5/9/2012 By Lance Cpl. Sarah Wolff , Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

SAN MARCOS, Calif. — Muscles burn under the stress of holding his body close to the inverted wall. Sweat falls from his face before hitting the crash pad below as his eyes focused on the next handhold, marked with red tape, that he’d have to jump to reach. Shifting his weight, to gain momentum, the climber hurls himself up to the handhold. With outstretched fingers barely brushing the rough, chalk-covered surface. He feels his heartbeat in his throat as he plummets, like the sweat before him, eight and a half feet down to the crash pad; training complete.

Lance Cpl. Joshua Diaz, tower noncommissioned officer of Horno pistol range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, pushes himself to reach new heights every weekend at his local rock climbing gym.

Diaz realized his love of rock climbing in his home town of Guanica, Puerto Rico, where he worked until his muscles gave out.

“I had climbed wall after wall until I got real close to the top of one and couldn’t grasp the holds because my arms were so tired,” said Diaz. “I had to just give up and come back down, because my fingers wouldn’t curl around the hand-holds.”

Diaz attended this rock gym in Puerto Rico twice before joining the United States Marine Corps. While in Infantry Training Battalion, Diaz found out where the local rock climbing gyms were and how to get there.

“I would take the train to San Marcos on our days off just to go rock climbing,” said Diaz. Diaz was expecting the smaller, all vertical rock climbing gym in Puerto Rico, unlike the variety of bouldering and angled walls at this gym which can leave climbers with a sense of vertigo as the wall nearly parallels the ground below.

“In the United States, the gyms are a lot cheaper, more spacious and have more options,” said Diaz. With more than 10 rock climbing gyms within an hour-long car ride of Diazs first duty station, he knew a lot of his time would be spent rock climbing.

“When I got here, I decided to buy my own gear because I knew it would be a weekend hobby,” said Diaz. This recreational activity quickly turned into an opportunity to challenge himself. “If I’ve completed something once, why stay on that level,” said Diaz. “If it’s easy, I’m not bettering myself.”

Climbers can determine the level of difficulty since the walls are man made and designed to vary in grip types. This is how Diaz challenges himself, by seeking out the high-skill level routes.

“When you look at the wall, they have different color tape patterns,” said Diaz. “Each color is a different level and the higher the level, the harder it is to finish the marked off route.”

Moving up in the rock climbing gym means knowing your body’s limits and how far you can push them.

“You’re going to wear out your muscles if you stay in one place, taking your time to find your next move,” said Diaz. “Becoming accustomed to thinking quicker and responding quicker are things that come into play with every aspect of rock climbing.” The climbers partner who handles the rope that prevents him from free-falling, must also be quick to think and react to prevent serious injury.

“If I don’t trust a guy I’m not going to climb with him, because when I grab a rock that’s loose and it comes off the wall or twists, I’m going to fall off the wall that split second,” said Diaz.

By keeping the rope pulled tight and locking the carabiner at the first sight of trouble, the individual handling the rope continues to build trust with the climber.

Just as in combat, relying on the Marine to your left and your right can save your life. By conditioning yourself to make quick decisions concerning the safety of yourself and those around you, the quicker and easier it will be to make sound and timely decisions when it matters most.

Read more here: http://www.marines.mil/unit/basecamp...x#.T6uztVIdDSc