Out of all climbing’s catchphrases and slang, “It’s a low gravity day” is perhaps the most cringey (hearing white guys at Sand Rock yell “Venga!” is a close second).
Even though we live with it 24/7, gravity isn’t really something any of us think about, because we see it as a constant. It just is, like death and the sunrise and my girlfriend DMing me Insta posts about astrology five times per day.
Even on Earth, the idea that gravity is a constant isn’t completely true, though. Low gravity days don’t exist, of course, but after going down a rabbit hole of Reddit posts and Quora Q&A feeds last night at 3:00 am I discovered that “low gravity zones” do exist… sort of.
Naturally, I became obsessed with finding any spot that could give me even the slightest climbing advantage and boost my 8a rankings, or any spot where the force of gravity would be low enough that we could attach Donald Trump to a giant rubber band and launch him into outer space.
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To start, let’s talk about gravity. Newton’s Law of Gravitation says that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers (whew).
Basically, the bigger something is and the closer it is to something else, the stronger its gravitational pull on that object is (@the middle-aged dude reading this who majored in physics 30 years ago and wants to flex… feel free to correct me in the comments section).
If Earth was a perfectly round, uniformly dense sphere, we’d have equal gravity at every point on the surface. But it isn’t, as we all know. So, given that gravitational force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between any object [you] and the center of the Earth, gravity is generally greatest at sea level and decreases slightly, as we go further and further away from the center of the earth. Gravity is also weaker at the equator because Earth’s rotation produces such a strong centrifugal force that stretches it laterally.
Gravitational acceleration is generally calculated as 9.81 m/s² on Earth’s surface, but this varies In general, the higher up you are, the less gravity there is. The above chart that I found on Wikipedia sort of depicts what I’m talking about, although it looks like something I would have made in 7th grade for a science fair presentation. Zones with lower or higher gravitational acceleration are known as “gravity anomalies” and they exist throughout the world, not only as a result of elevation or latitude but also due to abnormalities in the Earth’s density.
That said, these differences are extremely minor. One way we can detect differences in gravity via human methods is by the difference in air pressure. The reason that air is so thin at high altitudes is because gravity holds air close to Earth’s surface. As we get further from the surface, air pressure decreases, so there’s less air to breathe.
A Curtin University study cited in New Scientist found that one of the lowest gravity zones on Earth is the summit of Peru’s Mount Nevado Huascarán (22,205 feet), where gravitational acceleration is 9.764 m/s². The highest gravity on Earth is found on the surface of the Arctic Ocean, which clocks 9.834 m/s². “If you found yourself falling from a height of 100 meters at each point, you would hit the surface in Peru about 16 milliseconds later than in the Arctic,” the study adds.
Not really that helpful for a climber.
So, unfortunately, my research didn’t reveal any secret climbing cheat zone. 0.1 m/s² difference isn’t going to improve my stats, and I don’t really fancy projecting routes at 22,000 feet anyway. For those of you nerds counting grams, maybe this info is helpful? I don’t know. It took me three hours to find all that out though, and I wanted to tell someone, so forgive me for keeping you on the hook for the last 500 words.
Could the slight decrease in gravity at elevation explain why everyone keeps moving to Boulder? Maybe…
For now, just keep hoping for more or of those unexplainable low gravity days.
The Choss Pile is published every Thursday.
Owen Clarke, 23, is a climber and writer currently based in a hotel in Colorado. He also writes for The Outdoor Journal and Friction Labs. He enjoys Southern sandstone and fish tacos, and is afraid of heights.
Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.