Elaina Arenz climbing “Mister Fantasy” 11c at the “Endless Wall,” New River Gorge. Photo: Chris Noble.
Overhanging climbs and climbing steep can be intimidating at first, but what I love about them is how I have to adapt my body to move efficiently through steep terrain and get creative with my climbing movement. What I also love about steep sport climbing is that all of the lead falls are clean (well mostly anyway). If you pop off you’ll find yourself cushioned by the air below you if your belayer is giving you a nice soft catch.
You may be asking yourself, what is an overhanging climb? It’s any climb that the angle is greater than 90 degrees vertical and it takes a specific skill set to be able to navigate your way through steeper terrain. Classic climbing areas like the Red River Gorge, Rifle and Maple Canyon are well known for this style of climbing. Follow a few of these pointers below and you will be able to save a little energy and move more quickly through steeper climbs.
1. Climb Fast(er)
The pump clock is ticking when you’re on an overhanging route so you want to move as quickly as possible. There’s no time to dilly dally because you only have so much fuel in the tank to burn. You’ll want to move quickly and efficiently so you can economize your energy. This is going to require some work on your part to get that route dialed so you aren’t doing any unnecessary or extra moves.
2. Conserve Energy
Plan out your route while standing on the ground. Identify the crux sections (the hardest part of the climb) and visualize the beta that you have worked out for that section. Do this for the whole entire climb and have a rough plan before you even leave the ground. Great ways to conserve energy are:
-Hang on straight arms. This will help you use your skeletal system to support you and not your muscles.
-Breathe. The deeper and more audible the better. Your muscles and brain need oxygen to function properly when they are in use.
-Relax your grip. Don’t hold on or squeeze the holds any harder than necessary. Over gripping is a waste of energy.
3. High Feet and Turn Hips In
This is a great way to put more weight onto your feet and allows you to stand up high and maximize your reach on the steeps. Place your big toe on a foothold and turn your hips into the wall by pivoting on that toe into a drop knee or flag. If you are reaching up with your right hand, turn that right hip in. If reaching with your left hand, turn left hip in. This will help you get instantly taller because you will be able to extend your reach by a couple of inches at least. Try this tip at home and you will see what I mean:
-Stand facing the wall with your hips square.
-Lift your right arm over your head and see how far your fingertips touch on the wall.
-Now turn your right hip into the wall and note how much further you can extend that reach. This is a huge advantage on steep climbs.
4. Maximize Rests
Break the climb down into manageable pieces by identifying possible rest stances. Keep in mind that the rest could be a quick spot to get a few shakes before continuing your blast to clipping the anchors. When you’re at a rest get creative:
– Look for knee bar, hand jam or heel hook.
-Relax your grip, lower your heels, alternate shaking out each hand (with your arms straight!)
-Breathe deep. Inhale through your nose and push the air out through pursed lips. Your belayer should hear you exhale. This will help lower your heart rate so you can stay relaxed in the mind and the body.
5. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Rehearse the moves. This will help you to learn which holds to use and which to avoid. Experiment with the movement and pull out every trick in the book and get the whole route dialed.
-Have friend take a video or draw a beta map of your route. Note the sequence of both your hands and feet (RH1, LH2, RF2, RF2 etc…)
-Climb the route at least 3 times per session and refine your beta with each attempt. Be sure your rest 20-30 minutes between attempts to stay productive.
6. Proper Footwear
The best shoe for this type of climbing is one that is downturned in the toe area. Think of it like a talon or hook on your foot that will allow you to pull with your toes as you often need to do on overhanging climbs. My go to shoe for this type of climbing is the La Sportiva Women’s Solution
, the profile is radical downturned which gives me more power to pull on my big toe. A flat profile shoe just doesn’t put your foot in as strong of a position, which means you will have to use more energy from the lower half of your body to do the work. You’ve gotta have the right tool for the job. While you can pound a tent stake into the ground with a rock, but a hammer does the job much more efficiently because that’s what it’s designed to do.