Adaptive Rock Climbing Clinic

An adaptive climber with artificial legs ascends a rock face

NPS / Anna Cirimele

“We want to honor your disability, then focus on your ability and how we apply that to climbing.” ~ Rand Abbott, rock climber and adaptive climbing instructor.

On November 11 - 13, 2022, Joshua Tree National Park was the site of an adaptive rock climbing clinic. Adaptive climbing makes rock climbing accessible through specialized techniques and equipment. “There’s wheelchair basketball, there’s wheelchair rugby, but you’ll always be in your wheelchair. But with climbing, you’re free.” said Rand.

“In a split second in our lives, we had an incident happen to us, and we weren't asked about it, and that changed our ability to maneuver for the rest of our lives. That happened like that [snaps fingers]. But the world keeps going and keeps spinning. It’s not waiting for us.”

After their accidents, Rand said many people struggle with the pain, anger, and depression that comes next. With climbing, “It gives us an outlet. The only way we build self-esteem is by doing something worthy, whether it's for somebody else or ourselves. The climbing gives them [participants] the motivation. It gives them the drive. And we all need that in life.”

A coach instructing an adaptive climber
Rand Abbott coaching an adaptive climber.

NPS/Bill Bjornstad

“There’s two sides to the coin and in the middle, there’s the transition. You can’t get to the other side without the transition. Climbing for me was the transition.” said Rand. “When I came out here and led my first climb, I got about 45 feet up and I was exhausted from doing pull-ups. And I looked down and saw my empty wheelchair on the ground and I just started crying. When I got down my belayer asked me, ‘what’s going on?’ I said I just looked down at my empty wheelchair, and for the first time since September 22, 2008, I felt free. My wheelchair was on the ground and I didn’t need it.”

Rand has worked with over 100 adaptive climbers, including blind climbers, amputees, and disabled veterans. One of his goals is to break down the barriers in rock climbing and the stigmas within the climbing community. Rand hopes to continue to work with adaptive climbers and help them experience the joy of climbing.

Joshua Tree National Park

Last updated: December 2, 2022