Here’s The Truth About Rock Climbing You Don’t Hear In The Media

It’s proven safer than many sports and it’s a healthy lifestyle for all ages, not just an outlet for thrillseekers.

Illustration by Cynthia Marinakos.

I just did a Google search for ‘rock climbing’ and look at the top 2 news articles:

Young boy falls 10 metres down rock-climbing wall in Gosford
Boy injured in fall at Central Coast Clip N’Climb

Photo: Screenshot of google search for “rock climbing”. Accessed: 21 Jan 20.

In the year that rock climbing will make its debut in an Olympics, there’s a need to take a deeper look into the sport. Because it’s only when you gain a more thorough understanding of what’s really involved in rock climbing that you’ll be less sucked into the media’s proven affliction for negative, gloomy news.

You see, mainstream media give the public a perception that rock climbing is just exercise or for adrenalin junkies, risk-takers. Sure it seems like that when the media chooses to highlight accidents to an audience without bothering to balance out their gloom.

In this article, I share with you a look into rock climbing safety, comparative sport injury statistics, and the perspective of a young rock-climbing family. Am I biased? Perhaps. I am a passionate, regular rock climber. Yet I have a 7-year old myself and I wouldn’t let her anywhere near a wall if I had doubts about her safety. I also wouldn’t endanger myself and leave her without a parent.

What do you know about rock climbing?

Over the past few years, several rock climbers have released movies documenting their epic rock climbing feats. You may have heard of Alex Honnold’s Free Solo attempt of El Capitan in Yosemite, California. Or Kevin Jorgeson’s and Tommy Caldwell's ascent of The Dawn Wall (captured in the movie The Dawn Wall).

To those who aren’t climbers, these efforts seem incredible… and dangerous. As a climber, I don’t see the point of climbing without ropes as Alex Honnold did. Was it dangerous? Yes. Even his filming crew had to seriously think about whether they wanted to be the ones filming their mate to a very possible fatal end.

It was a big dream that the worked on for many years — not a spur of the moment decision. It was a challenge. He took it on.

Honnold told National Geographic after the climb: “There was no uncertainty on this. I knew exactly what to do the whole way. A lot of the handholds feel like old friends.”

Also “that mental hurdle has been cleared”.

I and most climbers in the world, don’t yet have the skills and desire Honnold has. We may not understand it. But we admire and respect him for it. He is obsessive about pushing himself, especially mentally. He practices safe climbing. He practiced certain moves hundreds, thousands of times. On and off the wall. He doesn’t have a death wish.

There’s so much we can learn about climbing from these climbers. About writing. About business. About life. They are teaching a new generation of young climbers about persistence, deliberate training, and inviting the impossible.

Still, these are epic feats — it’s not what typically happens every day in your local gym or rock wall outdoors.

Climbing is safer than many other sports

Between 2012–2013 and 2014–2015, there was an unsettling number of people 15 years and over who showed up in Victorian emergency departments for injuries from Aussie rules, motorsports, cycling/BMX.

People got injured the most from motorsports, rugby, skateboarding, and similar activities. This was reported in the report, Sports injuries in Victoria, 2012–13 to 2015–15: evidence from emergency department records.

Falls and lack of safety gear have a lot to do with these injuries. Yet safety is what rock climbing does so well. With ropes. Safe belay devices. Safety introduction sessions at every gym. Trained staff keeping a close watch on climbers.

Then there’s the common practice of going outdoors armed with helmets and the expertise of experienced climbers. Perhaps it could be better. But the statistics show there’s much more to be worried about in other sports than rock climbing.

Of course, for those of us with kids, stats don’t mean a damn thing. What other people think doesn’t matter, no matter how good the numbers of how reputable the research journal. We go by feeling. We won’t put our kids in danger.

Life of a rock-climbing family: The Buckhams

Photos: Jakobi, Luca, and Steve at Werribee Gorge (far left). Gym in Altona (middle). Wall of Fools in Grampians (far right). Photos supplied by Steve Buckham.

Drop into the Cliffhanger climbing gym in Altona, Victoria and you’re sure to bump into Steve and his boys, Luca (9) and Jakobi (11). They climb at least once a week during the school term — and up to 3 times a week on holidays.

I love chatting to the boys about what they’ve climbed, and what projects they’re working on.

It’s incredible to see how far they’ve progressed, and how easily they’ve adapted into the climbing community over the 2 years they’ve been climbing.

They often stick around for 3-hour sessions, laughing and mucking around together in between climbs. They’re determined and calm climbers.

I asked Steve and his kids a few questions:

Why do you take your kids climbing?

Rock climbing is a great family activity we can all do together. It’s also suitable for all ages and abilities and we can climb locally indoors and also enjoy the outdoors at some cliffs.

How did they feel at the start compared to how they feel about climbing now?

When they first started climbing it was a fun thing to try but now they appreciate the challenge of solving the puzzle of finding a way to the top.

Boys: what’s your favourite part of climbing?

Luca: You get to go to lots of cool places and explore.

Jakobi: Trying new climbs and working them out.

Have you noticed anything different in them since they began climbing?

Initially, Luca ( 9) was a bit scared of heights, but since climbing, he has overcome this and now climbs 30m cliffs indoors and outdoors. His confidence and self-belief have increased a lot.

Jakobi (11) has developed his physical strength and confidence to take on new challenges. He also finds the social aspect really enjoyable.

Have you ever taken the boys outdoors?

Yes, we have been to several different cliffs around Victoria. The kids really enjoy the adventure and being with other people outdoors.

Besides the fun of climbing, there’s the hike through the forest to the cliff, seeing different lizards, eagles, and animals along the way.

If it’s a hot day sometimes we have a swim in the river nearby. If we are camping they enjoy just hanging out with the group at the campfire, sharing stories.

Are you at all worried about the safety of your kids when climbing?

Climbing gyms have quality equipment and safety devices. They show each person how to belay safely. We also do our buddy safety checks every climb.

Outdoors we also use helmets and carry a basic first aid kit.

What would you say to parents unsure about taking their kids climbing?

Take them to a local indoor climbing gym and make it a fun activity where you climb with them too. Try not to rush them and praise their efforts, even if they can’t make it all the way up. Like any sport, it takes a few months to learn most of the basics.

We’re made to climb

Check out any baby who’s starting to walk, and see what they head for: stairs, couches, beds, benchtops.

Kids head for fences, firemen poles, and trees. Can you blame them? We hike (or drive) to lookouts for the great scenery. Well, try to remember how it felt to get the lay of the backyard, kitchen, or playground from up high.

We’re made to climb!

Gradually kids learn to fear (often infected with it from others). They spend more time on the ground. Then they, like us, get sucked into living society’s unhelpful, uninformed, narrow biases about life. About climbing.

Unless they dare to look deeper to see, to experience the reality of a rock climber’s life, as Steve and his boys have done.

For climbers, the call to climb can be powerful. We head into the gym for our fix, even when our regular belay partner can’t make it in.

On road trips, we peer at big rocks with interest, our hearts pounding excitedly imagining the line we’d climb, what the holds would be like, how long the hike up would be — and how damn amazing the views would be on the ledges.

The lure of climbing is so much more than physical. It seeps into our minds, it grabs hold of our hearts and fires our souls. It picks us up when we feel crap. It gives us focus and hope when life is all over the shop.

Climbers are surrounded by supportive, kind, passionate people. A constant air of positivity. These are what so many people wish they had more of in their lives.

This lifestyle is beautiful. That’s why we introduce it to our kids. Our partners. Our friends. Our colleagues. That’s why I’m sharing this with you.

Summary

There’s a difference between the actual risk and perceived risk of rock climbing. Rock climbing is often perceived as being dangerous and for thrillseekers. The media, in their affinity toward negative news, ignites and flames that perception.

Yet they don’t share the many truths about rock climbing that far outweigh the few occurrences of injuries. Statistics in my state show that the most common reasons people visit emergency rooms and get injured are from sports other than rock climbing.

Climbers fall, yet we do it on ropes. On cushioned mats. We use safety devices and are trained to use them by professionals. We wear helmets outdoors. We do safety checks on ourselves — and each other every time we climb. We’re checked constantly by staff if we’re in a gym.

Rock climbing is a wonderful sport for kids and adults of all ages. It builds physical strength, confidence, and self-belief. Yet it’s so much more than a sport. The Buckham family shared that they get to go “to lots of cool places and explore”. Kids get practice in giving things a go through “trying new climbs and working them out”. And “rock climbing is a great family activity.”

It’s known that the people we surround ourselves with can help or hinder our personal growth: rock climbing is filled with positive, supportive, caring people. This is the nurturing environment we — and our families will experience as climbers.

This is the truth about rock climbing you won’t often hear about in the media.

Photo: Steve belaying Jakobi at Werribee Gorge, Victoria. Source: Supplied by Steve Buckham.

Aussie Copywriter. I love rock climbing high ceilings and hiking amongst ferns >> 10 Proven ways to attract more Medium readers: https://bit.ly/3g2e2xx

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