Traditional Climbing

Traditional climbing requires more knowledge and practice than other forms of rock climbing, because you have to place and remove all of your own protection. Our in-depth articles will help you learn the ropes quicker and be a safer, more successful climber.
  • 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.

  • HPPinchPoint

    Learn This: Pinch Points

    You’re cruising a broken and blocky ridgeline that leads to the summit when all of a sudden a 20-foot technical section stops you in your tracks. Your partner doesn’t skip a beat and starts to head up, but you’re intimidated by those six or seven moves because they’re surrounded by a 1,000-foot drop on either side. Though you’ve got gear and a harness in your pack, time is of the essence. Thankfully, there’s a fast and efficient way for the leader to use the broken nature of the rock to build a simple anchor and belay a follower—with minimal gear and no harness. Use a “pinch point,” the area of contact between two large rocks that provides 360° of access to thread or tie a sling, as an anchor to save time and keep everyone safe and happy.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • HPRope

    Learn This: Alpine Rope Management

    Managing the rope at belays and rappels on multi-pitch routes can be a smooth operation that leads to quick transitions and more climbing. Or it can be a headache-inducing rats’ nest of chaos that means wrestling with yourself every time you try to feed out slack. Instead of spending your summer alpine season untangling a rope, learn a few simple methods that will help you spend more time sending. Try out these tricks on shorter routes so that when you’re faced with 15 pitches or 10 long rappels, you’ll have these techniques dialed in and ready to put to use.

  • HPNuts

    Learn This: Nuts 102

    Recognizing subtle constrictions in natural rock takes a trained eye, and maximizing surface contact is an art learned through experience. Nevertheless, here are a few more tricks and tips that will help you up your nut game.

  • 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.

  • Figure-1-Single-Hitch-Escape-660

    Single-Hitch Belay Escape

    Keeping it straightforward is a good credo for rescue and almost anything climbing-related, and this particular skill is a good example of how to streamline the act of escaping a belay. It uses minimal steps, equipment, and hitches or knots, especially when compared to more complicated methods that require lesser-used hitches and additional know-how.

  • 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.

  • tricams-101-660

    Tricams 101: A Guide to Using This Tool

    The Tricam is a puzzling piece: It’s delightfully simple, with no active—or moving—parts, yet it has more potential uses than either a spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) or a standard nut. They can be placed passively (like a nut) or actively (like a cam), depending on the orientation and features in the rock. While the original unit had two placements (one passive, one active), the newest generation has three: a cam, a nut, and a nut in broadside-out mode. The biggest benefit? The Tricam often fits where nothing else will.

  • 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.

  • How to Simul-Rappel

    Simultaneously rappelling, or simul-rapping, is an advanced skill where two climbers descend one rope at the same time (or two ropes tied together: climbing.com/skill/rappel-knots), and one climber’s weight counterbalances the other. The margin for error is small, but it’s a good trick to know. It’s useful for bailing during a sudden, dangerous storm, or for rapping off opposite sides of a fin or spire where there are no anchor points, which is common in places like the Needles of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

  • How-to-Clean-Cams

    How to Clean Cams

    Getting humbled in the art of cam-cleaning is a rite of passage for aspiring tradsters. You know the story: The second, a trad-climbing newbie, fiddles with a cam for what seems like eternity before declaring it totally stuck. Welded. Fixed. Beyond saving. The more experienced leader isn’t buying it (and doesn’t want to buy a new cam, either), so he raps down to investigate—and cleans it in three seconds flat. Here’s how to retrieve those stuck cams easily and quickly.

  • Hand-Hand-Stack-Offwidth

    Don't Just Wing It: 6 Crucial Wide-Crack Techniques

    The intimidating world of wide cracks is often regarded as more work than fun. Although they do require elbow grease, the challenge also provides a satisfying reward. No matter your skill level, learning and honing the following skills will improve your chances of reaching the chains (without puking). Tape up and pull on a pair of canvas pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and some comfortable hightop shoes, and tackle that crack.

  • 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.

  • How-to-Jug-Rock-to-Alpine

    Transition from Rock to Alpine

    Progressing from weekend cragging to long alpine routes can be intimidating for anyone, even strong and competent traditional climbers. While the most valuable knowledge is gleaned from experience, there’s plenty of real-world advice to learn beforehand. Alpinist Scott Bennett has six years of experience in the mountains and on rock. Here, he shares his hard-won tips for climbers moving from rock to the mountains.

  • How to haul a pack

    Haul Your Pack to Climb Faster and Harder

    Simple truth: Attempting to go "light and fast" often means heavy and lame. To avoid the stigma of hauling a bag, many climbers feel the need to have everything clipped right on their harnesses. Water bottles, approach shoes, bullet packs--you name it--jangling o gear loops, wrapped around waists, getting in the way. If this sounds like you, strip down and haul! Here are a few reasons to haul, tips on how to do it, and some cautions gleaned from years of experience.

  • How-to-Hip-Belay

    How to Hip Belay

    Long before the invention of belay devices, the hip belay provided security for the second and saved time in the mountains. When used correctly, a bomber stance can replace a traditional anchor, or you can back up a marginal anchor with a solid stance. It’s best in lower-angled and broken terrain, where a fall by the second is easily recovered, and there is little danger of a pendulum swing.

  • Opposed-Nuts-Placement

    Nuts 101

    When many people start trad climbing, cams become their new best friend. They’re easy to use and contract to fit a variety of crack sizes. But don’t underestimate the benefits of their counterpart: the nut. With no moving parts (hence, “passive protection”), nuts are inexpensive, lightweight, sturdy, and it’s easy to judge a placement by eyeballing— many will fit a variety of spots because they can be positioned in four different orientations.

  • Belaying While Mid-Pitch

    If you are simul-climbing part of a route because it is technically easy (e.g., 5.4 or 5.5), you still might come across an isolated crux section that is two or three body-lengths and more difficult (e.g., 5.8 or 5.9). That portion might warrant a belay for the leader and the follower. Communication between the two climbers is key, and the leader should alert the follower when there’s a tricky section.

  • 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.

  • Lowering-on-Multi-Pitches

    Lower Away!

    Outside of single-pitch sport climbing, lowering isn’t a common practice, and most climbers will choose to rappel anything longer than one pitch. However, descending at maximum efficiency on long routes should include lowering techniques as well as rappelling. Lowering the first climber with the second rappelling can speed up descents on multi-pitch routes—and alleviate common rope problems.

  • 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.

  • HPRack

    Learn This: Efficient Racking

    Successful and swift traditional climbing is all about efficiency. You can’t squander minutes searching for the perfect piece, drain strength by over-gripping while you untangle runners from your cams, or waste energy by lugging up unnecessary weight. Mayan Smith-Gobat knows a thing or two about smart racking, with multiple speed records broken on the Nose of El Cap this year.

  • 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."

  • Rappel-to-Ascend-Fig-3-660

    Rappel to Ascend

    The shadows are growing long across the desert as you rappel off the neo-classic Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock, Nevada, after a successful ascent. In your haste to beat darkness (and avoid the resulting expensive ticket at the park gate), you forgot to grab the rack off the ledge before you started the rappel. Midway down the rappel, you realize your blunder. What to do? Time to go back up—and fast!

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Aid-and-Abet-660

    Aid and Abet

    We are all duly impressed when talented climbers make quick free ascents of long 5.12 and 5.13 routes, but just because you don’t climb at that standard doesn’t mean you can’t do those same climbs. A bit of aid climbing is the key to keeping difficulties within your grade and moving quickly up whatever terrain you encounter. Here are some tips to help you make short work of longer, harder climbs.

  • 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.

  • 78815e4f837e7962a83a62b81a7

    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."