Climbing is both physically and mentally demanding, but the satisfaction you feel at the top is hard to beat. Angela Youngman asks: ‘Do you have a head for heights?’
Finding those tiny cracks into which you can fit your fingers and feet, holding onto ledges and protruding rocks while moving ever higher takes courage, strength and determination.
Climbing can be an extremely rewarding sport, challenging the climber to their utmost and providing constant new challenges. No matter whether you are climbing in the gym or outdoors, no two climbs are ever the same. Conditions and routes frequently change, making it a constant challenge to every climber whether experienced or not. Making mistakes or losing concentration can be dangerous – a fall can result in a serious if not fatal injury.
From a fitness point of view, the upper body and leg strength required makes climbing a good match for many other sports and physical activities which require endurance, strength and concentration.
Are You In Or Out?
Most people begin using an indoor climbing wall, which is usually made out of fibreglass and can contain 400 or more individual climbing holds. This provides a way of improving skills and getting fit. Only the keenest climbers tend to go on to seek outdoor challenges on ridges and escarpments (and even buildings and bridges). Most outdoor climbs take place in the daylight. Only if they have the proper training and equipment should climbers attempt to climb at night or in bad weather.
Specialised climbing equipment including ropes, pinions and hard hats is essential. Carabiners are used to clip into belay and rappel anchors enabling falling climbers to be caught, held and lowered when necessary. Indoor climbing facilities provide basic equipment as part of the overall cost, but outdoor climbers tend to provide their own. Strong shoes with soles that have a good grip, and sturdy clothing are essential.
Using climbing walls regularly is an excellent way to build strength. It gives you the time to experiment and learn, try out different approaches to climbing in relative safety and get guidance from trained instructors. Learn too from watching others. See how other climbers attempt a wall or route. Try to judge how they are placing their body and whether they are focusing on arm or leg muscles at each point. See which holds they use and why.
As with any sport, warming up beforehand is essential. Going through a short program of stretching and bending exercises will warm up muscles and reduce the chances of straining or putting too much stress on any of them. The next step is learning how to move across the walls, from one hold to another without falling or stepping on the ground. This is undertaken at the lowest level to enable you to get used to the idea of using the various hand and foot holds, all of which are placed at different distances apart.
Onwards & Upwards
Once this has been mastered, you are attached to ropes and can begin to move upwards. Every wall has hundreds of climbing holds, and numerous different coloured routes that can be followed. A climber needs a lot of power in their arms and shoulders to support them against the rock face as they move from one point to the next. In addition, learning the best ways of placing your feet will reduce the strain on your forearms. Since leg muscles are larger and naturally stronger than arm muscles, it makes sense to take advantage of their sheer propulsion and resilience.
Don’t Look Down!
Most people are good at focusing on what is above them and in reach of their hands. It is a different matter when it comes to going down. Looking down can result in instability and a loss of concentration. Climbers have to concentrate on their feet, feeling for each new hold and only moving when they feel safe and comfortable. This can lead to arms being overextended during the downward movement, which is why smaller movements tends to be a better option. The strength of feet and legs is highly important.
Most climbing wall routes encourage users to make each foothold movement as large and as wide as possible. This enables you to cover a greater expanse of wall and reach the top more quickly. However, such large movements are not always possible when climbing outdoors. Climbers must also practise making small, frequent foot placements, especially if the hold is very narrow or slight. Experienced climbers know that there is more to good footwork than just putting a foot in just the right position. They concentrate on wrapping toes around the hold while steadily placing more weight on their foot to maximise the friction between the two. This requires lots of core strength and body awareness.
Thankfully serious falls are rare. The majority of injuries sustained through climbing are usually torn or strained muscles, cuts and bruises. Yet care still has to be taken since strained or torn muscles can lead to permanent damage to tendons and ligaments if left untreated.
Climbing is an increasingly popular sport in Kuwait, even though there are no mountain ranges! Apart from numerous indoor climbing walls, there are many escarpments and rock faces that can be attempted.
Geographically, Kuwait’s terrain rises steadily the further you go from the sea. In the northwest, the land rises to around 198m (650ft) while its westernmost edge reaches over 300m (1,000ft). Among the many potential climbing locations are the Jal Al Zour ridge overlooking Kuwait Bay; the Al Laiyah and Keraa Al Marw hills, and the Al Sheqaq and Al Rawdatain valley sides.
Ali Abdulkarim of the Kuwaiti Climbing Club recommends the Jal Al Zour or Mutla ridge as being a perfect climbing location. Within easy driving distance of Kuwait City, the Mutla Ridge is a massive rocky outcrop reaching 306m high. Plus, one of the best climbing walls in the Middle East is situated right here in Kuwait at the Marina Waves in Salmiya. There are overhangs, vertical climbs and routes are regularly re-set to offer new challenges.