Sport Climbing

Sport climbing may seem simple because all you need is a rope and a rack of quickdraws. But experts spend years honing the skills needed to climb sport routes efficiently and safely. The articles on these pages will help you shortcut the learning curve and make big gains in your redpoint and onsight ability.
  • HPOvergripping

    Learn This: The Over-Gripping Myth

    As you move ever higher above your last piece and further outside your comfort zone, you grip the rock for dear life, even though you know the route is well within your ability. Yet here you are, only halfway up and too pumped to continue—everything feels way harder than it should. Most climbers have experienced this unfortunate situation: When you get scared, you hold on too tight and waste precious energy. The perceived solution: Focus on relaxing your hands to stop over-gripping the rock, thus lasting longer. While this does seem to make logical sense, over-gripping is actually not a significant factor in this perceived fatigue. Studies in applied physiology, neuroscience, and sports medicine point to stress itself as the culprit for accelerated fatigue. Anxiety can trigger the release of a certain hormone that can make you feel more pumped and tired than you actually are. Here we’ve provided some tips and tricks to conquer your fears and prevent the dreaded pump.

  • HPAnchorShelfSm

    Learn This: Using the Anchor Shelf

    Efficiency is directly related to success on any multi-pitch climb, and being neat and tidy from the beginning is a key to efficiency. Keep your belay orderly with this effortless technique: using the “shelf.”

  • HPSqueeze

    Learn This: Conquer Chimneys (With Tips From Rob Pizem)

    Royal Arches, Yosemite. Kor-Ingalls Route, Castleton Tower. Durrance Route, Devil’s Tower. What do these super-classic moderates have in common? They each have a physically demanding chimney. This term refers to any fissure that your body fits inside, ranging from a squeeze chimney (one to two feet wide) to much wider, where you must stem the gap with a foot and hand on each side. Each width requires its own set of unique movements, so we talked with wide-crack wizard Rob Pizem (who points out that this was one of the earliest climbing techniques) to break it down into a step-by-step process.

  • HPPlat

    Training: Never Plateau Again

    Climbing is addictive. One reason is that you can see massive strength gains and technique improvement from day one of your climbing career. But after a few months—or for the extremely lucky, a few years—a plateau can sneak up on you, slow your progress, and frustrate you beyond belief. During my own personal three-year-long plateau, I heard every kind of advice from doing more pull-ups to climbing every day despite the pain to even going vegetarian (not gonna happen). On a quest to find the one true way, I started to interview top climbers to see how they handled these annoying performance flatlines—both mentally and physically—and the answers I found were as diverse and interesting as the climbers themselves.

  • HPStuckRapRopes

    Learn This: Free Stuck Rappel Ropes

    When I look back on my 30-year tenure as a climber, I realize that I’ve spent as much (or more) time descending than ascending. After all, knowing when to turn around is what keeps us climbers alive and climbing. All that “downtime” easily adds up to several thousand hours of dodgy anchors, scary raps, and uncertain ends. That stuff would make any grown man nervous, but by far the scariest experiences of all were the few times I’ve gotten the rappel rope hopelessly stuck. This scenario can cause even the hardest of climbers to break out in a cold sweat. When your rope is stuck, you ain’t going nowhere. Here are my hard-won tips for getting your rope unstuck and—even better—preventing it from happening in the first place.

  • HPSteeps

    Learn This: Conquer Steep Routes (With Tips From Sasha DiGiulian)

    As you're eying the next clip only a few feet away, your swollen forearms throb even harder at the thought of just one more move. You take a deep breath, dig your toe in a little deeper, drive your body up, and grab the next hold with a feeling of pure elation—only to experience a moment of stillness, a feeling of defeat, and the rush of air as the wall rapidly fades into the distance. Welcome to steep sport climbing. When the wall kicks back past vertical, the pump clock starts ticking and it’s all about getting to the chains before that alarm goes off. Steeps and overhangs require determination, focus, technique, and creative thinking. Below, we’ve dissected the most important skills to develop.

  • Laybacks

    Learn This: Master Laybacks (With Tips From Cheyne Lempe)

  • HPBelay

    25+ Ways To Be A Better Belayer

  • HPAutoBlock

    Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices

    This setup, which is also called “guide mode,” automatically stops the rope from moving through the device—or “catches” the follower—if he falls. It’s a must-have tool and technique for anyone who wants to tackle multi-pitch climbs.

  • HPSlab

    Instant Expert: Friction Slabs (With Tips From Hazel Findlay)

    In an odd way, friction slabs are like wide cracks: Hate ’em all you want, but you can’t climb some of the most classic trad routes without working through them. It’s common to find slab sections leading into and out of perfect cracks in places like Yosemite and Lumpy Ridge, Colorado. They’re characterized by a low angle (between roughly 65° and 80°) and a dearth of holds (think: micro-divots, bumps, edges, dishes, and nubbins ). There’s nothing to pull down on, so you must employ a set of techniques unique to these features (or lack thereof).

  • Rotator1at660

    Solo Toproping: Basic Self-Belay Techniques

    When Tommy Caldwell or Mayan Smith-Gobat work a free climb high on El Capitan, the crux may be finding a belayer willing to put in days of duty in an isolated and exposed location. Often, the solution is to go alone, rehearsing the key pitches by solo toproping. Whether you’re an active first ascensionist or just want to do some laps after work without a partner, solo toproping is a handy technique to add to your repertoire.

  • Feeding-Slack-Quickly-Grigri-158

    Learn Proper Techniques for Grigri Use

    Petzl has made an effort to educate users, but the bad habits of devotees are difficult to break, and with the release of the Grigri 2 in 2011, it's more important than ever to learn (and teach) proper techniques for this ubiquitous device.

  • How-to-Tyrol-Traverse-600

    How to Do the Tyrolean Traverse

    The Tyrol, short for Tyrolean traverse, involves using a fixed line to cross from one point to another, often over water. While wearing a harness, you clip onto the rope or cable to pull yourself across. Developed in the Dolomites of the former Tyrol region, this method was used to approach and descend from spires. Nowadays, it’s commonly used to negotiate rivers or reach a detached pillar. If the ropes or cables are already safely set up, these basic guidelines will make traversing a breeze.

  • Meditation-in-Brain

    Breathe Easier: Mental Tacks to Get Through Tough Climbs

    Notoriously sandbagged routes are intimidating. They can cause anxiety and lead to disappointment if you don’t redpoint the grade you’re used to completing easily. Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior’s Way, says the first step to combatting anxiety when faced with a sandbag is to forget the grade. “Move your perspective to where the grade of the climb isn’t an issue,” he says. “When you do that, no problem or anxiety will exist.” Instead, focus on the route’s movement, protection and rest opportunities, and the consequence of the fall zones.

  • Rappel-Without-Belay-Device

    Rappel Without a Belay Device

    You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device.

  • Climbing Rope Backpack-Coil

    The Perfect Backpack Coil

    There are times when carrying a full pack to the base of a route is cumbersome and inefficient; plus, you might have a packless, walk-off descent to think about. You need a convenient way to carry the rope, and the backpack coil is the ideal method. This system prevents your cord from catching on branches, coming uncoiled, and tripping you up. The key is starting your coil from the middle, keeping the coils short, and adding more wraps at the end.

  • Climb Fast and Efficient with Tips by Alex Honnold

    Pick up a copy of Climbing's May issue for an article on Alex Honnold's best tips and tricks for how to pack more pitches into the day. Here, additional techniques. Approach: While hiking to the crag, you might have to shed a layer or two. Most people stop, take off their layers, pack them away, then continue. I prefer not to stop, so I pop one arm out of the pack’s shoulder strap, slide the layer off this arm, then repeat on the other side. Then I wrap the layer around one shoulder strap of my pack, effectively hanging it near my waist. Voilà, no extra stops on the hike.

  • Chimney-Rest-Stem

    Rest for Success

    The best way to maximize your staying power for enduro-packed routes is by resting more often and more efficiently during the climb. You may do endless training laps for stamina, but learning to cop strategic rests mid-route is more likely to win you the onsight on any terrain.

  • FPFall

    How to Fall

    Falling is essential for advancing as a rock climber. The saying goes, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t trying hard enough.” To progress, you need to try moves that are at the edge of your ability—or beyond—and when you try that hard, you will fall. Toprope falls are the safest, but falling also can be quite safe on well-protected lead climbs, as long as you have good technique and a solid belayer.

  • How-to-Poop-in-the-Woods

    Guide to Going Number Two

    Shit happens. The average person generates just more than one pound of poop every day, according to the World Health Organization. As the number of people visiting crags grows, so do the pounds of poo left behind. This requires some strategic practices. Few things are as foul as seeing a pile of feces topped with toilet paper hiding behind a rock—plus, poor crag etiquette can endanger access and pose public health concerns.

  • How-to-Cut-a-Climbing-Rope

    Cutting a Rope

    The first 15 feet on either end of your rope gets by far the most use, wear, and friction. You’re constantly tying into that section, and, more important, the rope absorbs the impact of most falls there, so that part gets a lot of abrasion from carabiners. These parts will get fat, frayed, fuzzy, and after time will generally look different from the rest of the cord. Even after one season with a rope, you can end up with bad ends and a near-new-looking middle portion.

  • Extension Basics

    Extending gear means clipping a long sling to a piece of climbing protection (bolts or traditional pro), and it is a vital part of learning to lead, especially on long, blocky, or wandering routes. The top two reasons for extending a placement are minimizing rope drag and keeping the rope from levering out pieces (especially nuts) or causing cams to "walk."

  • Walking-the-Rope-1-660

    Walking the Rope

    This technique lets you pull back onto an overhanging climb without boinking or lowering off completely. “Boinking,” or pulling up on the rope and then letting go while your belayer quickly takes up slack, only gains a few inches at a time and wastes valuable energy. Lowering off wastes time. By “walking,” you use your legs and core to climb back up the rope quickly. It takes some practice to master, and it requires hip flexibility and core strength to do it efficiently.

  • Save-Yourself-660

    Save Yourself! A Guide to Self-Rescue

    Climbing is dangerous. And that's part of the fun, isn't it? We learn many standard steps to manage risk and prevent bad things from happening: Double-check knots! Pack a headlamp! Back everything up! But someday the shit may hit the fan, and you’ll be faced with a scary and dangerous situation. Do you have the skills to get yourself and your partner back alive?

  • Cleaning-Sport-Anchors-158

    Essential Skills: Cleaning Sport Anchors

    One of the best parts about sport climbing is its utter simplicity: Clip some bolts as you climb, and—well, that’s pretty much it. The most complicated part is cleaning the anchors; in other words, threading your rope through the rings or chains at the top so you can lower down, grab your draws, and not leave any gear behind. This procedure is potentially dangerous because you may have to untie from your harness and retie after threading—and mistakes happen.

  • Wet-Rope Myths Debunked

    By the very nature of our sport, there will come a time when you’re faced with using a wet rope. Can you safely rappel on it? Can you lead on it? Will water permanently damage the rope? Instead of making an “educated guess” in the alpine, learn the basics here to guide your decisions in the field. We polled five leading rope companies to see what they had to say about the strength of a rope before, during, and after being exposed to water.

  • Long-Rappel-Short-Rope-158

    Long Rappel, Short Rope

    Do you always know the exact length of every rappel? At some point in your climbing career, you will probably encounter a rappel that is unknown but looks too long for your measly single line. Instead of tossing the rope, crossing your fingers, and getting to the ends of your rope only to discover that, yes, your rope is too short, there is a simple technique to deal with such a situation.

  • Bolted-Toprope-Anchors-158

    Bolted Toprope Anchors

    Once you start venturing outside the gym to pull on real rock, you or your climbing partner might not be quite ready to tie into the sharp end, so it’s essential to know how to set up a solid anchor for toproping. Many climbs have two bolts (or chains or rings attached to bolts) at the top, making it easy to establish a secure toprope.

  • Illustration by Chris Philpot

    Improvised Rappel Anchors

    Getting off a cliff with no fixed anchors or big trees is a skill that every rock climber should have in his bag of tricks. It’s especially useful to do it with minimal loss of expensive hardware. Here’s one method.

  • How-to-Foot-Jam-Illo

    Jam Session

    Jamming isn’t something you learned by climbing trees as a child. Instead of grabbing normal holds, you wedge body parts into cracks. It’ll take some practice, but once you learn the techniques, cracks become your roads to success on all kinds of rock. And when the crack is hand-sized, it can be a highway to heaven.

  • The Butterfly Knot

    This is the preferred knot for tying into the middle of a climbing rope, as you’d do on a three-person rope team. (Clip into the loop with a locking carabiner.) This knot is also great for rappelling when your ropes are too short. (See Climbing's November issue, no. 310, for more on rappelling on too-short ropes.

  • HPRapKnots

    Learn This: Preferred Knots for Rappelling

    The knot I use to tie together two ropes for a rappel—and one we commonly use in guides’ training at the AMGA—is the flat overhand. This knot has been called a number of things (including the Euro death knot) and has at times been unfairly demonized.

  • Find Your Footing

    Find Your Footing

    You're 10 feet above your last bolt, over-gripping and breathing erratically, and everything feels... off. What's wrong? The tension in your body has caused you to lose your balance. But there are ways to get it back, even when you're mid-route. Boulder-based climbing trainer Justen Sjong offers five tips to instantly relieve your stress, find your balance, and send confidently.

  • Steady Yourself

    Steady Yourself

    Along with a good pair of shoes and a positive attitude, balance is crucial for successful rock climbing. Without it, your body won’t move naturally on the rock, thus eliminating efficiency and style. We tapped into trainer and hardman Eric Hörst’s knowledge of climbing performance (How to Climb 5.12, trainingforclimbing.com), and he gave us three fun exercises to improve your balance.

  • HPAlpine

    Essential Skills: The Alpine Quickdraw

    You'll often carry several full-length, 24-inch slings on long rock routes or alpine climbs, to reduce rope drag, wrap around horns for protection or belays, or rig belay anchors. But draping multiple slings over your shoulders is cumbersome. The solution? The alpine draw.

  • Pamela-Pack-Calf-Lock-660

    The Calf Lock

    One of the most dreaded wide crack sizes is just bigger than your fists but too small for your knees. For most people, this means a four-inch crack. This size usually requires the hand/hand (“butterfly”) stack instead of a fist jam. Although hanging from such a stack feels quite secure, it’s difficult to make upward progress because a knee jam won’t fit.

  • Peewee-Tape-Gloves-660

    Better Tape Gloves

    A gnarly fissure will rip the skin off even the best crack climbers. Protect your hands with a layer of tape so you can keep trying hard until your strength gives out instead of failing from pain or blood loss. Here's how I make thin, reusable tape gloves, using two neat tricks to make the job easier.

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    Alpine Anchors

    In the mountains or on long rock routes, anchor efficiency can be the difference between a comfortable finish and a forced bivouac. Using a cordelette to equalize an anchor is easy and strong, but it takes a lot of extra time to set up, and even longer to break down. There is a faster, easier, and often equally safe solution: the "alpine anchor."

  • RappelHP

    Essential Skills: Pre-Rigging Rappels

    Imagine you're at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise.

  • Two-Rope-Raps-Chopped-660

    Two-Rope Rappels With One Chopped Cord

    Rockfall happens, and sometimes ropes get chopped. If you're 1,000 feet up a route with one rope that's badly damaged, there's a trick you can use to keep doing full-length, double-rope rappels. It's sometimes called the Reepschnur rappel—I have no idea what that means, but I know from experience that it works.

  • Chilling Imagery

    The sunscreen is frozen in the tube. The toothpaste, too. Your hands freeze within seconds without gloves. The thermometer reads 35 deg F. It's colds -- really cold. But can you still photograph? You bet. Here are a few tips.

  • Short-Fixing

    Short-Fixing

    Short-fixing is an experts-only technique that essentially separates a climbing team into two roped soloists via a knot at an anchor, allowing the climbers to move simultaneously. It's most commonly used on one-day ascents of big walls, or to speed up the process during multi-day ascents.

  • Worth a Shot

    A digital camera can do more than capture memories of your climbs. Whether new routing in the mountains or redpointing at the crag, put your point-and-shoot to use with these tricks.

  • Escape Systems

    Escape Systems

    If you're climbing a little-traveled big wall, or venturing into soft-rock climbing areas like Utah's San Rafael Reef, you may want to carry an emergency bolt kit—and know how to use it. Here's the lowdown.

  • Thumbs Up!

    Climbing holds are like snowflakes—no two are identical—and clever use of the thumbs adds important diversity to your gripping arsenal. Here are four "thumb" techniques that could make the difference during your next tough climb.

  • HPBelay

    Learn This: Belaying A Heavier Climber

    People whose partners outweigh them by 25 pounds or more routinely get yanked off the ground when catching sport-climbing leader falls. Although this phenomenon is disconcerting at first, it can be perfectly safe with a few simple precautions—and it provides a nice, soft catch for the climber.

  • PreThreadTR

    Learn This: Save Yourself An Ascent With The Pre-Threaded Toprope

    You're climbing outdoors with novice friends, and you want to rig a toprope from a fixed-chain anchor. You're the only one in the group who can safely install and clean a toprope setup, but you loath having to climb each route twice—once to hang the rope, and once to clean the anchor and rap from the chains.

  • No More Tangles

    No More Tangles

    Good rope management at belays saves time and headaches. When you belay on a ledge, feed the rope into a small pile, about two feet around, as you take it in. Compact the growing rope pile with your hands or feet to keep it stacking bottom to top, and to keep it from sliding off the ledge.

  • Better Boinking

    Better Boinking

    Boinking is a little trick that all sport climbers should know. When you�re working a very steep route, falls may leave you stranded in space, too far from the wall to regain the rock. Instead of lowering to the ground, you can often �boink� back up to your last quickdraw by pulling up on the rope, unweighting, and allowing your belayer to quickly take in slack.

  • Anchors Away

    Traditionally, climbers have anchored to the belay by tying in directly with the rope. Now, many prefer the convenience of personal anchor tethers specifically designed for this purpose for belays, as well as for cleaning the top anchor on a sport climb or anchoring during multi-pitch rappels. When used properly, these systems can be safe and strong, but when used improperly, they can lead to fatal accidents.