The Science of Climbing and Mountaineering

By Smith, Mark | Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The Science of Climbing and Mountaineering


Smith, Mark, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education


Neil Messenger, Will Patterson & Dave Brook

Human Kinetics Software CD-ROM ISBN 0-7360-3106-5

Reviewed by Mark Smith

My climbing mate and I are built differently: he is shorter with a well-developed upper body profile; I am taller and some 20 kilograms heavier. We warm up differently, move on the rock differently and probably think about climbing differently ... although we do tend to use the same excuses on those days when the body will not perform as its mind would wish. Talk often covers the topic of the various physiological advantages that our respective bodies allow us--talk which is as much out of ignorance as wishful thinking!

So, as I dipped into this CD-ROM on the science of climbing, I sought to dispel some of this ignorance and discover reasons behind our intuitive excuses. What is it that makes a good climber?

This CD-ROM consists of 30 chapters--in effect, 30 quantitative research reports--on topics such as the analysis of climbing technique, the technology of climbing equipment, the performance of clothing fabric in mountain environments and the physiological and metabolic responses in climbers. It was into the several chapters on the latter that I delved for answers.

One chapter describes six variables in assessing climbing performance: 1) background conditions such as talent and time; 2) external conditions such as the nature of the rock and the equipment available; 3) tactical aspects--experience, knowledge and goals; 4) psychological aspects which include arousal, fear and the ability to concentrate; 5) climbing technique and coordination, and; 6) physical abilities such as strength, power, endurance and flexibility. Quantifying many of these elements is, as the researchers acknowledge, a difficult task. Establishing the significance of personality types and reasons for climbing would complicate such assessment even more and is not covered by any of the research here. …

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