16 November 2012
For me and many others, sweaty hands is a serious pain in the ass for indoor climbing or in warm climates. It may be because your hands are sweaty, or because various aspects of individual physiology (e.g. body shape and size) make it difficult to maintain an even body temp during physical work. Most likely the problem is a bit of both.
It’s true there might not be much you can do to remove the underlying cause, but there is of course plenty you can do to make workarounds or offset the problem. Lots of folk accept they have sweaty hands and this limits their climbing in a few situations, but don’t do nearly as much as they could to mitigate this. So what can you do?
Well, it’s obvious as hell, but loads of folk still don’t do it; take clothes off! Although showing off might be a side effect for some, the reason those guys at the climbing wall take their t-shirts off is just to stick to the holds better. Shorts and vests are kind of out of fashion just now, which is a shame since they are good for keeping cool. Climbers used to be good at ignoring fashions. How good are they now at this?
Resting between attempts isn’t just for replenishing power. I also allows you to cool down again. If you are getting close to a boulder problem, you could go and stand outside for 5 minutes and speed up the process. Be careful with this though, it’s your fingers that need cooling ultimately. Muscles shouldn’t be allowed to get too cold or the benefit will be negated. If you are outdoors and you cant find cold air for sweaty fingers, cold rock can really help. Placing your hands on the smoothest, coldest bit of rock you can find will help silence the sweat glands and keep your skin from getting soft. The fact that the rock warms up so much that you need to move to another area of rock after a few minutes underlines just how much heat is transferred.
Thin skin also sweats more. If you’ve had multiple days on, you can plan for this and remember that your good attempts might be earlier in the session. Folk with really bad sweaty fingers have had success with antihydral, applied very carefully and sparingly after climbing sessions to the tip pads (never the creases, which causes semi-permanent cracking!!). I've heard some climbers tell me this transformed their indoor climbing experience to something much more pleasurable, but only once they refined just how little to apply. Overdo it, and you'll get the dreaded 'glassy' skin which is even worse than sweaty skin.
Keeping your hands from going too sweaty and soft during the session is also critical. A little chalk and generally waving your hands around during your rests helps keep skin dry and tough. On my own board at home, which I keep pretty cold with a fan and wide open window (my favourite bouldering temp is about -1 celcius) if I leave the board and go into my warm house for a few minutes, continuing on my hardest problems is a waste of time. Once skin is soft, I have to move to more powerful problems on bigger holds, or the skin friendly fingerboard.
Finally though, When there really isn’t any way to avoid the problems of trying to climb in the heat, accept it. I’ve driven myself spare so many times trying to climb in poor conditions. The best thing to do is climb in places or at times of year that will have good conditions. It’s a whole lot nicer!