The phrase “social climber” may have a bit of a negative connotation in our society, but to Quad Cities Climbing Club members, it’s a positive term.
Founded by Davenport’s David Hinkle, this group gets together to socialize and climbs things. Literally. Rocks, mountainous terrain and indoor climbing walls are all fair game.
The club’s group climbs offer a great opportunity for novice climbers to try the sport under the tutelage of those with years of experience under their belts.
This is the club's first official season, but Hinkle and his friends have taken groups of people to climb for a number of years.
“I started the club because I wanted to start offering the experience to the whole community. I want to promote climbing as a fun, adventurous and safe fitness activity for everyone,” Hinkle says.
Hinkle stresses that you don’t need to have climbing experience to join the club. His own journey into climbing didn’t begin with the same sure footing that he has now.
Hinkle was trying to lose weight when he started. He weighed more than 350 pounds at the time.
“I was involved in an organization called the QC Co-Lab, and one of our members was an experienced climbing guide. He organized a climbing trip, and that sounded like a great idea to me because running and weightlifting were things I felt very uninterested in at the time," he says.
The "first time I tried to climb, I didn’t get more than a couple feet up the easy wall. I just wasn’t strong enough to get my mass any higher. I was among friends though, so it was OK.
The club went rappelling, too, which Hinkle says he really enjoyed. "It was great exercise because after each rappel, you have to hike back to the top of the cliff to do it again. It was a really hardcore workout day for me, and I repeated it as often as he would take us. Eventually, I made another climbing friend and started climbing with her, and then started studying rigging and leading my own trips.”
There are a number of types of climbing, and Hinkle outlines them as top-rope climbing, rappelling, lead and trad climbing and bouldering.
“We primarily do top-rope climbing, as that is the safest and most accessible form of climbing for those that are new to the sport. In this type of climbing, the guide will set up a climb from the top with a safety system that the climber is tied into. The climber can test themselves against the rock with little risk of injury and be caught by the rope if he or she falls.
"At no point during the climb is the climber aided by the safety system unless they fall. In this way, they discover if they could have climbed the cliff unaided without risking their life,” he says.
Rappelling involves descending from the top of a cliff using a rope and friction point. “It’s a very exciting way to get back down to the ground from some place high, and it’s something I like to see everyone try.”
Lead and trad climbing is more advanced. Hinkle says that while a guide may demonstrate this during a trip, it’s typically not appropriate for beginners.
“In a trad climb, the lead climber starts from the bottom and will anchor camming devices into the rock. If the lead climber falls, the cams will tighten and catch his or her weight, assuming they are properly placed,” he says.
Bouldering often is practiced by advanced climbers as well.
“Bouldering is a very physically and mentally intense activity where the climber tests themselves against a very difficult problem that doesn’t happen to be very high. It is usually practiced as a workout by more advanced climbers, but many people enjoy it as a discipline all its own,” Hinkle says.
Climbers use a variety of equipment, including harnesses. “The rope will travel from the climber to the top of a cliff, where it passes through a pulley and back down to a safety person on the ground, called a belay. The rope is a fully redundant system made from three or more unique ropes braided together inside a braided sheath. Each rope and the sheath alone are capable of stopping a fall,” Hinkle says.
“The pulley is usually made with carabiners fixed to webbing, which is anchored to trees, rocks or bolts in a fully redundant, no single-point-of-failure system. The belay keeps the slack out of the rope and uses a device called a Grigri, which automatically locks the rope in place if a climber takes a fall.”
If you are rappelling, you will use a metal device called a figure 8, which allows you to control your rate of descent.
Hinkle emphasizes that the group practices safety.
“Climbing safely requires careful attention to best practices. We use special equipment to keep the climbers safe when they take a fall, and that equipment requires specialized training. I think everyone should climb, but you need to get there through the mentorship of an experienced climber so you don’t get hurt. That’s what the club is for,” he says.
Hinkle aims to get the group out for two public climbs per month, depending on the weather. The club climbs outdoors primarily at the Mississippi Palisades in Savanna, and Pictured Rocks in Maquoketa; and indoors at Upper Limits in Bloomington, and the University of Iowa Climbing Gym in Iowa City.
There is a suggested donation of $20 for new climbers to help cover wear and tear on club gear and support instructor training, but Hinkle says the donations are optional and confidential as they don’t want the cost to prohibit anyone from joining.
Experienced climbers with their own gear may climb with the club for free.
If you'd like to join, Hinkle advises wearing athletic wear and shoes suitable for hiking, and to remember that you don’t want clothing, hair or jewelry to get caught in equipment. If you come out for a climb, you’ll also want to bring lunch, sunscreen and 1 to 2 liters of water.
Hinkle says that climbing provides a way to work out that’s efficient and fun.
And if that’s not enough to convince you to give it a shot, “it arms you with plenty of stories to tell at parties,” he says.