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5 Benefits of Adaptive Climbing

Updated: May 31

Rock climbing is a sport for everyone. It allows you to challenge yourself physically and mentally to the degree you are comfortable. You do not have to be able-bodied to engage in rock climbing. Thanks to the accessibility of adaptive climbing, any individual can climb a rock wall regardless of their physical ability level.

Mini History Lesson: Adaptive Climbing Pioneers

Adaptive climbers have created many pieces of adaptive climbing gear. Pioneers like Mark Wellman partnered with gear company Misty Mountain to make adaptive harnesses with customizable add-on pieces and a pull-up bar for ascending fixed lines. Wellman was an avid rock climber who was left paralyzed after suffering a freak climbing accident in 1982. But, he returned to climbing after ascending El Capitan in Yosemite in 1989, becoming the first adaptive climber. He’s also climbed The Nose in Yosemite. Another pioneer, Hugh Kerr, was an avid rock climber in his youth. He survived a traumatic accident in 1982, and the doctors had to amputate both of his legs below the knee due to frostbite. Within a year post-accident, Kerr was climbing harder than before on prosthetics and went on to design specialized prostheses for climbers that would fit on small foot holds or in crevices.

In 2008, USA Climbing (the official governing body) adopted adaptive climbing into its competitions, and in 2012, adaptive climbing made its inaugural appearance at the World Climbing Championships.

There are many ways adaptive rock climbers have entered the sport. No matter the path to becoming a rock climber, adaptive climbing can provide many benefits. Thanks to the growth in adaptive climbing programs and equipment, everyone stands to reap the rewards the sport offers.

Adaptive Climbing's Five Advantages

climbing harness

  1. Improved Self-Esteem

Advancing up a climbing wall, overcoming a fear of heights, and proving to yourself that you are strong all improve self-esteem. Adaptive climbing gear doesn’t make the act of climbing easier. It is and always will be a mental and physical challenge. Pushing past your limits to overcome those challenges builds self-esteem. It may be gradual, but one day, you’ll look back and realize you’re leaps and bounds from the person you were when you first touched the rock wall.

  1. Improved Mood

There are so many outlets where rock climbing can improve your mood. Physical exercise releases endorphins, leaving you with a post-workout high. So does setting a goal for yourself, such as getting to the top of the climb/wall you didn't do last week.

  1. Improved Strength

Rock climbing is physically demanding. Whether you climb without mechanical assistance or use a pull-up bar/ascender, it's taxing! A climber using adaptive systems may require extra strength in specific muscles than a non-disabled climber. You may even feel motivated to train extra in the gym to build muscular strength and stabilization needed on the wall with adaptive systems.

  1. Find Community and Make New Friends

One of the most incredible benefits of rock climbing is the community of welcoming people. There will always be a new friend to meet at the gym or crag. As adaptive climbing has grown and gained representation on an international level, the community of adaptive climbers has grown, too. With the growth, there's the opportunity to meet new climber friends from all over the world, and thanks to social media channels, it's even possible to keep in touch and share videos of climbing accomplishments. Many rock climbing gyms opening across the United States are working to grow their adaptive climbing programs, offering classes or group climbs where adaptive systems and gear are set up and provided.

  1. Sparks Motivation and Find New Goals

Accessibility in sports is, unfortunately, not always prioritized. But in rock climbing, adaptive programs are changing that narrative. There are infinite goals to set in rock climbing. Once you complete one climb, another awaits. With adaptive climbing, there is an opportunity in rock climbing for individuals with disabilities or congenital disorders to benefit from the endless rock climbing goals and the motivation that accompanies setting out to achieve a goal.

Adaptive climbing benefits are not revolutionary. Improved self-esteem, mood, strength, community, and motivation are benefits any climber can take away from the sport. However, before the growth of adaptive climbing in recent decades, those benefits were inaccessible to those with disabilities. But with innovative harnesses, prosthetics, pulley systems, and adaptive program development, everyone who wants to rock climb can! It may look different for each individual, but it's possible if they wish to experience strapping on a harness and going to the top of an indoor climbing wall or outdoor rock face.

Please share below if you have any adaptive climbing experience or information to share! Your insight is valuable, and let's continue to help grow the adaptive climbing community and bring awareness to the value it brings into rock climbers' lives.


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