Black Hills Climbers Flourish Despite Dropping Temperatures

As colder temperatures make their way into the Black Hills, many outdoor enthusiasts put away their summer hobbies to prepare for winter, but not rock climbers.

Rock climbers continue to climb as the temperatures start to drop. They do so to get a temporary advantage that only happens during this time of the year. A natural increase in friction.

The main reason that climbers have an increased level of friction is that the temperature reaches an optimal range. The optimal climbing temperature ranges from 41 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The Black Hills see more of these temperatures during the fall and winter, which is when the climbers use this advantage to climb the most difficult routes

Black Hills State University Professor Dan Durben explains that the decrease in temperature does not directly cause the increase of friction. He states, “the properties of the rock won’t change that much over normal temperature ranges, but rubber (on climbing shoes) does change.” Durben goes on to say that the rubber on the bottom of climbing shoes reaches a sweet spot at which they have the most friction.

In an article written for Climbing Magazine, David Flanagan explains that above this temperature range the rubber on the shoes deform easily and slip off of the rock. But below this range the rubber becomes too rigid and friction starts to decrease.

Flanagan goes on to explain that the climbing shoe companies design the rubber on the bottom of the shoes to perform best at colder temperatures because the skin on a person’s hands produces less sweat, leading to an increase in friction.

Flanagan also states that much like climbing shoes when skin is too hot the climber’s hands produce sweat, decreasing friction. But too cold and the skin on their hands becomes hard and glassy, also reducing friction.