On the Rocks: Climbing in Mendoza

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By Wine Republic

It’s official, rock climbing is cool. The sport’s recent inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics means the once oddball pursuit has finally abseiled with style down to main street. Expect the World to watch agog in 2020 as human ants cling, scramble and race over colorful carbuncles with the occasional heart stopping fall. Climbing is expected to add some newcomer sparkle to Tokyo, much the same as BMX did at Beijing in 2008.

The stamp of Olympic approval was inevitable. The proliferation of indoor rock walls in gyms and sport’s centres around the World indicate just how popular the sport has become. It is all the more remarkable as the first recorded competition only took place in 1985 in Italy and the World Cup in rock climbing is only 18 years old.

Yet not all aficionados are exactly stoked about the Olympic move. They fear what was a free-wheeling, adventurous activity with no rules will now become crippled with regulation, officialdom and commercial exploitation. Part of rock climbing’s appeal is the fact it is unfettered by rules and fees. Many people might even argue it is not just a sport, more a performance art with minimalist and spiritual aspirations. One that requires monumental physical and mental strength.

So what is it exactly? Good old Wikipedia defines it as the following: “Rock climbing is an activity in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling.”

The sport has many different styles and sub-disciplines, the most famous of which is free climbing without the use of ropes. The new Olympic medal involves three categories – lead climbing, speed climbing and bouldering (relatively short heights over padded mats). It is indicative of just how much climbing has evolved with so many different facets that many criticise the Olympic definition as way to narrow and restrictive.

For example the World’s most famous rock climber Alex Honnold will not be competing. He is famous for climbing the 3000 feet cliff El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes. He argues that in comparison with the Olympics, his challenges are on a grander scale and never indoors. For him to participate in the tournament would be like putting an ultra-marathonist in a 100-meter sprint.

If anything the debate has revealed just how diverse the pastime of climbing has become. There is a World of difference between the teeth chattering endurance of climbing Aconcagua to the mental zen required on a rock face without ropes.

Yet indoor climbing will create its own stars. Argentina fared remarkably well at the recent Sport Climbing World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria. 16-year old Valentina Aguado came second in bouldering. She comes from the neighbouring province of San Luis and her talent and enthusiasm is indicative of the strong and passionate following rock climbing has in Argentina.

Mendoza makes a happy hunting ground for climbers with numerous cliff faces drawing... (Read More)