Don’t Climb … But If You Must

In a survival crisis there are many things you may be forced into attempting that are extremely dangerous and you definitely don’t want to do. Encountering dangerous environments is quite common when you are wandering around lost in an unfamiliar area. One of the worse decisions you may be faced with is whether to try and climb up or down out of a situation.

It is estimated that nearly 93% of all Americans suffer some degree of acrophobia, the fear of heights. Doesn’t matter the heredity or environmental reason for the phobia, it can be terrifying and can create a paralyzing fear. Not a good situation to find oneself in hanging 30 feet in the air.

If you know you suffer from this phobia, you may not realize it until you incur it, do not attempt to scale a rock wall, regardless of height, a mere 10 foot drop can be deadly.

Rock climbing is an adrenal junkie’s wish come true, and watching an experienced climber scurry up a rock incline is somewhat amazing, as they make it appear so easy, at times impossible. But… one must recognize these are skilled and trained climbers, not lugging a 100 pound phobia on their back.

I guess what I’m trying to say is “If you can’t scale an incline on your hands and knees or by crawling on your belly, Don’t try it.” The odds of it not ending well are astronomical. Now that I have attempted to discourage you from doing the unthinkable and unwise … let’s learn the basics of climbing a rock wall, as you may have to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. There are situations in life where you only have one option.

Step 1. Whether you are in good physical condition or not, you must warm up and stretch, which professional athletes do before performing, you are not professional grade. This basic element will help your muscles and joints get limber, helping increase performance and reducing risk of injury. Experienced climbers, using good climbing techniques, will work muscle groups and position limbs in extreme positions not used during daily life, yet they warm up to insure maximum physical performance. Be a parrot … do the same.

This may also be an excellent time to work on achieving a positive mind set … overcoming fear and doubt.

Step 2. From the best vantage point possible search for a climbing route up the obstacle. Visualize yourself climbing, where are places in can hold onto with my hands, step on with my foot, rest against when I get tired. This is an intense learned skill so don’t think you’ll be perfect, but some things are obvious, an outcrop which you cannot climb over for example. There may not be a great route for a novice, but there will be route you can envision yourself climbing. Once you decide what you will attempt to do, walk away and relax, then return and try envisioning the climbing route again. You may see the same route or discover a better one. In any event, reinforcing the visualization of your climb is crucial to your success. Tip: You don’t want to just start climbing without a plan. Trying to figure out where your next foot hold is, 40 feet in the air, is not good.


Oh crap!

Step 3. Having absolutely no climbing experience your most trusted asset will be your hands, which will grip the rock, keeping you from falling. This is where you’ll make your first mistake. Instead of squeezing the life out of the rock, your grip needs to be relaxed. Over-gripping will wear out your forearm muscles, the main muscle group controlling your grip, and if that should happen, you’re finished. You must force yourself to mentality check your grip, especially in tenuous situations, to insure you are not over-gripping. In addition to risking forearm muscle fatigue your back and shoulder muscles are directly affected by the extra tension placed on them. This will sound crazy to a non-climber, but all that is really required by your grip is contact with the hold for balance, keeping the body from leaning backwards jeopardizing position.

Step 4. Wonder why babies fall when they are trying to learn to walk? It has nothing to do with body coordination, it’s learning to maintain their balance as the world spins beneath them. Just like a baby you’re going to have to learn to maintain your balance as you climb. Foot position has little bearing on balance, your balance is based on body mass, which must be neutral to gravity, not leaning too far in or out, left or right. The center of your body mass is approximately around your belly-button, center of stomach. By being conscious of where your center of gravity will be upon making a move, you’ll be better at maintaining your balance. In other words, if you know you will be leaning far right when making a move up, you must compensate with a hand or foothold to keep from tilting too far over. You know this because your belly will be leaning far right.

Step 6. Keeping your center of gravity balanced in a “to the wall .. away from the wall” relationship is imperative, especially for a beginner. As a general rule of thumb, always keep your body close to the wall. There will be times which require looking up and back to scan a route, but keep those times as brief as possible. To insure maintaining the best balance, keep your body and face as close to the wall as possible. Tip: Do not climb with your knees pointing directly at the wall, nor with an erect posture. Unknowingly your body will lean backwards allowing your knees room to maneuver if pointed at the wall, and an erect posture restricts flexibility.

Step 7. There are numerous styles of rock climbing techniques, but we’ll look at only one, the “I’m scared as hell” climbing technique. They say “don’t look down” and there’s a reason for that … it’s scary. It’s also scary once you are so high, could be 10 feet … 100 feet, depends on the person, to continue moving upwards. The thought of releasing your current hold on life is not pleasant, but you can’t hang there forever.

Disciplined body movements are essential to maintaining control. Avoid shifting your weight and moving two limbs at the same time. For example, locate a foothold, you do this visually, don’t slide your foot up and down until it feels like you have solid footing. Verify visually you have solid footing, then precisely place your foot where you want it. Locate your next hand hold. Use your arms for balance, your legs to hold and propel your weight upwards. Lift and reach the handhold. Rest, maintain balance and repeat sequence.


Piece of cake

Try and use only fluid movements. I know that’s a lot to ask of a novice scared climber, but it is important. Wiggling around and re-positioning the body creates an additional opportunity to slip off your hold or lose your balance resulting in a fall. Be conscious of your body movements, hold still, think about your next movement needed to advance and relax.

Step 8. Regardless of how strong you may be the rigors and stress of climbing will take an enormous amount of energy. What does a weight lifter do in between sets… he rests, he allows the muscles to recuperate. You are expending the same, if not more calculating stress into the equation, energy as the body builder. While on the ground determining your route, look for resting spots every 10 feet or so. These may be an overhang you can brace your knee against, or a ledge where you can lean against it. Resting will be more important to a person in distress than a competitive climber regardless of the difficulty.

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To sum up these emergency rock climbing tips:

Always warm up and stretch before attempting to climb. Tight muscles and ligaments do not perform well and are prone to injury.

Always preview and develop a climbing strategy, a route to take up the rock.

Do not over-grip. Use only the amount of strength as is necessary to maintain your balance. Your grip is the very first thing to fail and you’re screwed if it does before reaching your destination. Save your forearms.

Keep your body close to the wall. This will keep your center of gravity over your mass helping maintain balance and relieving pressure from your grip.

Use your legs to hold your weight, not your arms. Your leg muscles are much stronger than arm and shoulder muscles.

Use your arms for balance and shifting the weight; not holding weight. When using great upper body strength in order to perform a maneuver, do it quickly and rest after completion. Muscles will last longer and perform better with shorts rests. This will be more important to a “normal” strength person than ever.

I hope my inherent fear of heights hasn’t totally stopped you from the idea of climbing out of danger. There may be no other option and dealing with fear is a factor in surviving crisis situations. Knowledge is the best antidote for fear and you now have the basic skills to successfully make a climb.


Anyone can do this

Here’s another aspect. For a short stint I had a job as an iron worker. Yep, those crazies that scurry up and down skyscraper skeletons, 100’s of feet into the air with nothing between them and the concrete below but air. Here’s the deal. Once I had worked the job for a few days the initial terror I felt subsided, as it was just going back to the place where I left off work yesterday. So you can overcome and adapt.

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