As Seen In: USA Today, Discovery Channel, US News & World Report

Use of Holds

The climber should check each hold before use. This may simply be a quick, visual inspection if he knows the rock to be solid. When in doubt, he should grab and tug on the hold to test it for soundness BEFORE depending on it. Sometimes, a hold that appears weak can actually be solid as long as minimal force is applied to it, or the force is applied in a direction that strengthens it. A loose nubbin might not be strong enough to support the climber's weight, but it may serve as an adequate handhold. Be especially careful when climbing on weathered, sedimentary-type rock.

Climbing With The Feet

"Climb with the feet and use the hands for balance" is extremely important to remember. In the early learning stages of climbing, most individuals will rely heavily on the arms, forgetting to use the feet properly. It is true that solid handholds and a firm grip are needed in some combination techniques; however, even the most strenuous techniques require good footwork and a quick return to a balanced position over one or both feet. Failure to climb any route, easy or difficult, is usually the result of poor footwork.

a. The beginning climber will have a natural tendency to look up for handholds. Try to keep the hands low and train your eyes to look down for footholds. Even the smallest irregularity in the rock can support the climber once the foot is positioned properly and weight is committed to it.

b. The foot remains on the rock as a result of friction. Maximum friction is obtained from a correct stance over a properly positioned foot. The following describes a few ways the foot can be positioned on the rock to maximize friction.

(1) Maximum Sole Contact. The principle of using full sole contact, as in mountain walking, also applies in climbing. Maximum friction is obtained by placing as much of the boot sole on the rock as possible. Also, the leg muscles can relax the most when the entire foot is placed on the rock. (Figure 6-4 shows examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.)

(a) Smooth, low-angled rock (slab) and rock containing large "bucket" holds and ledges are typical formations where the entire boot sole should be used.

(b) On some large holds, like bucket holds that extend deep into the rock, the entire foot cannot be used. The climber may not be able to achieve a balanced position if the foot is stuck too far underneath a bulge in the rock. In this case, placing only part of the foot on the hold may allow the climber to achieve a balanced stance. The key is to use as much of the boot sole as possible. Remember to keep the heels low to reduce strain on the lower leg muscles.

Figure 6-4. Examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.

Figure 6-4. Examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.

(2) Edging. The edging technique is used where horizontal crack systems and other irregularities in the rock form small, well-defined ledges. The edge of the boot sole is placed on the ledge for the foothold. Usually, the inside edge of the boot or the edge area around the toes is used. Whenever possible, turn the foot sideways and use the entire inside edge of the boot. Again, more sole contact equals more friction and the legs can rest more when the heel is on the rock. (Figure 6-5 shows examples of the edging technique.)

(a) On smaller holds, edging with the front of the boot, or toe, may be used. Use of the toe is most tiring because the heel is off the rock and the toes support the climber's weight. Remember to keep the heel low to reduce fatigue. Curling and stiffening the toes in the boot increases support on the hold. A stronger position is usually obtained on small ledges by turning the foot at about a 45-degree angle, using the strength of the big toe and the ball of the foot.

(b) Effective edging on small ledges requires stiff-soled footwear. The stiffer the sole, the better the edging capability. Typical mountain boots worn by the US military have a relatively flexible lugged sole and, therefore, edging ability on smaller holds will be somewhat limited.

Figure 6-5. Examples of edging technique.

Figure 6-5. Examples of edging technique.

(3) Smearing. When footholds are too small to use a good edging technique, the ball of the foot can be "smeared" over the hold. The smearing technique requires the boot to adhere to the rock by deformation of the sole and by friction. Rock climbing shoes are specifically designed to maximize friction for smearing; some athletic shoes also work well. The Army mountain boot, with its softer sole, usually works better for smearing than for edging. Rounded, down-sloping ledges and low-angled slab rock often require good smearing technique. (Figure 6-6 shows examples of the smearing technique.)

(a) Effective smearing requires maximum friction between the foot and the rock. Cover as much of the hold as possible with the ball of the foot. Keeping the heel low will not only reduce muscle strain, but will increase the amount of surface contact between the foot and the rock.

(b) Sometimes flexing the ankles and knees slightly will place the climber's weight more directly over the ball of the foot and increase friction; however, this is more tiring and should only be used for quick, intermediate holds. The leg should be kept straight whenever possible.

Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.

Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.

(4) Jamming. The jamming technique works on the same principal as chock placement. The foot is set into a crack in such a way that it "jams" into place, resisting a downward pull. The jamming technique is a specialized skill used to climb vertical or near vertical cracks when no other holds are available on the rock face. The technique is not limited to just wedging the feet; fingers, hands, arms, even the entire leg or body are all used in the jamming technique, depending on the size of the crack. Jam holds are described in this text to broaden the range of climbing skills. Jamming holds can be used in a crack while other hand/foot holds are used on the face of the rock. Many cracks will have facial features, such as edges, pockets, and so on, inside and within reach. Always look or feel for easier to use features. (Figure 6-7 shows examples of jamming.)

(a) The foot can be jammed in a crack in different ways. It can be inserted above a constriction and set into the narrow portion, or it can be placed in the crack and turned, like a camming device, until it locks in place tight enough to support the climber's weight. Aside from these two basic ideas, the possibilities are endless. The toes, ball of the foot, or the entire foot can be used. Try to use as much of the foot as possible for maximum surface contact. Some positions are more tiring, and even more painful on the foot, than others. Practice jamming the foot in various ways to see what offers the most secure, restful position.

(b) Some foot jams may be difficult to remove once weight has been committed to them, especially if a stiffer sole boot is used. The foot is less likely to get stuck when it is twisted or "cammed" into position. When removing the boot from a crack, reverse the way it was placed to prevent further constriction.

Figure 6-7. Examples of jamming.

Figure 6-7. Examples of jamming.

Using the Hands

The hands can be placed on the rock in many ways. Exactly how and where to position the hands and arms depends on what holds are available, and what configuration will best support the current stance as well as the movement to the next stance. Selecting handholds between waist and shoulder level helps in different ways. Circulation in the arms and hands is best when the arms are kept low. Secondly, the climber has less tendency to "hang" on his arms when the handholds are at shoulder level and below. Both of these contribute to a relaxed stance and reduce fatigue in the hands and arms.

a. As the individual climbs, he continually repositions his hands and arms to keep the body in balance, with the weight centered over the feet. On lower-angled rock, he may simply need to place the hands up against the rock and extend the arm to maintain balance; just like using an ice ax as a third point of contact in mountain walking. Sometimes, he will be able to push directly down on a large hold with the palm of the hand. More often though, he will need to "grip" the rock in some fashion and then push or pull against the hold to maintain balance.

b. As stated earlier, the beginner will undoubtedly place too much weight on the hands and arms. If we think of ourselves climbing a ladder, our body weight is on our legs. Our hands grip, and our arms pull on each rung only enough to maintain our balance and footing on the ladder. Ideally, this is the amount of grip and pull that should be used in climbing. Of course, as the size and availability of holds decreases, and the steepness of the rock approaches the vertical, the grip must be stronger and more weight might be placed on the arms and handholds for brief moments. The key is to move quickly from the smaller, intermediate holds to the larger holds where the weight can be placed back on the feet allowing the hands and arms to relax. The following describes some of the basic handholds and how the hand can be positioned to maximize grip on smaller holds.

(1) Push Holds. Push holds rely on the friction created when the hand is pushed against the rock. Most often a climber will use a push hold by applying "downward pressure" on a ledge or nubbin. This is fine, and works well; however, the climber should not limit his use of push holds to the application of down pressure. Pushing sideways, and on occasion, even upward on less obvious holds can prove quite secure. Push holds often work best when used in combination with other holds. Pushing in opposite directions and "push-pull" combinations are excellent techniques. (Figure 6-8 shows examples of push holds.)

(a) An effective push hold does not necessarily require the use of the entire hand. On smaller holds, the side of the palm, the fingers, or the thumb may be all that is needed to support the stance. Some holds may not feel secure when the hand is initially placed on them. The hold may improve or weaken during the movement. The key is to try and select a hold that will improve as the climber moves past it.

(b) Most push holds do not require much grip; however, friction might be increased by taking advantage of any rough surfaces or irregularities in the rock. Sometimes the strength of the hold can be increased by squeezing, or "pinching," the rock between the thumb and fingers (see paragraph on pinch holds).

Figure 6-8. Examples of push holds.

Figure 6-8. Examples of push holds.

(2) Pull Holds. Pull holds, also called "cling holds," which are grasped and pulled upon, are probably the most widely used holds in climbing. Grip plays more of a role in a pull hold, and, therefore, it normally feels more secure to the climber than a push hold. Because of this increased feeling of security, pull holds are often overworked. These are the holds the climber has a tendency to hang from. Most pull holds do not require great strength, just good technique. Avoid the "death grip" syndrome by climbing with the feet. (Figure 6-9 shows examples of pull holds.)

(a) Like push holds, pressure on a pull hold can be applied straight down, sideways, or upward. Again, these are the holds the climber tends to stretch and reach for, creating an unbalanced stance. Remember to try and keep the hands between waist and shoulder level, making use of intermediate holds instead of reaching for those above the head.

(b) Pulling sideways on vertical cracks can be very secure. There is less tendency to hang from "side-clings" and the hands naturally remain lower. The thumb can often push against one side of the crack, in opposition to the pull by the fingers, creating a stronger hold. Both hands can also be placed in the same crack, with the hands pulling in opposite directions. The number of possible combinations is limited only by the imagination and experience of the climber.

Figure 6-9. Examples of pull holds.

Figure 6-9. Examples of pull holds.

(c) Friction and strength of a pull hold can be increased by the way the hand grips the rock. Normally, the grip is stronger when the fingers are closed together; however, sometimes more friction is obtained by spreading the fingers apart and placing them between irregularities on the rock surface. On small holds, grip can often be improved by bending the fingers upward, forcing the palm of the hand to push against the rock. This helps to hold the finger tips in place and reduces muscle strain in the hand. Keeping the forearm up against the rock also allows the arm and hand muscles to relax more.

(d) Another technique that helps to strengthen a cling hold for a downward pull is to press the thumb against the side of the index finger, or place it on top of the index finger and press down. This hand configuration, known as a "ring grip," works well on smaller holds.

(3) Pinch Holds. Sometimes a small nubbin or protrusion in the rock can be "squeezed" between the thumb and fingers. This technique is called a pinch hold. Friction is applied by increasing the grip on the rock. Pinch holds are often overlooked by the novice climber because they feel insecure at first and cannot be relied upon to support much body weight. If the climber has his weight over his feet properly, the pinch hold will work well in providing balance. The pinch hold can also be used as a gripping technique for push holds and pull holds. (Figure 6-10 shows examples of pinch holds.)

Figure 6-10. Examples of pinch holds.

Figure 6-10. Examples of pinch holds.

(4) Jam Holds. Like foot jams, the fingers and hands can be wedged or cammed into a crack so they resist a downward or outward pull. Jamming with the fingers and hands can be painful and may cause minor cuts and abrasions to tender skin. Cotton tape can be used to protect the fingertips, knuckles, and the back of the hand; however, prolonged jamming technique requiring hand taping should be avoided. Tape also adds friction to the hand in jammed position. (Figure 6-11 shows examples of jam holds.)

(a) The hand can be placed in a crack a number of ways. Sometimes an open hand can be inserted and wedged into a narrower portion of the crack. Other times a clenched fist will provide the necessary grip. Friction can be created by applying cross pressure between the fingers and the back of the hand. Another technique for vertical cracks is to place the hand in the crack with the thumb pointed either up or down. The hand is then clenched as much as possible. When the arm is straightened, it will twist the hand and tend to cam it into place. This combination of clenching and camming usually produces the most friction, and the most secure hand jam in vertical cracks.

(b) In smaller cracks, only the fingers will fit. Use as many fingers as the crack will allow. The fingers can sometimes be stacked in some configuration to increase friction. The thumb is usually kept outside the crack in finger jams and pressed against the rock to increase friction or create cross pressure. In vertical cracks it is best to insert the fingers with the thumb pointing down to make use of the natural camming action of the fingers that occurs when the arm is twisted towards a normal position.

(c) Jamming technique for large cracks, or "off widths," requiring the use of arm, leg, and body jams, is another technique. To jam or cam an arm, leg, or body into an off width, the principle is the same as for fingers, hands, or feet-you are making the jammed appendage "fatter" by folding or twisting it inside the crack. For off widths, you may place your entire arm inside the crack with the arm folded and the palm pointing outward. The leg can be used, from the calf to the thigh, and flexed to fit the crack. Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect larger cracks and openings. However, sometimes a narrower section may be deeper in the crack allowing the use of "normal" size protection.

Figure 6-11. Examples of jam holds.

Figure 6-11. Examples of jam holds.

Combination Techniques

The positions and holds previously discussed are the basics and the ones most common to climbing. From these fundamentals, numerous combination techniques are possible. As the climber gains experience, he will learn more ways to position the hands, feet, and body in relation to the holds available; however, he should always strive to climb with his weight on his feet from a balanced stance.

a. Sometimes, even on an easy route, the climber may come upon a section of the rock that defies the basic principles of climbing. Short of turning back, the only alternative is to figure out some combination technique that will work. Many of these type problems require the hands and feet to work in opposition to one another. Most will place more weight on the hands and arms than is desirable, and some will put the climber in an "out of balance" position. To make the move, the climber may have to "break the rules" momentarily. This is not a problem and is done quite frequently by experienced climbers. The key to using these type of combination techniques is to plan and execute them deliberately, without lunging or groping for holds, yet quickly, before the hands, arms, or other body parts tire. Still, most of these maneuvers require good technique more than great strength, though a certain degree of hand and arm strength certainly helps.

b. Combination possibilities are endless. The following is a brief description of some of the more common techniques.

(1) Change Step. The change step, or hop step, can be used when the climber needs to change position of the feet. It is commonly used when traversing to avoid crossing the feet, which might put the climber in an awkward position. To prevent an off balance situation, two solid handholds should be used. The climber simply places his weight on his handholds while he repositions the feet. He often does this with a quick "hop," replacing the lead foot with the trail foot on the same hold. Keeping the forearms against the rock during the maneuver takes some of the strain off the hands, while at the same time strengthening the grip on the holds.

(2) Mantling. Mantling is a technique that can be used when the distance between the holds increases and there are no immediate places to move the hands or feet. It does require a ledge (mantle) or projection in the rock that the climber can press straight down upon. (Figure 6-12 shows the mantling sequence.)

(a) When the ledge is above head height, mantling begins with pull holds, usually "hooking" both hands over the ledge. The climber pulls himself up until his head is above the hands, where the pull holds become push holds. He elevates himself until the arms are straight and he can lock the elbows to relax the muscles. Rotating the hands inward during the transition to push holds helps to place the palms more securely on the ledge. Once the arms are locked, a foot can be raised and placed on the ledge. The climber may have to remove one hand to make room for the foot. Mantling can be fairly strenuous; however, most individuals should be able to support their weight, momentarily, on one arm if they keep it straight and locked. With the foot on the ledge, weight can be taken off the arms and the climber can grasp the holds that were previously out of reach. Once balanced over the foot, he can stand up on the ledge and plan his next move.

(b) Pure mantling uses arm strength to raise the body; however, the climber can often smear the balls of the feet against the rock and "walk" the feet up during the maneuver to take some of the weight off the arms. Sometimes edges will be available for short steps in the process.

Figure 6-12. Mantling sequence.

Figure 6-12. Mantling sequence.

(3) Undercling. An "undercling" is a classic example of handholds and footholds working in opposition (Figure 6-13). It is commonly used in places where the rock projects outward, forming a bulge or small overhang. Underclings can be used in the tops of buckets, also. The hands are placed "palms-up" underneath the bulge, applying an upward pull. Increasing this upward pull creates a counterforce, or body tension, which applies more weight and friction to the footholds. The arms and legs should be kept as straight as possible to reduce fatigue. The climber can often lean back slightly in the undercling position, enabling him to see above the overhang better and search for the next hold.

Figure 6-13. Undercling.

Figure 6-13. Undercling.

(4) Lieback. The "lieback" is another good example of the hands working in opposition to the feet. The technique is often used in a vertical or diagonal crack separating two rock faces that come together at, more or less, a right angle (commonly referred to as a dihedral). The crack edge closest to the body is used for handholds while the feet are pressed against the other edge. The climber bends at the waist, putting the body into an L-shaped position. Leaning away from the crack on two pull holds, body tension creates friction between the feet and the hands. The feet must be kept relatively high to maintain weight, creating maximum friction between the sole and the rock surface. Either full sole contact or the smearing technique can be used, whichever seems to produce the most friction.

(a) The climber ascends a dihedral by alternately shuffling the hands and feet upward. The lieback technique can be extremely tiring, especially when the dihedral is near vertical. If the hands and arms tire out before completing the sequence, the climber will likely fall. The arms should be kept straight throughout the entire maneuver so the climber's weight is pulling against bones and ligaments, rather than muscle. The legs should be straightened whenever possible.

(b) Placing protection in a lieback is especially tiring. Look for edges or pockets for the feet in the crack or on the face for a better position to place protection from, or for a rest position. Often, a lieback can be avoided with closer examination of the available face features. The lieback can be used alternately with the jamming technique, or vice versa, for variation or to get past a section of a crack with difficult or nonexistent jam possibilities. The lieback can sometimes be used as a face maneuver (Figure 6-14).

Figure 6-14. Lieback on a face.

Figure 6-14. Lieback on a face.

(5) Stemming. When the feet work in opposition from a relatively wide stance, the maneuver is known as stemming. The stemming technique can sometimes be used on faces, as well as in a dihedral in the absence of solid handholds for the lieback (Figure 6-15).

Figure 6-15. Stemming on a face.

Figure 6-15. Stemming on a face.

(a) The classic example of stemming is when used in combination with two opposing push holds in wide, parallel cracks, known as chimneys. Chimneys are cracks in which the walls are at least 1 foot apart and just big enough to squeeze the body into. Friction is created by pushing outward with the hands and feet on each side of the crack. The climber ascends the chimney by alternately moving the hands and feet up the crack (Figure 6-16). Applying pressure with the back and bottom is usually necessary in wider chimneys. Usually, full sole contact of the shoes will provide the most friction, although smearing may work best in some instances. Chimneys that do not allow a full stemming position can be negotiated using the arms, legs, or body as an integral contact point. This technique will often feel more secure since there is more body to rock contact.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence (continued).

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence (continued).

(b) The climber can sometimes rest by placing both feet on the same side of the crack, forcing the body against the opposing wall. The feet must be kept relatively high up under the body so the force is directed sideways against the walls of the crack. The arms should be straightened with the elbows locked whenever possible to reduce muscle strain. The climber must ensure that the crack does not widen beyond the climbable width before committing to the maneuver. Remember to look for face features inside chimneys for more security in the climb.

(c) Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect chimneys. However, face features, or a much narrower crack irotection.

(6) Slab Technique. A slab is a relatively smooth, low-angled rock formation that requires a slightly modified climbing technique (Figure 6-17). Since slab rock normally contains few, if any holds, the technique requires maximum friction and perfect balance over the feet.

(a) On lower-angled slab, the climber can often stand erect and climb using full sole contact and other mountain walking techniques. On steeper slab, the climber will need to apply good smearing technique. Often, maximum friction cannot be attained on steeper slab from an erect stance. The climber will have to flex the ankles and knees so his weight is placed more directly over the balls of the feet. He may then have to bend at the waist to place the hands on the rock, while keeping the hips over his feet.

(b) The climber must pay attention to any changes in slope angle and adjust his body accordingly. Even the slightest change in the position of the hips over the feet can mean the difference between a good grip or a quick slip. The climber should also take advantage of any rough surfaces, or other irregularities in the rock he can place his hands or feet on, to increase friction.

Figure 6-17. Slab technique.

Figure 6-17. Slab technique.

(7) Down Climbing. Descending steep rock is normally performed using a roped method; however, the climber may at some point be required to down climb a route. Even if climbing ropes and related equipment are on hand, down climbing easier terrain is often quicker than taking the time to rig a rappel point. Also, a climber might find himself confronted with difficulties part way up a route that exceed his climbing ability, or the abilities of others to follow. Whatever the case may be, down climbing is a skill well worth practicing.

CAUTIONS

1. Down climbing can inadvertently lead into an unforeseen dangerous position on a descent. When in doubt, use a roped descent.

2. Down climbing is accomplished at a difficulty level well below the ability of the climber. When in doubt, use a roped descent.

(a) On easier terrain, the climber can face outward, away from the rock, enabling him to see the route better and descend quickly. As the steepness and difficulty increase, he can often turn sideways, still having a good view of the descent route, but being better able to use the hands and feet on the holds available. On the steepest terrain, the climber will have to face the rock and down climb using good climbing techniques.

(b) Down climbing is usually more difficult than ascending a given route. Some holds will be less visible when down climbing, and slips are more likely to occur. The climber must often lean well away from the rock to look for holds and plan his movements. More weight is placed on the arms and handholds at times to accomplish this, as well as to help lower the climber to the next foothold. Hands should be moved to holds as low as waist level to give the climber more range of movement with each step. If the handholds are too high, he may have trouble reaching the next foothold. The climber must be careful not to overextend himself, forcing a release of his handholds before reaching the next foothold.

CAUTION

Do not drop from good handholds to a standing position. A bad landing could lead to injured ankles or a fall beyond the planned landing area.

(c) Descending slab formations can be especially tricky. The generally lower angle of slab rock may give the climber a false sense of security, and a tendency to move too quickly. Down climbing must be slow and deliberate, as in ascending, to maintain perfect balance and weight distribution over the feet. On lower-angle slab the climber may be able to stand more or less erect, facing outward or sideways, and descend using good flat foot technique. The climber should avoid the tendency to move faster, which can lead to uncontrollable speed.

(d) On steeper slab, the climber will normally face the rock and down climb, using the same smearing technique as for ascending. An alternate method for descending slab is to face away from the rock in a "crab" position (Figure 6-18). Weight is still concentrated over the feet, but may be shifted partly onto the hands to increase overall friction. The climber is able to maintain full sole contact with the rock and see the entire descent route. Allowing the buttocks to "drag behind" on the rock will decrease the actual weight on the footholds, reducing friction, and leading to the likelihood of a slip. Facing the rock, and down-climbing with good smearing technique, is usually best on steeper slab.

Figure 6-18. Descending slab in the crab position.

Figure 6-18. Descending slab in the crab position.

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