6 Tips For Climbing Steep

How to rock climb steep routes

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.

4-Minute Tape Glove – Step By Step Guide

Sometimes you need hardy a tape glove that last day after day jammed in cracks, but sometimes you arrive at the crag and a crack route just calls to you. No sweat, bust out that roll of tape that’s been bumping around in your pack for the last few months and create this quick and easy tape glove for sending success.

Think it’s impossible?  Think again!

1) Lay vertical tape strips across the back of your hand

2) Create a finger cuff for your pointer and your ring finger

3) Secure the finger cuffs with 2-3 wraps around the palm

4) Secure the bottom of the vertical tape strips with 3-4 wrist wraps

Watch Dawn do it in less than 4 minutes in our latest video.

climbing tape glove

Choosing The Perfect Climbing Shoe

choosing climbing shoeFirst, let’s talk features because that affects the fit of the shoe so much.  Shoes can be divided up into three categories:

Specialized Performance Shoes: These shoes tend to be more for extreme sport climbing.

Performance Shoes: These tend to be for sport climbing as well as technical face climbing.
All-Day Performance Shoes: These are for multi-pitch climbs as well as for crack climbing.

The major features you need to think about are:

  • Rand
  • Stiffness
  • Symmetry
  • Heel-to-toe Profile
The rand is the tensioning system in a shoe, so in a high-performing shoe, like an extreme sport shoe, the rand is going to pull from the forefoot to the heel in such a way that it distributes the power throughout the entire foot.  In a performance shoe, its going to tend to focus the power over the big toe. In the all-day performance shoe, there is little active randing.The stiffness  varies according to personal preference, though you tend to choose a stiffer shoe for technical face climbing.Symmetry has to do with how curved the shoe is.  It is either asymmetrical, symmetric or somewhere in between. So the more asymmetrical it is, the more that shoe is an extreme sport climbing shoe verses the symmetrical shoe, which is the all-day performance shoe and crack climbing shoe.Heel-to-toe profile generally comes in hooked, curved, or flat.  So again the hooked shoe is the most aggressive sport climbing shoe; the flat is the all day performance and crack climbing shoe.

Now let’s talk fit.  A lot of these shoes have a toe box and that is so you can fit the shoe really tight and your toes are crammed up in there.  For crack climbing, you want a thin toe profile so that your toes aren’t jammed up in there.  You can’t always just look at a shoe and tell if it has a thin toe profile or not.  A lot of times you have to try it on ad see if there is a toe box with extra material up there where your toes would be bunched up.The thinner the toe profile the thinner the crack you can jam your foot in to.  This allows you to climb a wider variety of cracks – what you would do is turn your pinky toe down, dig your foot at deep in the crack as you can, and bring your knee up over the toe so that it cams your foot in the crack.
Happy shoe hunting!

Chick Beta: Quad Anchor

The Quad Anchor is a versatile method to equalize any anchor, but in this tech tip, we will focus on how to apply in a 2 point anchor scenario. You will most commonly use this when you have a 2 bolt anchor and the advantages to using a Quad Anchor are many:

  • It’s redundant
  • Self equalizes
  • Quick to tie
  • Easy to double check

What you will need to build a quad anchor:

  • 1 Cordelette (6mm Sterling Power Cord or 7mm nylon cord, at least 15 foot in length). Join the two ends with double fishermans or other knot of your choice.
  • 4 locking carabiners. I recommend 2 smaller locking carabiners like the Petzl Spirit Locking carabiner, and 2 pear shaped shaped locking carabiners like the Petzl Attache.

Sterling Cord

 

Steps:

  1. Double your cordelette over so you have 4 even strands of the cordelette. Position the knot that joins the two ends at one side of your loops. 

Quad anchor2. Tie an overhand knot on either end of the cordelette.  You should now be looking at 4 strands in the middle and two loops on either end. Keep them a little loose so you and slide the closer together or further apart depending on how much lateral movement you are going for. 

quad anchor

 

quad anchor
3. Clip your SMALL locking carabiners to the loops on either end of the cordelette. You will clip this to each of the two bolts.

quad anchor 2-point
4. Clip your LARGE locking carabiners to 3 out of the 4 strands in the middle. For best practice, make sure you opposite and oppose them. The reason why you clip only 3 out of 4 strands is because if one bolt fails, the carabiners will be trapped inside the 4 strands and not fall of the end. Another option is to clip one larger locker to 2 of the strands in the middle, and your other large locking carabiner to the other 2 strands.

quad anchor

 

quad anchor5. Voila, you now have a perfectly constructed self equalizing quad anchor rig that you can set up your top rope with.

Want more?

Check our Angela Hawse’s recent blog post on Building Climbing Anchors (video included)

 

Chicks Tech Tip: Personal Anchoring Systems

One thing you’ll notice between recreational and professional climbers at the crag or on multi-pitch routes is the pro’s Personal Anchoring Systems (PAS) is nowhere to be seen on their harness. It’s in their pack, used solely for the descent. Recreational climbers have adopted many techniques guides use, such as direct anchor belays and rope management strategies, but the way we use PAS’s has been slow to gain foothold. Instead, many recreational climbers keep their PAS girth hitched to their tie-in’s or belay loop and tucked between their legs or off to the side.

Why don’t professionals do this? Because, the rope is the strongest part of the entire system. Why would we use anything else to attach ourselves to the anchor when we are already tied into the rope when climbing? Arguments in opposition often suggest that the rope attachment isn’t adjustable. Look at how any professional anchors themselves with the rope and you will almost exclusively see the clove hitch, which is undeniably appropriate and fantastically adjustable.

Countless tests and videos have demonstrated the risk of using a PAS as a direct attachment to the anchor. It’s common knowledge that any small fall directly on an anchor with a PAS or sling generates forces significant enough to result in sling failure. In 2007, a climber on the Grand Capucin in Chamonix, France fell less than two feet onto a Dyneema sling attaching him to the anchor. It failed and he fell to his death.

How might this relate to us? Shifting around on an anchor and taking a small slip while pulling ropes, a foothold breaks, making a move that’s a stretch to thread the rap rings or just not paying attention and falling off a small ledge. Shit happens but accidents can be prevented. By keeping the PAS or sling tether fully loaded you have eliminated the risk.

Other reasons pro’s don’t keep their PAS tethered to their harness include; 1) increased wear overtime decreases its integrity when attached to the same points on the harness all the time, 2) it gets in the way of gear and adds clutter to the harness and 3) bottom line, it’s only a tool for transitions and descents.

PAS vs. Slings? Often I use a 48” nylon sling as a tether for descents on long multi-pitch routes because it’s multi-purpose and lightweight. I keep it on my harness and use it for anchors or sling extensions. Why is this okay here and not for a personal tether? Because, while climbing the rope is always part of the system and adds dynamic properties that absorb energy. When I’m not concerned with weight or I have to do many rappels, my Sterling Chain Reactor is always in my pack. It’s more elegant than a nylon sling tether and its full strength loops provide excellent adjustability to prevent me from allowing slack into the system, reducing the risk addressed above.

No mention of Daisy Chains? They have no place here because they are only intended for aid climbing, not personal anchoring systems.

5 Pro Secrets To Keeping Hands Warm While Ice Climbing

Being cold sucks and there’s a few things in this world that are worse than cold hands while you’re ice climbing. Fortunately, if you follow a few of the following tips, you can keep your hands warm while you’re out there on the ice.
  1. Stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol and coffee which suck all of the water right out of your body. I know it’s hard to want to drink cold fluids on a cold day, so take a thermos and fill it with hot chocolate, tea or a warm hydration mix like Skratch Labs Apple Cinnamon drink mix.
  2. Go pee. Even though it can seem like a huge deal to peel back all of your layers and put them back in place again, don’t hold it all day. Your body works hard to heat the fluids in your body, so when you gotta go, go and you’ll stay much warmer.
  3. Use several pairs of gloves to keep your hands warm, about 3 pairs does the trick most of the time. A wind-bock fleece glove that you can wear from the car to the cliff to start out with. Secondly, you’ll need a nice thin soft shell type of glove that provides enough dexterity while you’re climbing and swinging your tools.The Outdoor Research Stormtracker is one of our favorites. Lastly, when it’s your turn to belay, switch out your climbing gloves for a nice insulated leather belay glove. The Black Diamond Kingpin is a great choice. A good trick for keeping your gloves warm and dry when you’re rotating between them is to stash them inside your puffy belay jacket next to your body. This will help them stay warm and dry out so they’ll be ready for your next pitch.
  4. Grabber Warmer ice climbingUse a chemical warmer like the Grabber Hand Warmers to keep hands warm. I like to stuff them inside the cuff of my jacket near my wrists because your arteries are very close to the surface of the skin and the hand warmers can heat the blood flowing in and out of your finger tips. I also like to stuff hand warmers into my pockets of my pants, and when it’s really cold the peel and stick body warmer can be applied on your sport bra to keep your core super toasty. If your feet get cold too, Grabber also makes a footbed warmer you can put into your boots at the beginning of the day.
  5. Move it. If your hands are still cold, try swinging your arms in circles as if you’re throwing a ball. Swing in each direction about 10 times on each arm and repeat until the blood returns to your fingertips. You can also take off your gloves and put your hands on the back of your neck or stuff them into your armpits. Finally take a brisk walk, preferably uphill to raise your heart rate and generate some heat.

Backcountry Basics: Tech Bindings

Welcome to the second article in Backcountry Basics, a helpful series of short instructional videos and tech tips to get you going for your backcountry skiing adventures! In this edition we will be focusing on tech bindings.

These are lightweight bindings that allow you to go from lock-down downhill skiing to freeing your heel for the uphill.  They rely on spring-tensioned pins to hold your toes and heel in place.  It’s a tricky mechanism to figure out at first, before it becomes your best friend in the backcountry later.  Watch the short video to learn how to step into your tech bindings for backcountry downhill skiing.

Tech bindings

Next up is a video of stepping in and out of your bindings for uphill travel.  This time, the heel piece is turned/ moved back, so that the heel pins are not engaged and the ski can pivot freely from the pins that hold your toes.

Tech bindings

A few details to note:  Make sure the pin holes in your boots are clear of snow and ice.  You can use your ski pole tip to clear them out if necessary.  Also, be sure that there is no snow or ice packed under the spring of your binding toe pieces.  When your tech bindings pre-release, it’s often because of user error:  Keep ‘em clean!

Tech bindings

 

Tech bindings

You can practice using your tech bindings at home before heading out on the slopes.

If you have questions, please comment on our website!  Ready to give it a shot? Check out our Backcountry Skiing program at on Feb 1-5 is the best place to get start earning your turns in the backcountry.

Backcountry Basics: Climbing Skins

Welcome to our very first Backcountry Basics, a helpful series of short instructional videos and tech tips to get you going for your backcountry skiing adventures! This month we will be focusing on climbing skins.

Climbing skins are the tools of the trade for backcountry skiing.  They are strips of material that stick to the underside of your skis or splitboard and give you traction for walking uphill.  Watch the short video to learn how to put skins onto your skis for backcountry skiing.

puttingonskin

A few details to note:  The wired loop should be sized to fit over your ski tip.  The width of the skins should be just narrow enough to show your metal edges.  Work from the top down along the length of the ski.  You can always pull the strip up a foot or two and correct your alignment if necessary.  Wet skins don’t stick:  Keep them out of the snow!

tip attachment

Tip attachment

Backcountry ski tail clip

Tail Clip

Our next video shows how to remove your skins when you are ready to ski downhill.

Removing backcountry ski skins

 

 

A few more tips:

Line your skins up carefully, so you don’t expose the glued side to dirt or other things in your pack.  You can use a small stuff sack to carry your skins.  If you store your skins for a longer time, use a mesh protector to keep the glue of your skins fresh.

long term storage backcountry ski skins

storing backcountry ski skins

Long term storage of skins

If you questions, please comment on our website!  And stay tuned for more backcountry skiing tech tips in our next newsletter.

Chicks Tech Tip: Choosing Crampons

If you ask ten climbers what type of crampons you should buy, you will get ten different answers. In reality, most crampons will work when you are top-roping a single pitch ice climb. I have seen some crazy concoctions defy the laws of physics in the ice park. Proving that only front points are really needed.

Like any style of climbing, footwork is the foundation to success. When you decide to buy crampons, you must think about the style of climbing that you are most likely to do. Will you be ice climbing? Or do you also plan to do some mixed or alpine climbing? All of this will play into your decision. To help you with your purchase, here are a few comments on each style of crampon.

No matter which crampon front point style you choose, you do not want a strap on system. Instead, water ice crampons should be stainless steel and have a metal binding system on the front and back of the crampon. Front and back anti-balling plates are also recommended. From this step, you now have to decide what frontpoint configuration is right for your ice climbing pursuits.

What not to wear, a front strap crampon.

What not to wear, a front strap crampon.

Crampons are like climbing shoes, you will find that you need multiple styles over your climbing career. What crampon you choose will really come down to your personal preference.

Each crampon recommendation below is for an ice climbing boot with a front and back bail system.

Vertical Dual Point Crampons:

This work horse of crampon is great for all around ice climbing. The dual points can offer a sense of stability to beginner ice climbers.  However, this crampon is not recommended if you plan to mix climb. Recommended models are the Petzl Dartwin, Black Diamond Cyborg.

Petzl Dartwin

Petzl Dartwin

Black Diamond Cyborg

Black Diamond Cyborg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horizontal Dual Point Crampons:

Every Canadian I know who climbs hard will swear by the horizontal front point. The idea is that you will have more surface area on the ice with a horizontal point. This frontpoint style is great for aerated or chandelier ice. The horizontal front points also do well on very thin ice. This crampon is great if you plan to do general mountaineering or alpine climbing. However, the dual points are limited on mixed terrain. Recommended model is the Camp C12 Automatic.

choosingcrampons2

 

Vertical Mono Point Crampons

A vertical mono point crampon will force a climber to have good footwork on the ice. Poor footwork will typically make the crampons shear out of the ice. The vertical mono point is great for very thin ice, or ice that requires dynamic movements. Steep vertical ice with overhanging blobs often require twisting and pivoting on the front point. The mono point allows for this type of movement. For mixed terrain, the vertical monopoint will work the best in cracks and small pockets. Recommended Models are the Petzl Dart and the Black Diamond Stinger.

Black Diamond Stinger

Black Diamond Stinger

Petzl Dart

Petzl Dart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horizontal Mono Point Crampons

This style of front point is only made by Black Diamond. The Snaggletooth is designed with the precision of a monopoint and the stability of horizontal front points. A small secondary point offers additional bite on steep ice and snow. The Snaggletooth is the perfect crampon for Ice Climbing and technical alpine routes in the mountains. The snaggletooth is also recommended on  mixed terrain with a lot of small edges.

 

Black Diamond Snaggletooth

Black Diamond Snaggletooth

Chicks Tech Tip: Avalanche Transceiver Check

Avalanche TransceiverWinter is just around the corner and we’ll be skinning for the goods not soon enough.  If you are relatively new to the backcountry, are you familiar with what we consider standard maintenance and safety checks for your highly technical avalanche transceiver?  These life-saving devices are critical equipment for every backcountry day and need thorough inspection pre-season, every year.

One of the most often overlooked details that lead to transceiver failure is leaving the batteries in the device over the long summer season or for extended periods without use. More often than not this leads to corrosion on the terminals and WILL cause malfunction.  When you remove the batteries make sure the casing and terminals are clean and dry.  Below is a list of suggested maintenance checks to keep your avalanche transceiver up to the task of its job.

  1. Inspect the battery terminals carefully. If there is any sign of corrosion, send the device back to the manufacturer for a complete inspection.  Do not touch the terminals with bare fingers but do check with gloves that the terminals are not loose.
  1. Use high quality alkaline batteries. Never use rechargeable batteries. Some devices will work with lithium batteries if set to do so but unless you are going into extreme cold environments, it is recommended to stick to alkaline batteries. You will get about 200 hours of use with fresh alkaline batteries. A daily battery check is the first thing you do when you turn your device on and if yours indicates they are 40-50% or less, replace them or follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Carrying a spare set in your pack is good insurance and often you’ll end up giving them to a partner to use.  Don’t mix brands and always renew all of the batteries at the same.
  1. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for inspections, life-span and use. This varies considerably.  Mammut recommends sending their Pulse in for a factory inspection every three years and their Opto 3000 every two, with regular practice sessions to check for any erratic behavior.  BCA recommends thorough and regular inspection but does not specifically recommend sending it in for checks.  Knowing what the recommendation is from the manufacturer of your beacon is important and following it could save a life. Be sure to check the harness system and casing of the device for any problems.
  1. This is all over the board with many manufacturers not specifying a lifespan for their device, to others such as Pieps recommending that 10 years is the maximum lifespan. Again, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation and retire any beacon that is malfunctioning or displaying erratic behavior.  Retire it as a practice beacon and practice regularly.
  1. Check the transceiver’s signal acquisition and transmit function and range. The manufacturer of your device has recommendations on how to do this and there are many good resources online.
  2. Check all the device’s display and buttons to insure they work correctly.

All of these checks should be done at the beginning of every season before your first day out and if there is any question about a device’s integrity, consult the manufacturer right away.  You may need to replace your device, which is a small investment in longevity.

Be sure to guard your device against impacts and drops.  The antennas are fragile.  If burying it for practice, it’s a good idea to protect it in a pack with tupperware or something that a shovel won’t damage.

For more information and a few additional tips, go to the link below for an interview I did with Women’s Adventure Magazine on this topic two years ago.

Have fun getting your winter kit together and stay tuned for more tech tips from Chicks Climbing and Skiing!