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Rock climbing reaches the peak of its popularity

By Isaac Ang Dec. 8, 2021

Courtesy of Aaron Shih

Suspended 100 feet above the ground, Senior Aaron Shih scrunches all ten fingers on a narrow edge to hold himself up. Leaping, Shih barely clutches the next jug. Once considered a daredevil sport, rock climbing has boomed in popularity as accessible indoor gyms, natural scenery and international championships draw increasing numbers to the sport.


Debuting in the Olympics this year, climbing has gained worldwide recognition as a recreational and competitive sport. Rock climbing was historically used to describe mountaineering in the Alps, but it now encompasses both indoor and outdoor climbing, according to the BBC. Outdoor climbers use jutting or depressed sections of the rock to ascend natural rock walls. In the U.S., national parks like Yosemite, Arches and Zion are popular spots for outdoor climbers, who often enjoy the natural environment.


In 2018, the National Geographic film “Free Solo” propelled rock climbing’s popularity, featuring famous American rock climber Alex Honnold as he free soloed Yosemite’s El Capitan—a sheer 3, 200-foot rock wall that took Honnold nearly four hours to complete.


Debuting in the Olympics this year, climbing has gained worldwide recognition as a recreational and competitive sport.

Due to greater accessibility and safety precautions, Climber News reports that recreational climbers find appeal in indoor gyms, which are largely responsible for rock climbing’s recent popularity. There are two primary climbing modes: bouldering, where climbers ascend a short wall sans a rope, and top rope, where climbers ascend taller walls with a rope. Tackling artificial walls with plastic holds screwed on, indoor climbers attempt to reach to the top of color-coded routes without falling. Bouldering routes are labeled with the V-scale, while top rope routes are labeled with the Yosemite Decimal System to measure difficulty. Unlike outdoor climbing, indoor climbing routes are not determined by the rock wall; route setters can screw differently shaped holds into artificial walls to produce courses with varying difficulties and styles. Furthermore, climbing gyms offer facilities that aid with personal training, ranging from pull-up bars to yoga rooms.


Unlike outdoor climbing, indoor climbing routes are not determined by the rock wall; route setters can screw differently shaped holds into artificial walls to produce courses with varying difficulties and styles.

“Since sixth grade, I have rock climbed with a team—twice a week—at Planet Granite Sunnyvale. I love how climbing fuses physical strength and precise movement,” Shih said.


Whether in the natural world or in gyms, climbs themselves require intense concentration but feel satisfying when surmounted. Preparing for rock climbing entails training upper body and core strength, as well as balance and flexibility, The Guardian reports. Climbers must also plan a sequence of physical moves that they will take to ascend the route, often experimenting several times before discovering the optimal method. According to Vice, climbers must overcome both mental and physical

Courtesy of Kevin Tibbs fatigue to stay on the wall and finish the route during the climb.


“I top rope several times a week at Planet Granite Sunnyvale, but once in a while, I enjoy climbing in Pinecrest of Tuolumne County. The physical challenge of climbing comes when I accumulate fatigue, but the mental challenge arrives when I must silence the part of my mind that urges me to fall. Climbing is also a great bonding experience—everyone motivates each other to ascend a route,” Kevin Tibbs, Science Department, said.


From local to global championships, rock climbing has a competitive side for those seeking to master the sport. For example, Planet Granite, the gym Shih and Tibbs climb at, hosts an annual Friction Series, where the local community can register to compete. This summer at the Tokyo Olympics, 40 rock climbers competed in a combined format incorporating three events: speed, where two climbers race to the top of a route; lead, where climbers use a rope to ascend tall routes; and bouldering, where climbers use no rope to ascend short routes.


“The physical challenge of climbing comes when I accumulate fatigue, but the mental challenge arrives when I must silence the part of my mind that urges me to fall.”

A combination of physical and mental exercise, climbing is expected to gain many followers. Unfortunately, indoor gyms—the main attraction—are expensive to maintain. According to Scoutorama, to fit top rope walls, gyms must rent at least two floors of empty space. Captivating its members requires a gym to periodically change its routes, which is a costly process.


In regards to outdoor climbing, National Geographic points out that outdoor climbing has potentially negative impacts on the environment. Climbers’ use of chalk may mar natural rock formations, reduce biodiversity thriving on the rock and disrupt spiritually significant areas to indigenous peoples.


Nevertheless, rock climbing, a physically and mentally challenging sport, enjoys the peak of its popularity with its feature in the Tokyo Olympics and the proliferation of indoor gyms.

Courtesy of Kevin Tibbs

 

About the Contributor

Isaac Ang

Staff Writer


Isaac Ang is a junior at Leland High School and staff writer for the Charger Account. During his free time, he enjoys reading, playing ping pong, and experiencing nature. He is an avid rock climber. His academic interests include math, science, and coding.

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