Climbers and Their Hands

climber_hands_coffeetapeclimbFor many things it’s an accomplishment to have your fingers bleed. If a pop-rock artist sings that he played his guitar, “’till my fingers bled,” he is seen as dedicated. If you hammer nails, rake leaves, or chop wood till your blisters bleed, you’re hardworking and should invest in better gloves. If you’re a small child, you get a Chewbacca Band-Aid for a mere paper cut. If you’re a climber, you dig out your tape and keep climbing; it’s no big deal and certainly not an accomplishment.

Bleeding is inherent to climbing. You tear flappers, rip off hangnails, wear through pads, and get chewed up in crystalline cracks. The only things climbers are allowed to do about it find “softer” rock at the end of the day, invest in rolls of Metolius tape, and, well, look at their hands quite often.

Climbers spend 897 percent more time looking at their hands than the average non-climbing American, especially boulderers, who are famous for checking out their fingertips before and after each burn. We baby our hands; filing down callouses; slathering on hand salve; and clipping away hangnails, half-attached flappers, and any hint of white at the end of our nails. However, despite this care, many of us still wear through our skin by the end of a long day.

Here are a few signs that you or someone you know has worn through at least one pad and should consider taking preventative action:

  1. The most obvious: You have blood dripping—or running—from your fingertip(s).
  2. The crux of every move is fighting the great pain that touching the rock triggers every time you grip it (you are nearing or have reached number one above).
  3. You have a “heightened” sense of touch, making the experience of grasping familiar objects, such as your Nalgene, quite interesting.
  4. You can no longer pull toast out of the toaster with your bare hands.
  5. Your fingertips are sweatier than normal (or leaking a strange sweat-like fluid), and you aren’t nervous.

If you have one or more of the above symptoms, consider taking one or more of these preventative or reparative actions immediately:

  1. If you plan to climb tomorrow, tape the raw fingertip for the rest of the day in “mummy” fashion: Beginning just above the second knuckle, wind a thin strip of tape (1/8-1/4 inch wide) around your finger, slowly moving upward to cover the raw tip and then back down again to anchor the strip just below the second knuckle—the thinner the strip of tape, the better it will adhere to itself and your skin, and anchoring the strip to the lower, unaffected part of your finger will help keep the tape from sliding off your finger mid-route. Note: You might need to tape up tomorrow too, depending on the severity of skin loss.
  2. Take a rest day (or two) to let your skin heal. DO NOT take this as an opportunity to train in the gym, especially on rough, new holds, which will only make the problem worse.
  3. Utilize hand salve to hydrate dry tips and speed the healing process. I use Climb On after every session, regardless of the condition of my skin. It helps rehydrate my hands after hours of stuffing them in chalk and smells nice too. I sometimes use it as chapstick when I can’t find my Burt’s Bees.

I’ve also been told that “you have to give blood to receive.” So maybe tearing a flapper or wearing through a few pads is just part of the sending game.

Originally published October 23, 2014, on 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s