Climbing Recovery

Often when climbing we get pumped, which is our skeletal muscle becoming saturated with Lacatic acid and other ions that bring about fatigue and eventually failure. This is most likely to occur when we are climbing at our absolute limit, especially when redpointing difficult routes. Now assuming that you will more than likely to need several redpoint attempts to successfully complete a route at your limits. As such what is the best way to recover between redpoint attempts or between routes when either at the wall or at the crag?

Fortunately for us climbing is a growth area when it comes to scientific research, often standing on the shoulders of researchers in other more mainstream disiciplines. In the case of recovery HEYMAN, DE GEUS, MERTENS & MEEUSEN tested The Effects of Four Recovery Methods on Repeated Maximal Rock Climbing Performance, a study that was published in Medicine and science in sports and exercise 41(6) in 2009.

The four methods were passive recovery, active recovery, TENS machine and Cold Water Immersion of Arms (3 x 5 minute submersion in water at 15 degrees). The result showed that the only two effective methods for recovering between climbs seperated by 20 minutes of recovery were Active recover and Cold Water Immersion. Now given that finding a cold water bath to soak your arms in might not be that easy at the crag then the best option for climbing would be the active recovery, which also came up as the most effective way to reduce the accumulation of blood lactate during the rest period.

The active recovery used was a 20 minute cycle task at 30 watts, which to us in the real world is a really low effort. So to replicate this outdoors a simply walk about in between attempts for twenty minutes, keep the pace reasonable light, and the activity will help you recover. Similarly indoors you might be able to get on a bike or very lightly jog on the spot. Light jogging might also help if you are on small ledge on a hard multipitched climb a small.

Anyway, good luck with your redpoints and hopefully your recovery will improve along with your redpointing grades!

Starting Out – No.5 – Making the transistion Outdoors

In the previous articles we looked at equipment, risk and protection. This time we look at turning those placements into belays, as well as the fundemental principles that are associated with belays. As well as looking after yourself, crag and the rope when rigging bottom roping systems.

The first thing is in order to climb outside you need to be able to find firstly the crag, secondly the climb and thirdly the top of that climb. This is typically done by using a guidebook. The research should start at home, read and taking in the information so that you drive straight to the crag, without the inevitable hour driving around the vicinity of the crag. However UKC now has a Google earth facility, showing you a map and/or satellite image of where the crag you are going to is.

When approaching the crag use this time to look at the guidebook, and identify the section of crag you are looking for whilst you have an overview of the whole crag. It is often far more difficult with the limited view you get stood at the bottom of the crag. Having found the start of your route you need to then find the top of it, by either leaving a bag just out from the base, or a friend at the bottom. Alternatively there may be a obvious feature you can identify from above.

From here you need to identify the approach to the top of the crag. This might well be a serious scramble, so remember to take care. Having found the top of the crag, and then your route you need to identify a useful selection of gear. I do this by putting my arms out in front of me with my back to the cliff but not right on the edge, to narrow down where to place protection. Alternatively imagine a V projected on the ground with the point at the point where the climb top out.

Having done this you now need to place a selection of gear, and assess its suitability in terms of will it hold a fall? You then link them with a rope and slings to make a strong point over the edge of the cliff at the top of the route. Which the centre of the climbing rope is clipped to, coiled and then thrown down the cliff.

Before we go further into the rope systems we need to look at the underlying key principles that any belay we construct employs. These fundamental principles should be applicable to any belay you make, at any point in you climbing career. They might not employ the same rope system but the principles will be the same.

This article looks specifically at rigging bottom roping systems, as such you will need two ropes, one for rigging at the top and another to climb on. The rigging rope can be another climbing rope, or you can buy static rope, ideally the rigging rope needs to be 20-30 metres, depending on the crags you climb on, at some place the anchors are further back than others.


This stands for anchor – belayer/belay – climber. You need to get all three in a straight line so that in the event of a fall the system stays equalised, and the belay, belayer or climber don’t get dragged across the crag.

IDEAS Principles

This is part of an acronym IDEAS.

I – Independent

D – Directional

E – Equalised

A – Angles

S – Solid

So in a more descriptive form it mean that if one of the belay points fail the others are totally independent and under equal tension so sharing the load. The whole system from anchors to the strong point is pointing in the right direction and the angle between the anchors is ideally under 90 degrees. On top of this the anchors are solid.

We will cover this more practically later, and refer back.

Rigging Bottom Rope Exercises

Either at home, bottom of a crag or at the climbing wall equalise a sling that is clipped into two points, These could be banisters, chair or table legs. When you have done it apply a little tension to the system and see if it equalised, if it is the tension will be the same on either anchor. See diagrams.

1. Over-hand on bight.

2. Overhand in sling.

Now use a rope to link two points. Again apply a little tension to see if the system is equalised.

If you can find enough points to use, now equalise a sling on two points and then try and equalise the rope into the equalised point of the sling. These systems can get more and more complex, although with a little thought, it is often easy to incorperate up to four anchors into one top roping system.

Practicing these skills in a safe environment means that when at the top of the crag with very real dangers you won’t have to be thinking as much about the ropework, instead you can concentrate on your personal safety.

When you put all this into practice at the top of the cliff, the central strong point needs to be extended over the cliff edge, this helps stop erosion of the rock, the rope jamming and damage to the climbing rope. To protect the rigging ropes you can get and off cut of carpet to place under the ropes where it goes over the edge. This protecting the ropes is essential if the rock has sharp edges, as those edges can literally saw through the rope.

Beginner’s Traditional Climbing Rack

A rather advance rack, with virtually every cam size available, great if you about to embark on a long adventurous route somewhere, but not necessarily ideal for a beginner!

I am often asked what equipment a beginner would need to start climbing outside, and the answer depends on where and what you want to climb. If it is multipitch climbing then you will need a few more quickdraws and screwgates between you and your climbing partner.

However the essential are:


Wires: 1 to 10 wires, although eventually you’ll want 2 sets of 1 to 10m and a size 11. These need to be racked large, medium and small on three separate carabiners when you get up to 21 wires you want no more than seven of each carabiner.

Hexes: Three is a good number to start with start from the size bigger than a number 11 wire and go up to size 9 from there.

Camming devices: Based on the DMM sizes I recommend a size 1, 2, 3.

Quickdraws: Eight is a good number to start with, in terms of length go for 2 short, 2 medium, 2 long and 2 extra long (4ft – 120cm sling tripled over).

Slings: 2 x 8ft – 240 cm Slings with one screwgate for each. 1 x 16ft – 480cm Sling plus screwgate.

Screwgate: 2 HMS carabiners and 2 D shaped carabiners

Rope: 1 x 50 metre single rope (10mm to 11mm)

Advance Rack

If you have the above and are starting to go up through the grades then consider getting more cams, both smaller and larger. More slings of both 120 cm and 240cm, you’ll also need at least 12-14 quickdraws when it comes to harder, longer and more complex pitches. You’ll also need to consider getting some micro wires like DMM peenuts, micro-walnuts and IMP’s.

For free advice on what you need for a rack contact mark reeves here.

Moving Outside for the Indoor Climber

Whilst many climber now days are happy climbing predominantly indoors, the desire to climb outside on ‘real’ rock is a something that should never be over looked. Making the transition can be a bit of a rocky road, however done properly will open up a whole new world of experiences, challenges and friendships.

Climbing outside is so much more exhilerating than being coped up in the industrial under world of an indoor climbing wall. The number of routes are endless, the challenge of mastering different rock types unending and the excitement of new skills can all be truly invigourating.

This article is going to cover the added risks of climbing outside, the new equipment you will need to master as well as the some ways to make the transition to moving over really rock rather than artificial structures. Whilst it won’t answer all the questions and points that you need to be aware of climbing outside, the next article will combine the skills addressed here with the rope work needed minimise those risks further.

Outdoor Risks and Control

Indoors climbing can be very sanitised, the risk kept as low as possible through on going risk assessments, safety checks and the vigilant eyes of climbing wall staff. As such the greatest risk is that of human error, in either tying in or belaying. Outside the level of risk starts to rise.

Firstly, rock can on some occasionally be loose and small rocks can gather on ledges or at the tops of crags, which can be knock off by passing climbers, the wind or passing sheep, meaning that it is reasonable measure to always wear a helmet when in the vicinity of the base of the crag, especially busy crags, as the more climbers above you the greater the chance of something being dislodged, even a carabiner dropped from height will hurt.

The base of the cliff, and sometimes the approach will be on rough and uneven ground, meaning there is a greater chance of slips, trips and falls. If boulders are strewn about below the cliff this might mean a 6 foot drop or more if you were to slip, which might not be life threatening but will have the potential for a nasty injury. So be careful when moving around, by simply being aware of any potential drops is usually enough reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

When at the top of the crag, it is possible to walk about right up to the edge, where indoors you were always on a rope when at height, when you start rigging your own belays you will possibly be unroped above a substantial drop. A simple slip or trip could have fatal consequences, especially if it is damp under foot or windy. The trick is to try and safeguard yourself at all time. We will cover this more fully in the next article on rigging top ropes, at its most basic it is simply being in a stable position near an edge, be it sat down or having one hand on a hold so that it impossible for a slip to become a fall.

The biggest difference of all is that outside in the UK there are usually no bolts or fixed gear to attach yourself to, so you will have to master how to place and assess the placements of naturally place gear like nuts, cams, spikes and threads. We will cover this later in this article.

Lastly, most beginners crags are very slabby in nature, meaning that any significant fall will often result in a climber hitting a ledge or slab. Where indoors the walls are steep enough so that it is often hard to impact with anything during a fall. To prevent this you need to be vigilant whenever belaying, keeping the rope not only snug but also checking that it has not snagged in any cracks, preventing the rope from being taken in.


This a brief list of what extra gear you will need to get to move from indoors to out as well as how to use them. As well as the more specialist gear you also need to start thinking about environmental considerations. Things like the amount of clothing you take to the crag. It might be sunny at your house, but it can be a different story at the crag. Anticipating this will make for a much more pleasant experience.

Also there are no toilets at the crag so consider where you pee, not below classic boulder problem like Brad Pitt?! Also it is best to avoid the issue of having a dump at the crag by addressing the situation before you leave. Being caught short think about your actions? Remember the maxim, ‘Take only picture, leave only foot prints’ is a great motto when outside anywhere.


This is almost essential when climbing outside, rock fall or dropped gear could potentially lead to some serious injuries if you weren’t wearing a helmet. Years ago they were quite large and heavy affairs, and many people considered them cumbersome. The modern climbing helmet is considerably lighter. Although it can be argued the lighter the helmet the less protection they offer, the simplest way to look at it is any helmet is better than none.

Whilst style might not seem important for such an integral piece of safety equipment, the fact is that you will be more disinclined to wear it if you don’t think it looks good on.

I would argue that the more comfortable and stylish you find a helmet the more you will wear it all the time when at the crag. As such there are numerous helmets on the market from the more heavy duty Petzl Roc Encrin and HB Carbon Fibre, to the comprimise of the Petzl Elios and the ultra light Petzl Meteor III.

There are other brands and styles on the market, all are rated to a UIAA and EN standard, so whatever you choose to purchase they will all help keep your head in one piece.



Wires are the most basic piece of climbing protection, a metal wedge attached to a wire. These come in various shapes and sizes, although the best for UK rock, because many popular placements have become shapped to the most popular brands are DMM Wallnuts, Wild Country Rocks and Clog Nuts.

With all placements you need to assess the rock around the placement, taping it with a carabiner and listen to see if it sounds hollow could well reveal hidden weakness in the rock. If it is hollow or the rock moves when a wire is placed and seated, then the placement is compromised, and should be avoided.

Having established the rock is solid, you then need to choose the right size of wire to best fit the placement. You need to check that when the wire is placed in a natural constriction in the rock that there is lots of metal in contact with the rock, the wire has a degree of over lap compared to the size of the placement and that the wire is well seated and that the wire is placed to take a load in the right direction.. What are all these terms?

In short: Solid Rock, Good Contact Area, Overlap, Seated well and Directional

If you see the diagrams of placing a nut. A) Checking rock for solidaty. B) The right sized nut with good contact area and overlap. C) Seating the wire by using the other wires as a hand hold to apply a shock load, whilst checking the rock doesn’t move. D) Wiggling the wire gently to see if it unseats itself.


Hexes are similar to wires, in terms of the considerations when placing them. Although they can be placed as a passive large nut, they work best by placing them so they naturally cam into the placement. (See Diagram)


Spikes are the simplest of placements, you need to consider the Three S’s; size, shape and solidity. The size of a free standing boulder really needs to be at least twice the size of an adult on there hands and knees, and on a solid based so it won’t roll or rock about. The shape of it needs to be so that when a sling or for that a matter a rope is looped over it in won’t ride up and over the top. To check the block is solid give it a good kick and feel for any vibration and then try and move it with your body weight, be careful not to send you or the boulder carriering over the top of the cliff.


Occassional we get natural holes in rock that we can thread with a sling or rope. These are great placements as they are omni-directional. If you are threading the link between two boulders consider, that both blocks have to be solid, and neither can move.


These are the hardest placements to make, as the mechanical nature of cams often confuses people. More importantly than any other piece of gear the rock need to be really solid, even solid looking flakes should be avoided if possible. This is due to the mechanics of how cams work, so for every kilo the cam is loaded by it forces the cams outwards at three times that force. So 100kg load would lead to a flake being forced apart by 300kg. This is not that an unlikely force in a tope rope system.

All the cams need to be in contact with the rock and the cams need to be somewhere between 25% and 75% of there maximum and minimum range. Outside that the placement can be weaker.


Whilst as climbers we are usually not up on our abrology (tree science)  we should be able to assess a tree health. Look up and see if there is a healthy canopy, are there any leaves or fresh buds. What does the route systems look like? If the tree looks health then consider the diameter of the trunk. The size of a thigh is a reasonable guide to using it as an anchor.

Bolts, pegs and various ironmongery

In-situ iron is very hard to judge, as most of the corrosion happens out of site below the surface. Despite looking OK, they may be perilously close to failure. Certainly whilst replacing pegs and bolts in the slate quarries I have come across both bolts and pegs that were severely corrode, so much so I have been able to remove some pegs by hand, as sheered of bolts as I was unscrewing them.

Stakes at the top of crags are another concern, just how long have they been there? How far in to they go? Not to mention what are they placed in (if a flake, is the flake solid?).

It is often wise to back up any in-situ metal work, especially in maritime environments. Something which is worth considering when you eventually start lead climbing, whilst it may be quick to clip a peg, I will always try and find some natural gear if possible.


There are many courses on offer from a variety of sources on moving outside for the first time. The level of qualification you are looking for is either SPA, MIC/MIC or of course a Mountain Guide. These course are often referred to as moving outside, transistion, getting started, intro or ‘Real Rock’ course. They can last anything from two days to a week. You should look for a maximum ratio of 1 to 4 if you expect nto get the right amount of input from an instructor.

They should cover fully the skills that this and the following article cover, and you should never underestimate the input you can gain from a good instructor, even if it is just reassuring you that you are doing things right, and being given a few top tips and handy hints to make the process easier.

For a course with the author click here.