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Posted In: Climbing

Focus On Friction, Footwork This Fall

Rick DeJarnette

August 25, 2017 10:31am

Author Rick DeJarnette is an experienced climber, the owner of CapRock Venture Guides and an athlete ambassador for Vasen Brewing Company. This piece is part of an occasional series by Vasen’s athlete ambassador’s. (Haven’t heard of Vasen? They just opened in Scott’s Addition in July. Click here to learn more about their beer and commitment to RVA’s outdoor scene.)


Have you felt it yet? That first moment when, late in the summer, you step outside and realize it feels a
bit like fall.

It’s a fleeting feeling, of course. The heat of summer will drag on for several more weeks at least. And yet mentally you’ve made the shift. Fall is approaching.

For a rock climber, fall has nothing to do with prodigious sales projections of pumpkin-spice lattes. No, it’s all about cooler temperatures and less moisture, both of which maximize the friction between you and the rock.

In climbing, friction is as important a factor as gravity. The friction between your climbing shoes and the rock enables you to stand on the smallest of features, while the friction (or lack thereof) between your fingertips and the rock features (“holds”) can make the difference between a successful ascent and failure.

Climbing on Old Rag. Credit: Mountain Project

When the leaves begin to change, the holds you clung to so desperately during the humid summer
months now feel a little more positive, inspiring new-found confidence to say, “Perhaps I can do this
difficult climb after all.”

Regardless of the heat and humidity, most people can dramatically improve their climbing by focusing on skills that maximize the friction associated with each movement, especially so with foot placements.

Whereas most beginning climbers focus almost exclusively on their hand placements, more advanced
climbers recognize that excellent footwork and technical precision are as important – if not more so –
than upper body strength alone.

Here are a few skills drills from The Rock Climber’s Training Manual that will help you maximize the
friction between the rock and your shoes:

To Reduce Foot Slips: Climb as though your toes become “frozen” to the wall as soon as they
land on the foothold (no pivoting, rotating, or sliding allowed). Focus on establishing a wide
contact area between the shoe and hold, and try to maintain that contact area throughout the
hold’s use. Have a partner observe and correct you.

To Maximize Weight on Your Feet: Focus on maintaining steady force on the footholds while
attempting long reaches to the next hand hold. As the handhold nears, it will distract you, but
stay focused on the feet. The mind will try to focus exclusively on guiding the reaching hand, but
also focus on the opposing foot, which drives the movement. You should feel consistent
pressure through your foot throughout the move.

To Overcome the Hand Bias: On any terrain, climb down in addition to climbing up. Deliberately
select footholds, guide your feet to them, and don’t look away until they “land.” Focus on maximizing weight on your feet and relaxing your grip accordingly.

Fall is coming and with it the opportunity to make good use of the weather to maximize your chances of climbing better. Over the next few months, I plan to revisit a few favorite climbs in Richmond as well as nearby areas, including the splitter granite cracks on Old Rag Mountain.

What do you have planned?

About Rick DeJarnette

Rick is the owner of CapRock Venture Guides (www.climbtolearn.com), a management consultant at CapTech, and an athlete-ambassador for Väsen Brewing Company. He chairs the Richmond Chapter of the American Alpine Club and serves on the board of the Blue Sky Fund.