The Scummer’s Manifesto: How to Use Seven Neglected Body Parts
Climbers often neglect limbs that can be especially useful for climbing, like the head, shoulder, knee, and hip. These seven tips show the importance of keeping an open mind and using any body part, no matter how ignoble a figure you cut.
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“Knees off the rock, Samet!” barked my instructor, an old-school mountain clubber in New Mexico. This was 22 years ago, and I flapped up a 5.6 corner to a midway ledge. Unsure how to highstep and rock over, I’d pressed a knee to its lip, scrabbling for purchase.
“It’s bad form!” he hollered. “You’ll embarrass us all. . . . ”
I took the lesson to heart. But my teacher’s maxim did a disservice, because I’ve since realized that while scoring “Style Points” is nice, not falling is better. These seven tips show the importance of keeping an open mind and using any body part, no matter how ignoble a figure you cut.
Sub-roof traverses can be punishing and awkward: your head bumps the ceiling, your butt stinkbugs out, and the footholds all seem to be at the wrong height. Still, you can unweight your arms by scumming the back/top of your head, neck, and shoulder blades against the ceiling and pressing in opposition to your feet. Much depends on the roof’s angle and the footholds, but the head scum often works best for extreme compression.
Climbers also use head scums/jams in offwidths. “I used a headjam/ face-smear combo to rest on Maxilash, a Vedauwoo 5.11a,” admits Chris Weidner, a Colorado traddie. “I first wore my helmet, but at one point was nearly hanging from my chinstrap with the helmet firmly wedged in the crack.” Weidner ditched the helmet (you make this call), saying the au natural head jam lightened his load 50 pounds.
Herman “the German” Gollner was a Rifle fixture in the 1990s/2000s, redpointing hard using every trick in the body-English book. (Gollner had kneebarring pants with sewn-on Stealth pads, as well as a shoulder- scum shirt with rubber “epaulets.”)
I remember watching Gollner lay shoulder to stone on Rifle’s corners, grooves, and odd hanging stemboxes. With a declivity for your shoulder and a good foothold in opposition, you can lean hard against your shoulder’s point, from almost any angle. The basic move is the dihedral lean, but a savvy “scumster” can cop other shoulder rests, too. (“Look around for a wall close to your back, tufas behind you, or footholds opposite a blank wall that you can lean on,” advises Weidner.)
The scummed shoulder is also a key offwidth “hold”: “After Alex [Honnold] fired the Monster Offwidth — part of Free Rider, Salathé Wall, etc. — in 15 minutes, I flashed it on toprope . . . after an hour,” says Weidner, who threw his shoulder into the maw. “Once I got to the belay, my left shoulder was severely abraded, as were my ankles and forearms.”
The elbow’s an unaesthetic little body part, but in holdless corners, it can become your only “manual” point of contact. Think of Lynn Hill, Scott Burk, Tommy Caldwell, and Beth Rodden on the Nose’s 5.14a Changing Corners, a granite version of a building’s inside corner. Here, the El Cap maestros chickenwinged to drive a wedge, elbow first, into the right angle. Burly, yes, and not secure, but by leaning (and stemming) hard while scumming beaucoup arm skin, the climbers fashioned a temporary “handhold.”
Hip checks are helpful: when stemmed wide in a flaring dihedral; when trying to counter a barndoor against an arête; when elevating your core over a ledge/rounded boss. Front to back, you can smedge your hip many different ways, from digging into the hip bone, to using the outer quad, to pressing a little “side buttock.”
In chimneys and off-sized fissures, when you move into heel-toe mode, your posterior is your friend. I’ve also seen climbers cop a butt rest on overhanging terrain, when they found ledges or protrusions large enough to drape one or both buttocks over. The hardest part is often turning around to sit — though you can sometimes lock a heel or heel-toe against the wall below to counter any swing.
Kneebars/scums are old news, but a neat trick, especially for topouts, is using your knee on footholds. That is, rather than a wicked highstep, place your kneecap on a high foothold. Then lever onto the knee to elevate your hips, bringing the bottom foot higher as you, finally, turn your kneehold into a foothold.
Top o’ the Foot
Sure, we all love toescums, but I’m proposing a move that involves the same foot zone (toebox top) but in a different configuration. Here’s how: find a large, wide protruding foothold; stand on this. Now, move into an instepped (frogged-out) position while rotating the ankle so your foot’s top turns downward, your toebox top “glommed” onto the hold. Rotate to comfort — the farther you go, the more you’ll un-weight the pythons.
Matt Samet is Scumster-in-Chief at Climbing.