Balance, Friction, Movement
Excerpted from The Basic Essentials of Rock Climbing by Mike Strassman
Reduced to basic elements, climbing is dependent on balance and friction. Varying amounts of each keep us on the rock. Balance is where we place our weight—forward, backward, or to the side. Friction is how hard we press our shoes (or hands) onto the rock.
When we first get on the rock, we tend to want to hug the rock—we hold onto it for dear life. Your center of balance is off, so you grip harder. All of your weight is on your arms, making them tired. With no friction on the feet, they slide out from beneath you and... see ya!
After you've picked yourself out of the dirt, we'll show you the right way. Try and stand straight up and down. Find your center of balance and put your weight over the balls of your feet. Friction. Don't cling with your hands, use them only for balance.
Your legs are a lot stronger than your arms. When we climb, we want to use our legs as much as possible to take the strain off of our arms. When we begin to move, it is by moving the legs up, not the hands. Of course, on harder climbs you will have to rely on pulling up with the arms, but always look for a foothold to give those arms a break.
Remember, climbing shoes are bred for friction. They adhere so well that you do not have to press them into the rock. Step lightly and they stick. Climbing is not brute force overpowering the stone; it's delicate, graceful movements. Good climbers seem to move effortlessly, almost dance on the rock. Imitate these movements and you will become a better climber yourself.
Climbing movements are similar to dance or gymnastics. They are fluid and precise. Graceful movements come from being relaxed. This may be tough to do your first time out on the rock.
When you begin to move, stay relaxed. Clear your mind of any negative thoughts or images. Don't think about falling or your mother-in-law. Think about the problem in front of you. Make a mental picture of the move you are going to make. Visualize your body achieving the move. Now do it. Be committed. The slightest bit of hesitation and you won't make it.
When you move, move lightly, but with determination. Ease off one hold and place your foot directly onto the next. Do not drag or skip the foot up the rock. When you place the foot, don't put it someplace hoping to get a better purchase later. Put it where you need it. Now ease onto it, gently transferring your weight from one hold to the next. Let gravity do the work.
When you find a good hold, rest. Conserving energy is very important in climbing. Be direct. Exert only when you need to, and rest between exertions. A rest is a good time to relax the mind and body, consider the move in front of you, or just check out the view.
Climbing has been compared to chess, because of the planning involved. Look ahead and figure out your movements before you get there. The rock will dictate your movements; you must learn how to read it. Sometimes a move can only be accomplished through a certain sequence of movements. By planning ahead, you can execute that sequence and not become tired or unbalanced. Look ahead and let the rock tell you how to climb.
We don't always climb upward. Sometimes we must traverse, or even climb down. There are certain techniques for each direction of movement.
A traverse is any sideways movement. Traverses can be a lot of fun while bouldering. It's a good way to get pumped without getting too high off the ground. See how long you can hang on. You'll stay on a lot longer if you know some traversing techniques.
Hands are often crossed in a traverse. This allows you to reach farther on the next move. But, don't get too crossed up, sometimes it is better to shuffle the hands from one hold to the other.
Feet can cross too. Again, don't get too crossed up. Always be looking ahead and planning your next move. Let the holds tell you how to climb.
Sometimes in a traverse there is only one hold for both hands.
In this case, you must match hands. Try to shift your hand to one side of the hold and grip it with your first two fingers. Then bring your other hand over and match the fingers onto the other side of the hold. Now remove the advancing hand and grab the next hold. Resteady all four fingers on the matched hold.
The same thing can be done with the feet. Place the foot to one side of the hold and bring the other foot onto the other side of the hold. Now remove the advancing foot and gain a better purchase with the other foot.
Sometimes you can match feet by hopping. Be sure that you have two good handholds and quickly replace one foot with the other. It'll amaze your friends.
Climbing down is a lot harder than climbing up. It is more difficult to see the holds and to balance onto them once you've reached them. But downclimbing is a skill every climber should know. It will get you out of some tricky situations. Climbers feel it is more honorable to downclimb than to fall. It's also a lot safer.
On really low-angle rock it is often best to climb down pointing outwards, with both hands and feet, (and occasionally your rear end) on the rock. This is called a crab crawl. You can see your next holds, and a slip can be prevented simply by sitting down.
When it starts to get steeper, turn around. Look for your next holds by looking between your legs. If you must pull to one side or the other, use this opportunity to look down the unobstructed side. Always bring your feet down first and lower onto your arms. Once your feet are secure, place your hands on lower holds. If you are climbing down something you just climbed up, try and reverse the sequence exactly.
Always examine a downclimb before you attempt it. There is nothing more frightening than lowering towards a hold you cannot reach. Do not go past the point of no return hoping you will hit the hold. I did this once poised over a 75-foot chasm. I fell 20 feet and was saved by a wedged stone. Always be sure you are steadied on your foothold before removing your hands.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication