Adaptive gear makes the sport of rock climbing as accessible to thrill-seekers with a physical disability as anyone. After all, the biggest qualifier to climb is one’s spirit of adventure. Adaptive gear is merely part of the puzzle.
Amputees first getting into rock climbing can use their everyday prosthesis, or climb without their prosthesis, simply choosing to wear a sleeve or other protector on their residual limb, Disabledsportsusa.org advises. Disabled Sports USA, a member of the United States Olympic Committee, serves more than 60,000 wounded warriors, youth and adults with disabilities through its nationwide network of 127 community-based chapters in 41 states.
Adaptive specialized feet and climbing knees are out there to give the climber a more high-quality experience.
“Unfortunately, as any amputee who has climbed with a conventional prosthetic foot knows, the toe is too flexible to be supportive on the rock,” explains Mountain Orthotic & Prosthetic Services, out of New York state. “In the past people custom-made prosthetic climbing feet. Now through years of development and coordination with several expert amputee climbers, we have designed an inexpensive prosthetic foot that functions well for any climber of any ability level.”
Mountain O&P’s ADK Rock Climbing Foot, for example, can spin 180 degrees, has rubber on the bottom for a firm grip with the rock, plus flex points and internal poly foam for a compliant grip to the rock at multiple angles.
“Whether you are a runner with foot pain or an amputee trying to learn a new sport, it is our objective to help you reach your athletic goals,” Mountain O&P owner Jeff Erenstone, an avid triathlete, skier and mountaineer himself, states. “It is our objective to help our patients return to the activities that they love and introduce them to new ones as well.”
And there’s the Evolv Adaptive Foot, an option for lower extremity amputee climbers that pairs with the Eldo-Z climbing shoe. “Made from an ultra-durable and temperature resistant polyethylene plastic and using a stainless steel pyramidal attachment,” Evolv describes, “that attaches using standard prosthetic componentry.”
TRS Inc., out of Boulder, Colorado, USA, developed the Raptor Sky Hook.
“It has no handedness and is functional for persons with either right or left-hand absence,” its website explains. “The RAPTOR has a slim, solid titanium plate support body bolted to a stainless steel wrist adapter system that fits all USA standard prostheses.
Additionally, the Sky Hook has a user adjustable, limited, “rocking” or pivot action, all of which are useful to adapt to various approach angles and pitches in a variety of environments. It comes with three replaceable (and potentially “recyclable”) tips: two Polyurethane and one “shapeable” brass. Climbers can grind the brass tip to any configuration of choice or leave it “as-is” with its squared off tip shape.
Wheelchair climbers, too, find their own adaptive and inspirational ways to the top.
A “Superman” harness is a seat harness that can be easily placed upon a user in a wheelchair to allow ascension, according to the National Public Website on Assistive Technology. The additional use of a spreader bar prevents the harness from collapsing and allows arm range of motion for the climber. Ropes can be threaded through various types of pulley systems, allowing the climber to pull all of their weight or even as little as 20 percent of their weight while ascending the rope.
A recent inspirational example is Hong Kong rock climber Lai Chi-wai, who is paralyzed from the hips down and in a wheelchair due to a car accident. That didn’t stop him in 2016 – on the fifth anniversary of the accident – from climbing a mountain roughly the height of New York’s Empire State Building.
“Climbing the mountain meant that I could show to my friends and supporters that I have overcome one of the lowest points in life,” he told Reuters. “Even though I’m in a wheelchair I can challenge other sports and still be able to do what I love most.”
Once your adaptive gear is all set, US Adaptive has two National USA Climbing sanctioned competitions per year: ABS Nationals (Bouldering) and US Adaptive Nationals (harnessed climbing). First, second, third place awards are up for grabs for both males and females in each paraclimber category. US Adaptive Nationals qualifies climbers for the US team that competes internationally at the World Cup.