Category Archives: Tactical

Tactical parts of climbing performance

Gear Placements – Metal Spikes, Pegs and Bolts

Back up in situ metal protection like spikes, pegs and bolts where possible with other protection. Metal spikes and pegs will be most corroded below the surface and whilst you can test to see if it’s wobbly there is little more you can do to check how sound it may be. Rust may appear superficial but hidden below it may have taken hold. Tying off the spike or peg as low as possible will minimise the leverage on it.

A metal spike tied off low down to reduce the leverage on the spike. You can either clove hitch the sling to the spike or wrap the sling round the spike so it prevents the sling sliding upwards.
A metal spike tied off low down to reduce the leverage on the spike. You can either clove hitch the sling to the spike or wrap the sling round the spike so it prevents the sling sliding upwards.

Bolts are a little different as there may be notes on their history in a guidebook. Knowing when the bolt was placed and what type it is will help your judgement. Stainless Steel is less likely to corrode than plain steel. Resin bolts have a longer lifespan than simple expansion bolts. Some of the bolts on crags are little more than 8mm thick and 30mm long and may have been in place for over thirty years. If the bolts are subject to the salty conditions of a maritime environment, treat them with further caution.

Using different metals for the bolt, nut and hanger can cause an electrolytic reaction which will rapidly corrode one part or other. If the bolt has signs of rust and the hanger doesn’t its an indication of mixed metals reacting with each other. Some aluminium hangers react with the bolt, resulting in oxidisation.

Top: A modern long 10mm bolts versus the old 30mm long 8mm wide bolt. What would you prefer to fall on? Bottom Left: A aluminium hanger that has corroded probably due to mixed metal issues. Bottom Right: A stainless ring and rusty steel hanger, this was only paced for a few month before the corrosion was spotted, such is the effect of mixed metals.
Top: A modern long 10mm bolts versus the old 30mm long 8mm wide bolt. What would you prefer to fall on? Bottom Left: A aluminium hanger that has corroded probably due to mixed metal issues. Bottom Right: A stainless ring and rusty steel hanger, this was only paced for a few month before the corrosion was spotted, such is the effect of mixed metals.

Abandoned Equipment

One way to lookout all fixed metal equipment in a cliff is that is is essentially abandon equipment with a dubious history of use and abuse. Whilst in many sports climbing areas there are voluntary groups that check the bolts and re-equip the routes from time to time. This is not always the case.

Even if some bolts are not that old, there are other issues, some bolts have failed as they have been overused and in soft rock. This has lead to bolts pulling out almost by hand after only 5 years of heavy use.

So look at bolts carefully, do they look OK? Do they feel OK? Do they move?

UKROckTour

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Gear Placements – Rock Spikes and Threads

When using rock spikes and threads as forms of protection you need to consider the 3 S’s.

  • Solid – is the rock solid? If it is a thread are both parts solid?
  • Shape – is the shape of the rock suitable for the direction of pull?
  • Size – If it is a stand alone block is it big enough to not move?

As a general rule of thumb a free standing boulder needs to be at least twice the size of an adult curled up in a ball, as well as in a position where it can’t be pulled over the edge. For the scientist 1 metre cubed of rock is about 2 tonnes.

The good and not so good shapes that you can get with spike belays.
The good and not so good shapes that you can get with spike belays.

The shape of the spike needs to be angled back away from the direction of force so that the sling or rope that is a round the spike doesn’t ride up over the top and off the spike. To check this make a sawing motion with sling or rope in the direction of the likely load. If it rides up the placement will be comprimised.

 

Checking a spike by sawing lightly with the sling or rope to check if it rides up and off the spike.
Checking a spike by sawing lightly with the sling or rope to check if it rides up and off the spike.

Like any placement, a spike will only be any good if it is solid. To check for this at rst try rocking the boulder, but be aware that if it on the edge of a cliff, it might topple off onto people! If it doesn’t move, try giving it a kick with your foot and feel for vibrations in your hand.

In the case of spikes that are part of the mountain, the size of the ake is often unimportant. It will just be the shape and solidity that are vital.

Learn-to-rock-climb

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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.
Learn-to-rock-climb
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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.

UKROckTour

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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.

Learn-to-rock-climb

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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.

Learn-to-rock-climb

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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!

Learn-to-rock-climb

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Roof’s

Moving around roofs can be strenuous on the arms, the trick is to move past the obstacle as quickly as possible, to a rest above.

Place gear as close up under the roof as possible, and even above the lip of the roof if you can reach. Going up and down a few times may give you a clear picture of where hand and footholds lie. Having placed gear or taken a peek over the lip descend to a rest below the roof to prepare yourself. When you decide to go, do so with determination and don’t stop until you’re above the roof where it will be far less strenuous to stop and place gear.

Moving through a roof
Moving through a roof

Roof exercises

Below the roof nd a good and look at the moves above. When you have an idea of how to proceed, move up until you are faced with the need to step your feet over the roof.

With strength you will be able to step your foot over the lip of the roof, but to start with and on harder routes you will nd it easier to place your knee over the roof to rock-over and step up with your other foot. Don’t stop until you are stood above the roof.

Roof tips

  • Try and remember that standing sideways on before and after the roof to save energy and helps us develop the least strenuous position or even a hands off rest.
  • Move as swiftly as possible through the roof.
  • Rest after you have stepped over the roof.

Overhanging Walls

By there very nature an overhanging wall is going to be strenuous. At lower grades the chances are that any steep rock will be reasonably short lived and you will be able to rest at either the top or bottom of the section.

Just like a roof find a good rest below a steep section and place gear as high as possible. Whilst stood below try and work out the sequence of moves for your hands and feet. You may be able to mark footholds with a dab of chalk to help you spot them when you are committed to the hard climbing.

After assessing the moves you face a decision. If the section is short, commit to climbing quickly and confidently through it. If on the other hand you are unsure then you can climb up a few moves and place some higher gear before reversing back to the rest. By repeatedly going up and down you can place progressively higher runners and also start to work out the complete sequence to overcome the obstacle.

Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.
Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.

If you choose to yo-yo up and down like this, keep in mind whether the moves you are making are reversible and just how long can you hang on in that position before you fail? You’ll need to balance working out the sequence versus the need to blast on through the crux before you become too pumped.

At times climbers choose to construct a ‘bomb shelter’ or a cluster of runners just before the crux or steep section in order to build confidence.

Overhang Tips

  • Arms straight and driving from the feet, minimise the strain on your arms.
  • From a good rest below a steep section, work out your probable sequence of moves and where possible, mark any useful footholds as far as you can reach with chalk. Then give it a go. If you find extra holds that would make the sequence easier, reverse back down to the rest and try again. Repeat this until you are ready to move through the whole section. Then take a few deep breaths and tackle the section with determination.
  • To keep your arms straight, imagine there is an iron bar down them, or get some large cardboard tubes that will keep them straight!
  • The principles of climbing sideways and using opposite limbs are key.
  • By getting your feet high and keeping your arms straight you can drive yourself upwards with your legs.
  • Moving swiftly through a steep section of rock is going to use far less energy than hanging around on every hold.
  • Sometimes it is possible to reduce the angle at which you are climbing by nding grooves and corners to bridge out on.
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Corners and Chimneys

Bridgeable features often provide ways to rest the pulling muscles in our arms and make upward progress.

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Climbing using only the flat wall for hands and any hold for feet. A good exercise to work on bridging
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Climbing a corner trying to only push down on holds. Thos will help you realise that you don’t have to pull all the time. When climbing this might allow your forearms to recover.

 

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Pushing off a hold and walking your feet up the opposite wall and then getting back into a bridge/rest position. This might help if there is a long wy to the next hand hold.

Another trick for ascending corners and grooves is ‘back and footing’, see Chimney Rest.

Climb a corner with as many hands off rest as possible, by bridging and back and footing.

Climb aagin but your hands can only grip as if you were holding a cup of tea.

Corner tips

  • Use your hand to pivot around your feet and feet to pivot around hands.
  • Palming off the wall uses different muscles to pulling down on holds.
  • Rest whenever you can, both bridging and ‘back and footing’.
  • Sometimes corners and grooves are like pantomimes, the holds are “behind you!”

Chimney’s

Climbing chimneys ef ciently is often dif cult, as much of the time actually moving up requires an energy sapping ‘thrutching’ that tires the whole body. The only respite you get is when resting in between the struggling up. The best psychological approach for many chimneys is one of rugged determina- tion and that given a good ght you will succeed.

Chimneys cover a vast range of width of cracks; essentially anywhere you can t a body, it is possible to chimney. Generally the way we move is by locking or wedging one part of our body which then allows us to move another part. By continuously repeating this wedge-move-wedge-move it is possible to edge our way upwards.

Chinmey exercise

Find a chimney, doorway or corner and place your back against one wall and feet against the other and try and sit down in a wedged position.

Push off one foot and your back and move the other foot up and then wedge yourself of the higher foot and your back.

Using your hands against the wall you back is on, thrutch your back upwards and attain another sitting position. By repeating this movement it is possible to edge your way upwards.

Back and fitting up a chimney
Back and fitting up a chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney

Chimney tips

  • Although it is possible to climb a totally smooth chimney, placing your feet on footholds or edges makes the whole process a lot easier.
  • You will have a fight on your hands.
  • You can often rest by simply sitting down, it is the thrutching upwards that is exhausting.
  • Decide which way round you are going to face before you start. Try the first move facing one way and then reverse down and try it the other, decide which is easier before committing yourself. It will often be impossible to turn around half-way up.
  • Thin chimneys are even harder to climb, unforgiving on the body, totally claustrophobic and requiring a lot of energy to move up. Improvisation is the answer, but the principle is the same, wedge-shuffle-shuffle-wedge.
  • It will often be impossible to see your feet, or arms for that matter; so take note of prominent foot holds as they pass you face and struggle relentlessly until you can feel your feet on them (perhaps your only chance of a rest).

 

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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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