Climb On!

By Lisa Katayama

I want to entertain an offhand theory that I've had ever since I became obsessed with indoor rock climbing two and a half years ago: It's great for geeks, and we should all be doing it.

The concept is simple: you tie into a rope that hangs from the top of a wall and climb that wall according to color-coded fake rocks that are bolted into it. Within this simplicity lie some great life lessons that you can experience all while having an amazingly fun time: conquer your fears, solve puzzles, stay fit.

1. Conquer your fears: A lot of people are scared of heights. Most of us are scared of falling. None of us want to die. When you climb, you have to push these fears out of your head. It takes focus to be 40 feet high and pulling up on two fingers or balancing on your toes while trying to get higher up the wall; you have to use that focus to breathe through the climb and push past your fears.

2. Solve puzzles: There's a huge problem solving factor to climbing; it's like a giant physical algorithm or brain teaser that you solve by knowing how to use your body as your mathematical tool. "Climbing is like solving a giant dynamic first-person 3D puzzle," says Tantek Çelik, author of HTML5 Now: A Step-by-Step Video Tutorial for Getting Started Today and a competitive climber himself. "Your body is a flexible puzzle piece and the wall is a puzzle. You have to figure out how to fit your body into the wall, how to twist, turn, stretch, grab, hang, push to climb up the wall hold by hold. It takes spatial reasoning, body self-awareness, balance, and fine motor-control."

When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. I also played a lot of Tetris. The two were always separate. Climbing feels like playing Tetris with my body. In other words, it's like being inside a video game. Kind of.

Some of the most badass rock climbers in the world are total geeks at heart. Matt Wilder, the guy in the photos, is a professional sponsored rock climber and the author of the most up-to-date guide book on bouldering in Yosemite. He's also a speed cubing geek who is currently doing a double degree in computer science and applied math. When he was in his early 20s, Wilder spent two summers hanging out at San Francisco's Pier 39, next to the silver Statue of Liberty guy, speed-cubing for tips. On a good day, he made $25 an hour; he saved up the cash and spent the rest of the year climbing in Yosemite or Tahoe. "Cubing is a good mix of dexterity, problem solving, and rapid thinking. In that way, it's a lot like climbing."

Image: Jason Kehl

Science has yet to prove the relationship between climbing and Tetris or the Rubik's Cube, but Berkeley neuroscientist Jack Gallant says there's a chance they could be linked. "Both rock climbing and cube solving require some form of spatial reasoning, so it isn't out of the question that they share some common neural substrates in the brain. The extent to which these tasks use overlapping versus distinct processing mechanisms simply isn't known at this point."

3. Stay fit: Climbing is a lot less strenuous than running on a treadmill or doing bicep curls. You never lift more than your own weight, and since you're using all your muscles at once, your body becomes strong and evenly toned. Depending on the route, it can be a total balancing act, a cardio-heavy endurance challenge, or a series of pull ups. Yoga is a great complement to climbing; I try to do one or the other at least every other day to keep my core strong, my breathing steady, and my strength and balance intact.

The trend is clear: geeks are climbing. Every other person I meet at my gym is a software engineer. At SXSW and at other tech events across the country, conference-goers gather together for Geeks Love Climbing, a regular indoor rock climbing outing that Çelik helped found a couple of years ago. "A climbing problem pushes all other thoughts and feelings out of your head," he says. "This is very similar to a tough programming problem." Çelik would know — he is, after all, one of the guys who led the creation of IE5 for Mac.

You don't need to be a natural athlete to be a good climber. You do need to be persistent, obsessive, and determined to solve problems. If you like programming, Tetris, or Rubik's Cube, there's a good chance you'll become as much of a climbing junkie as I am.

Here's what you'll need to start indoor rock climbing

1. Climbing shoes: Try La Sportiva's Katanas or a pair of custom-designed Evolvs for comfort, style, and performance.

2. A harness: I use the Black Diamond Lotus harness, it has lots of gear loops and fits swimmingly.

3. A belay lesson. You'll need to know how to tie a couple of basic knots and learn some safety measures. A seasoned friend could teach you in half an hour, or you could take a class at your local gym.

66 Responses to “Climb On!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I guess I’m what you in the gym would call a “trad.” I’ve never climbed in a gym although I knew the guys who invented the moulded “colorful” holds that made it possible.

    Climbing has always been a sport of geeks and dropouts. This was true in the early days of American rock climbing and it’s been true all the way along its colorful history.

    Read any history book on climbing in Yosemite Valley and you’ll see, dropout Berkeley physicists and American lit geeks team up with surfer dudes and car mechanics to “hang out” on El Cap.

    I climbed (outside) in the mid to late ’70s, early ’80s and was most certainly a geek then (as I am now). Lived in my VW bus for the summer, spent lots of slow time on walls (El Cap included), and hunting around for new places to climb but mostly hang with my friends outside of “civilized” life.

    We spend so much time hunched in front of computers these days that I think climbing and/or hiking is a great antidote.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m so confused, is this a new layout??

  3. Anonymous says:

    You most likely also get smarter as a result of climbing.

    There’s been a series of reports now showing how balance-related excersizes (like cycling) actually cause your brain to start producing neurons.

    Me, although I don’t climb a lot right now, I like how the body must coordinate movements and balance pretty much across arms, legs, back and chest: It makes your body far more aware of itself…this may also accelerate fitness in ways that haven’t yet been quantified.

  4. arikol says:

    And for those who don’t want ropes and harnesses and belaying stuff then the rock climbing sport of Bouldering is also brilliant.

    Low walls (up to around 5 meters/15 feet) and a special mat underneath. In indoor bouldering gyms you’ll usually have really thick and big mats covering the whole floor.

    As wonderful as sport climbing (with a harness and rope) is, bouldering lets you focus on only your body and the moves you need to perform. No thinking about equipment, gear placement or whether your belayer is reading a magazine ;)

  5. richardmonette says:

    One caveat for geeks: you might want to watch out for rock climbing as it can be hard on your hands and forearm muscles, especially when you are getting started. I have found, even with proper technique and stretching, that the same muscles in your forearms that are required for fine motor skills (read: typing in code on a keyboard) can be strained by rock climbing. While I definitely enjoy climbing and generally agree with the author, if you need your forearm muscles really limber it might make sense to look at a lower impact sport such as swimming (which confers similar benefits without the strain).

    • Breakbot says:

      And this is the reason I can never get into climbing. I need my fine motor skills in my hands way too much for making art. Its too bad, because it really does look fun.

      • Anonymous says:

        Total crock. Other than temporary soreness immediately afterwards when your in your first month of climbing your art ‘career’ is safe.

  6. cjp says:

    Lisa,thank you for this article. The hubby and I have been geeks since grade 6 and we started climbing about ten years ago. It’s one of the few sports where after four hours of extreme exertion, you look down at your watch and say ‘Ah, is it time to go already?’

    One note, though. It takes more than shoes, harness and a belay course to climb outside. Check with the local chapter of the alpine club for courses or guides before you head to a crag.

  7. elro says:

    But then you start climbing trad multipitch outdoors and the indoor climbing walls lose their former appeal… Sigh.

    • cjp says:

      I see indoor/outdoor as being entirely different spots. Climbing in the gym is an opportunity to work on speed, endurance and technique – rather like doing interval training on a treadmill. It gives you a chance to forget about the ramifications of a bad move and just climb fearlessly. No pokey rocks, no nasty bruises.

      Bouldering is another sport yet again. More demanding, IMO, since you’re usually upside down and a terrific arena for more competitive types.

      I love the gym, but nothing beats Squamish granite. Indoor climbing is physical, outdoor climbing is spiritual epiphany.

      • arikol says:

        agree with cjp

        But I will add that I feel that indoor bouldering can give that same incredible internal focus if you allow it.

        Outdoor climbing is always best, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh so true! I would say you aren’t really learning about fear and controlling it until you start clipping bolts and pro outside on the sharp end! You may think you are, but you aren’t. Gyms are built to make people feel safe and ease people into the game in a controlled environment. Outside is a whole different animal.

      • bmcraec says:

        Like, knowing what a well-set piton should sound like on the last strike, or evaluating whether the chock placement you are about to do a heinous run-out from will REALLY hold if you pendulum. Yep, couldn’t agree more about the gym scenario. If you’ve never thumped in your own bolts by hand, then trusted them to save your life, you’re not really taking your own life in your hands.

        Anybody remember the story from many years ago of Lynn Hill, at some climbing competition in the south-west States? She flashed some ridiculous 10.13 pitch, rang the bell, then said “lower” and let go. She wasn’t tied in to her harness. Stupid fool had forgot to check her tie-in knot. She didn’t die, or even get badly hurt.

        To my way of thinking, that’s not a climber. That’s an idiot savant.

        • Anonymous says:

          Anyone who calls Lynn Hill not a climber needs to get their head checked. You do know the sort of trad routes she has put up? And I’d call that a dumb mistake she was lucky to survive.

  8. scissorfighter says:

    cjp is on the mark. Indoor wall climbing is a very different sport from outdoor rock climbing. They share some of the same equipment, but beyond that they’re really not much alike. Of course they are very complimentary, in that it’s nice to be able to hit the gym in a pouring rain! Kinda like rock climbing vs. ice climbing… same tools, completely different game. If you don’t like indoor walls, try outside, and vice-versa.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I started indoor rock climbing when this opened locally(Leeds, UK) to me:

    It’s a Bouldering centre, so they don’t do ropes or go as high as some of the other indoor walls. Just take a look at the photos to see the range of problems available.

    I’ve found it great exercise – something I didn’t do enough of! – So far i’ve lost 10kgs – and had my new ‘Guns’ admired! – Its been suggested I now need a tattoo!

    Still can’t solve the Rubik’s Cube though…

  10. Anonymous says:

    I started indoor rock climbing when this opened locally(Leeds, UK) to me:

    It’s a Bouldering centre, so they don’t do ropes or go as high as some of the other indoor walls. Just take a look at the photos to see the range of problems available.

    I’ve found it great exercise – something I didn’t do enough of! – So far i’ve lost 10kgs – and had my new ‘Guns’ admired! – Its been suggested I now need a tattoo!

    Still can’t solve the Rubik’s Cube though…

  11. bytefyre says:

    I’ve always found the indoor rocks to be too small, I’ve climbed actual rocks once before (during the grade 8 trip to “Camp Kandalore”, were we went, for some utterly inexplicable reason as an alternative to going to MONTREAL). I find it preferable to climbing fake rocks.

  12. z7q2 says:

    There was a period during our high school years when my friends and I became obsessed with climbing radio towers.

    It started with a small independent AM station tower that was in the middle of a field behind one of our houses. The door in the fence around the tower was unlocked, so we just went in and started climbing. It seemed like a fairly safe thing to do, you just get inside the tower and climb up until it gets to narrow to continue, and then relax and enjoy the view for awhile.

    From there we graduated to larger and larger towers, always at night because we realized how conspicuous we must have looked being inside the towers in the daytime. We probably climbed half a dozen towers, and never got caught.

    I would not recommend this practice to anyone! It is very dangerous and you can probably get zapped by the equipment, or fall to your death, or at the very least get arrested for tresspassing.

    But it sure was fun :)

  13. Anonymous says:

    The best exercise for anyone is whatever exercise that person finds enjoyable enough to keep doing!

    I’ve been making it a point to try something new every six months or so. Some activities don’t really interest me and I give them up relatively quickly, but I’ve been amazed a couple of times to discover that I really loved an activity (e.g. running and yoga) that I didn’t expect to like.

    The posting has inspired me- I’ll try climbing next.

  14. rimstalker says:

    I think I qualify as a geek, and my main climbing partner works for the Frauenhofer Institute (the guys who invented MP3).

    Been climbing seriously for half a year (on and off before that), and now where I have built up some stamina and strength, my elbows can’t handle the strain.

    Living half an hour’s drive from one of (if not THE) the world’s best climbing areas helps, of course. Talking about the Frankenjura.

  15. Ito Kagehisa says:

    Climbing walls and similar “tame” climbs are fun (and great exercise) but not as exciting as climbing buildings. Something about not knowing if it’s really even possible when you start…

  16. Fontosaurus says:

    Completely concur. I originally learned to climb while in the army, stationed in Korea. I was really into it from 2002 to 2006, but I’ve kinda slipped backwards since my climbing partner and I divorced (marriage divorced, not climbing divorced). I’d like to get back into it at some point, but it’ll be awhile.

    • flowerofhighrank says:

      C’mon, man, get climbing! I’ve let it slip as well for a lot of reasons: partner fell in love and joined the Tea Party, I got fat and married. I really feel something’s missing in my life now. I’m going climbing this week. I don’t know how or with who, but I’m going. I hope you will too.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article!

    In addition to the climbing being a puzzle as you describe, the geek in me gets an immense amount of joy from the ropework involved in outdoor multipitch trad climbing. It’s kind of like legos for big kids. You take simple things like rope, carabiners and pulleys, and build complex dynamic systems. Except your life depends on them. Not often does one get a truer test of one’s engineering skills!

  18. Anonymous says:

    If you’re into climbing, want to do it outdoors, but don’t like the cumbersome equipment and you have a rocky coast within radius (yes, I know it’s a lot of and’s), you can try also deep water soloing[1]: climbing rocks just on top of the water.

    If you feel you can’t make the step while climbing outdoors, you can always ask whoever is securing you to hold you. In DWS you just let go and fall into the waters below you. I myself am doing the three (indoor and outdoor climbing and DWS) and find the latter more challenging, because when you fail you have to start to climb all over again, just like failing a level in most video games. Because of the same reason, I push myself harder. Also, is less frustrating when you fail: you get a fun drop to the waters!


  19. AdrianJMartin says:

    only geeks could turn this into a ST vs Amiga war…

  20. Anonymous says:

    I started indoor climbing about three years ago. Sadly I live in a very flat part of the world so I don’t get much opportunity to tackle real climbs. Oh, and I’m a sys admin and my climbing buddy is also an IT professional – I guess this supports your hypothesis.

  21. Anonymous says:

    That’s not a theory, it’s a suggestion.

  22. ToddBradley says:

    I live near Boulder, Colorado, where you can’t turn around without running into a rock climber or a distance runner. So I’ve got quite a few friends who are climbers. And nearly all of them are geeks – a satellite designer, a computer programmer, a biologist, another computer programmer, etc. So the geek/climbing connection predates the author’s jenny-come-lately obsession. Also, they are all outdoor climbers, who would only climb in a gym if forced to. Lisa, maybe you need to move somewhere that has good canyons, cliffs, and mountains.

  23. Kilteddad says:

    I think this is confirmation bias. We’re likely all self-identifying ‘geek’ here. I am a geek (software Program Manager), though I was a climber first. Indoor climbing only increases this bias, (gyms have fees, which require money, etc). All of my climbing friends are geeks, though, so are nearly all of my non-climbing friends.

  24. Anonymous says:

    My mother was a (rare female) physicist and rock climber in the fifties, and she once taught Bill Shockley to climb. He had invented the transistor and had a Nobel prize in Physics, but evidently hadn’t yet realized how to apply force-vectors to static friction on a sloped surface…he had a lot to learn about climbing.

  25. Fex says:

    Thanks for posting this, Lisa. Always good to see moar climbing posts!

    Reading about it makes me want to get out and boulder more often. One of the best things about climbing outside of regular gyms (either outside or in certain indoor spaces) is how many interesting and fun people you meet – I think creative geeks would sum them up well.

    That, combined with the camaraderie and general friendliness of most climbers I’ve met, makes it far more fun than hauling yourself up a rock or wall for no reason has any right to be.

    And from time to time, we’d be joined by Ashima-chan – the 8 year old who climbs better than you (for almost all values of ‘you’):

    • Anonymous says:

      Fex, I see this girl at the gym (BKB) almost everyweek and man, she is amazing, seen her pull off some really hard bouldering problems with such ease. She has got such fine technique and movement, great to watch and learn.

  26. MrJM says:

    Interesting, but, in the interests of busting stereotypes, I’ll just keep on punching the heavy-bag.

  27. Seb742 says:

    I take my hat off to anyone that has a head for heights like that. In 1966 I climbed Mt. Kilimajaro, there were four of us all 13 years old. That’s just a major hike, hanging off a cliff face is something I could never do. Too wimpy. For a great description of climbing something completely shear I recommend the book Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The part where he climbs the North face of the Eiger. Incredible!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Lisa hit the nail on the head, and comment #1 is dead-on. Climbing (at least here in the States) has always been the domain of geeks, dorks, and various sorts of misfits since it really began here in the 1920’s. So many have been college professors, Berkley dropouts, MIT students, as well as beatniks, hippies, and random skinny goofballs that they pepper the history of the sport. Read anything on it’s history in the US and you’ll see what I mean. And climbing is awesome for just the reason Lisa lays out, and many more, such as the sense of well-being it provides, the friendships it forms, the camaraderie in general you get among climbers, and the wilderness experiences and sense of independence it provides. Really, I don’t see why anyone doesn’t climb. And of you think the dork-factor is high, just wait until you get into trad climbing and get to geek out on Newtons and grams and fall factors and the 13.75 degree-vs-14.25 degree spiral question of self-loading camming devices.

  29. emilydickinsonridesabmx says:

    Great article!

    John Gill, who is more or the less father of bouldering, is a mathematician and a huge geek. I’m not exactly sure of the reasons, but climbing is definitely a geeky sport. Road biking is the same way.

    Here in NYC we actually have a pretty fantastic bouldering scene, centered on Central Park. I’ve been climbing there for years, and a large swath of the people who climb here are definitely math/science/computer/engineer types. It may have something to do with the puzzle solving nature of climbing, which is especially true with bouldering. Bouldering routes are even called “problems. Many times there is only one sequence that will work to get you to the end of a problem, and eliminations, where you keep trying to do a sequence with fewer and fewer moves, are a popular past time in the park.

  30. SBW says:

    Alpine climbing is like fishing: you get up early, hike into a beautiful spot, and spend hours watching the scenery while playing a line in or out, interrupted by brief moments of excitement.

  31. Daedalus says:

    Body self-awareness? Balance? Fine motor control? Puzzles?

    Yeah, no question why my awkward body and detail-frustrated brain are pretty nonplussed by rock climbing.

    Still, it is a good time. Well worth including in the galaxy of crazy fun physical activities. I’m more into the hike/bike/photograph/long journey fun times, myself. Love stalking my prey in the wilderness for hours, shooting it over and over again. And no raw knuckles from where the wall fights back!

  32. schreist says:

    And then there is the whole crossover from rock climbing to challenge courses which offer up a wide variety of ways to problem solve and push one out of the daily comfort zone while off the ground.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it’s confirmation bias. I am not a Math/Science type, I don’t otherwise hang around with them, and in my experience math/science types climb rocks in greater numbers than humanities types.

    I majored in philosophy, the kind of philosophy that looks less like math and more like comparative lit. I’m now a lawyer (I was promised there would be no math). I am a clear humanities type, and I am in the minority.

    In college most of the climbers were in engineering, math, computer science, and physics majors. My main climbing partner nowadays is getting his Phd at U of C in physics. We trade explanations on the portaledge. I explain law and government, he explains the universe.

    If I’m sitting around a campsite and talking to climbers, a clear majority of them are in some sort of hard science.

    There are exceptions to this:
    (a) Full time mountain guides / climbing bums have dropped out of the rat-race so thoroughly that while they may have analytical minds, they can no longer really be considered mathy/sciency types – they haven’t done any math or science in years aside from figuring out how to live on $15/week.
    (b) Serious alpine climbing is uhhhh…. ‘intense’ enough that the folks who are drawn to it tend to be a special breed. Whatever it is that compels folks to hang it out there in cold, unpleasant, and very unforgiving environments, it is more than a love of problem solving.

    • codesuidae says:

      Whatever it is that compels folks to hang it out there in cold, unpleasant, and very unforgiving environments, it is more than a love of problem solving.

      Well, we usually get paid to use Windows.

      Oh, wait, you meant the outdoor environment?

  34. jordan says:

    It’s amazing how quickly newcomers to outdoor climbing can get comfortable with the inherent risks (it’s way more intimidating than climbing in the gym, especially if you’re trad climbing- you never forget your first zipper).

    It’s easier the younger you start, but one of my climbing partners took up the sport at age 62.

  35. ben says:

    Because the other cool geeks are doing it, of course we should follow suit.

  36. Anonymous says:

    one of the famous climbs in the GUNKS (outside of NYC) is the “Shockley’s Ceiling” named after William Shockley, the physicist

    after climbing for a year indoors and then getting outdoors this summer, the lure of the gym is fading.

  37. pencilbox says:

    Great post. I just enrolled my kid in a climbing class at the local gym.

    The thinking there was 1) I just can’t do the soccer league thing, and 2) what do kids love to do more than anything? (climb on stuff.)

    He really enjoys it. I know he’ll become a climber; I hope he becomes a geek.

  38. TomDArch says:

    I think that Lisa has nailed a lot of the core points!

    If I recall correctly, about a third of the original ARPANET team were rock climbers, and that’s back in the scary days of webbing harnesses and pitons…

    I would add that in addition to all the traditional “geeks” at the gym like engineers, IT folks, and scientists (who make up the majority at my local gym), there is a high preponderance of us architects. We may seem cool and hip, with our funny glasses, black turtlenecks and blathering on about Deconstructionism, but most of us are pretty geeky underneath.

    Don’t be scared off by the “but my poor little fingers/forearms” thing. With the exception of certain surgeons, craftspeople and musicians like concert violinists, climbing is not going to be a problem. I’ve permanently jacked my left pinky (it will close, but not open fully), and I know plenty of people who have fully or partially ruptured finger pulleys. We can all do our geeky keyboard/mouse/smartphone jobs just fine. You can permanently screw up your hands/wrists in lots of other, less fun ways. A friend in college was a formerly internationally promising violinist, until a round of “casually toss the football around in the back yard” with his cousins permanently damaged his hand… My guess is that you’re more likely to loose hand/wrist function from a car crash than from climbing, but I can’t provide data on that.

    In general, my sense is that the most dangerous part of typical outdoor climbing is the drive to and from the rocks. In my case, an 8-hour-each-way drive from Chicago to the Red River Gorge in eastern KY, multiple times a year.

    • cjp says:

      My instructor a few years back told me that the most dangerous part of outdoor climbing is the approach on foot. Most accidents happen before you tie in or after you are done for the day. Stepping too close to the edge to release an anchor or slipping on a steep approach trail is the thing to watch out for.

      Statistically, you aren’t wrong about the drive, though. the odds of injury are 1 in 16,000 for vehicular travel and only 1 in 320000 for climbing. I’ve just read a stat that says you have a 0.016% risk of injury in a climbing gym.

  39. kristenobacter says:

    What a great article! I agree, except maybe on the last section: how to get started.

    I bought a pair of used climbing shoes through craigslist, so the money investment for me was low. This was important because I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it.

    The second thing: you can start bouldering without having to mess with a harness, belay classes and (usually) passing a belay test. Plus bouldering problems contain more of the interesting problem-solving elements of climbing and generally require less brute force endurance.

    Anyhow, 5 years later I still love, love, love to climb!

  40. paulo_one says:

    Excellent article and as a geek that climbs, I couldn’t agree more. Send!

  41. AdrianJMartin says:

    Here’s my local(Pudsey,Leeds UK) wall:

  42. bmcraec says:

    I started my formal climbing education in the early 1980s, with a 2nd hand pair of EBs and a really old & crappy Willans harness. There is absolutely no doubt about the correlation of a geek mindset and people I WANTED to climb with.

    The pair of guys teaching my intermediate rock class couldn’t have been more geeky, or more different. One was a physics nerd, who delighted in calculating the fall factor of any specific belay chain we could come up with, and the other was a really laid-back hippy guy who’d been on the ’84 Canadian Everest expedition, keen on Nepalese culture, philosophy & food. I found that the more people understood what they were taking on, the more trustworthy and human they came across.

    There are certain parallels to big, abstract problems with software & technology to technical multi-pitch & mixed climbing scenarios. I have found similar parallels to the Graphic Design community, though some would say they are just another sub-type of geek.

  43. Anonymous says:

    To elaborate on what one of the other anon’s said about the sharp end.

    If you’re a climber, you should learn to lead or at least lead belay. Most climbers will say the same thing: if you’re an awesome belayer, you’ll never hurt for friends among climbers. Also, if you build leading up in your mind, then you’re going to hype yourself out of being able to do it. It’s common for climbers to send a route easily on TR, but, as soon as they go on the sharp end, they lose the mental game and go bolt to bolt on the same route.

    I’m guessing most indoor/gym climbers have a similar reaction when they climb outdoors for the first few times. Outdoor climbing is much less controlled, much less straightforward. Even the lack of tape is something that throws newbies off. Outdoor climbing is a creative process, in addition to the analytical and physical aspects.

    @CJP: Perhaps the most likely place for mishap is off-rope, but to me danger means Risk*Result. Most of the time the result of a mishap on rope is magnitudes worse than that of one on the deck.

    On the geekitude of climbing, consider the fact that you can analyze a rock climbing system from a physics or mechanical engineering point of view. It’s a classic physics problem with a rope with two weights suspended on both ends. In addition, you can get into analysis of falls, stretch, abrasion of gear.

  44. ClimbingLibrarian says:

    For the bookish geek climbers and people who want to know how-to and who-did-what, check out the American Alpine Club Library – all mountains, all the time:

    Disclaimer – I work there and I think it’s the coolest special-interest library on the planet.

  45. Robbie_S says:

    I don’t think I’m dissenting here…perhaps I’m just not completely agreeing with everyone ;)

    I don’t buy the theory that since a lot of climbers are geeks, it’s a good sport for a geek to try. I honestly believe that ANY sport is good for ANY person to try. I definitely understand that the climbing community may be more receptive to a ‘geek’, since a lot of them already climb, but that’s the community that is more appealing to a geek, not the actual sport itself.

    The three parts of this article’s thesis can be applied to just about any sport. Staying fit is obvious. Conquering your fears can describe the fear of being outjumped, outran, outcompeted, etc. And what greater puzzle is there besides a fellow human being?

    Then this line:
    “You don’t need to be a natural athlete to be a good climber. You do need to be persistent, obsessive, and determined to solve problems.”

    You just described what it takes to be an athlete in general. Athletes aren’t just born with an ability to hit a 90+ mph baseball with a wooden bat, or throw a football 50 yards. It’s hard work. Just like anything else worth doing.

    Plus, cross-training other sports will make you a better climber.

  46. Anonymous says:

    What a great article Lisa! You’ve absolutely hit the nail right on the head! I’ve never read an article on the basics of climbing (on a non-climbing specific website) that’s so complete and well formulated!

    I think you’re definitely right on the puzzle-solving thing. I don’t really qualify as a full-blown geek but I am the ‘computer expert’ of my family. Of course, this is not because I know a lot of computers (I really don’t), it’s because I just like to solve a problem and stick at it until I find a solution. Everyone in my family would be able to do this, but they give up at the slightest hint of a problem.
    It’s the same for climbing: I feel the major reason that I keep progressing in climbing is just because I keep trying! I don’t have great balance, I don’t have super strong fingers/arms, but I really do want to climb every single boulder problem at my local gym. And of course in the end this makes me a better, stronger climber.

    I also very much like the fact that you mention the ‘life lessons’ that you get out of climbing. There really are many things I have learned in just a few years of climbing: dealing with failure, keep on trying even if you think you don’t stand a chance (and be amazed at what you can actually pull off), manage your fears, think out different strategies or new approaches to a problem, give it everything you’ve got, etc.

    If someone is looking for a GREAT resource to start climbing, I can very much advise to read the article series from Dave MacLeod:

  47. Anonymous says:

    That’s funny: in my previous post I mentioned Dave MacLeod. I noticed there was a new interview with him on his site and the interviewer notes:
    “He has a fascinating technique. Climbing is often regarded as the preserve of musclemen and adrenaline junkies, but MacLeod’s approach is cool and cerebral. He thinks his way up a rock long before he climbs it.

    Abseiling down from the top, he gets to know every possible hold and works out the correct sequence in which to put them. It’s a sort of code-breaking.”

    Code-breaking: that sums it up pretty well!

  48. Gendun says:

    Another reason you find a lot of tech folks at the climbing gym is that it’s expensive.

  49. cjp says:

    @ CLIMBING LIBRARIAN – just in case you see this reply, I’m sending out a ‘hey’ to you. Your library recently helped me on a search for an early American female climber named Dr. C Johnstone Best and I was so pleased that you were willing to assist me, even though I’m north of the 49th. Nice folks you have over there at the AAC! I highly recommend your library.

    Cheers from Canada- cjp

  50. Anonymous says:

    skimmed through responses so this may have already been mentioned – but in reference to hard on forearms I find climbing has provided great relief to strain I was feeling from spend 10-12 hours a day on a keyboard. It strengthens small muscles while stretching out your upper and lower back and, again, is great for the core! I’ve been climbing for a little over a year and recommend it to anyone — trekkies and jedis alike!

  51. tomchaps says:

    Lynn Hill may have taken a groundfall during a comp, but I never heard about it. She DID crater after sending a warm-up climb in the Gunks, I believe in the early 1990s. She stopped in the middle of tying her knot to talk to someone, and was wearing a jacket on a cold day that covered it up enough that she didn’t notice the half-finished knot.

    She clipped the anchors, leaned back, and… if I remember correctly, she fell something like 50-60 feet, crashed through some tree branches, and landed in the middle of a split boulder. I forget exactly how bad her injuries were, but she’s obviously lucky to be alive.

    Remember–don’t do anything once you start tying in until you’re done…

    • bmcraec says:

      OK< that does sound like the incident. I remember reading about it in something like “Rock & Ice.” Not sure about the date though—I think it would be earlier, as I was living in the UK during the ’90s, and didn’t read climbing mags over there.

      I should also comment on my over-arching comment earlier regarding the events that led to the fall. I wasn’t there, and I don’t really know what happened. She fell due to an untied rope is all I know, and that from the article. I was over the top with my comment about her not being a climber. She’s walked up stuff that i could never have hoped of climbing. Wasn’t she the first person to routinely do 5.13 routes? Anyway, let the record show I was impolitic, and that I am making amends. Sorry Lynn!

  52. penguinchris says:

    The thing about this is that it’s inherently a group activity. Many geeks like groups and have lots of friends (or are good making friends at the climbing gym or wherever), but many aren’t, including me.

    I love the idea of rock climbing and have done it a couple of times (and had training so I could belay for kids at a camp), but I wish it was something I could safely do on my own. I’m not stupid enough to climb by myself but I’m not very excited about having to be with other people all the time, so I just haven’t gotten into it.

    I did buy some tree-climbing gear and have climbed a few trees with it (photos are ironically enough of a friend…) and that satisfied my roped-in climbing urge for a while, and it’s something you can do by yourself if you’re not doing anything too risky (it’s self-belaying).

    I *love* climbing on things, and I never give up a chance to go up ladders, tall buildings/platforms, large boulders that don’t require anything besides scrambling, etc. (I’m a geologist and have had plenty of opportunities in the field to climb on stuff). Perhaps I’ll try rock/gym climbing again in the future if any friends are also interested. I’d be all over it if I could do it safely by myself, though.

  53. lost.monkey says:

    I made a remark about climbing being like Tetris the very first time I went with my now girlfriend. She looked at me like I was crazy, but I’ve always known I was right ;)

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