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Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition

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Life On The Rocks

Posted December 11, 2012 12:22 PM by Chelsey H

No, this post isn't about drinking (although 'Tis the season for an alcohol-related entry). This post is about rock climbing. I've been climbing for about a year and I love it! As someone who has never had upper body strength I was pleasantly surprised by the speed in which I was able to learn and develop the necessary muscles.

Yours truly climbing in New Hampshire.

What I noticed at the rock gym is that there are a high number of not only fellow RPI alum/students, but other engineers and scientists. After a little research and personal observation, it's easy to see why.

Rock climbing is a problem solving sport. Every climb has a set of problems that needs to be solved using the physics of your body, the rock, and the equipment. There may be hundreds of ways to get to the next hold but only one or two ways that you can physically do, based on strength, height, and flexibility. Every move is about getting to that next hold.

Image Credit: The Edge Halfmoon

But inevitably you will fall, and that's when the equipment you work with is critical. The science and physics of climbing and falling has been studied to ensure the harnesses, ropes, belays, and hooks are strong enough to catch a falling climbing. Fall factor is the ratio of distance fallen divided by the length of rope available to absorb the fall. This is used to determine how much force is place on the rope and accompanying gear. Most climbers don't generate a large fall factor.

However, on multi-pitch climbs there is a potential for a climber to fall before they can place the gear into the rock, causing them to fall past their belayer (partner giving and taking rope); this would be a fall factor of 2. This type of fall can produce tremendous amounts of force and cause the most damage, even if the distance is relatively small. The climbing rope is designed to break a little bit every time the climber takes a fall. Climbing rope is light, flexible, and can withstand the abuse of outdoor environments (sun, rain, freezing temperatures, mud, etc.) but it's important that the rope remains dynamic so it can absorb the energy of the fall. Today's equipment is becoming increasingly lighter with new metal alloys.

In general, elite climbers are characterized as being small in stature, with low percentage body fat and body mass. (But I know awesome climbers of all shapes and sizes!) Muscular strength and endurance in rock climbers is typically measured in their forearms, hands, and fingers via dynamometry (the measurement of energy used in doing work).

Rock climbers possess (read: gain) certain traits that help them overcome gravity, fatigue, and imbalance during climbing. These traits include "energy expenditure, isometric muscular contractions", muscular strength and capacity, as well as balance. Isometric contractions are defined as muscle contraction without movement at the joint, which--when repeated--cause fatigue due to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscle. The climber must constantly maintain muscle control of the abdominals, pectorals, quadriceps, obloquies, biceps, as well as the other 600 skeletal muscles. The balance needed is much like the isometric muscle contraction because it requires slow movement, which can replicate an almost stationary joint. These movements almost double the rate of fatigue because the whole body must perform, not just one muscular area.

Image Credit: Zionmountainschool

One of the many reasons I like climbing so much is that it is very task-orientated.

It's just as important that your mind is on the climb so you don't waste energy or (as I always do) psych yourself out. The engineer in me is always thinking about my next move and it's easy to see why this sport would appeal to engineers, scientists, and physicists.

Plus you get amazing views from the top, like this!

Rock climbing is a great sport that the whole family can enjoy. Go check out an indoor rock gym this winter and you'll be ready for outdoor climbing by spring!

All photos personal unless otherwise noted.


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Re: Life On The Rocks

12/12/2012 9:04 AM

Rock climbing is great exercise, challenging physically and mentally.

If you want a great story about climbing adventure, google a story about Malcom Daly and Jim Donini climbing Thunder Mountain in Alaska.

It's a great story of planning, preparation, adversity, mental toughness and rescue.

Malcolm Daly's fall on the Thunder Mountain climb.

Mt. Wake\ weather -- storm\ route -- new\ avalanche -- danger\ rappel -- wall\ rock -- poor quality\ Alaska Range\ situations -- dangerous\ Daly, Malcolm\ ice route -- new\ Thunder Mountain\ Mt. Hunter\ ice climbing\ pitch -- overhanging\ snow climbing\ anchor -- pulled\ climbing -- leading\ Daly, Malcolm -- fall\ thigh -- cramponed\ injuries\ legs -- broken\ fall -- survived\ rappel\ down climb\ glacier -- remote\ Roderick, Paul\ Talkeetna Air Taxi\ Ranger Station\ injuries -- treatment\ rescue -- technical\ helicopter\ frostbite -- feet\ injuries -- recovery

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do. Ford, Henry
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Re: Life On The Rocks

12/12/2012 12:50 PM

...'nuff said.

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Re: Life On The Rocks

12/14/2012 8:15 AM

And where, young lady, is your helmet?

Steve of the North...since 1962.

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Re: Life On The Rocks

12/14/2012 8:34 AM

Admittedly, it's on the guy belaying me so I don't knock down any rocks on his head. I guess they weren't so worried about mine

It soo much fun and there is quite a sense of accomplishment when you climb a real rock!

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
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