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Rock Climbing by Jesse and Gordon

We're rock climbers who love to scale cliffs in Aspen, Colorado. We know that some formations are easier to climb than others and we wondered if knowing more about the kinds of rock we were climbing could improve our technique. So, our DragonflyTV question is: How do different rock types affect our climbing?

What did we do?
We located rock faces made of three different types of rock: granite (igneous), gneiss (metamorphic) and sandstone (sedimentary). For each rock type, we judged its breakability by pounding it with a hammer and rated it between 1 and 5, with 5 meaning difficult to break. Then we rated three other characteristics: crystal size, hand pain (does it hurt your hands to climb the rock?) and foot friction (can you get a good foothold while climbing?).

What did we find out?
We found that the igneous and metamorphic rock samples were difficult to break, which earned them 4.5 and 5 ratings on our scale. The sedimentary sample broke easily, so its rating was 1. We also found that the hard-to-break samples gave good footholds, but caused lots of hand pain. The sedimentary rock had poor footholds, but felt good on our hands. While we couldn't make any generalizations, we learned the value of examining the characteristics of a rock face before a scheduled climb to ensure safety and success.

What can you do?
  • Do you have a rock collection? Learn to identify rocks and describe their hardness, crystal size, etc.
  • Certain rock crystals can be used to make a simple radio. Find plans for a crystal radio on the Internet and try building your own. Experiment with different crystals. Which ones work best?
  • Use this earth science investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
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More on the Rock Cycle

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