Crusty Corner is a monthly column written by Climbing Editor Matt Samet, a climber of 30 years. When he's not at the gym or the rocks trying to stave off the inevitable performance decline of middle age, you can find him in his basement playing Xbox.
As I wrote this piece, in late July, it was a fiery 95 degrees, with no thunderstorm relief on the western horizon and with a cruel yellow sun blazing down out of an ozone-hazy Front Range sky. I sat in my basement, hiding, where it was 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, shirt off, sweating as I typed. The dog could barely be bothered to lift his head when his kibble clattered into his bowl at dinner, and the kitties had curled up under the couch one room away where it was coolest and darkest, letting spiders and mosquitoes crawl all over them because it was too much effort to lift a paw and swat.
I know, I get it: It’s 115 degrees where you live and 200-percent humidity, and you’re going out climbing anyway at Yum-Yum Heights in the direct sun with a headband and dual wristbands, and a towel wrapped around your waist where your chalkbag belt usually goes so you can sop up sweat at the kneebar rest on Pinklydink Headwall (5.13c). So, why don’t I, wimpy Colorado boy that I am, with my dry heat and 90-degree temps, shut the hell up and get out for some evening pitches?
I’ll tell you why: Because after 30 years in the sport, I know better.
Climbers have long been infatuated with Sendtember, when the air cools and projects go down. But very little attention has been paid to what leads up to it, the crux of summer, namely the still, hot, muggy, never-ending doldrums of July, when only the very foolish or very motivated bother pushing themselves out climbing.
That’s right, the hippest, new month is “Don’t-Try July,” when your best bet is to do as little as possible so that you’re not a burned-out, exhausted, dehydrated strip of human beef jerky once August rolls around with its crisp mornings that presage the arrival of autumn. And so that you’re still motivated to climb once autumn itself is here and the proper climbing season begins.
So, remember, kids, there can be no Sendtember or Rocktober without Don’t-Try July. Yes, this year’s July has come and gone, but there will other Julys and, let’s face it, August still sort of sucks.
Four signs that it’s way too hot out for real rock climbing
- You’ve drunk all your water on the approach, before you even start to climb. Your joints need to be hydrated to work properly; if you can’t stay hydrated at the cliff, you risk finger and joint tweakage And even if you can carry enough water, the sheer weight of H2O in your pack will wear you out en route to the cliffs and you’ll be a dishrag on the rock—unless you have a portly, bandy-legged subman, Heinrich, to do the schlepping whilst he holds a giant sun umbrella above your person: Heinrich, schnell, schnell! Those six-gallon jugs aren’t going to carry themselves up to the Pipe Dream! If you are a good boy, I shall give you another yogurt-covered “Sports Pretzl.”
- Even 5 a.m. starts aren’t cutting it. You’ve set your alarm for 4:30 a.m., groggily choked down cereal and a cup of joe, and still feel seasick and dizzy and overall terrible. And yet, somehow, within the next hour or two you’re supposed to climb your hardest? Never mind that it’s already 80 degrees at 6 a.m.: Today the project is going down. Yes, this time it will be different. Maybe there will be a light breeze or a cold front or…. Not! It’s hot, OK. Really fucking hot. Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot! So go back to bed and cuddle with Teddy Ruxpin and write haiku and cry sad, salty tears onto your training logbook. This shit ain’t happening, hoss.
- Any stray bit of metal out in the sun or black clothing or climbing gear is too hot to touch. Not that you should be climbing in the sun in July anyway, but if this is happening, it’s way too hot to climb. The only time your belay biner should be too hot to grab is when it’s fresh out of the forge—or when you penalty-speed-lower your significant other after a blowout fight in front of a Tuesday-night crowd at the rock gym.
- It’s a day of the month falling between June 30 and August 1 on the calendar. Which would mean it’s a day in July. Which as we all now know, is “Don’t-Try July.”
“So, what is a motivated climber to do instead?” you ask. Good question. A few ideas:
- Take four letter grades off your climbing ability. Seriously, do. You’ll expend so much energy trying to grab holds on the proj with your sweaty, slidey skin while your rock shoes smarm and roll off every grip that there is no way you’re sending. Or, at the very least, you’re risking serious injury. Do you like having fingers and shoulders that still work come August? Then ease off the gas and embrace mediocrity. I did it years ago and it’s like coming home—as warm and comforting as peeing in the hot tub when no one’s looking.
- Go to the rock gym. Make sure they have good air conditioning and go at off-hours, so that the other clients aren’t swamping up all your precious cool air with their unctuous, July try-hard bodies. As soon as you feel so much as a bead of perspiration upon your brow, wipe it gently away with a soft towel (or have Heinrich do so), stop climbing, and leave.
- Go to the high country. If you have alpine cragging or bouldering near you, then now’s the time. Queue up with some god- and country-loving Murikans on America’s scenic, winding, traffic-choked alpine roads. The mountains are for everybody—even that guy in an F-950 pulling a 60-foot RV pulling a jeep, two jet skis, and four dirt bikes going 20 mph uphill and not letting anyone pass because that would be an affront to his masculinity as symbolized by the pair of shiny chrome truck nuts hanging right below his “FEARIT” custom license plate.
- Netflix and chill. The “and chill” part, and with whom you chill, is up to you.
- Rest. That’s right, I said it: Take some time off. One week or even two can do the body good, and may even breathe new life into stale, tired muscles and joints. Hell, it may even improve your attitude—before you end up like me, hot, bitter, burned-out, and writing snarky columns in a dank, gloomy basement while you wait for Don’t-Try July to Just-Up-and-Die.