For the adventuresome in Texas, one of the most exciting sports going is rock climbing. Regardless of where someone lives, including the cities of Austin, Dallas and Houston, the opportunities for getting a natural shot of adrenaline abound.
Part of the intrigue of rock climbing is simply that of satisfying a natural curiosity to explore. Rock climbing, which is said to be the most advanced and challenging aspect of mountaineering, is basically a battle against gravity. It is also obviously not without its dangers but for those who take up the sport, managing the danger but living with it is part of what makes it so attractive.
Certainly, safety is top on the list of priorities for those who take up rock climbing. The proper equipment, including ropes and specialized gear that stop a climber from falling too far, are part and parcel of the sport.
Another aspect of the safety is the anchors that are hammered into rock and to which climbers attach pitons and ropes to assist in the adventure.
The American Safe Climbing Association has undertaken to replace deteriorating anchors on classic climbs in the U.S. ,while also educating climbers and the general public about climbing safety.
Various rock climbing venues are typically "rated" by the amount of time it would take a climber to complete, with Grade I being a short climb done in a couple of hours. Grade II is a short climb that could be done in an afternoon, Grade III is a climb which takes most of the day. A Grade IV climb is one that can usually be done in one very long day. Grade V climbs take two to three days and a Grade VI climb would take four days or more. The most difficult, a Grade VII climb, is defined as a Grade VI but in an extremely remote location.
Technical difficulty rating systems are, like all rating systems, highly subjective and depend on the skill and experience of the climbers. What's more important, experts in the field say, is for climbers to enjoy the vertical world, not to concentrate on competing with others.
The Sierra Club rock climbing rating system, dating from the 1930s, includes six classes of climb:
1st Class: hiking
2nd Class: Scrambling and boulder hopping, hands are needed, but generally very little exposure or danger
3rd Class: Steep scrambling with exposure, ropes are needed for inexperienced people. An unroped fall on 3rd class terrain would likely be fatal
4th Class: Steeper scrambling on small holds, ropes are needed for most people, but an experienced climber would normally climb an entire rope length without intermediate protection, then set an anchor and belay other climbers up. Inexperienced people may not be skilled enough to ascend even when belayed from above.
5th Class: Steep rock climbing where the leader must place intermediate protection, and in case of a fall, the intermediate protection would catch the leader (who will fall twice as far as the distance above the last piece of protection).
6th Class: Very steep climbing where the climber is unable to ascend the rock without pulling and stepping on rock protection.
There are also danger ratings for rock climbing, the most widely used being the R, R/X and X ratings, which are said to crudely describe the danger level:
R: Runout, where a fall would likely result in serious injury.
R/X: Very runout, where a fall at the wrong place will likely result in at least serious injury and possibly death.
X: Extremely runout, where a fall at the wrong place will likely result in death.
The ratings do not describe other hazards, which may include loose rock that regularly kill even the best climbers in the world.
When rock climbing, protection for the leader is a defining element. The amount of protection is traditionally determined by the first to climb the route. Tradition has it that bolts or pitons are only added to an existing route by the first person to do the route.
Those seeking security in rock climbing are given one piece of advice: Do not climb.
Those willing to accept the idea that there is no sure thing in climbing might take the wisdom of Helen Keller, who said: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."
Rock climbing is certainly one of those activities that "pushes the limits." Yet not all limits are worth pushing, especially those involving your health.