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Rock Climbing Techniques Explained

Rock Climbing Techniques Explained

If you are new to rock climbing here is an article written for you to help explain the basic techniques used in rock climbing. Remember climbing is a dangerous activity, this risk is one you accept and undertake at your own risk.



Laybacking or Layback

The layback is a technique used regularly, quite strenuous but effective too.

It is basically opposing pressure from hands to feet  your skeleton does most of the work as you transfer your body weight down to your feet from your hands.

A single maneuver like this is called a layaway

Below you see the young climber laybacking a small overhang. An adult would easily overcome this overhang with reach - but the child had to bridge/stem up then climb the crack by turning it into a layback maneuver.



Overhangs - How to climb overhangs

Climbing your first overhang is often the beginners nightmare problem.

How can I possibly climb an overhang?

Yes, some overhangs can be very tricky but there are plenty with good holds too, confidence and speed will get you over the problem usually.

The trick is to keep your arms straight and roll the body through the shoulder towards holds that are out of reach.You may bend your arms but keep this to a minimum to conserve energy. Feet may be used - usually the toe or heel (most climbing shoes have this covered wih rubber) by hooking a hold above you you can pull or hang from a leg as required, this is known as a toe or Heel hook

If possible when resting on steep ground do not hang out too far as this will hinder you when you wish to continue upwards and you have to pull yourself in before moving up.

jamClimbing cracks

Another beginners nightmare, you can pull down on good incut holds, but how do you climb a vertical crack?

First of all you have several ways to climb a crack depending on it's width.

If its under 10cm wide you will Jam the crack by sliding in your hands and camming your fingers into the crack. You may also wish to jam your feet into the crack for purchase.

Be warned, if you have a good foot jam and your hands come off first it may get nasty! 

As the cracks get larger they require a different approach.

You may wish to jam the whole of your hand sideways in the crack or maybe even slide your arm in up to elbow the full shoulder in some cases.
You may turn your boot sideways on so your toes and heels oppose.

There are no rules here, but if it's painful, you are probably doing it wrong!

You can also utilise the layback technique on cracks. If there is more than one crack you could bridge them.

bridgingBridging technique or Stemming.

Your legs are strong - so use them to your advantage (often overlooked by beginners)

You can climb corners and large cracks by bridging the gap with your feet, pushing with your hands and feet across the sides. Any holds you can use will make this feel more secure as it relies on opposing pressure and friction off the rock. Note the climber on the left, bridging up a series of small overhangs, by climbing in this manner she overcomes the problem easily.

If you start to use your back against a wall and push with your hands and feet it becomes a Chimneying maneuver.

Many climbs rely upon using a variety of these techniques together.


or Smearing

Smearing is a technique where a climber will hopefully have both grippy but smooth rock (eg: granite) and will use the ball of the foot to press down on the surface of the rock allowing upward progress.
Different boots have different smearing properties and this is down to the rubber compound used on the sole.

It is possible to smear on rock and hardly use your upper body or hands as all the work is done by the feet and legs.

Tip: Ensure your boots are clean before you climb as smearing relies on clean contact. I often wipe my boots on my trouser legs on route to rid the rubber of grit and rubbish picked up.


Dyno's or Dynamic Manoeuvre

A dyno is where a climber will hang off a good hold (usually) and rock up and down before leaping upwards to catch a hold above. Ideally the climber grabs the target hold at the highpoint of his jump. A climber may lose contact with the climb during a dynamic move  - always gets a round of applause in competitions.

Beginners tip:
Try and concentrate on moving slowly and smoothly bringing one foot up at a time.


How to become a rock climbing instructor (UK)

How to become a climbing instructor:

A dream job? maybe for some, with every job there are downsides but if you already spend your time teaching people how to climb and thoroughly enjoy it then maybe this is for you.

First of all you need solid experience- no teacher /coach can do their job without that so basically you need to climb, and climb lots, with as many different types of people you can manage.

There is a scheme that is recognised by the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) called the SPA (The Single pitch Award)

The SPA is the first stepping stone and many young instructors use this award to gain more experience before moving on to a more senior qualification like the MIA (Mountaineering Instructor Award)

Lets start with the SPA.

Its a basic qualification that will allow you to work indoors or outdoors and is perfect for teachers and those wanting to work as freelancers to outdoor centers.The SPA is designed for those teaching on single pitch venues and does not cover teaching lead climbing.

The qualification usually takes about a year to achieve and you must demonstrate basic ropework skills and lead to Severe standard (about grade IV french)

It's a 2 day course for the training and you will require a valid First aid at work certificate for registration. Consolidation is required then a 2 day assesmnet will see you attaining the award.

The MIA.

After the SPA you might wish to progress to the MIA so you can take more responsibility this requires more than just climbing skills to achieve. In fact its a Mountaineering quaslification that also credits you with the ability to teach multi pitch rock climbing skills including mountain routes and sea cliff climbing.

Before you can register for the MIA you need the Summer Mountain Leader Award or ML summer

The ML Summer .
I hear you say... I don't want to lead people in the mountains! I just want to teach rock climbing! Yes... many say that, but currently there is no climbing qualification available here so you have to take this route!

Once you have taken the ML summer 6 day training and the 5 day assessment and pass, you can register for the MIA.

Back to the MIA.

The MIA is a senior climbing award/ qualification Summer conditions only/ or no snow and ice en route.

The MIC is the winter equivalent (Mountain Instructor Certificate)

Next is the BMG (British Mountain Guide) a carnet very few people go for as it involves lots of alpine mountaineering.

To register for the SPA check out MLTW

Rescue Skills For Climbers and Mountaineers

Ropework and Self Rescue for Climbers and Mountaineers

'Two pitches later, moving slowly to accommodate the speed of the pair climbing in front of us I am belayed in a chimney of what looks like rubble glued together with cement. In front of me the amphitheater that makes up the final pitch swoops away to the left with the stomach churning exposure of Wen Zawn falling away below it. "What happens if I fall? Where will I end up?" I check that my prussik loops are still attached to my harness but would I know how to use them dangling in space 40 metres above the sea?'

This is a subject most of us do not wish to think about too often, as it would spoil our enjoyment of our (safe ish?) activities on the crags and mountains.

All too often though when accidents happen we are not prepared enough.

Here are some guidelines as to what you may wish to practice before embarking on a big sea cliff climb, alpine mountaineering route or big wall climb.

We will be looking at some essentials here such as First Aid and technical ropework skills that will facilitate escape from tricky situations that could develop.

Prussik knots or autoblock  - ( autobloquant )

Learn to prussik it may save your life, or a friends.


A short loop of dynamic rope tied off with a double fisherman's knot that is wrapped around a rope of a greater diameter. This loop is then used as a sliding clutch/ break on the rope. There are several variations to learn for specific tasks.

Very lightweight and should be carried at all times on the harness.


Ascending a hanging rope (free)
Hoists (person or gear)
Crevasse rescue (in place ready for use)
Passing knots (and bypassing knots in ropes)
Descending ropes without abseiling




There are mechanical devices that do similar tasks but they weigh in heavy:
Wild Country Ropeman (pictured)
Petzl Shunt
Petzl Ascender
Petzl Tibloc



Often you can improvise a prussik with other rock climbing kit like Kevlar/ Dyneema slings, even the thick tape slings of yesteryear can be used effectively.

Even 2 small nuts on wire can be woven together to form a suitable prussik if you are desperate!

There are several types of prussik knot, the french prussik, klemheist and variations on thes including carrabiners etc.

If you intend to teach yourself rescue skills be careful, these knots can slip if tied badly and they will melt on the rope, if this is your only attachment it could prove serious!

Courses are available where you can learn from experienced instructors in a safe environment.

Comments welcome!

Rock Climbing Courses And Instruction



Rock Climbing - Where & how to get started?

Its important when you decide to take up rock climbing as a sport that its probably done in the safest way possible.

There are several ways to get into climbing
whether it be summer rock climbing, sport climbing, winter snow and ice climbing etc.

Now there are several ways to go:

  1. You have a trustworthy and experienced friend to introduce you.
  2. You join a club and they will introduce you.
  3. You teach yourself from books and videos. 
  4. You go on a structured course with qualified instructors or guides.
  5. You don't do it at all because Mum said its dangerous! Surprised

In the UK there are many climbers and they may well be safe enough and experienced enough to introduce you safely. Be wary though, try and climb with several people before you decide who's likely to have your interests at heart.

Joining a club is a great way to make contacts, some clubs are full of experienced and friendly members who might ( yes I said might ) take you climbing as a novice.
Club members are getting fairly paranoid about being sued, so this is more difficult than it used to be when I started out.

Teaching yourself - great fun.. just be damned careful and take it slooow!

Courses are great! short sweet and give confidence, learn from others mistakes - don't re-invent the wheel and generate your own.
There are reasonably priced courses and instruction available with BMG (British Mountain Guides) and AMI members (Association Of Mountaineering Instructors)
Look for the logos for qualified instructors - no logo displayed .. be wary they are probably just starting out as freelancers.

The AALA logo ( Adventure Activities Licencing Authority) is also a sign that the outfit has been checked out too.

Which ever path you choose.. do your research and be careful.

Climbing shops

gear shopsWhen you are ready to buy your first rack check out the 4SO rockclimbing.org.uk shop and save up to 15% on retail prices.

Good luck.




Rock Climbing Grades

Rockclimbing Grades

The British grading system for traditional climbs, used in Great Britain and Ireland, has (in theory) two parts: the adjectival grade and the technical grade. Sport climbing in Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed with the letter "F".

Adjectival grade

The adjectival grade attempts to assess the overall difficulty of the climb taking into account all factors, for a climber leading the route on sight in traditional style. In the early 20th century it ran Easy, Moderate, Difficult, but increasing standards have several times led to extra grades being added at the top. The adjectival grades are as follows:

Easy (rarely used)

Moderate (M, or "Mod")

Difficult (D, or "Diff")

Very Difficult (VD, or "V Diff")

Hard Very Difficult (HVD – sometimes omitted)
Mild Severe (MS)

Severe (S)

Hard Severe (HS)
Mild Very Severe (MVS)

Very Severe (VS)

Hard Very Severe (HVS)

Extremely Severe (E1, E2, E3, ...)

The Extremely Severe grade is subdivided in an open-ended fashion into E1 (easiest), E2, E3 and so on. As of 2006 the hardest climb is graded E11: Rhapsody on Dumbarton Rock, climbed by Dave Macleod, features French 8c+ climbing with the potential of a 20-metre fall onto a small wire. However, many climbers consider such high grades provisional, as the climbs have not yet been achieved on sight. The hardest confirmed grade is E9.

Some guidebooks make finer distinctions by adding the prefix "Mild"; thus, Mild Severe lies between Hard Very Difficult and Severe. Additionally, in some areas the grade "XS" is used for climbs on loose or crumbling rock, irrespective of their technical difficulty.

Technical grade

The technical grade attempts to assess only the technical climbing difficulty of the hardest move or moves on the route, without regard to the danger of the move or the stamina required if there are several such moves in a row. Technical grades are open-ended, starting at 1 and subdivided into "a", "b" and "c", but are rarely used below 3c. The hardest recorded climbs are around 7b.

Usually the technical grade increases with the adjectival grade, but a hard technical move very near the ground (that is, notionally safe) may not raise the standard of the adjectival grade very much. VS 4c might be a typical grade for a route. VS 4a would usually indicate very poor protection (easy moves, but no gear), while VS 5b would usually indicate the crux move was the first move or very well protected. On multi-pitch routes it is usual to give the overall climb an adjectival grade and each pitch a separate technical grade (such as HS 4b, 4a).

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