A Whiter Shade of Pale

By: Caitlin Makary

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Cross-training, SUP style. My friend is on the left, looking like a Bond girl. I’m on the right, looking like (the color of) Bond Girl’s paddleboard. Photo by Kevin Jones

It’s officially high summer and it’s been a muggy, sweaty couple of weeks in NYC.  I’ve been dreaming about climbing in crisp Fall weather, but until then it’s necessary to shield my lily-white skin from the summer sun.  Since I am ultra prone to burning, I have to be more diligent than most about covering up.  However, everyone can benefit from protecting his or her skin.  

I’ve made some climbing-related tweaks to the typical sun protection protocol – add any tips of your own in the comments section!

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Poor Baby Duck (Alex Drew) feels the burn after a weekend in the Gunks. Photo by his lovely – and sunburnless – roommate Jill


Wearing sunscreen is essential for preventing the odd burns that can happen while carrying climbing gear (see the sling-induced ‘suspender burn’, above).  Since I am just one step above being albino, I always use 50 SPF.  Anything below that isn’t enough coverage for me and SPF higher than 50 doesn’t really make a difference.  It is important to use enough sunscreen (recommended amount is enough to fill a shot glass) but reapplication is just as crucial.  I put on sunscreen at the car before the approach and again after a couple climbs.  That’s usually enough to get me through the day unless I’m somewhere like Red Rocks, where I’ll reapply to my face and shoulders more often.

If I’m doing a long multi pitch, I’ll even bring some sunscreen with me.  It might take some convincing to have your follower include the extra bottle in the pack but, for me, it’s as necessary as carrying enough water.  Having sunscreen on the wall has (literally) saved my skin more than once.  In the most recent instance, Kevin and I got stuck behind four parties on a popular five pitch climb in Yosemite.  A climb that should have taken only an hour and a half ended up taking 6+ hours in the hottest part of the day (that’s a story for another time… many lessons learned on that climb).  Even with no shade whatsoever, I managed to avoid broiled skin by re-applying sunscreen at the belays.

If you climb shirtless or in a sports bra be extra nice to your climbing partners… you’ll need someone to get your back and we all know how much climbers hate greasy hands 😛

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Kevin leading a pitch at Smith Rock while I deploy my patented shirt-as-cape shoulder cover. Photo by Lauren Raburn


Sometimes the easiest way to prevent burning is to physically cover up, so I wear a long-sleeved collared shirt whenever I’m in the sun for an extended period of time.  This includes multi pitch climbs, long approaches, and sunny belays.  The ability to flip up the collar allows you to protect your neck, you can button up the front to shield your chest, and you can roll the sleeves down to cover your arms.  If it’s too hot out to wear the shirt, you can drape it over your shoulders like a cape.  Who doesn’t like capes??


Ok, this is starting to sound like I’m bubble-boy.  I began religiously wearing sunglasses with UV protection after skiing in Tahoe last January.  After being on the slopes all day, rays of snow-glare beaming into my retinas, my eyes felt like they had been starched and pressed with an iron.  Wearing sunglasses keeps my eyes feeling normal, even after being on the wall for hours.

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Always included in my gear: Sunglasses, Long sleeve shirt, Sunscreen, and Wipes


These are essential post-climb if you are in a camping area with no showers, no swimming area, or if you just would rather sit around the fire with a beer rather than cleaning up.  Wearing sunscreen all over can leave you feeling a little grimy – dirt definitely clings more than on bare skin.  Baby wipes are key to getting decently clean all over and not mucking up your sleeping bag.  I always make sure to pack some wipes with my camping gear.

It might seem like a hassle at first, but, once you have the initial prep down, keeping up with these steps is easy.  Being sensitive to sun exposure is no reason to limit yourself to only climbing at certain times of the day or at certain crags.  I’m living proof that even someone with the lightest, most sensitive skin can still get outside and tear it up 🙂

Screen Shot 2014-06-12 at 3.03.08 PMCaitlin I’m from New England but have lived in Brooklyn since 2003.  I’ve been climbing since 2011 and love it all – trad, sport, ice, alpine… maybe not bouldering so much 😉  I’m learning to aid this year to get up on some big walls!

I’m a women’s clothing designer and love to sew.  I make my own clothes when I have time – which isn’t often since my climbing addiction began.

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