What is the attraction of climbing

Mainz (dpa) - Once a dropout sport, today the fitness trend: More and more people are drawn to the steep walls - whether in climbing halls or in rocky landscapes. There they reach their own limits.

The tendons and muscles on the arms clearly stand out. White fingertips seek support on rough, reddish-brown sandstone. The right arm shoots up, slips off. Julius Westphal is hanging on the rope. The rock is clammy on the route, one of the hardest in Rhineland-Palatinate. In 2005 he climbed "Mekka direkt" for the first time with a difficulty level of 11- / 11. Every other day he is drawn to the walls in the Palatinate. Westphal has little interest in the "gym-like halls". "I'm a rock climber at heart," he says.

Climbing has been booming for years. The German Alpine Club (DAV) estimates that a third of its members move in a vertical position and are now talking about popular sport. Overall, one can assume there are around 400,000 to 500,000 sport climbers in Germany. The trend is rising, also in Rhineland-Palatinate. The regional association has around 30,000 members, around a quarter of whom climb, says chairman Udo Rauch. In Mainz, for example, the construction of a climbing hall gave the sport a tremendous boost. The youth are attracted with events, courses are offered in schools.

Young people in particular were looking for the risk in the steep face and the reputation of the dangerous, says Stefan Winter, head of popular sports at the DAV. Nationwide, there are always new artificial climbing facilities, around 430 with an area of ​​more than 100 square meters, according to the DAV. Almost everyone who learns to climb there will at some point be drawn outside.

The fingers claw into the wall of the nuns rock, Westphal is looking for the tiny handle above his head. Then the narrow body snaps back up. This time he can intercept the movement. The rope snaps into the next fuse. Born in Karlsruhe, he has been climbing for more than 14 years. Not to win competitions, not to set World Cup records. "It's about experiencing your own limits and defying them," says the 27-year-old. The Palatinate, his territory, is considered dangerous. Many routes are sparsely secured and the rock is brittle.

The red sandstone cliffs protrude from the forest behind the Bärenbrunnerhof like bizarre towers. There are hundreds of rocks in total in the Southwest Palatinate, says the Palatinate Climbers Association. Sporty climbing began there around the turn of the century. Today, modern sports and classic climbing are mixed, which wants to keep the rock as natural as possible, says spokesman Thomas Schaub. In the traditional routes, few circlips are drilled into the rock in order to maintain the demanding character. The use of magnesium is frowned upon, especially in the lower levels of difficulty. It is not made easy for beginners, says Westphal. Around 40 "fashion rocks" are heavily visited, others are only seldom done each year.

In Morgenbachtal, a side valley of the Rhine between Bingen and Trechtingshausen, things look different, for example. On some Sunday afternoons, there is hardly a route in the gray quartzite that is not populated by climbers in colorful outdoor clothes. The rocks are scattered on the forest slope, the view extends far over the Rhine. In the nature reserve there are around twelve sectors with around 120 to 150 easy and moderately difficult routes, says the author of the climbing guide for the Rhine-Main region, Christoph Deinet. Most of the time, the rock is well secured. The Morgenbachtal offers a transition between indoor and outdoor climbing, says the chairwoman of the IG Climbing and Nature Conservation in Rhein-Main, Brigitte Hißnauer.

Because, according to DAV spokesman Winter, climbing on rocks is more difficult. Outside there is "uniform gray" - no colored handles show the way, the rock does not always lie comfortably in the hand and sometimes causes injuries. "There are more objective dangers such as falling rocks and large distances between the hooks," says the expert. And you usually climb at your own risk.

According to the DAV's assessment, the risk on the rock has not changed - but the number of accidents has increased in parallel with the number of climbers.

Overconfidence makes rocks dangerous, but with experience, according to Westphal, the Palatinate is one of the most beautiful climbing areas in Germany. For him, climbing is part of his life, the community is important - even if the boom is changing the scene and sociability is increasingly being replaced by performance-based thinking. In the past, climbers were considered dropouts, he says. That is over today.