Getting Tough: Building Climbing Calluses

How do you treat raw skin and build calluses after a weekend of rock climbing?

My new challenge started a couple of weeks ago after I joined the local climbing gym. A few hours on the artificial walls and I’d peeled the skin off the palms of my hands in seven places. Three of the raw spots were each the size of a dime.

Mind you, I’m not a climber. I start getting week-kneed at heights of, oh about three feet. But I wasn’t making any progress on the goal I set two months ago to do a single chin-up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice about skin treatment for climbers. Dave Ayton believes that moisture is key to skin repair for climbers. He also recommends Climb On! salve, or even sunburn treatment.

One the other side of the coin is the notion that lotion is your worst enemy. Moisturizing your skin makes it soft and more likely to tear. This school of thought recommends rubbing alcohol for building hand calluses.

I’ve found New Skin helpful to repair raw skin between climbing sessions. I’m told Super Glue also does the trick. Tape seems to be the best short term skin repair while actively climbing. Tape can also be used to prevent tears while climbing.

Norah suggested that I try pickle juice, something she learned in ballet. Legend has it that Nolan Ryan used pickle juice to treat blisters. I can’t find any evidence to show that pickle juice, or its components (vinegar and brine) are particularly effective. My guess is that the brine would reduce lymphatic serum beneath a blister and the vinegar would reduce skin oils, possibly toughening the skin.

What seems to be working for me is to use rubbing alcohol before and after climbing and lotion at night. I’m thinking of packing a bottle of waterless hand sanitizer (essentially gel alcohol) in my climbing bag.

Now on to my next goal: being able to climb at least as well as a 7 year old girl.

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