Diverse Movement Skills Needed For Diverse Rock
by Girly Guide and master mountaineer Kitty Calhoun
I was leaning back off a hanging belay 200 feet up the North Face of Castleton and watching as my partner, Jen Olsen, maneuvered her way up a steep, wide sandstone crack with all the precision of a Swiss watch. As the jam gave way to an undercling, she placed a cam and then reached around the overhang and moved into a layback. Nice! It would soon be my lead and I would have a pitch that required some route finding on the face above to find the easiest, most protectable line, and then the next set of fixed anchors. Neither of us had done this multi-pitch trad route before, so it was an adventure that required multiple skills that I had not been using much recently. Sure, I had been rock climbing all spring, but it had been single-pitch sport climbing – which is different.
You might think that with all the single-pitch rock climbing I had done in the two weeks prior, that I would be sending some hard routes. But no. The fact is I had been climbing in a different area, on a different type of rock, almost every time I went out. It had become obvious to me that each type of rock has different features that are predominant and these features require a different type of movement skill. So, if you think you are going to walk to a cliff and climb at the same level you do on your home turf, think again. The brain engrams need time to remember the body positions most effective given the arrangement of the rock features. For example, we have a secret area near my home that is face climbing on vertical sandstone. Many of the moves require you to reach high with both hands, run your feet up vertical, smooth rock until you can turn one hand into a mantel. The other hand searches for a layback hold so you can bring a foot up onto the ledge and pull your weight over it.
Manteling, however, does not work so well on overhanging limestone. Limestone tends to have solution pockets and often times you work your feet up high and reach into an undercling. Once you have the hold and stand up on your high feet, the hold becomes useful – and you get to use different muscles (pulling up rather than pulling down).
Then there is quartzite. Often quartzite is smooth with downward sloping holds and sharp vertical edges. So what engrams to use for this? You guessed it – lots of body tension. You use a lot of side-pulls and turn sideways so you can lay-away. At the same time, if you do not keep pressure on your foot that you are pushing with, it will skate off the rock.
Have any of you tried cobblestone? These holds tend to be more open-grip. Most people are used to crimpers and the thought of grasping tennis-ball holds feels insecure. I
try to remember not to rush the moves and that subtle shifts in balance will make the tennis ball feel good enough if I stay focused and trust.
Alas, all I was missing that couple of weeks was a jaunt on granite. I still remember the run-outs on low-angle slabs. You have to trust your feet, but the rock usually has really good texture. The problem is… you have to trust your feet. Maybe that’s why the saying, “friends don’t let friends climb slabs”. Fortunately, not all granite is slabbish.
Then I hear Jen yell, “off belay”. That was quick. Now there is a girl who is truly a Master of All. You go girl.