Advanced Techniques For The Well-Rounded Rock Climber

I don’t know if Tom Hanson, the Commisioner of Castlewood Canyon, made it up, but he said to me once, “There’s no cheating in climbing — only lying.” Some of these techniques were mentioned in a Twitter conversation with mtsquirrel, jrmontag, splitterchoss, aleyajean, rockmaven56, and climbwithkids. This is not a complete list of techniques, so if I missed one, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Assisted Foot Lift: What’s the matter, you can’t pull off the full lotus in your yoga class? Neither can I. I can barely sit cross-legged on the ground without getting hip cramps. Well, when you’re climbing and you see an awesome foothold right next to your hip, but you don’t want to pull the 2 or 3 moves it will take to put yourself in position to use it, just use the Assisted Foot Lift. Lift your leg as high as you can, oh, you’re probably still 6 inches short of the foothold, but no worries. Reach down with one hand, grab your shoe (shoelaces if it’s really desperate), and give your foot a little boost to get it up on the foothold.

Tree Jug/Tree Smear: There are two popular climbing techniques that involve trees. As you might guess, most decent trees are found on trad routes. There is almost no better handhold that wrapping one hand (or both hands) around a tree trunk and yarding on it to gain some upward progress. This is the Tree Jug. Obviously, your choice to use one or both hands depends on the circumference of the tree.  Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “Climbing this rock shit is hard. The hell with it, I’m using this tree.” The Tree Smear is a move wherein you stand on a branch, or trunk, of a tree, to gain upward progress.

Full Body Scum: I’ll be honest, I only half think I know what this is. I’m pretty sure it involves smashing your entire body against the rock and pulling upward with your hands, using the friction your body and clothes create to substitute for trying to stand on some tiny footholds. Particularly useful if there are chickenheads that you can hook the waistbelt of your harness on and take a second to contemplate your next move.

Belly Flop: Hate scary mantel moves? Then don’t try to lift your feet up once you’ve committed. If you have enough space on the ledge you’re *supposed* to mantel onto, just lean your upper body forward until you tip onto the ledge. Then you can shimmy your legs up, or bring one leg up onto the ledge and kind of roll over. It’s super sexy. I believe I saw Chris Sharma do this once in a video of him on one of his 5.15a routes, but don’t quote me.

No-Hands-No-Feet Rest: You’ve heard of the “no-hands” rest, in which one comes to a point on a climb where the angle of the rock and the footholds combine for an opportunity for the climber to shake out both hands at the same time before continuing up. Sometimes it involves a knee bar, which is rad when you’re hanging upside down. Well, the No-Hands-No-Feet rest is like that, but not nearly as cool. Say you are on a trad climb and you’re pulling some moves, maybe up a chimney-like feature, and a big ledge appears to your left or your right. To execute the No-Hands-No-Feet Rest, simply flop your ass up onto the ledge like you’re hopping up to sit on your kitchen counter at home. Then chill. If it’s a big enough ledge, you can lie down, maybe eat that Snickers bar in your pocket, smoke a cig, whatever.

Head Jam: I’ve never tried this one. It’s usually used to overcome wacky roofs on old-school trad routes, like Cozyhang in Boulder Canyon. It’s not so much a jam, as much as using the strength of your neck to get a little extra oomph to get up and over the hump. Illustration here.

The Telegraph: You may have done this while leading a climb before. You are pumped. You have two OK handholds and one foothold about the size of a dime. You are barely hanging onto the wall. You need to move your other foot up onto a decent foothold, but you feel like the slightest movement (or even a 2 mph breeze) will throw off your precarious balance and pop you off the wall. It’s OK. Know what I like to do? Hyperventilate, and do The Telegraph. Take that foot you absolutely desperately need to move onto the foothold, and tap the toe of your climbing shoe up the wall towards the foothold — every 2 inches, every 4 inches, whatever — mapping out an invisible dotted line until you reach the foothold. Voila! Doesn’t that feel better?

The Cam Stand: Are you like 99% of sane climbers, who hate climbing offwidths, but sometimes you find yourself leading one? Well, when it gets desperate and you’re all smashed into that crack, plug in a No. 4 or No. 5 Camalot as low as you can, and stand on that thing. Oh yeah. No-Hands Rest. The Cam Stand is probably not good for your cams, but it might keep you from vomiting on yourself in the offwidth.

Crying: Don’t be ashamed. If you’re leading, and it’s so desperate that the only thing you can think about is hugging your mom, go ahead and let the waterworks flow. Usually your partner can’t see your face or the tears from below, and if you’re far enough above him or her, they might not even see your body convulsing with sobs. If they do, and mention it when you’re both at the next belay, tell them no, you were dry heaving because you think you ate something bad last night. Or say something like, “No way, dude, I was laughing. That’s how desperate it was. I just lost it.”


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20 replies on “Advanced Techniques For The Well-Rounded Rock Climber”
  1. says: AleyaJean

    Brilliant. The Assisted Foot Lift is my signature move, being short and all. It helps get that tiny bit more that I need. I think next time I’m going to try out the full body scum, or crying.

  2. says: Whitney

    After one of my first attempts at climbing my friend and I started called the belly flop the beached whale move.I’ve still been known to use it on occasion 🙂

  3. says: Teresa

    You forgot one of my favorite all-time techniques: the Cascade Kneebar. Has desperation got you panicking silly? All you have to do is mantle that ridiculously minuscule ledge with a completely pumped body to get a little hands-free breaky-break. But how exactly do you mantle when you’ve never actually tried to and you have the flexibility of giraffe-legged rhinoceros? I still dont know. My preference is to substitute in the Cascade Kneebar.

    Here’s how:
    Step 1: Reach up to that ledge with one shaky hand, and then the other.
    Step 2: Grunt a little, let loose a few expletives, cry a few tears, and curse whoever’s dumb idea this was (which probably means you)
    Step 3: Heave-ho yourself up and over till all your body weight is balanced on straight-arms, wobbling precariously on dainty wrists
    Step 4: Since flexibility and strength are not your forte, rather than getting your foot up, flop your knee up on the ledge
    Step 5: Leaver yourself up onto your knee, bring your other leg up and if needed Fully Body Scum yourself up the rock from knee to standing.
    Step 6: Breathe for the first time in 5 minutes
    Step 7: Cry a little more and than whoop for joy at your badassness that you didnt just crash down to the earth.

    Cascade Kneebar. Works every time.

  4. says: alan

    Picked up from friends in Mass: “Humping the dog”: body scum up a slabby arete or a giant flake with arms and legs hugging both sides of the rock. When performed correctly, you look like a baby koala bear hugging its mama (and humping her a little to gain upward movement).

  5. says: Ravit

    ‘Wrist wrap’ a move I use a lot when left with no finger strength whatsoever. You need a jug for this one and helps to mantle overhangs. Instead of your fingers wrap your wrist around the jug and pull up. No one will ever know.

  6. says: SuzRocks

    Haaaaa! This cracked me up. Especially because I may or may not have been involved with almost all of these moves. Even the crying one. Although usually I pretend that something got in my eye.

    I do the belly flop, but sometimes with knees, if I can get my knees on something, I’ll just sort of crawl to the top. It’s also very sexy. I’m impressive.

  7. says: Ryan

    I’ve got one in my quiver of tricks I like to call the “Sling Rest”. This technique seems to come most in play when the leader is totally gripped, standing on one marginal foot with one decent hand, and slightly off balance. The leader finds a tiny crack and in one motion, slams an over-cammed, tipped out, one-set-of-lobes piece in, clips the rope, then grabs the sling. Once the shaking subsides, closer inspection of the piece reveals that it should not even be used for balance, let alone pro. After the next move is executed, the cam is back-cleaned to remove evidence of the jack-assery.

  8. says: Katie

    Dude, I totally used the tree technique to top out a really sketchy boulder problem a few weeks ago 🙂 This post is amazing!

  9. says: Paulina

    Oh yes. Wait, the Cam Stand but no Cam Pull? I suppose you think you have to draw the line somewhere.
    Another favorite of mine and a close relative to the Telegraph is waking your fingers to the next hold, preferably while looking away.

  10. says: Dan

    Also missed off the Face Smear. Only used this one inside so far. Place side of face / head onto wall. Use it for balance while you get a better position 😀

  11. says: Noah Doherty

    I’ve used all of these, but I’m going to have to point out a crucial move. The chin grab/face smear! Super popular among myself on mantels and dihedrals. Your cheeks and forehead become another hand.

  12. says: Eileen

    I’ve done a variation of the Belly Flop, I call it the “Beached Whale” move. You haul yourself up first and then flop over, like a whale breaching except on the beach… er on rock.

    Best if done as the final move after climbing the rest of the route in style.

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