Climbing, on good days, is about personal achievement. But it’s also about camaraderie, your rapport with friends. If you’re a habitual underachiever, as I am, you may be missing out on the gratifying esprit de corps of climbing. Tired of the campfire jokes cast in your direction when your pals send Welcome to the Big Girls’ Club and you don’t? Sick of being the weakling and the buffoon? Forget excuses. “Discrete tension,” aka DT, can earn you credit for routes significantly harder than you actually redpoint.
Broadly speaking, DT is any technique that allows you to rest on the rope without your partner knowing it. At its simplest, DT requires only that you find a protection point situated above your tie-in knot—something readily available at most clipping stances. With the bolt clipped, firmly press a hip or thigh against the rope, pinning it against the rock. Then, simply sag onto the rope. Voila!—a near no-hands rest. Repeat as necessary.
On smooth or very overhanging terrain, you’ll only be able to support 50 to 70 percent of your body weight before the rope begins to slip. Use textured areas of rock and/or special rubber-reinforced pants to increase friction. You can also supplement the thigh-pin maneuver with elbow pressure at the clip-in point (figure 1). A supple rope helps here.
For the advanced practitioner, heel hooks and kneebars also provide prime DT opportunities (figure 2).To avoid detection during DT, maintain an erect body position and make sure to act like you’re fighting the pump while you rest. I find that yelling “This feckin’ booga-looga is going down!” or “I am the man, I am the man!” is an effective decoy. DT works especially well on trad routes; on crack climbs, place a chest-height cam, pin the rope inside the crack with a foot jam (be careful not to pull yourself off!), and sag. Re-rack, chalk up, or sermonize about the spiritual virtues of trad climbing to disguise your turpitude.
It’s possible, though trickier, to use DT when climbing above protection. Here’s where the true con artist outstrips mere swindlers and charlatans. You’ll need a good-sized, well-shaped handhold—say a chickenhead or flake. Drape your rope over the top of the hold at about head height, then pin it in place with your hand. Sag as in overhead-pro DT, maintaining firm pressure on your hand (figure 3). Finding the right hold is key; shape is as important as size. (Hint: Any hold you can wrap is ideal.) Discrete tension isn’t for all situations. On thin and runout routes, it’s almost impossible to use DT techniques. (The “Friends don’t let friends climb slabs” slogan was actually coined by one DT guru.) Also, avoid DT when cameras are present — I know one climber who was publicly spanked by his girlfriend after an incriminating DT photo circulated on the Internet. And remember, DT is not free climbing. Use it in moderation to hoodwink your nay-saying friends, never to win sponsorship or falsely claim first ascents.