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Climbing Techniques: How to Mantel

Use your brain to move your brawn

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Rock climbing bouldering mantel jimmy webb
Photo: Julie Ellison

The insecure nature of manteling puts this move at the top of the “intimidating climbing techniques” list; just saying the word induces anxiety and sweaty palms in many climbers. But fear not, young crushers, with a little bit of mental guidance, some work on balance, and a willingness to get weird, you will find yourself dancing over the lip like a ballerina instead of beach-whaling ashore like a tired humpback. Mastering the misunderstood mantel will help you top out everything from must-do multi-pitches to desert towers to almost every boulder problem out there, so get ready to pull, press, and push!

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The Move

Just Commit

Before attempting the move, you need to prepare mentally. The moment between feeling relatively secure right below the lip and the celebration of standing on top can feel like a blank break in the space-time continuum, and there’s no room for an attitude that’s too cautious. Once you start to generate momentum, you’re launching off into unstable terrain, where any hesitation can lead to a worst-case-scenario flop on your back. As you approach the move, take a deep breath, focus on your plan of attack, set your feet, and GO. Confidence goes a long way.

High Feet

Find the highest possible feet when starting a mantel. The higher the feet, the higher your weight is over the lip, which is the ultimate goal. Even smearing a toe on something unlikely can help put your body into a more favorable position for the moment of truth up high. Your feet lead your hips, and your hips are what you want to have in the best position possible: up high in a comfortable zone of control.

For steeper terrain, try to get a heel up on top first. Hanging from the lip, find your balance and swing that heel up high, taking the time to place it well by finding an edge or a bump to pull against—even a small divot will work. Move up using the heel hook for added pulling power, and once you start to get your body high enough, you’ll need to roll up onto your toe. Consider what position your foot will be in when you begin to rock over: Is it close enough? Too far out to one side? Once you place your heel, you will not be able to make any adjustments, so it needs to be as secure as possible throughout the entire move. Use the trailing leg as a sort of rudder and clamp, flagging to one side to guide the movement upward and squeezing it into the rock for balance. Sometimes the swinging of the free leg can generate momentum to carry you up and over the lip. Another method for flatter (not rounded) ledges is to think about it like exiting the deep end of the pool: Use your feet to spring your hips up over the lip, leading with your chest to get your weight over your hands. Straighten the arms, gently bring a toe up to the lip, and stand up slowly.

Rock Over

Here’s the point where it all comes together and your prep work culminates in a moment of truth. You’ve placed your toe/heel, your hips are as high as possible, and now it’s time to start transferring your weight onto your feet. Think about bending the knee of your high leg up and out to the side over your toe. Once your hips start to come near the lip, point the knee down to pull your hips over your foot, which will then take the majority of your weight. Stretch those hip flexors to improve hip turnout—the greater range you have in your hips, the more stability you can attain.

When you’ve found the point of balance where the weight is on your foot, you should flip the hand that’s farthest from the high leg so the fingers point toward you, your shoulder is turned in, and your elbow points drastically outward. This position will enable you to lean forward over the lip with the direction of your joints, not against them. The scariest part of a mantel is the tipping point when it just might work, or you might slip and crumble down onto the pads below. Remaining calm is key. Pay close attention to your position up there, and move in a gentle and focused manner, treating it like one big sequence mushed into a single, flowing movement.

Mantel Up (Tips from Chris Schulte)

No Knees

The biggest mistake that most folks make is trying to put a knee or thigh down on top as they rock over, attempting to full-body hug the topout like an MMA fighter choking out their opponent. Not only do your knee and thigh lack friction, but putting your leg down also changes the angle of contact between your foot and the rock. When you go to weight your knee/thigh, your foot will want to blow. Instead, concentrate on moving smoothly through the transfer of weight onto your foot and commit to making it work.

Chalk up

Take a moment to dip your hands in your chalkbag before you set out for the mantel. If you can hang at the lip and chalk up, great; if not, dab a little chalk on your pant leg before starting the climb, then give the spot a quick slap right before you commit. Often mantels end up taking more moves than you think and they require your whole hand and palm rather than just your fingers. A little extra preparation at the lip will carry you far.

Scope it out

Inspect the topout from above if possible. It can help immensely. Clean off all the pine needles, dirt, and leaves, and check for water or snow pooled in the jugs. Nothing like a damp sploosh or a handful of snow to break your concentration and spit you off right as you think you’ve sealed the deal.

Use it regularly

Not all mantels are as clear-cut as the topout of a boulder. Sometimes you’ll find yourself locking off for a big reach to the next hold, only to be shy a few inches. If the lower hold is large enough—and it doesn’t take much—remember that you can turn the pull of a lockoff into the press of a mantel, which will gain that last little bit and give your overused pulling muscles a break.

Chris Schulte has used these techniques for more than 20 years to top out thousands of boulder problems, from Utah to France.

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