Climbing With The Feet

"Climb with the feet and use the hands for balance" is extremely important to remember. In the early learning stages of climbing, most individuals will rely heavily on the arms, forgetting to use the feet properly. It is true that solid handholds and a firm grip are needed in some combination techniques; however, even the most strenuous techniques require good footwork and a quick return to a balanced position over one or both feet. Failure to climb any route, easy or difficult, is usually the result of poor footwork.

a. The beginning climber will have a natural tendency to look up for handholds. Try to keep the hands low and train your eyes to look down for footholds. Even the smallest irregularity in the rock can support the climber once the foot is positioned properly and weight is committed to it.

b. The foot remains on the rock as a result of friction. Maximum friction is obtained from a correct stance over a properly positioned foot. The following describes a few ways the foot can be positioned on the rock to maximize friction.

(1) Maximum Sole Contact. The principle of using full sole contact, as in mountain walking, also applies in climbing. Maximum friction is obtained by placing as much of the boot sole on the rock as possible. Also, the leg muscles can relax the most when the entire foot is placed on the rock. (Figure 6-4 shows examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.)

(a) Smooth, low-angled rock (slab) and rock containing large "bucket" holds and ledges are typical formations where the entire boot sole should be used.

(b) On some large holds, like bucket holds that extend deep into the rock, the entire foot cannot be used. The climber may not be able to achieve a balanced position if the foot is stuck too far underneath a bulge in the rock. In this case, placing only part of the foot on the hold may allow the climber to achieve a balanced stance. The key is to use as much of the boot sole as possible. Remember to keep the heels low to reduce strain on the lower leg muscles.

Figure 6-4. Examples of maximum and minimum sole contact.

(2) Edging. The edging technique is used where horizontal crack systems and other irregularities in the rock form small, well-defined ledges. The edge of the boot sole is placed on the ledge for the foothold. Usually, the inside edge of the boot or the edge area around the toes is used. Whenever possible, turn the foot sideways and use the entire inside edge of the boot. Again, more sole contact equals more friction and the legs can rest more when the heel is on the rock. (Figure 6-5, page 6-12, shows examples of the edging technique.)

(a) On smaller holds, edging with the front of the boot, or toe, may be used. Use of the toe is most tiring because the heel is off the rock and the toes support the climber's weight. Remember to keep the heel low to reduce fatigue. Curling and stiffening the toes in the boot increases support on the hold. A stronger position is usually obtained on small ledges by turning the foot at about a 45-degree angle, using the strength of the big toe and the ball of the foot.

(b) Effective edging on small ledges requires stiff-soled footwear. The stiffer the sole, the better the edging capability. Typical mountain boots worn by the US military have a relatively flexible lugged sole and, therefore, edging ability on smaller holds will be somewhat limited.

Smear Point Climb
Figure 6-5. Examples of edging technique.

(3) Smearing. When footholds are too small to use a good edging technique, the ball of the foot can be "smeared" over the hold. The smearing technique requires the boot to adhere to the rock by deformation of the sole and by friction. Rock climbing shoes are specifically designed to maximize friction for smearing; some athletic shoes also work well. The Army mountain boot, with its softer sole, usually works better for smearing than for edging. Rounded, down-sloping ledges and low-angled slab rock often require good smearing technique. (Figure 6-6 shows examples of the smearing technique.)

(a) Effective smearing requires maximum friction between the foot and the rock. Cover as much of the hold as possible with the ball of the foot. Keeping the heel low will not only reduce muscle strain, but will increase the amount of surface contact between the foot and the rock.

(b) Sometimes flexing the ankles and knees slightly will place the climber's weight more directly over the ball of the foot and increase friction; however, this is more tiring and should only be used for quick, intermediate holds. The leg should be kept straight whenever possible.


Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.


Figure 6-6. Examples of the smearing technique.

(4) Jamming. The jamming technique works on the same principal as chock placement. The foot is set into a crack in such a way that it "jams" into place, resisting a downward pull. The jamming technique is a specialized skill used to climb vertical or near vertical cracks when no other holds are available on the rock face. The technique is not limited to just wedging the feet; fingers, hands, arms, even the entire leg or body are all used in the jamming technique, depending on the size of the crack. Jam holds are described in this text to broaden the range of climbing skills. Jamming holds can be used in a crack while other hand/foot holds are used on the face of the rock. Many cracks will have facial features, such as edges, pockets, and so on, inside and within reach. Always look or feel for easier to use features. (Figure 6-7 shows examples of jamming.)

(a) The foot can be jammed in a crack in different ways. It can be inserted above a constriction and set into the narrow portion, or it can be placed in the crack and turned, like a camming device, until it locks in place tight enough to support the climber's weight. Aside from these two basic ideas, the possibilities are endless. The toes, ball of the foot, or the entire foot can be used. Try to use as much of the foot as possible for maximum surface contact. Some positions are more tiring, and even more painful on the foot, than others. Practice jamming the foot in various ways to see what offers the most secure, restful position.

(b) Some foot jams may be difficult to remove once weight has been committed to them, especially if a stiffer sole boot is used. The foot is less likely to get stuck when it is twisted or "cammed" into position. When removing the boot from a crack, reverse the way it was placed to prevent further constriction.

Figure 6-7. Examples of jamming.
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