Category Archives: Tactical

Tactical parts of climbing performance

Gear Placements – Hexes and Tri Cams

The judgement we need to select a placements for Hexes and Tri cams is very similar to selecting a nut placement. First off is the rock secure than then you need to look at how well the device sits in the shape of crack.

How they are placed is slightly different, as both Hexes and Tri-cams can be placed as passive nuts, however they are designed to cam into placement and become more secure the greater the load placed on them. It is also important to seat them in the placement by applying a shock load by jerking down on the tape.

How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
Good tricam placements rely on the device to pivot or cam into the crack. They are particular good in quarried shot-holes.
Good tricam placements rely on the device to pivot or cam into the crack. They are particular good in quarried shot-holes.
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Gear Placements – Nuts, Rocks and Wires

Nuts, Rocks and Wires stem from the original running belay placement for cracks were simply small pebbles, rocks or stones placed by climber as chockstones and threaded with a sling; over time climbers started to drill out machine nuts and use them instead. In modern days various companies make a variety of different shaped and sized wedges. They work by being placed in natural constrictions in cracks, wedging themselves in. The constriction stops the nut from being pulled through. When placing a nut you need to consider several things:

Quality of the rock

Avoid using loose or hollow sounding rock, along with superficial flakes. Check the rock by tapping it with a karabiner, a hollow sound will indicate poorer quality. If it is a flake try moving it by giving it a good shake, or hitting the flake with the palm of one hand whilst feeling for vibrations with the other. However you check the rock remember that you are at the top of a cliff and possible unroped, there is the possibility of people being below, so take care not to send anything over the edge of the cliff, especially yourself.

Checking the quality of rock for a gear placement. Left: Hitting it with the palm of the hand and feeling for vibrations. Middle: Trying to move the flake in different directions. Right: Tapping the flake with a karabiner and listening to see if it sounds hollow.
Checking the quality of rock for a gear placement. Left: Hitting it with the palm of the hand and feeling for vibrations. Middle: Trying to move the flake in different directions. Right: Tapping the flake with a karabiner and listening to see if it sounds hollow.

Natural constriction

To select a good nut placement, you rst need to identify cracks in line with the route you are climbing. You then need to nd a natural constriction in that crack where a nut can be wedged in, and won’t pull through. There may be signs of smoothing/wear and tear on popular climbs, often but not always an indication of a good placement.

Contact area

When the nut is securely wedged in the crack the greater the surface area of the nut in contact with the rock the better the placement.Try or simple turning the wire round or a different sized wire.

When placing Nuts, Wires and rock in a tapering wedge. You also need to look to check there there is a large surface area of metal against each side. Left: Is good with lots of surface area whilst on the right the contact area is less so it may work itself loose easier.
When placing Nuts, Wires and rock in a tapering wedge. You also need to look to check there there is a large surface area of metal against each side. Left: Is good with lots of surface area whilst on the right the contact area is less so it may work itself loose easier.

Overlap

When the nut is securely in place there need to be a reasonable overlap between the width of the crack and the width of the nut. The reason for this is that if there is an extreme load on the placement it may simply pull the nut through the placement.

When place a wire look for good overlap, so that the widest part of the wire is bigger than the thinnest part of the crack. The left golden wire has better overlap than the green one on the right.
When place a wire look for good overlap, so that the widest part of the wire is bigger than the thinnest part of the crack. The left golden wire has better overlap than the green one on the right.

Seating

Does the gear stay put when left alone? First you must seat the nut securely. Use the other wires on you rack of wires as a grip and creating a shock load by jerking in the direction of pull on the wire. The nut will probably move slightly in the placement and hopefully drop into a snug fit. Then, if you lightly wiggle the wire you will see if it unseats itself from the placement, a well-seated nut will stay secure. Try not to over-do this, as you may end up with yout gear stuck in the crack, impossible to remove.

Get into the habit of jerking the wires into place to seat your wires as if the wire pulls through when you jerk it, only your arm moves. If you pull with your bodyweight to seat a wire and the placement fails, you will fall away from the rock with it!

Seating a nut by jerking the rack of wires down. Do this as many times as it take to get the wire to stop moving in the placement. Test this seating by wiggling lightly on the wires once it seems placed.
Seating a nut by jerking the rack of wires down. Do this as many times as it take to get the wire to stop moving in the placement. Test this seating by wiggling lightly on the wires once it seems placed.

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Camming Devices

Camming devices are one of the more technical pieces of climbing equipment. They are so effective that very quickly after they were invented they revolutionise rock climbing. Originally design by an aerospace engineer Ray Jardine, who was also a keen climbers.

When he was testing his prototype he used to say he was going climbing with my ‘friends’. He licensed the design the wild country and the name ‘friends’ was kept and still is. The name friends is as synonymous as camping devices or cams as name for this devices.

Good and bad placements of camping devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.
Good and bad placements of camping devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.

Essentially there are several cams that are spring loaded and when placed in a crack they expand. As the device is loaded the cams push out on the crack with a great force than is trying to pull it out so it stays in place.

As such camming devices are active and can put a large forces pressing the crack apart. This means that if the crack is part of a superficial flake it can prize it off in the event of a fall. As such the cams need to be placed with consideration. However as they can be placed quickly in a variety of width cracks and even hold in parallel sided cracks means they are extremely popular.

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Hexes

Hexes were an extension of the machine nuts that climbing started using for protection. They eventually became ‘hex centric’ in that each side was of a different length. The reason behind this was that someone trying to make their own at home wasn’t very accurate as cutting and made it by accident as realised that the eccentric shape work even better.

How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.

Hexes are a semi-passive piece of equipment, as although they are just placed into a crack. When they are put under load however they torque into the crack. Also actively forcing themselves into a better placement. Often in order to retrieve them from a placement the climber will have to turn them in the opposite direction and you will hear and feel an audible click and the hex will become loose.

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Buying a Climbing Rope

There are many different type of climbing rope, as the article at the bottom will highlight in hopefully humorous way just how bewildering it can be. Starting out though all you need to know is there are two main type of rope: Single and double ropes.

In the main beginners want to start out with a full rope, as it can be used on it own and will make rope work a lot easier to start with. It will also last longer than a half or double rope. You best bet to start off with it to go for either a 50m or 60m. Also don’t go to thin as a standard single rope is around 10.5mm, any thinner and it won’t last as long. Unless you plan on going out in winter then you won’t need a dry rope treatment either.

Simon Lake showing you how to use double climbing ropes on the classic pump fest. Wind, HVS in Llanberis Pass
Simon Lake showing you how to use double climbing ropes on the classic pump fest. Wind, HVS in Llanberis Pass

Single Versus Double climbing ropes

Single ropes are easier to use sports climbing and indoors and for easy trad climbing. However if you progress in trad climbing you will need to consider Double or Half ropes, as these are thinner and help reduce rope drag if use correctly and can allow you retreat a full rope length off if necessary.

A different ropes and lengths of quickdraw can help prevent rope drag when climbing outside.
A different ropes and lengths of quickdraw can help prevent rope drag when climbing outside.

Length of climbing Rope

Ropes can come from 40m to 80m. Dependant on what you are using it for then different lengths are requires. Indoors most walls are OK with just a 40m rope. Outdoor sport climbing you may need a 80m rope in some places, although many ropes are only 30m high so you can get away with a 60m rope. It may be worth see what you local sport climbing venue is like for pitch lengths before buying a rope.

In trad climbing I would recommend a 50m any longer and you will struggle to carry enough gear. If you are a more advanced trad  climber then a 60m climbing rope will be much more useful, especially on alpine length routes for abseiling retreats and descents.50

Buying A Rope – Story

So I haven’t had any half ropes for some time and needed some for work decided to head to V12 Outdoor to buy a pair. As a qualified and experience outdoor professional I naively thought that this would be an ‘easy’ job. I walked in with the idea of seeing which was cheapest and going with that, however I hadn’t really thought the whole thing through. As I start looking at what I can only say is a vast array of ropes of nearly every conceivable length, colour of the rainbow, thinness, rating, treatment and brand.

My first problem a common one for men was a question of length, I turned to my friend and said that “50m is for girls”, he said “but my ropes are 50m”, “exactly” I said. Now 60m is a good length but recently in Spain I had been climbing on 70m half ropes. These things are so long I swear you could do a retrievable abseil off the moon.

Then I remember that I was going to go sports climbing this winter and maybe I would need that 70 or even 80m full rope to lower off some of those long routes. This basically then made the whole decision making process a whole load more tricky, as I picked up a pair of Jokers, the first rope to be rated as a both a single and a half rope. At just over 9mm in diameter it wouldn’t be the lightest option.

Then someone piped up have you considered the triple rated rope? Well of course I hadn’t as I never even knew one existed. A rope that could be used as a single rope, half rope and twin rope. However these were not cheap, about £200 a rope retail price. I also think that these ultra thin single ropes are not what I need, I seem to hammer kit and a thinner rope in my experience mean they wear out quick as the sheaf by the very nature of the thinnest is, well, thinner.

Despite this I felt that the flexibility of having a two ropes does all approach would be great, so asked to have a look. I was then asked do I want the new or the old dry treatment. The old was just a treatment to the outside of the rope where the new apparently was to the core and the sheaf. At the point my head near exploded, as to be honest ‘dry’ treatment to me seems like selling snake oil, as whilst yes it is water repellent, in a proper downpour in wales you are having a laugh if you actually think it is going to work for more than two minutes. I have seen the treatment literally wash off the rope on the first soaking.

The price of two multi rope made me think about getting one of these thin multi ropes and one ‘normal’ half rope. Given there were two types of multi rated ropes I found and then many more choices for simple half ropes. Anything from 8.7mm to 6.9mm, but another problem I have had is using the thinnest diameter ropes of around 7mm in a guide plate and having the plate fail to lock as the ropes are too small for a normal sized belay plate, which means you need new belay plate as well. On the plus side at least this eliminated some choices from the decision.

I then remember that the advertised length on the ropes are often wild guesstimates, so the thought of buying one rope from one manufacture and another from even the same but not technically a ‘pair’ would mean that the chances would be that the ropes would as a result be wildly different lengths. This could be a safety issue as it becomes easier to abseil off the end of one rope. So I then decided that I needed to buy a pair of ropes.

I returned eventually to the cheapest cir they had, and walked out happy if not a little bewildered after an hour. After all I just wanted to buy a climbing rope!

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Drill Boards: Drop Knee and Flagging

The use of these drills boards has help many climbers start to develop a better understanding of climbing on steep rock. Although you can develop one for the rock over it is the tricky techniques of the drop knee, inner flag and outer flag that this drill boards really helps.

For most climbers the first time they use a drill board they struggle with the pattern of movement. In that they can often get the beginning or the end position but it is the transition from one to the other that become the problem.

It is this ability for a climber to repeat many different combinations and permutations of the movements need in order to get the underlying fundamental principles dialled in.

As such whilst know what a drop knee, inner and outer flag are is great this exercise really helps you get to grips with the body positions needs to make the transitions smooth and effective.

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Hands Off Rests

Learning to climb with efficiency is all about saving energy. So finding a hands off rests or a little respite is a key component of good climbing technique. A hands of rest is a place where we can recover from a tricky section and shake out the lactic acid from our arms and even legs, but also a place to plan the next section of climbing from.

In the video above we cover several different type of rest, the first thing to do is practice them in isolation so you can recall them. The next step is to see what shape the wall/rock needs to be for you to get the rest. This ability to identify rests from below will give you islands of safety and rest to aim for.

Once you get to the rest remember to take a deep sooth breathe, this can help calm you down if on lead. As the rest can help you regain a composed and relaxed manner, as well as giving a physical rest. You might also be able to add to this relaxing feeling by placing gear from these restful positions when trad climbing.

Finally use the rests to plan the next section of a climb. Whether be a plan to get to the  next runner or rest. The rest or respites become a tactical component of your climbing, but essentially they are all just simple techniques based on the ability to identify the rest and use it.

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Warming Up Overview

Warming up will get the heart, lungs, muscles, joints and tendons ready for action. Whilst some people will do a full aerobics style warm-up, some will opt for easy bouldering or climbing. Some climbers will choose to do none. Although this might feel like you will be able to get more climbing in because you have not ‘wasted’ energy on the warm-up, the opposite is true.

Warming up promotes blood flow through the muscles, dilating the capillaries and actually allowing you to climb harder for longer. It will also help switch your mind from normal life to to climbing mode. A good warm up will help make your muscle and tendons more flexible, a bit like warming up blue tack or silly putty. Once you have got them warm they are less likely to snap.

If you don’t warm up and jump on the hardest route straight away you will get what climbers refer to  ‘flash pump’ – your muscles instantly become exhausted because the blood cannot flow effectively through arteries, veins and capillaries restricting the muscles they supply. It is often difficult to recover from the flash pump as you need to go all the way back to the start of your warm up.

Warming Up

Starts heart and lungs working. Promotes good blood follow through cap- illaries. Helps tendons prepare for activity by making them more elastic. Helps promote uid in the joint to increase lubrications. Helps switch the mind to climbing mode.

A good warm-up should last about twenty minutes. It will help to set the scene for your whole session, get you in the right frame of mind and help you to concentrate on skilful climbing.

Video of Warming Up using Bouldering

Warming Up Key Elements

  1. Raise you heart rate by light jogging and extremely easy bouldering/climbing. Do this until you feel out of breathe and are starting to sweat. (5 – 10 minutes)
  2. Do some more very easy climbing, you should never feel pumped so maybe try slabs to start with. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Work up to one grade below you maximum (5 – 10 minutes)
  4. You should be ready to climb at your max now. If you find yourself getting pumped then drop a few grades to a very easy route, this will help you de-pimp.

The Pump

Bodybuilder’s coined the phrase ‘the pump’ for the swollen feeling and appearance of muscles after a workout. For climbers it is pertinent to climbing in our anaerobic zone, where the build up of lactic acid makes the muscle less and less effective. It starts with a dull ache and ends in a complete inability to contract the muscles effected, resulting in failure. If you carry on to failure the muscle will feel solid to touch, and you will need at least 15 minutes rest to recover.

Iy is essentially cause by you contracting the muscles so hard that you start to squeeze the capillaries shut and starve the muscles of oxygen and energy. In order to de-pump you need to rest the specific muscle but also use them lightly. As the blood pumping too the muscle will help so the accumulation of lactic acid, it is however the contraction of muscles that helps flush the lactic acid out of the muscles.

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Coordination: Mind to Body Warm Up

As you are warming ups, doing some pulse raising exercise you can add in some co-ordination exercises. These will focus your concentration on kinesthesia (your sense of movement), proprio- ception (sense of space) and balance. We can effectively turn on the part of the brain that we use for learning and acquiring new skills.

In the long term, these types of coordination exercises can become second nature, it is in the context of the learning to learn that these exercises will benefit you for the first few sessions that you use this book.

Coordination exercises

  1. Balance on one foot and move upper body and other limb to counter balance each other.
  2. Rub tummy, pat head whilst balancing on one foot. Put the other foot forwards, left, right and back.
  3. Rotate arms in opposite directions whilst walking around then change your direction of travel.
  4. Basic Juggling, then move to see if you can do it on one leg?
  5. Rotate your right foot in a clockwise direction and then with your right hand write a number six in the air.
  6. Run on the spot with your legs going in slow motion and your arms as fast as possible and vice versa.
  7. If there are three of you tried the human plait or some gymnastic multi person balances. (see video below)
  8. Various Yoga poses 

Video of German Climbing team warm ups with coordination exercises

The video below show various routines that the german climbing team have used over the years to warm up. Many are fun and require a high level of coordination and look more like acrobatics than climbing.

Coaches Notes

This warming up people coordination is extremely important when we are teaching people new physical skills. As it helps them to access the right part of the brain for learning.

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Warming Up

Whether you climb indoor or outdoors on routes or boulders you need to do some form of warming up. Failure to do so will often lead to poorer performance and/or injury.  We cover some of the basics of warming up for indoor and outdoor climbers.

Warming up for the Indoor Climber

At an indoor climbing wall a good warm-up will extend the length of a session, by allowing you climb harder for longer.

The majority of climbing walls will have some easy top roping for groups, these routes are ideal for warming up on as they will allow you to work your muscles without tiring. You need to operate below the level where you nd your arms becoming pumped because of the build up of lactic acid. You should be excercising in anaerobic way. If you do start to become pumped lower off and drop the grade and angle of the routes that you are warming up on. Very easy bouldering on slabs, traverses or juggy routes can offer an alternative.

Throughout the warmup, how does your body feel; are you finding it too intense? If so, make things a easier, the level you warm up at will rarely be too easy. You will be able to feel your body warming up, and the blood flowing more freely through the muscles, a raised heart and breathing rate and a glow of light perspiration. Keep going until that feeling is well established (for about twenty minutes).

The warm-up is a great time to introduce some climbing drills that help reinforce technique on this easy terrain. So as part of your warm-up visit some of the exercises we’ll in the Basic climbing techniques section. Exercises like climbing only facing left, then right, being sideways on (zigzagging up the wall), climbing silently, climbing slowly, Climbing one or no handed and climbing like a monkey. All these exercises develop good technique and used during the warm-up will help switch you mind to climbing mode. Doing them every time you go climbing will engrain them in your subconscious and help ensure that you think about effeciency whenever you climb.

Warming up at the wall

  • Remember climbing during the warm-up can never be too easy!
  • A warm-up should last for at least twenty minutes.
  • Consider doing some technique drills.

Video on the importance of warming up

Warming up at the wall

Warming Up Outside

At the crag it may be harder to do a thorough warm-up, although sometimes a long walk-in suffices. You may find that by the time you have rigged a top rope or racked up you have already cooled down, so consider doing an easy route as a warm-up. If you have warmed up on the approach wrapping up in an extra layer of clothing once you have arrived at the bottom of the cliff can make a big difference.

If climbing an easy route isn’t possible then bouldering up and down the first few moves of a climb several times is a good alternative. This process of going up and down the start of a route can be extended to actually placing gear and coming back down, not only getting warmed up but also getting to know the route and the gear.

Simply walking around the bottom of the crag, moving and flexing your arms and hands as well as jogging on the spot will all help to get the heart and lungs into gear. Whatever you do, any form of warm-up will help you climb better and fight off the pump.

Warming up at the crag

  • The walk-in can be part of the warm-up.
  • Start on an easy route or boulder up and down the start of the route.
  • Boulder around the base of the crag.
  • Use an easy route or small boulder to work on technique.
  • Doing an easy route can help you get to know the rock type.

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