Tech Tips: Better Boinking

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Illustration by Jamie Givens

Illustration by Jamie Givens

A useful trick for working steep routes

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.

THE CLIMBER’S ROLE

With your belayer creating maximum tension on the rope (more on that in a minute), grab the rope with both hands as high above your head as possible. In one swinging motion, do a pull-up and kick your feet up toward your head. Let go the instant you reach your high point, which will create a bit of slack in the rope between your hands and your knot. If your belayer is doing his job, and there’s not too much rope drag, you’ll spring upward. Make sure your pull-up is strong and sharp, and your release sudden—if any tension remains in the rope, you won’t move up.

Grasping a skinny rope and doing a pull-up takes a lot of grip strength—just the thing you’ll likely lack after falling off the route. Try pumping with your legs to build a bit of momentum, as you would on a playground swing. If you still can’t boink, a small rope-grabbing device (like a Petzl Tibloc) will help; place the device and a quickdraw on the rope above you, and use the draw as a handle.

THE BELAYER’S ROLE

Nothing is more frustrating than boinking with a bad partner. The boink only works if the belayer takes in slack at the exact moment that the climber releases the rope. It’s seldom possible to manually reel in enough slack. Instead, while locking off with an assisted-braking belay device, lean back and scoot away from the wall to take in slack.

Caution: the boink creates slack so fast that you can find yourself on your butt as you lean back: This is bad because a) it’s embarrassing, b) you might get hurt, and c) you may lose traction and slide toward the wall, losing the precious inches of height your climber has gained by boinking. Watch for obstacles, and wear sturdy shoes. Good communication helps: Have your partner count “one, two, three” while she swings, and then boink on the count of “three.”

If you’ve given a “soft catch” belay and are suspended a few feet off the ground, you are in a perfect position for boinking. Simply lock off the rope and let gravity do your work when the leader attempts his boink. If you’re so light that you do not provide enough counterweight, have a friend pull you toward the ground when your climber is boinking.