A training tip from Simian Boy on “The Virtues of Down-Climbing”
If you are a climber, and you have spoken to me in the past week or so, you would have heard me harp on the virtues of practising downwards climbing. While some of my friends have tried it and felt no big difference at all, some have come to love it. In my case, I feel that it has made me abetter climber. While I cannot guarantee it’ll work for everyone, if you are like me and have a heavy reliance of deadpoint moves (especially male climbers), you might want to consider climbing down from your toprope climbs. Here’s why I think it works…
I have been climbing for over a year now and I’d like to think of myself as decently capable when it comes to moving upwards and traversing left and right, but I recently discovered I don’t know how to climb downwards properly. It should have been clear to me much earlier what a gaping void this in my climbing. Imagine a car that can only move forward, and turn left and right. How often would this car get stuck? Now that I can move down, I can correct an error and remain clean for redpoint attempts. This also helps me remember my errors better (much better than, say, when I just let go and hang on the toprope, and then come back onto the climb with my hands and feet magically moved onto the correct holds, which of course, is cheating).
The most obvious limitation imposed by moving downwards is that you cannot deadpoint. You have to do everything in a controlled way, or you will just keep accelerating downwards. If you rely heavily on deadpoints, this balances out the variety in your moves.
You often have to plan two moves ahead before moving downwards (one hand and one foot usually, as opposed to just throwing a right-handed slamdunk onto a big jug) or you will end up having to backtrack upwards again to correct your error. You learn a lot more about body positions and balance this way. I notice that I place my feet correctly on the first try a lot more often now compared to before I practised climbing down.
Because you are climbing up as well as down, you are climbing more before each rest, so your endurance gets built. Also, climbing down takes longer than climbing up, so in effect, you are spending more than twice the amount of time on the wall before each rest.
When climbing downwards, you are catching up with the slack in the rope rather than waiting for it to catch up to you, so often rest on your own accord. You will inevitably find new ways to rest, even if it means only resting one exhausted hand. This has been great for me because it made me stay on climbs that I normally would have just let go off prematurely, knowing that the rope is tight. Sometimes, all you need to rest is that one hand.
People who climb solo practice climbing down to avoid getting stuck in a bad situation. I don’t intend to solo, but if the technique is good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. If you get good at climbing downwards, it helps you feel more solid on your lead climbs because you have a real chance at getting yourself out of trouble. I do realise this might be a bad habit for sport climbers who should rely on the rope for safety so they can push themselves to the edge of their limits. However, in my case, I am trying just still too neurotic to trust the rope completely, so I am trying to conquer one fear at a time and my current big fear is going above my last clip on a lead climb, and knowing how to climb out of trouble has helped that tremendously.
Since you already know how to climb up, learning to climb down is easy to master. All you really need to do is remember your moves on the way up and then come down the same way. I used to do climbs quite blindly and then when I am asked how I crossed a crux, I’d have no answer to offer. Now I remember my moves better and this, in turn helps me understand how my body moves so less mistakes, more onsights.
If you have been climbing for a long time but have been neglecting climbing down, give it a try. You may not like it at first, but you’ll get the hang of it very quickly and maybe even find yourself looking forward to the climb down instead of the climb up.