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Summer Bouldering: How to Beat the Heat

Bouldering outside this summer? Here are some tips to climb harder in rough conditions

Photo by: Víctor Romera of Elena Arevalo

Bouldering outside is tough at the best of times. Rocks are wacky and many gym climbers do not know how to hold onto the oddly shaped grips. Add some hot temperatures and things only become more challenging. This summer has been a hot one for Canadians stepping outside to climb. Though it is hard to keep hands from sweating when appraising a sick new boulder problem, it is even more difficult when the weather is boasting a minimum of 50% humidity.

Though most outdoor bouldering techniques simply takes practice, there are a couple tips and tricks to improve the conditions of your outdoor session.

Skin Prep

If you are going out on the blocs with tissue-paper skin, you are going to run into some problems. For one, plasma is going to leak through your tips just about as fast as you can make it. This is because plasma heals worn skin. Plasma will make it difficult to keep chalk on your hands. Number two, if your skin is gone, your tips are smoother than they would be normally. This makes it much more difficult to retain chalk. Number three, the holds are going to hurt when you are climbing on them.

If you are climbing when it is hot out, you are going to have to bear down on these grips to stay on the wall. Painful skin makes that more difficult. Be sure to apply products like Joshua Tree Salve or Rhino Skin’s Repair if you want your skin to grow back quickly. If you realize you will be climbing multiple days in a row, especially on granite, you can try taping up through warm-ups. This will allow you to warm up without wasting too much skin and might just give you that little of edge that you require to send the proj.

Skin Drying

Another way to go about preparing your skin is by using products like antihydral or Rhino Skin’s Dry agent. Rubbing alcohol also has a similar effect, though it is less of a long-term solution and more of pre-burn remedy. Drying agents harden your skin and allow for less slip when you are climbing. The less your skin slips, the less skin you use and the better your grip. To that effect, constant skin care can really make a difference. Try wearing rubber gloves when you clean your dishes, or maybe decreasing the temperature and duration of your shower. Dry skin is happy skin. With that said, skin that becomes too dry is prone to cracks and splits. Fortunately, the summer makes it quite difficult to have skin that is too dry. Even still, it is worth keeping in mind.

Liquid Chalk

Another great way to get your skin dry for a burn is by utilizing liquid chalk. Liquid chalk is one of the blessings of modern climbing and is, more often than not, simply a mixture of chalk and rubbing alcohol. It is by no means a perfect solution, but in the summer heat, it can be a great way to keep your hands dry for a couple goes. With that said, if you are climbing on super fingery, glassy holds, liquid chalk can, by virtue of its paste-like consistency, slide you off the wall.

To use liquid chalk, apply about a nickel sized dollop to your palm, and rub it into your hands. Be careful to not go overboard, or your hands will just be dripping with alcohol as opposed to sweat. Once it is rubbed in, allow the alcohol to evaporate. Once your hands have dried to the point where you can see a thin coating of chalk residue, dip your hands in loose chalk and, brush off the excess and begin climbing. Be sure to not leave liquid chalk on the holds outdoors. It has been known to stain rock and reduce the texture. Always brush away excess chalk from holds before your move to the next boulder.

The Fan

You have probably seen the pros break out the shop fan when at the boulders. You have maybe wondered, “Isn’t it super inconvenient to bring one of those outside? Isn’t that a bit excessive? Isn’t a fan kind of expensive?” Well, yes. All of those things are true. You certainly do not need a fan, but if you have one, you will find it exceptionally useful. Air circulation on holds and on your skin is an exceptional way to improve grip, all while avoiding the inconsistencies of chalk application.

Check the Weather

A sunny day is a sunny day is a sunny day, right? Almost, though the sun always beats the rain, humidity, temperature and wind conditions are incredibly important if you are looking to climb hard in the heat. The greater the wind speed, the lower the humidity, and the lower the temperature, the better the grip. Wind will dry your holds and while cooler temperatures will make you sweat less. Low humidity is the real kicker, however, because it means that water can evaporate from your hands and holds. In the summer, it is always hot. Even if it might seem better to climb in the morning because the temperature is seven degrees lower than it will be in the afternoon, depending on the humidity, it might be worth waiting for the hotter temperatures if it means burning some moisture off of your skin or the holds.

Pretend

This one is perhaps the greatest solution to all of these problems. Unless you are working on a 10-session project, sometimes it is best to go into a boulder problem with just brazen self-confidence. You are bouldering in the summer. Conditions were never going to be perfect, so why worry about them? No matter how you slice it, it will be too hot for the “ideal” burn. Sometimes it is best to just appreciate that fact, and just tell yourself that conditions are perfect. If you have thick skin and a psyched attitude, even your project can go in 30+ degrees.

Lead photo: Víctor Romera of Elena Arevalo