Tech Tips: Friction Facts

Illustration by Jamie Givens

Illustration by Jamie Givens

Friction climbing—holdless slab climbing—can be effortless or desperate, or both at the same time. Strength plays no role; there’s nothing to pull on. Technique and mindset are paramount.

Friction climbs typically involve long runouts between the stances where a first-ascensionist was willing and able to stop and drill a bolt. The easiest path to that next bolt may not be a straight line. Dips and waves change the rock’s angle and can make the difference between sticking and sliding. Weathering may have created a coarser, stickier path. Assess all possibilities, make a plan before you launch, and keep your eyes open for alternatives as you climb.

The basic friction-climbing position is arms gently bent, legs nearly straight, with palms and balls of the feet flat on the rock. Flex your ankles to put maximum shoe rubber on the rock, stick your butt out, and go. Don’t confuse friction with edging—totally different principles apply. Avoid “special” moves—long reaches, high steps, or mantels—that pull your body toward the rock. If you get your hand on a nice edge, pass it by with minimal break in form until you can stand on it and rest.

Momentum is as important as body position—keep moving, and you can stick to nothing; stop and shoes will ooze. Friction falls generally result from loss of faith: You stall out, or get greedy and lurch for a hold. Stay light on your feet and let your peripheral vision fi nd weaknesses where you can pause, but don’t get too focused on individual holds. Climb quickly, with minimal rests, until you reach the belay.

The runouts may be daunting, but if you avoid tumbling, friction falls tend to be slow-motion, low-impact experiences. Running works OK for shorter falls, but unless you can run really fast, favor the slide-andpat. Holding your regular climbing position, let yourself slide on the balls of your feet, patting the rock with your hands for balance. If you slide down on all fours without patting, you’ll burn your hands. Watch where you’re going and be ready to dodge bolts or other obstacles that could trip you.