped acquire and preserve over 6,500 acres of land for the sport of climbing.

-Miss Suntan

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