How to Climb Smoothly? Mixed Climbing Quick Tips

Chicks Mixed Climbing Clinic participant learning how to climb smoothly, Camp Bird Road, Ouray, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun 

Diane, M learning how to climb smoothly at Chicks Ouray, Colorado Mixed Climbing Clinic, Ouray, Colorado. ©Kitty Calhoun

How To Climb Smoothly?

Learn how to climb smoothly by staying in balance with precision and purpose.

What the heck?

Join us for our Ouray, Colorado Mixed Climbing Clinic where we’ll take a deep dive into understanding climbing in balance with precision and purpose.

Meanwhile, consider the following tips about balance, precision, purpose and the powerful tools of visualization and breath.


My Pilates instructor once told me, “Use stability to provide mobility.” It is the same in mixed climbing. You must learn to keep your core and all of your limbs perfectly still. This all-body-stillness supports the stability and balance you’ll need to move your next tool or foot up. Then the trick is to shift your balance and stabilize under your newly placed tool or over your newly placed foot.


Mixed climbing is an aspect of climbing that especially demands precision because the holds tend to be smaller. However, smaller does not necessarily mean harder. If you’re in balance, then smaller holds can be more useful than larger holds that put you out of balance.


Watch a graceful climber and you’ll notice that she’ll slow down and study the next sequence of moves from a relative rest position. Then, once she begins to move again, she’ll commit without hesitation to each move. It’s as if she has glue on her front points and picks. She does not stop and “shop around” for holds.

Climb Smoothly with the Powerful Tools of Visualization and Breath

Visualizing in small detail is as effective at building brain engrams as doing the actual movement itself.  Yet visualization takes discipline. It takes practice to slow down and focus on running a play-by-play movie of yourself as a climbing super star.

Breath connects mind to body. Use your breath as a tool to keep yourself moving calmly and efficiently. Start by simply reminding yourself to breathe. It is very common to hold your breath when the going gets tough. Then you can work your way into more specific techniques. Try inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose combined with a pursed-lip out-breath.

Cool Weather Rock Climbing Tips for Staying Toasty

Kitty Calhoun, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing layered up to stay toasty. Indian Creek, UT. ©Kitty Calhoun 

Kitty Calhoun, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing layered up to stay toasty. Indian Creek, UT. ©Kitty Calhoun


Did you know that 32-41°F is the best sending temperature?

Hands and fingers get the best friction near freezing because they don’t sweat; and, climbing shoe rubber is designed to perform best at these temperatures too.

Autumn temperatures can send chills down your spine and make your hands go numb if you’re not ready.

Follow my tips to get psyched and stay toasty during fall sending season.


Take warm/hot drinks. Bring a thermos and/or start with hot water in a regular bottle. Drink the liquid while it’s still warm. Staying hydrated helps keep your strength and body temperature up. You may not think to drink if you’re not sweating and if you’re cold, a cold drink is unappealing.  Get a thermos.


Bring plenty of easily digestible snacks, such as GU Stroop waffles. You need calories to climb well and to stay warm.


Take clothes off while exerting; add clothes when not: hat, down/puffy jacket, windbreaker, socks with the feet cut out to cover your lower leg and belay gloves are a few essentials.

Grabber Hand-Warmers:

Put a hand warmer in your chalk bag, or your sports bra.


Stretch and do air squats before you leave the ground. Cold muscles are stiff and more susceptible to injury. Climb a handful of moderate routes before climbing  more difficult routes.


Now, what are you waiting for?  Get ready and get out and have some fun!

Rules for Rope Care and Longevity

Karen Bockel Coiling a rope©Angela Hawse

Coiling ©Angela Hawse

Rocktober is upon us. No doubt our ropes have gotten use and withstood abuse with spring, summer and early autumn climbs. Soon we’ll be monitoring backcountry drips for ice and our rope will get a bit of a rest while we sharpen our tools in anticipation of winter.

Take stock of this time to inspect, wash, store and retire your rope properly.


 Your rope is your lifeline. Give it undivided attention and love before you put it away for a while.

Giving your rope undivided attention and love will increase your intimacy with it. You’ll get peace of mind knowing that it’s still a performer. And you’ll catch any problems that could reduce its longevity.

Run the entire length of your rope through both hands two to three times. Run the rope through your hands without gloves so you have sensitivity to any irregularities in the sheath.

Inspect it visually and with a firm grip so you catch imperfections. If the rope feels different from when you purchased it, ie. it’s now limp whereas it was once perky or it’s become a stiffy when it was once supple, it’s probably time to give it a new job. (More below.)

Fuzzy sheaths, picks, flat or unusually stiff sections merit closer inspection. If you find one of these, look at it more closely. Compare it to other sections of the rope. Although you can’t see the rope’s core, you can feel it.  Roll any sections of concern between your thumb and fingers and back and forth between your hands, paying close attention to how it behaves with bends, knots and twists.  Anytime the core of the rope is exposed at all, it is compromised. Cut it shorter to remove this section or retire it.

If your hands are black afterwards, this should reinforce that a good wash is in order.


Ropes like to be clean but they don’t like harsh detergents.

Use a mild detergent or better yet Sterling Wicked Good Rope Wash.

I use a large rubbermaid tub or my bathtub. Fill with just enough warm water to ensure the rope is submerged.

Add the Wicked Good Rope Washor a small amount of detergent (1 tablespoon). Swish it around and then pile your rope in there (flaked rather than coiled) so it’s all submerged.

Let it sit for 30 minutes to absorb the soapy water and dislodge dirt.

Get your hands in there and move the rope around, agitating the water like a gentle cycle on your washer. This will dislodge remaining dirt.

Remove the rope, dump out the water and replace it with clean, cold or warm water. Put the rope back in and give it another gentle cycle and repeat the process until the water is clear.

You can use a top loading washing machine on a gentle cycle, but I prefer to do it manually.

Some folks like to daisy chain the entire length of their rope, but I prefer having it in a pile.

Dry your rope out of direct sunlight. I hang mine over my pull-up bar or a door. You could use a laundry drying rack or flake it out on the floor.

Be sure your rope is fully dry before you store it.


I store my ropes stacked in a rope bag.

Although there is nothing wrong with coiling and hanging or stowing them away, flaking ropes prevents kinks and divits that come from tight coils. Most rope bags have a ground tarp incorporated. If not, get one and use it. A ground tarp at the crag will add considerably to the longevity of your rope by preventing small, sharp crystals of sand and dirt from penetrating it’s sheath. Rope Bags also give you a grab-and-go system for the next time you head to the crag, or you can easily coil it from a rope bag if you’re packing it for a project.

Store your rope in a cool, dry place free from direct sunlight and any chemicals. Acid to ropes is like kryptonite to Superman. Keep them well away.


Well cared for ropes last many years.

There is no hard and fast rule for how long ropes last because there are so many variables: How much do you climb with it? How many significant lead falls has it sustained? Did it cut the mustard of your rigorous inspection?

Here are some general guidelines for rope longevity: If you’re climbing 3-5 days a week, working routes and whipping regularly, your rope may only last a year or less. If you’re a weekend warrior, your lead rope could give you several years. If you climb less frequently you could get four to seven years out of your cord.  Much more than 7 years and it will, like all nylon, lose some of it’s dynamic and desirable properties.

Ropes, like us, can have several life stages if they’re not compromised.

My ropes start as lead ropes. Then my skinny ones go to my neighbor for his rafting trips and my fatter ones retire into the good life of topropes for 3-5 years.

All of my ropes are inspected regularly and retired liberally.

When they reach the end of their lifespan I either send them to Sterling Rope to recycle or give them to friends for art projects, rigging or doormats.

Give your rope the attention it deserves regularly and it’ll serve you well!

Back Clipping – Climbing Tech Tip | Chicks Climbing

Back clipping is when the rope runs from the climber, through the protection, towards the rock. This is backwards.

Figure 1.

Back clipping is the most common mistake when learning to lead climb. Part of being a safe leader means having the skills to fix a back clip mistake on the fly.

What Is Back Clipping?

Back clipping is when the rope gets clipped into the bottom gate of the quickdraw, well… backwards. This means that the rope from your knot runs through the carabiner toward the rock, instead of away from the rock. (See Figure 1)

Figure 2.

How a Lead Climbing Rope Should Look:

Once the rope is clipped into the bottom carabiner of the quickdraw, the rope should run in a straight line all the way back down to the belayer.

There shouldn’t be any twists in the rope or the quickdraw it’s clipped into. (See Figure 2)

What’s Wrong With a Back Clip?

The rope can unclip itself from the quickdraw when you climb past it. Back Clipping is particularly dangerous on traverses and if you were to fall from above! (See Figure 3)

How to Fix a Back Clip?

I recommend two different methods to remedy a back clip but the general rule of thumb is to add before you subtract for optimal security.

Back Clipping Fix 1- Second Quickdraw Method

Clip a second quickdraw behind the first. Then remove the offending quickdraw that is back clipped. By adding the second one behind first, you stay clipped in at all times and no slack is created.

This is the best method if the clip is at a hard section of the climb, or anytime you’re not feeling confident.

Back Clipping Fix 2 – Unclip and Rotate Method

Unclip the top carabiner from the bolt. Then rotate the biner and draw so the rope runs properly. Re-clip the bolt. You need to use your eyes to pay attention to which way to rotate the carabiner.

With the Unclip and Rotate Method, the rope stays clipped into the bottom carabiner of the draw and you don’t end up dropping any slack down to your belayer.

Use the Unclip and Rotate method when you have a very secure stance and the climbing isn’t challenging.

Back Clipping Fix 3: – Unclip & Re-Clip – The wrong method!

Unclipping and re-clipping a back clip is the LEAST preferred method of fixing a back clip but for some reason, it’s the most common. In fact, I used to unclip and re-clip all the time when I first started leading.

Then I realized that unclipping and re-clipping, I was least secure for the longest period of time.

A back clip meant I wasn’t climbing well to start. I was making mistakes. Then I’d fight to unclip the rope while my belayer fought to take-in the slack. Then I’d get short-roped by my worried belayer as I struggled to re-clip.


Figure 3.








Sigh. Trying to fix a back clip by unclipping and re-clipping is stressful for you and your belayer!

Feel more confident fixing back clips on the sharp end with the Second Carabiner or Unclip & Rotate methods described above. The common Unclip & Re-Clip back clipping fix is stressful and dangerous.

If you have 5 mins Check Out this Rock & Ice Weekend Whipper video Bad Clipping Technique Causes Big Fall. It’s a good reason to learn good clipping skills and strategy when you are learning to lead.

The primary objectives of many of our Rifle Climbing and Maple Canyon Climbing Clinic participants are:

  1. Learn to lead
  2. Become a more confident lead climber on sport routes.

Participants often do all of the rope gunning–choosing the routes, hanging the draws, and cleaning the anchors.

Find all of our Rock Climbing Programs here.

Smarter not Harder

Thanks to this little guy, I learned about the new Black Diamond Pilot, which is brake-assisted, with the bonus of having no moving parts. To belay a leader, the hand motion is easy and intuitive, effortless to give slack to the leader, and easy to catch a fall. It’s also lightweight so I can justify bringing it along on longer multi-pitch climbs. ©Dawn Glanc.

Smarter Not Harder

I am a cragger at heart. Yes, it is true. I truly enjoy single-pitch climbing. I love to push myself on trad gear in places like Indian Creek. If I am clipping bolts, I take on the mantra, “if I’m not flying, I’m not trying.” This attitude of trying hard and pushing myself is why I like staying close to the ground.

With trying hard comes hanging on the rope. Yelling take and falling are everyday occurrences. Taking significant falls, bumping, and boinking become part of the day.  Because of all the climber’s shenanigans, the belayer has to work extra hard, often putting in overtime hours.  This is why I recommend that every belayer becomes familiar with and uses a brake-assisted device. In my opinion, a standard ATC is no longer safe enough for a day of serious belaying.

Just this year alone, I know of two accidents where the brake-assisted belay device saved the life of the climber. Belayers are often in vulnerable positions, unable to run from rockfall or other dangers. This assisted brake can make all the difference if the belayer becomes injured or incapacitated. By using the modern brake-assisted devices, you simply stack the odds in your favor.

There are many brake-assisted belay devices on the market these days. Many companies are seeing the safety benefits of brake-assisted belay devices, and coming up with their versions on the theme. Just make sure you know the details of YOUR device.

No matter what equipment you choose, the belayer should be both diligent and familiar with techniques to belay a leader and a top rope climber. Advanced belay skills such as pulling up and boinking will be much easier as well with a lock-assisted device. Belaying is serious business, but with the correct device and the attention to match, we can work smarter not harder, which leaves more energy for sending!

– Dawn Glanc

Dawn is a certified rock and alpine guide. Her hobbies include climbing and long belays at the crag.



Use The Rope to Connect To The Anchor

In recent years, the use of a PAS (Personal Anchoring System) has become quite common among rock climbers. A PAS is practical in situations where the ends of the climbing rope are not available because they are being used, for example, to set up a rappel, or when the climber wants to thread the rope through a fixed anchor and then be lowered to the ground.

In other situations it makes more sense to use the rope itself to secure a climber to an anchor. This system is most common when climbing up a sequence of linked pitched such as in the alpine or on a multi-pitch rock climb. The climber ties her rope into a clove hitch just beyond her tie-in and attaches it to the anchor with a locking carabiner.

Using the rope to anchor in directly is very simple and efficient. The only gear necessary is a locking carabiner. Another advantage: the system is very shock-absorbent because the rope itself is stretchy, and the hitch can also disperse energy by tightening when loaded.

Here’s how to do it:

1.) You’re already tied into the end of the rope with a figure eight follow-through.

2.) Clip a locking carabiner to the masterpoint (also often called the Powerpoint) of your anchor, with the gate facing outwards.  (AKA clip and flip)

3.) Reach down the rope, give it a half twist, drop it into the locker, and repeat the same motion to drop another half twist into the locker; due to this motion, this method is called the handshake clove hitch.

4.) Lock the carabiner and you’re off belay.


The clove hitch is adjustable – you can change the distance between your tie-in and the anchor by feeding rope in or out of the hitch.

Keep the length of your attachment snug enough so that you can weight the anchor comfortably – a constant but low load on the anchor is preferable to accidentally shock-loading the anchor by having slack in your leash.

The Masterpoint can be found at the bottom of two equalized and non-extending pieces of gear. In this photo, the climber has tied a clovehitch then attached it to a locking carabiner at the Masterpoint. ©Angela Hawse

Safety Memo: Keep It Tight!

Dawn Glanc demonstrates how to safely clean an anchor. "Be sure to double-check yourself anytime you move from one system to the next."

Dawn Glanc demonstrates how to safely clean an anchor. “Be sure to double-check yourself anytime you move from one system to the next.”

We care about you.

Please keep it tight!

It’s easy to feel over-eager on your first few rock-climbing outings of the season. Stoke could obscure the fact that you are rusty. Over the winter, your skills and finger strength may have faded.

Here are five reminders for a safe and excellent rock-climbing season:

Perform a Quick Belay Test

If you and your partner are new to climbing together, be sure they will belay you as you like. No one outside at the crag is checking for belay cards or competency. It is up to you to be sure your belayer can do their job.

Share your Plan

If you plan to “clean” the anchor, have a conversation with your belayer about your intentions before leaving the ground. Be sure the plan and the commands are clear to avoid any problems.

Limit Chatter

When climbing action is happening, limit your conversation. Unnecessary dialogue may confuse a situation. Be respectful that constant yammering can be very distracting to others.


ALWAYS double-check your systems. Have a systematic way of moving from one system to the next. I recommend keeping the first system weighted and clipped until you have visual confirmation that the new system is in place. Once you have confirmed the new system, then detach from the old. Most importantly, don’t rush!

Review on the Ground

If you have any questions about a skill, be sure to review all the relevant information on the ground. Dangling 100 feet up in the air is no time to ask for clarity.

Thin Skin Thick Skin

Zim's Crack Creme is fingertip bliss

Fingertip Bliss!

I just got back from my first rock-climbing trip of the year.

It was great to feel the warm, dry rock, even though it was ROUGH on my skin.

This is normal. The first climbing outing of the year always feels particularly hard. It takes some climbing time for my skin to toughen up, for the pads of my fingertips to get thicker, and for calluses to form in high-wear spots.

But, this year I had an advantage.

This year I used Zim’s Crack Crème.

Here is what I found:

  1. Zim’s helped my skin last longer on the first days out climbing
  2. Zim’s helped my skin heal and repair itself faster.

I started applying Zim’s Crack Crème before I headed out to climb.

This allowed my skin to absorb the crème before my fingertips touched the rock and got covered in chalk.

I was able to stay out all day. Even on the sharp limestone of Lander, Wyoming, I never thought, “Ouch, I don’t wanna touch the rock anymore.”

After climbing, I washed the irritating chalk, aluminum residue from the climbing equipment and fine-ground dirt, off my hands.

And, I applied another generous layer of Zim’s.

The rich formula soothed my skin, but did not leave me with sticky fingers. I can’t stand sticky fingers!

The all-natural ingredients include Anrica flower extract and Myrcia oil, which are great homeopathic remedies for their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

I noticed that small, damaged areas of skin around my knuckles and fingernails started healing before cracks developed.

High-wear areas such as the crease between my thumb and index finger stayed soft, yet durable.

Zim’s crack cream allowed me to climb for a few days in a row right after a long winter of skiing.

Yeah, my fingers, hands, and shoulders are sore, but my skin remained tough – Thanks, Zim’s!

Caution! Wet Rock

Spring showers and summer thunderstorms bring a common dilemma: How soon afterwards is it OK to climb?

A few weeks ago, during our Indian Creek Clinic, it rained hard for a couple of hours. The rain began at 8pm and was followed by a strong wind.

Climbing the next afternoon remained a possibility.

Then it rained hard again at 3am for an hour.

Climbing the next day was out.

Instead, we went to a less-travelled area and spent the day working on gear and systems at the base.

Later, back at our cars, we found a note on every windshield.

The notes read, “Don’t climb on wet rock. You can damage it.”

Others had assumed that we were climbing wet rock!

At first, we were indignant—

Then we realized that we should feel encouraged that Climbers are using awareness and self-discipline to protect our fragile crags.

To climb or not to climb on wet rock is a question that is even more difficult when one has traveled for the weekend or is paying for a clinic.

Nevertheless it’s a particularly important question especially when it comes to climbing on sandstone like in Indian Creek and Red Rocks. Many climbers are more used to limestone or granite. Limestone and granite dry out much faster.

Sandstone takes longer to dry out because it is porous. It absorbs water. And the cementing agents that bond the rock together like clay, silica and salt dissolve when wet.

Wet sandstone can be up to 75% weaker than dry rock. When the rock is wet and weak, edges wear down faster and break off more easily.

So, should you climb or not climb?

Wait 24-48 hours after a rainstorm, but sometimes longer.

How much longer?

  1. How hard did it rain? Was it a light sprinkle or a flooding deluge?
  2. How long did it rain? Did it rain for a few hours, or all day?
  3. What is the aspect?
  • South facing cliffs dry faster because they are sunny and warm.
  • North facing cliffs dry slower because they are shady and cool.
  • East facing cliffs get morning sun, but afternoon shade.
  • West facing cliffs get morning shade and afternoon sun.
  1. Is it windy? Wind helps rock dry. Some cliffs are more exposed to wind than others.
  2. What’s the temperature? Is it a hot summer day? Is it cool spring morning?
  3. Was the sky clear or not since the rain?


Final Test

Is the ground dry?

First, It should look dry.

Then, Make sure by scraping away some surface sand.

If the sand underneath is wet and sticky? Don’t climb!

If it is dry and powdery? Climb!

What to do when it is too wet to climb?

Take a Rest day. Lounge around.

Go hiking.

Scout new climbing areas.

Practice skills that don’t require climbing. Minimize your impact by going to a less travelled/popular area.

Top Tips for Spring Skiing

Photo of Chicks Guide Angela Hawse spring skiing in Iceland to accompany top 12 spring skiing tips

Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, carves up some corn—perfect spring skiing conditions in Iceland.

If you love skiing, like me, then refuse to put your skis away when the lifts shut down!

As winter ends and spring begins, the snowpack changes rapidly. During this time there is often a short but exciting period of stability—a window of opportunity for us to get high, climb peaks and ski bigger lines, all with bountiful daylight hours!

The definition of a spring snowpack means that the snow has “transitioned.” It has become a consistent temperature and homogeneous mass from top to bottom.

Here’s a more technical explanation:

In the spring as the sun moves higher in the sky it brings warmer daytime temperatures. This increased daytime warmth reduces the temperature gradient between the surface layer and the ground layer and the snow starts to melt. Eventually, the snow pack transitions to isothermal. This means it’s 32 degrees and wet from top to bottom. Low nighttime temperatures freeze the homogeneous snowpack into a solid, stable mass. Then, during the day, warm temperatures deteriorate the ice bonds and the snow starts to melt and become less stable again.


1. Timing and melt-freeze is everything when it comes to spring skiing.

2. A spring snowpack needs solid, consistent overnight freezes to maintain its integrity.

3. Avalanche hazard continues to exist in the form of wet slab and wet loose avalanches. Even though these are more predictable and avoidable, they can occur on very low-angled terrain and can be extremely destructive. You and your partners should have avalanche training under your belt and be honed in companion rescue skills.

4. Study your local avalanche forecast to know when the snowpack has transitioned. Pay particular attention to conditions on different aspects and elevations. You can have a fully transitioned snowpack on a southern aspect, but full winter conditions on a higher, northern aspect.

5. Travel only when the snow surface is supportable, dry, or frozen. Good turns happen when the snow’s surface warms up just enough to be soft and forgiving but not too slushy. This kind of snow is called corn. Good corn conditions will often present only during a short timeframe.

6. Maximize travel time when the snowpack is frozen solid. Play it safe, get up early and skin by the light of a headlamp or the moon.

7. Pay attention to what’s going on underfoot and be ready to adjust your plan depending on how fast the day warms up, or does not warm up. You may need to wait on top of a summit for the snow to soften into corn (Where else would you rather be?). If the snow gets punchy, get off it quickly. Scoot around to a shady aspect and always have an escape plan.

8. Aspect, aspect, aspect. Think of the mountain like a compass. The sun hits east aspects first, then south, then west. With some experience you can time all day spring skiing by positioning yourself so that if you don’t like the conditions on one aspect you can quickly ski off to another. Carry a compass and know how to use it.

9. Ski crampons are essential. Ski crampons enable you to ascend steep, frozen snow slopes securely and efficiently. Get them, don’t forget them, and always put them on before your skins start loosing traction.

10. Boot crampons that fit your ski boots securely give you access to more options and thus more summits. Boot crampons also offer increased security if the upper reaches of the mountain don’t warm up and you want to climb back down rather than ski icy, exposed pitches.

11. A lightweight ice axe gives you added security in firm, steep conditions. Put the poles away as soon as a slip could become a fall and make sure you have self-arrest skills with your ice axe to back up that plan.

12. Weather telemetry and forecasts are your best friends. Know how to access local remote measures of current and past weather data like temperatures, and use point forecasts to get temperatures at different elevations.

Keep an eye out for future spring and ski mountaineering opportunities with us if you love skiing and want to enjoy your turns as long as there’s snow in the hills. We hope to see you out there!


Co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA Mountain Guide