Sport Climbing Skills part 1
By Libby Peter
Photography: Mike Robertson
Part of Rock Essentials Clinic articles where we go sport climbing and turn our attention to the unglamorous but essential techniques of clipping, belaying and falling. This’ll get us ready for our autumn sun rock hits so we can take full advantage of a new found slickness and confidence. We kick-off this month with a bunch of clip tips so you can fine tune your clipping, saving crucial time and energy, which could just make all the difference on a long cherished on-sight or tough redpoint.
Libby Peter on Discomknockerated (F6b+) at Penmaen Head, Colwyn Bay. Here, a cross body clip comes in handy
Sport climbing ethics and jargon
If you’re new to sport climbing lets establish a few rules. First off there aren’t any rules - you can adopt whichever approach you feel comfortable with. Many folk tackle sport routes as they would a trad climb i.e. ground-up with a rack of quickdraws on their harness avoiding falls, rests and pulling on the bolts. This purist ‘on-sight’ approach is great and certainly the most satisfying but it probably means you’ll be climbing well within your limit. Alternatively, once you’ve blown the on-sight attempt or on a route you know is way too hard to on-sight initially you adopt ‘redpoint’ tactics. Essentially this allows any method of practising the moves (and clips) until you’re able to make a no-falls or rests ascent. It’s normal to have the quickdraws in place and it's normal to make several top-rope practise ascents. Your redpoint project may take hours, days, weeks or years depending on your motivation and staying power.
Get the first bolt clipped
Don’t be a hero and risk a slip right at the start. If it looks tricky get the first bolt clipped before you set off and, let’s be clear, this isn’t cheating. If you’re prepared to make the investment (or improvise with your own contraption) stick clipping is an accepted option. Despite them being often referred to as cheating sticks, clipsticks are a normal addition to a sport climber’s kit list. On a practical note, though you may tempted by the longest reach possible, if you are thinking of buying one for trips abroad check its collapsed length will fit in your luggage on the plane. The technique is simple and easily mastered with a little practice (see photos 1-3 below).
1. Load the quickdraw onto the clipstick with the gate held open by the pin. Take account of which direction you want the lower karabiner facing
2. It helps if you hold the rope in your hand to prevent the weight of the rope dragging on the quickdraw. Pull lightly to snap the gate closed
3. Flick the clipstick off the biner and you’re all set
Alternatively, if you are clipstickless you may be able to get the first bolt clipped from an adjacent route. As you lower off having stripped the previous route swing across to the first bolt of the new climb and clip a quickdraw to it. Clip in the side of the rope you’re not tied to then add a quickdraw from your harness into this rope above the bolt. As you continue to lower off you create a ‘z’ which pulls a bight of rope down, then all you do is pull the rope down and you’re set for the next climb (see photos 4 & 5 below).
4. As you lower past the first bolt swing across and clip in a quickdraw, clip in the rope and add a quickdraw from your harness to the rope then carry on lowering off
5. Once down –pull the rope leaving it set in the first bolt of the new route
Between redpoint attempts you may want to keep the rope through the first bolt each time you pull the ropes, so if you unclip the bolt just above the first one this should mean that when you pull the rope it stays through the first quickdraw as it falls.
If you’ve pulled the ropes and left the quickdraws in place and want to get the rope back up it may be possible to use the clipstick to get the rope back in like this; Make a small loop held in place by the velcro tab (see Photo 6), Push this up over the lower karabiner and position over the bentgate. With the rope in the correct position if you carefully pull the rope it should snap in (see Photo 7).
6. Make a small loop held in place by the Velcro tab
7. Once carefully positioned give a well-timed pull on the rope
Then simply slide the stick down the rope to remove. Now this sounds easy but actually takes a bit of practice so be warned or you may find yourself looking up longingly at your quickdraws swinging in the route.
Clipping the higher bolts
If you’re stranded between bolts or trying to get the rope to the top for a top-rope practice you can pull up the clipstick and clip exactly as shown before. Obviously you’ll first need to clip into the bolt you’re at then drop a loop of rope down to your belayer so they can attach the clipstick for you to pull up. It goes without saying that you’ll need to make sure you’re clipped securely to a totally solid bolt before trying this (see Photo 8).
8. You can pull up the clipstick if you're stranded between bolts or want to get the rope to the top
Although it’s useful to have a repertoire of techniques to pre-clip the bolts, it is of course also essential that you’re well practiced at clipping. If the process is smooth and quick it’ll save you time and minimise the stress of awkward clips. Rehearse with both hands, across your body, full stretch ad infinitum until you become completely relaxed with all eventualities. Practice makes perfect is the way forward and if you want to excel at sport climbing there’s no doubt that being super well practiced will help enormously, and it's something that can be easily practiced indoors (see Photos 9-12).
9. Ensure you get yourself in the most secure position possible
10. Anticipate which side the gate is facing. For a right clip like this the rope trails over the fingers
11. Steady the karabiner with the thumb and push the rope against the bent gate
12. Drop the rope in ensuring your side of the rope is coming out of the front of the karabiner
If you’re going to be serious about sport climbing, invest in a set of dedicated quickdraws partly so that you don’t trash your trad ones and also because the ones designed for sport climbing are much better at the job. They have a securely captive lower bent-gate krab and chunky webbing for easy grabbing.
About Libby Peter
Libby has been climbing for over 20 years; she is a qualified Mountaineering Instructor and British Mountain Guide and is the author of Rock Climbing – Essential Skills and Techniques published by MLTUK and produced Get Out On Rock – the definitive instructional DVD, you can see a taster of this at www.libbypeterclimbing.co.uk