Step It Up

| September 12, 2014
rock climbing route New River Gorge, West Virginia

Supercrack, New River Gorge
Photo by Jarek Tuszynski/ Wikimedia Commons

 

Climbing routes in the New River Gorge have tremendous variety. Here you’ll find everything from splitter finger and hand cracks to steep, powerful sport routes to technical vertical face climbing and aretes. Even with all that variety, some skills are particularly useful on the Nuttall sandstone found here. Read on to learn more:

hand jam for rock climbing New River Gorge, West Virginia

Hand Jams

Hand jamming isn’t just for trad climbers in the New River Gorge, where there is an abundance of horizontal cracks. Done correctly, hand jams work more like a passive piece of traditional climbing gear, allowing for an excellent rest.
To practice hand­jamming, look for some hand-sized cracks you can reach from the ground. First, karate chop your flat hand into the crack. Then bring the meaty part of the base of your thumb into your palm, cup hard, and squeeze. Your hand will expand to fill the space: the back of your hand forced against one side of the crack, the base of your thumb and fingertips against the other.
Hand jams work great in parallel-sided cracks. Practice utilizing constrictions in the rock to find the most secure fit. Nothing is more bomber than a good hand jam right above a slight constriction at your wrist.

smearing in rock climbing New River Gorge

Smearing

Climbing in the New River Gorge will improve your footwork. The rock here tends to be steep and technical, requiring confident feet and good body tension. One key to mastering technical footwork is find­ing subtle intermediate footholds, and smearing is often a good solution.
Smearing—forcing the sole of your shoe against smooth rock to hold yourself in place—requires friction. The friction is generally good on Nuttall sandstone, but smearing on the often fine-grained texture requires some finesse.
The key to smearing is getting a lot of rubber in contact with the rock. Drop your heal down low and force the bottom rubber under the ball of your foot against the rock. On slabby (less than vertical) terrain, lead with your head and try to keep your “nose over your toes.”
When the footholds seem to disappear, as they sometimes will, don’t blindly paste your foot just anywhere. Use your eyes to carefully scrutinize the rock for any subtle bumps, depressions, or irregularities that could give you better purchase. One more tip: If you walk around through sand and dirt in your climbing shoes before you rope up, you’ll kill your friction. Keep your shoes squeaky clean before climbing, and they’ll stick to places you never imagined they would.

Lock Offs

Climbing in the NRG can be very “bouldery.” This means requiring big, powerful moves and a correct sequence. To thrive in this style of climbing, you need a good lock off. Imagine a pull-up to understand a lock off: straight arms, the beginning of the pull-up, is the most efficient and restful position. The top of the pull-up is the locked off position, and arguably the next most efficient position.
The lock off is especially useful on many NRG routes when you must make a big move to an unknown hold. A strong lock off allows you time to find the best spot and grip with your free arm. The lock off position is also frequently used when clipping bolts or placing gear. When that bolt hanger is just out of reach to clip from the good stance—and shorties out there know how to do this because they have to—you must pull a move and lock off to make the clip or place a piece, and then relax back into the stance.
If you’re motivated to train and want to develop your lock off strength, you can do offset pull-ups. Wrap a towel or bit of rope around your pull-up bar so one hand is about 6 inches to a foot lower than the other. This isolates the lower arm for a one-arm lock off at the top of each pull-up. Try to pause at the top of each offset pull-up for a few seconds. Keep that up and you’re on your way to an impressive one-arm pull-up.

Know your limits

All climbing can be “heady.” It’s important to be honest with yourself and know your limits. The climbing in the New River Gorge can be particularly mentally engaging because, although solid gear is generally available and most climbs are well protected, you still may encounter occasional runouts on trad climbs and high first bolts or greater spacing between bolts than you’re used to on sport routes. You may also encounter thought provoking or strenuous gear placements. It’s good advice anywhere to avoid climbing at your on-site limit, particularly on traditional routes, until you’ve had a chance to get used to the style of climbing at a given area.  That goes for the New River Gorge as well. Stay within your limits and have a great time.

David Wolff is Owner and Senior Guide of New River Climbing School, specializing in private guiding and PCGI Guide Training/ Cert­ification.

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Category: Rock Climbing

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