Combination Techniques

The positions and holds previously discussed are the basics and the ones most common to climbing. From these fundamentals, numerous combination techniques are possible. As the climber gains experience, he will learn more ways to position the hands, feet, and body in relation to the holds available; however, he should always strive to climb with his weight on his feet from a balanced stance.

a. Sometimes, even on an easy route, the climber may come upon a section of the rock that defies the basic principles of climbing. Short of turning back, the only alternative is to figure out some combination technique that will work. Many of these type problems require the hands and feet to work in opposition to one another. Most will place more weight on the hands and arms than is desirable, and some will put the climber in an "out of balance" position. To make the move, the climber may have to "break the rules" momentarily. This is not a problem and is done quite frequently by experienced climbers. The key to using these type of combination techniques is to plan and execute them deliberately, without lunging or groping for holds, yet quickly, before the hands, arms, or other body parts tire. Still, most of these maneuvers require good technique more than great strength, though a certain degree of hand and arm strength certainly helps.

b. Combination possibilities are endless. The following is a brief description of some of the more common techniques.

(1) Change Step. The change step, or hop step, can be used when the climber needs to change position of the feet. It is commonly used when traversing to avoid crossing the feet, which might put the climber in an awkward position. To prevent an off balance situation, two solid handholds should be used. The climber simply places his weight on his handholds while he repositions the feet. He often does this with a quick "hop," replacing the lead foot with the trail foot on the same hold. Keeping the forearms against the rock during the maneuver takes some of the strain off the hands, while at the same time strengthening the grip on the holds.

(2) Mantling. Mantling is a technique that can be used when the distance between the holds increases and there are no immediate places to move the hands or feet. It does require a ledge (mantle) or projection in the rock that the climber can press straight down upon. (Figure 6-12, page 6-20, shows the mantling sequence.)

(a) When the ledge is above head height, mantling begins with pull holds, usually "hooking" both hands over the ledge. The climber pulls himself up until his head is above the hands, where the pull holds become push holds. He elevates himself until the arms are straight and he can lock the elbows to relax the muscles. Rotating the hands inward during the transition to push holds helps to place the palms more securely on the ledge. Once the arms are locked, a foot can be raised and placed on the ledge. The climber may have to remove one hand to make room for the foot. Mantling can be fairly strenuous; however, most individuals should be able to support their weight, momentarily, on one arm if they keep it straight and locked. With the foot on the ledge, weight can be taken off the arms and the climber can grasp the holds that were previously out of reach. Once balanced over the foot, he can stand up on the ledge and plan his next move.

(b) Pure mantling uses arm strength to raise the body; however, the climber can often smear the balls of the feet against the rock and "walk" the feet up during the maneuver to take some of the weight off the arms. Sometimes edges will be available for short steps in the process.

Figure 6-12. Mantling sequence.

(3) Undercling. An "undercling" is a classic example of handholds and footholds working in opposition (Figure 6-13). It is commonly used in places where the rock projects outward, forming a bulge or small overhang. Underclings can be used in the tops of buckets, also. The hands are placed "palms-up" underneath the bulge, applying an upward pull. Increasing this upward pull creates a counterforce, or body tension, which applies more weight and friction to the footholds. The arms and legs should be kept as straight as possible to reduce fatigue. The climber can often lean back slightly in the undercling position, enabling him to see above the overhang better and search for the next hold.

(4) Lieback. The "lieback" is another good example of the hands working in opposition to the feet. The technique is often used in a vertical or diagonal crack separating two rock faces that come together at, more or less, a right angle (commonly referred to as a dihedral). The crack edge closest to the body is used for handholds while the feet are pressed against the other edge. The climber bends at the waist, putting the body into an L-shaped position. Leaning away from the crack on two pull holds, body tension creates friction between the feet and the hands. The feet must be kept relatively high to maintain weight, creating maximum friction between the sole and the rock surface. Either full sole contact or the smearing technique can be used, whichever seems to produce the most friction.

(a) The climber ascends a dihedral by alternately shuffling the hands and feet upward. The lieback technique can be extremely tiring, especially when the dihedral is near vertical. If the hands and arms tire out before completing the sequence, the climber will likely fall. The arms should be kept straight throughout the entire maneuver so the climber's weight is pulling against bones and ligaments, rather than muscle. The legs should be straightened whenever possible.

(b) Placing protection in a lieback is especially tiring. Look for edges or pockets for the feet in the crack or on the face for a better position to place protection from, or for a rest position. Often, a lieback can be avoided with closer examination of the available

Figure 6-13. Undercling.

face features. The lieback can be used alternately with the jamming technique, or vice versa, for variation or to get past a section of a crack with difficult or nonexistent jam possibilities. The lieback can sometimes be used as a face maneuver (Figure 6-14).

Figure 6-14. Lieback on a face.

(5) Stemming. When the feet work in opposition from a relatively wide stance, the maneuver is known as stemming. The stemming technique can sometimes be used on faces, as well as in a dihedral in the absence of solid handholds for the lieback (Figure 6-15).

Figure 6-15. Stemming on a face.

(a) The classic example of stemming is when used in combination with two opposing push holds in wide, parallel cracks, known as chimneys. Chimneys are cracks in which the walls are at least 1 foot apart and just big enough to squeeze the body into. Friction is created by pushing outward with the hands and feet on each side of the crack. The climber ascends the chimney by alternately moving the hands and feet up the crack (Figure 6-16). Applying pressure with the back and bottom is usually necessary in wider chimneys. Usually, full sole contact of the shoes will provide the most friction, although smearing may work best in some instances. Chimneys that do not allow a full stemming position can be negotiated using the arms, legs, or body as an integral contact point. This technique will often feel more secure since there is more body to rock contact.

Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence.
Figure 6-16. Chimney sequence (continued).

(b) The climber can sometimes rest by placing both feet on the same side of the crack, forcing the body against the opposing wall. The feet must be kept relatively high up under the body so the force is directed sideways against the walls of the crack. The arms should be straightened with the elbows locked whenever possible to reduce muscle strain. The climber must ensure that the crack does not widen beyond the climbable width before committing to the maneuver. Remember to look for face features inside chimneys for more security in the climb.

(c) Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect chimneys. However, face features, or a much narrower crack in one or both corners, may sometimes be found deeper in the chimney allowing the use of normal size protection.

(6) Slab Technique. A slab is a relatively smooth, low-angled rock formation that requires a slightly modified climbing technique (Figure 6-17). Since slab rock normally contains few, if any holds, the technique requires maximum friction and perfect balance over the feet.

(a) On lower-angled slab, the climber can often stand erect and climb using full sole contact and other mountain walking techniques. On steeper slab, the climber will need to apply good smearing technique. Often, maximum friction cannot be attained on steeper slab from an erect stance. The climber will have to flex the ankles and knees so his weight is placed more directly over the balls of the feet. He may then have to bend at the waist to place the hands on the rock, while keeping the hips over his feet.

(b) The climber must pay attention to any changes in slope angle and adjust his body accordingly. Even the slightest change in the position of the hips over the feet can mean the difference between a good grip or a quick slip. The climber should also take advantage of any rough surfaces, or other irregularities in the rock he can place his hands or feet on, to increase friction.

Figure 6-17. Slab technique.

(7) Down Climbing. Descending steep rock is normally performed using a roped method; however, the climber may at some point be required to down climb a route. Even if climbing ropes and related equipment are on hand, down climbing easier terrain is often quicker than taking the time to rig a rappel point. Also, a climber might find himself confronted with difficulties part way up a route that exceed his climbing ability, or the abilities of others to follow. Whatever the case may be, down climbing is a skill well worth practicing.

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