Course:EOSC311/2020/Rock Climbing in Yosemite National Park
- 1 How Does Geology Relate to the Sport of Outdoor Rock Climbing?
- 2 What Does Energy Metabolism Look Like During Rock Climbing?
- 3 Geology of Yosemite National Park
- 4 El Capitan
- 5 Half Dome
- 6 Glacier Point
- 7 Conclusion
- 8 References
How Does Geology Relate to the Sport of Outdoor Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is a sport that requires the activation of multiple physiological systems. Effective rock climbing can only occur when the climber has enough energy to sustain muscular contractions for the entirety of the climb. The availability and production of this energy depends on various unique geological factors that are present in each climb. The geology of each site will affect the abundance of climbing holds, the strength of each hold and the overall difficulty of that route. Depending on the types of geological features present, different muscle groups will be utilized by the climber on their way up the route. The body compensates for these variations in difficulty by altering the systems through which it produces energy for a climb, and the muscles that it delivers a large proportion of this energy to. All of these alterations are made to ensure that the body has enough energy to complete each climb. The effect of geology on the ability to perform rock climbing is what is of particular interest to kinesiologists and athletic trainers that are working to train climbers for a specific site. Crafting effective training programs for climbers requires both geological and athletic analysis for each climbing route, considering that each will play a major role in optimizing overall performance.
Not only is Yosemite National Park a popular and widely known destination for many rock climbers, but is also home to many unique geological formations. The popularity and interesting geological analysis of Yosemite, as well as the importance of geology in rock climbing performance is what makes this particular park interesting for many kinesiologists and rock climbing trainers.
What Does Energy Metabolism Look Like During Rock Climbing?
During exercise the body requires energy (powers the muscular contractions needed to perform a movement) in the form of a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). In order for the body to make this molecule, it needs to metabolize three principle substrates that enter the body through the diet: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Carbohydrates will be converted into a molecule called glycogen and stored in various muscle tissues in the body. This glycogen is what the body will metabolize first when it's in need of energy. When these stores deplete, the body relies on blood glucose being absorbed by tissues to provide carbohydrates. Once the body is unable to use any more carbohydrates, it will turn to fat for energy. Fat metabolism is more complex than carbohydrate metabolism, and requires more oxygen. Proteins are used for energy after fats, however this happens very rarely, and only if the athlete is extremely depleted of the other two substrates.
Phosphocreatine, aerobic and anaerobic pathways can be used to metabolize substrates for energy. For the purposes of rock climbing, only aerobic and anaerobic pathways are of interest since the phosphocreatine pathway is only utilized for very short and explosive movements. The anaerobic pathway utilizes glucose to create ATP through a variety of reactions. This form of metabolism does not require oxygen, and is able to make energy at sufficient rates for exercise lasting up to 2 minutes.  The aerobic energy system utilizes oxygen that is inspired through the lungs, and various structures in a cell's mitochondria to make energy through a series of reactions. This energy system is used in the body for endurance exercise (lasting greater than 2 minutes), and is also the principle energy system used in rock climbing. Both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems are mainly used in combination with one another, with each contributing a different proportion of total energy production depending on the circumstance.  A visual representation of the aerobic energy system and its reactions is shown in Figure 2.
For the majority of a climb, the body will mainly make energy aerobically under ideal conditions.  However, depending on the length, altitude and difficulty of the climbing route, the contribution of each energy system is altered.  Based on the geological formations and features of a climbing site, there will usually be sections of a climb that are easier than others, creating intermittent sections of high intensity exercise.  In easier sections, the climber is able to take a break and recover aerobically, restoring the availability of oxygen in their body.  Difficult rock climbing sites, with smooth surfaces and very sparse grooves in rock create less opportunity for the climber to aerobically recover.  In this scenario, the body will be be more inclined to increase usage of anaerobic energy systems to create energy as the availability of oxygen depletes over the climb. 
The production of lactic acid poses a problem for prolonged use of anaerobic energy systems. As seen in Figure 2, anaerobic energy systems go through the same initial step of aerobic respiration in converting glucose to pyruvate. From here, this pyruvate is formed into lactic acid and creates ATP as an intermediate of that reaction. As lactic acid builds up, the muscle will get more and more fatigued, unable to generate contractions with enough force to complete the climb.  For this reason, it is important that the body of the climber does not use a high proportion of anaerobic energy systems for too long during a climb. Training prior to a climb allows rock climbers to alter the ways in which their bodies create energy. For example, rock climbers that climb at sites with high altitudes face the issue of oxygen availability.  With training, the climber will able to adapt their body to conditions in which they use anaerobic energy systems, allowing their muscles to delay the onset of fatigue despite lactic acid buildup. This is why it is important that rock climbers analyze the geology of their rock climbing sites and the ways in which they affect energy metabolism. With this knowledge, they are able to implement specific training techniques that enhance their performance throughout each climb.
Geology of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Batholith, part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  As seen in Figure 4, Yosemite National Park is home to many different rock types found in a variety of different sites. The valleys in the park are 1 km deep, and were known to be carved through glaciation.  Glacial erosion during the Pleistocene Epoch slowly eroded the rock of the "V-shaped" valleys, widening and deepening them.  It is this glacial erosion that created the "U-shaped" valleys seen in Yosemite National Park today (Figure 5). Once these glaciers receded, many rivers were formed in these valleys, giving the sediments located in the Yosemite Valley glaciofluvial (river) origins. 
The formation of Yosemite National Park started when the Farallon tectonic plate subducted under the North America Plate (Figure 6).  Water was released into the molten rock overlying the subducting plate. This water lowered the melting point of the molten rock, creating magma (flux melting). When this magma rose, it partially melted the crust found in the Sierra Nevada, eventually creating volcanoes that erupted with basaltic lava. This basaltic lava cooled slowly allowing feldspar and quartz crystals to grow quite large within the granitic rock. This created a granitic base under the volcanoes, that continued to grow as the volcanoes kept erupting. Volcanic formation and activity ceased due to the fact that the rate of creation of the Farallon Plate in the Pacific Ocean was slower than the rate of its subduction under the North America Plate. Eventually there was no more plate left to subduct, causing volcanic activity to stop. Plutonic igneous rock in this area dates back to 80 million years, leading geologists to believe that the last active volcano in the Sierra Nevada Batholith stopped being active around this same time. Weathering and erosion exposed the granite that was created by the volcanoes. Due to the high strength of granite, it acts as an effective base for rock formations like El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. 
Due to the location of Yosemite National Park being in California, the area tends to be prone to earthquakes. These earthquakes have been known to cause major rock falls or rock landslides, creating many of the cliffs and rock holds that are present in formations of the park. Climbing sites that experience rock falls from low magnitude earthquakes generally have weaker rock, and are not ideal for rock climbing safely. This is why geology of each site should be studied and analyzed prior to the climb, ensuring safety and efficiency during the climb.
Geology of El Capitan
El Capitan, one of Yosemite's most well known rock formations, is found to have a rock volume of 1 km3. This formation is located in the west central portion of the Sierra Nevada batholith.  El Capitan has two specific forms of granite: El Capitan granite and Taft Granite, making up different areas of this formation.
El Capitan granite is mostly found on the southeast face of El Capitan.  This type of granite is notable for its composition of large amounts of biotite and gabbro units originating from recycled portions of the Earth's crust . In the past, El Capitan granite has had potassium-feldspar porphyry's, but federal protection of the land has kept mining companies away from El Capitan and the rest of Yosemite National Park.  Through uranium-lead dating (absolute dating), El Capitan granite dates to approximately 105.43 million years.  This further reinforces the volcanic origins of this granite, as volcanic activity in the area stopped 80 million years ago.  In contrast, Taft granite is found mainly on the northwest side of El Capitan.  Taft granite is fine-grained and semiangular, with a variety of minerals that are present.  Some of these minerals include significant amounts of quartz and feldspar (common in all types of granite), and some plagioclase.  Taft granite also contains relatively low amounts of biotite and very high levels of silicon dioxide.  Geologists found that the formation of Taft granite was a result of the partial melting of El Capitan granite by volcanic eruptions of once active volcanoes.  Other notable features on the face of El Capitan include dykes composed of biotite with many xenoliths (rocks broken off from a volcanic pipe with rising magma that is incorporated into magmatic rock). 
There are roughly 9 major routes located on the southeast face of El Capitan, with the most popular being "The Nose" and "The North America Wall". Since rock climbing happens mainly on the southeast face of this formation, El Capitan granite plays a large role in analyzing rock climbing on El Capitan. El Capitan granite is found to generally be resistant to various forms of weathering, causing the southeast face of the formation to be relatively smooth, with only small grooves in the rock  Due to the strength of El Capitan granite, this formation has not experienced many rock falls as a result of rock mass strength failures.  With a very smooth surface, there are not very many hand or foot holds for rock climbers, making this site a challenge for many rock climbers.
Metabolic Features of Climbing This Site
Because of the fact that El Capitan's geology includes very shallow grooves throughout its southeast face,  balance and stability is an important factor in climbing this site. To achieve balance and stability, the body needs to be able to provide adequate energy to the core abdomen muscles for continuous contraction. This means that the core muscles of the climbers body need to have high oxidative capacities, ensuring that an adequate proportion of energy is made aerobically. Enhanced production of energy and delivery to these muscles would allow them to sustain stability for the full duration of a climb up El Capitan.
El Capitan is a climbing site where fewer holds in the rock create less opportunity for the climber to take breaks and aerobically recover, meaning that less oxygen is readily available to perform aerobic metabolism. This is when anaerobic metabolism starts to play a larger role in energy production during rock climbing. While anaerobic metabolism is useful in many ways, it produces less ATP than aerobic metabolism and creates lactic acid accumulation, leading to quicker onset of fatigue. In order for this to be avoided, training measures to improve muscle tolerance to lactic acid is important. 
Ensuring adequate amounts of substrates for metabolism will also be important for this climb. During aerobic metabolism, the body will use carbohydrates first and then fats. Additionally, anaerobic metabolism that takes place during this climb will rely exclusively on carbohydrates as a substrate since fats require a very high level of oxygen to metabolize. This means that adequate supply of both fats and carbohydrates in the diet of the climber prior to the climb is important to ensure energy production for the full duration of the climb.
When it comes to training the core abdomen muscles, training endurance and strength will enhance oxidative capacity, allowing the climber to maintain adequate balance and stability in completing this climb. An effective exercise for this would be the extensor endurance test with a classic (Figure 10) or modified plank.  This exercise would allow the climber to choose using a resistance band to stabilize their legs to an elevated platform (modified) or to simply perform the exercise on the ground (classic). From here, the upper torso region would perform a plank suspended in the air (modified) or on the ground (classic) until the climber gets fatigued. Another endurance exercise for core muscles would be the flexor endurance test. This exercise would entail the climber planting their feet to the ground, and staying suspended in a sit-up position until they become fatigued (Figure 11). These exercises improve core muscle strength and endurance over time. Additionally, the time in which each climber is able to sustain each of these exercises will also give a measure of just how much endurance the core muscles have.
Any cardiovascular training done by the climber should be done using exercises like running, or cycling in order to successfully alter the proportion of energy system contributions. Additionally, doing cardiovascular exercises that are higher-intensity in short bouts would provide benefits in training the anaerobic energy system. Studies show that greater utilization of exercises like short-length sprints or high-intensity cycling for 10 minutes have seen to improve muscle tolerance of lactic acid and delay the onset of fatigue.
With regards to diet, a balanced diet for the athlete is important. Both fats and carbohydrates will be needed for sustained aerobic and anaerobic energy production, so adequate amounts of both these substrates are necessary in the climbers diet. However, not all forms of carbohydrates and fats will be useful in doing this. For supplementation of fats, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats will be of great importance. Examples of foods with unsaturated fats include various types of tree nuts (almonds, cashews and walnuts), fish oils (salmon, krill, etc) and foods high in omega-3. These types of fats have shown to improve fat metabolism in aerobic energy production, leading to greater fat loss during exercise. For carbohydrate supplementation, complex carbohydrates are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates can be found in foods like breads, sweet potatoes, fruits, and rice. Climbers should make sure that they avoid foods with simple carbohydrates in the form of processed and refined sugars. Ingestion of complex carbohydrates are known to boost overall energy production by providing greater stores of carbohydrates for the body to utilize. Including these types of food into the diet regularly, but particularly before the climb, will be of benefit to the performance of climbing El Capitan.
Geology of The Half Dome
As seen in Figure 12, the Half Dome, with a height of approximately 2694 m, has a prominent and unique shape that stands out in Yosemite Valley. The back face of the formation is arched, with rounding of the rock near the top. Then there is sharp vertical face that faces the valley, making the formation look very evidently like a half dome. The major rock type found on the Half Dome is referred to as "Half Dome Grandiorite". Unlike El Capitan, the rock in Half Dome is known to be abundant in the mineral horneblende and relatively poor in biotite. Geologists found, through various relative and absolute dating techniques, that this horneblende dates back to the Cretaceous period. Much of this rock is found to have feldspar and quartz, minerals also found in El Capitan granite (Figure 15).  In addition to all of these minerals, metamorphic rock inclusions and xenocrysts (crystals broken off from a volcanic pipe with rising magma that is incorporated in magmatic rock) are also prominent in Half Dome Grandiorite. 
When looking at the shape and texture of the rock found on the vertical face of the Half Dome, many exfoliation joints can be found. These joints are the result of fracturing due to mechanical weathering by expansion. When this rock is no longer exposed to the high pressure environment of the Earth's interior, the outer layer of rock expands. Drainage patterns in the early rock led to cracks between the thin outer layer and the inner layers, causing slabs of rock to fall off the vertical face of Half Dome. Exfoliation is a major cause of the dome shape on the back side of the formation (Figure 13).These exfoliation joints have created very effective hand and foot holds for rock climbers. However, the Half Dome has been known to experience vertical slab failures in the past. With the strength of Half Dome Grandiorite in question, it is beneficial for climbers of the Half Dome to climb in a skewed path and increase the area of holds they grab on to. This increases stability and minimizes danger of a slab failure as their weight will be distributed over a greater area.
Metabolic Features of Climbing This Site
When performing exercise at elevations greater than 2500 m, athletes can experience a physiological response called moderate hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition in which high elevation alters the oxygen availability for the athlete, lowering the oxygen available for the mitochondria of muscle cells to make energy aerobically. As a result of this, the body starts to switch to anaerobic energy systems for the majority of energy production. Additionally, studies have shown that the proportion of substrates metabolized also changes with hypoxia.  Under hypoxic conditions, the respiratory exchange ratio increases. This means that the body starts to use carbohydrates in a greater proportion than fats for energy production. This is mainly because fat metabolism requires a very high amount of oxygen, that is not available in adequate amounts under hypoxic conditions. For this reason, fats cannot be used to make energy aerobically like carbohydrates can. It is the reliance of the body on anaerobic energy pathways that increases the respiratory exchange ratio. Since the Half Dome is 2694 m tall, it exceeds a 2500 m elevation. This means that for a section of the climb, the body will be performing under moderate hypoxia. With regards to aerobic metabolism, in sections with an elevation lower than 2500 m, aerobic metabolism will dominate energy production. The exfoliation joints in this site provide many holds and therefore opportunities for breaks and aerobic recovery while climbing. This means that at lower elevations, aerobic metabolism will continue under ideal conditions.
When it comes to muscle training, forearm strength and endurance will be important for this climb. As mentioned before, forearm oxidative capacity is positive predictor of rock climbing performance across many different climbs. While this factor is of importance for many climbs, it is particularly important for this one. Because of the chance of vertical slab failures, the climber will want to spread their surface area while climbing. In order to be able to pull themselves up over this large surface area, the climber will need high forearm strength and endurance (oxidative capacity) to last them the entirety of the climb.
An effective training procedure for preparing for this climb would be carbohydrate loading. As mentioned above, the proportion of carbohydrates used for energy production increases at high altitude due to hypoxia.  Carbohydrate-loading is a strategy in which the athlete will ingest drinks that are high in carbohydrates prior to training and the event. The extra carbohydrates consumed are thought to increase the body's storage of carbohydrates as glycogen, as well as the concentration of glucose that is being circulated in the blood. By increasing this storage, there will be sufficient levels of carbohydrates to account for the increased metabolism of carbohydrates during hypoxia. There are many different forms of carbohydrate-loading regimens with different ways of building up carbohydrate stores. The classic regime involves the climber engaging in a very high intensity exercise 6 days prior to the climb to deplete their muscle glycogen stores. This exercise must be a non-climbing cardiovascular exercise like sprinting, or high intensity cycling. After this, the climber would ingest a low carbohydrate diet (less than 50% of their diet is composed of carbohydrates) for 3 days, and then do another depleting exercise. After the second depletion exercise, the climber would ingest a carbohydrate drink (greater than 60% carbohydrates) every day for the 3 days prior to the climb. The modified regime would not involve the depleting exercise, but would continue with the ingestion of the same drink (60% carbohydrates) for the 3 days prior to the climb. Studies have shown that both the classic and modified regimes produce muscle glycogen contents that more than double from original values by the end of the training period. Choosing between these two regimes depends on whichever regime is preferred by the climber, as well as whichever one produces the least gastrointestinal and muscular discomfort. Ingesting very high levels of carbohydrates can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, and participating in the depleting exercise may cause muscular discomfort. This is why assessment of gastrointestinal and muscular discomfort of each regime prior to instituting carbohydrate-loading is vital. Additionally, these regimes are found to produce better results when they are practiced. For this reason, it is important for the climber to use this regime multiple times before their actual climb (ie. substituting the climb up Half Dome with an indoor climbing wall while inducing similar conditions).
Endurance of forearm muscles is also of importance in climbing the Half Dome. As mentioned above, due to the amount of holds on this climb and the necessity for the climber to have the muscular strength and endurance to pull themselves up over a large area, the forearms are important muscles to train. If the climber does not have enough strength in these muscles, then they will not be able to effectively climb the vertical face of the Half Dome. Additionally, due to the issue of hypoxia, endurance training in the forearms will enhance the ability of the aerobic system to make energy in low oxygen conditions, ensuring the climber does not get fatigued in the higher portions of the climb. Weight-loaded resistance training for the forearms is effective in training the muscle for strength and delayed onset of fatigue. Ice baths and cooling for these muscles following exercise have also been found to triple the gains in oxidative capacity and endurance that comes with these exercises. Because forearm muscles will be used the most in this climb, training ensures that the forearm muscles can endure the full climb under both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. 
Geology of Glacier Point
Glacier Point is another geological formation in Yosemite National Park that is a popular rock climbing route. At the top of Glacier Point is a developed viewpoint that allows visitors of Yosemite to view the park from an elevation. The climb up to this point is 2199 m and is composed of multiple sheets of rock, separated by exfoliation joints. Much like the the other two sites, it has its own unique type of rock composing the majority of the formation: Glacier Point Grandiorite. Glacier Point Grandiorite is composed of mafic minerals constituting 15-25% of its total mineral composition, and is also fine-grained.  While the majority of this formation is made of Glacier Point Grandiorite, it also contains units of Half Dome Grandiorite (high in horneblende). The contact points between these two types of rock is located 500 m from the bottom of Glacier Point.
Glacier Point has many notable exfoliation joints due to mechanical weathering, creating effective hand and foot holds for rock climbing. However, these exfoliation joints are not observed to point in the same direction, or be present in the same abundance across all faces of Glacier Point. Unlike the Half Dome, the joints on the north face of Glacier Point dip vertically, creating vertical ledges in the rock (Figure 18). These types of joints are not very effective in creating holds for a climber to use. Additionally, these vertical joints have inner layers of exposed rock that are fairly smooth, without many grooves. This will make it challenging for a rock climber to scale up this face of Glacier Point. On the east face of the formation, the exfoliation joints are present in a much greater abundance than the north face, and also occur in horizontal dips. These joints are very similar to the ones present on the Half Dome, and make the east face of Glacier Point more desirable for climbing (horizontal dips create holds for climbers that run horizontally on the formation).
At the base of Glacier Point are a set of cliffs, that were found to originate from a massive rock fall that took place on the east side of the formation. These cliffs were formed along some of the vertical joints that are present on the north face, and may present a challenge to climbers at the beginning of their climb. These cliffs do not have many exfoliation joints, as they are not exposed to many of the conditions similar to rock in the main body of the formation. Much like El Capitan, the grooves on these cliffs are shallow and will require a great amount of balance and stability to climb. Geologists have also found glacial sediment deposits at the base of Glacier Point dating back to Yosemite's last known glaciation. It is the presence of these sediments that give the formation its name. Glaciation periods that deposited these sediments are also thought to have had a profound influence on the shape of the Glacier Point climb. Generally, while this climb has its challenges, climbing to Glacier Point is known to be one of the easier climbs in Yosemite National Park.
Metabolic Features of this Climbing Site
Due to the fact that this rock climbing site is considered to be one of the easier climbs in Yosemite, much of the metabolic features of this are similar to those of traditional indoor rock climbing. The main way of producing energy while climbing Glacier Point would be aerobic. The abundance of holds due to the exfoliation joints allows the climber to take breaks and aerobically recover at various points during the climb. Whenever the climber feels fatigued, they can take a break and replenish the available oxygen to the muscles, allowing aerobic metabolism to continue for the entirety of the climb. There may be times where the body uses a combination of anaerobic and aerobic energy systems as the body gets fatigued in continuous stretches of climbing. Much like El Capitan, ensuring adequate supply of fats and carbohydrates through diet will be important to keep climbers energized throughout their climb.
Like Half Dome, forearm muscle oxidative capacity plays a large role enhancing rock climbing performance of this climb. This is will remain an important aspect to train for this climb as well, ensuring that the forearm muscles are able to sustain energy production. Much like all other climbing, overall fitness training of the climber prior to attempting the climb will prepare the body for the demands that rock climbing places on all physiological systems. Additionally, due to the shallow grooves located on the cliff sections at the base of Glacier Point, balance and stability will also play a role in this climb. For this reason, the ability for the core abdomen muscles to make energy aerobically (oxidative capacity) will also be important in ensuring that the climber will be able to get past this section of Glacier Point.
All of the important training recommendations for this climb have been mentioned for each of the climbs above (Half Dome and El Capitan). With regards to training the forearms and enhancing oxidative capacity, various weight-loaded exercise will be beneficial. Ensuring that these muscle are cooled in an ice bath following these exercises will also be effective in boosting oxidative capacity. Endurance training of the core muscles will also be very important in this climb to ensure that the climber can sustain enough balance and stability to effectively move through sections of the climb with shallow grooves and few holds. Examples of core muscles exercises that improve balance and stability of the body can be found in the the training recommendations section of the El Capitan climb. Additionally, much like El Capitan, the climber will need a balanced diet with ample amounts of unsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates. For examples of foods that incorporate these types of fats and carbohydrates, refer to the training recommendations section of the El Capitan climb.
When preparing to climb in Yosemite National Park, rock climbers and the specialists they work with (kinesiologists, trainers, physiotherapists) have to consider the geology of each site. Unique geological features of El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point all affect the difficulty of each climb. These geological factors (exfoliation, weathering of rock, etc.) all change the muscles that the body relies on during the climb, and the metabolic pathways that the body uses to the supply these muscles with energy. By creating training programs that take the geology of each site into account, rock climbers and their specialists can adapt the usage of metabolic pathways, allowing them to avoid the unfavourable effects of specific energy systems and utilize favourable energy systems efficiently. This dependency on geological analysis for effective training programs that optimize performance is the central connection between geology and kinesiology in the sport of outdoor rock climbing.
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