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How to Climb After a Break

Coming out of a period away from climbing can be tricky, here are five top tips to help you jumpstart your climbing!

Kit Check

We should all be in the routine of checking our equipment before we go out climbing anyway, however this is especially important if we have had a break and the equipment has been sitting in storage for a while. There are two types of checks we should be doing, one is a quick visual once over before we start climbing and the other is an in depth inspection of our equipment. After a longer break its a good idea to do a full inspection to check for any wear or damage we didn't previously notice (its easy to throw everything in the cupboard at the end of the season), any damage that has occurred due to incorrect storage (equipment should be stored somewhere cool, clean, dry and out of direct sunlight) and any equipment that has gone past the manufacturers recommended expiry date.

This is a good time to replace any soft goods (sling, harnesses, ropes) that are tatty or too old and bin any metalwork that is damaged or worn (commonly frayed wires on nuts, frayed cam trigger wires can be replaced). If you are unsure how to check your equipment, you can check the manufacturers tag or website, alternatively there is some great information here on how to check your climbing equipment.

Climbing equipment laid out of the floor

Warm Up

Before we start climbing, it's a great idea to warm up properly, as it will help up perform at our best. A good warm up should engage us physically and mentally and ideally should involve a combination of the two.

Initially we should start with a short period of cardiovascular exercise to start the blood moving around our body, this could be something like a quick jog, skipping or in some cases even the walk to the crag. We will know this is working if our heart rate is raised (beating faster) and we start to feel our body temperature increase.

After we can move onto more climbing specific body warm ups and also start to introduce mental warm ups. An example of this could be something like playing the kids game "captains coming" where one person gives instructions to the other on what movement to perform (ie scrub the deck, climb the rigging, starboard, port etc...).This can then be progressed into a more complicated mental warm up by switching the names, so for example if I said scrub the deck, the exercise I would want you to perform would be climb the rigging. The advantage of this type of warm up is that it can be tailored to climbing specific muscle groups and also helps us engage mentally.

Finally we can start moving on rock, when transitioning to the climbing part of your warm up, its important to start well below your normal level of performance, increasing difficulty gradually.

Buddy Check

This is an easy one to miss, especially the more experienced you are! Remember to check the knot of the climber and the belay device of the belayer. A good knot should be well dressed and easily recognisable. This would be a good time to review climbing calls, so that communication is smooth and clear.

Familiar Ground

A great way of starting climbing again after a break is to revisit route you have previously climbed. The familiarity of repeating route can help build confidence in your climbing performance, because you have removed the unknown elements that come with climbing an unfamiliar route. Again, like with your warm up its a good idea to work your way up gradually, reclimbing your hardest lead from the previous summer might not be a good idea. By starting easy and working our way up, we are rebuilding a solid base of positive experience that will affect the whole of the climbing period to follow.

A trad climber on a ledge looking up a route, mountains in the background.

Good Anchors

We also need to make sure we are climbing safely, which as a leader means placing reliable protection and building solid anchors.

If we were to put our protection into an order or hierarchy from first choice to last it would look something like this;

1. Natural - Trees, flakes, spikes, thread.

2. Passive - Nuts, hexes.

3. Active - Camming devices (friends, tricams)

Working on the basis that all the rock around these three types of anchors is solid, natural anchors should be our first choice when placing runner or building a belay, followed by passive and finally by active. Key points to remember; check the surrounding rock is good, try and maximise surface area contact when placing passive protection, check cams aren't over or under cammed, extend runners to prevent lifting, walking and rope drag, with natural anchors use robust trees/spikes/threads.

When constructing a belay our anchors should be ;

Solid - three solid pieces of protection is a good start to a belay.

Independent - the protection should be separate from each other, so if one failed they wouldn't all fail (for example a sling around a block and a wire behind the block). The rope should also be tied in such a way that if one were to fail, it wouldn't make a difference to the other anchors.

Equalised - The rope between the belayer and the anchor is equally tight to each anchor, so if one were to fail the load would be shared equally between the remaining anchors.

Small Angled - The angle between the anchors is less that 90 degrees, ideally less than 60 degrees so the force is better shared by the anchors. The ropes going from you to the anchors should ideally look like a skinny piece of pizza.

In line - The belay should be constructed with ABC or anchor, belayer, climber in mind. This should all be in line, so that if the second were to fall, the load would go onto the anchors rather than the belayer. Being out of line with the anchors could cause the belayer to be pulled from the position they are in, potentially causing them to loose control of the rope.

Tight - When we are belaying it is important to make sure we are sitting tight onto our anchors, this makes sure the anchors take the load not the belayer, which as above could cause them to loose control over the rope. If we don't check that our anchors are tight it could also cause us to get pulled over the edge of the cliff, which again could allow control of the rope to be lost.

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