8 facts I learned from this old climbing handbook

 If you don’t enjoy random facts about climbing, then get out. No, just kidding.


My grandfather found this awesome book for me on his flea market rounds (really cool find if I must say). Garth Hattingh, an avid climber and alpinist wrote “The Climber’s Handbook” in the 90’s. The handbook essentially covers all forms of climbing as well as the history of climbing, equipment and terminology. He knew a thing or two, but I still find it funny to reference a book from the 90s.

I’ve compiled a list of things that I did not know, and hopefully there’s something new for you to learn here too. Enjoy!

1. Using chalk in Fontainebleu is frowned upon.

Apparently, the right thing to use is a type of resin called ‘poff’. I did not know this, nor did my boyfriend who went to Font last Spring. Reading things like this makes me weary of visiting new crags and being ‘unethical’ out of ignorance. I wish we could all just make one set of guidelines to follow; we would all be a lot happier!

2. Climbers have severely harmed the environment.

And I don’t just mean littering at base camps, but the impact we have on eroding soil, eliminating vegetation, and impacting human and animal habitats with higher levels of human traffic. These are all things I was aware of, but hadn’t thought too much about. My friends and I are pretty good at carrying out what we carried in, but it’s hard to look at that base camp picture and realize that humans did that! It’s also hard to think back to the popular crags I’ve been to and wonder how just us being there has affected the area.

Shame, shame, shame!

3. Carabiners should be cleaned periodically.

I knew cleaning your rope was a thing, but cleaning your biners? Really? “To allow full movement of the gate, carabiners should be cleaned periodically with warm water, liquid soap, and a brush. Moving parts should be treated with silicone”. Huh, will you look at that! Sorry carabiners/draws for neglecting you. I promise never to do it again!

4. Double back your harness strap.

I feel like this is something I should have known, so please don’t judge me if this is a thing that everyone knew and I didn’t. When you put on your harness and tighten the strap in front, you’re supposed to take the strap and feed it back through so it stays in place. This seems incredibly logical to me, so I’m guessing I’m the only one who didn’t know this.

5. The lifespan of climbing equipment.

I always knew climbing equipment didn’t last forever, but I didn’t know exactly when stuff kicked the can. Even if your equipment is hanging up in a dark room somewhere, unused, it is still subject to natural deterioration.
Metal objects (carabiners, figure 8 descenders, nuts and other aluminum products): 10 years.
Nylon, perlon, plastic (ropes, slings, harnesses, helmets): 5 years.
Of course, the more use and strain put on these items, the quicker the deterioration process. So, if you take a few big falls on your rope, keep in mind that you’ll need to replace your rope sooner than you would like.

6. Fall Factor

I think we all calculate this in our heads anyway, but I found it cool that there’s actually an equation you can use to calculate it! This is a ratio between distance fallen and length of rope available to catch the fall.
Fall factor = distance fallen divided by rope out.
The most serious fall factor is a 2. You don’t want a 2. The fall factor allows you to calculate risk and to place gear before you reach a serious fall factor.

7. Pink Point

Again, this is probably something everyone knew, but I’ve only ever heard the term in passing. A redpoint is completing a route from top to bottom after having practiced the route several times, that term is commonly used. However, a pinkpoint is a redpoint with gear already placed. We don’t really differentiate between the two in sport climbing anymore – usually when you’re practicing a route, your draws are already placed. I can see this being more relevant to trad climbing where placing the gear is also a significant part of climbing the route.

8. Bouldering wasn’t really a thing in the 90s.

The bouldering section of this handbook takes up about half of a page. Half a page! The article begins with, “[bouldering] is mostly used for training, or pure fun”. I agree it is fun, but it’s cool to see how far bouldering has come in such a short time to go beyond just a means of training.

The lone bouldering page.

2 thoughts on “8 facts I learned from this old climbing handbook

  1. great piece allez girl. It lovely to see young climbers discovering their world more in depth. I’m not sure it’s all completely accurate, but when is it ever when it comes to climbing. Here in France, chalk is generally refered to as poff. The chalk bag is called ‘un sac a poff’ when we go to the shop we ask for poff. I guess the name comes from the sounds a bag of chalk makes when you drop it to the ground. It would be interesting to find the real origin of the name.
    Be carful with the life span of equipment. Things have changed a little. Today we generally consider metal equipment to last a lifetime. This of course is not taking into consideration degradation, miss use, wear and tear. So if you have a eight that is in good condition and well treated and twenty years old then it ok. Textile now depends. Before we used to say five years, or eight. Now it’s the manufacturer that decides. If Beal bring a rope out or harness and say it is good for twenty years then it’s good for twenty years. This is the golden rule that should be applied to all equipment regardless of weather it’s metal, textile or plastic. Most manufacturers have a code or colour system that you can refer to on their website to know the age of your equipment.
    So next tie you see some climbers rocking the old harness fro the eighties thinking they look cool, you’ll be able to warn them that they are in real danger of rupture. As for looping the strap back on a harness, it’s what we used to do. Again it depends on the make, but generally a good harness today (ie Petzl) has a safety system that means this is not necessary anymore, which may explain why you didn’t know.
    Keep, reading, keep posting and keep posting. and keep climbing.

    1. Great feedback again, thanks! I’m glad someone commented on the validity of these facts… I wasn’t sure if they were still accurate today haha In either case, I was hoping they would at least be funny at how off they are from the reality of climbing today.

      I wasn’t lying when I said they were things I didn’t know, so thanks again for clarifying anything for myself and the readers! I’m glad you enjoyed reading 🙂

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