A good climber sees a path where there is no path. Mountains don’t offer you a staircase to get on the top. You have to figure out the steps and build your way, often with sheer dedication and technique.
There are numerous methods and moves that require mastering in the gym before you head out on a real adventure.
Imagine a portion of rock with apparently no footholds. An expert climber will know how to use smearing climbing to reach to the top while utilizing the tiniest support the rock has to offer.
What is Smearing?
In this method of climbing, you press your foot against a rock and utilize the forces of friction to keep you stable. The sole of your climbing shoe is thrust directly into a rock to acquire vertical ground by developing friction. We know this sounds frightening.
It is hard to imagine walking up a rock by using mere frictional forces. But expert climbers are often seen ascending this way, carrying themselves upward upon the tiniest opportunities.
This technique is used in areas where there seem to be no obvious footholds. Many beginners can master smearing at the start by practicing regularly. This is an important requisite for crossing any tread. The problems that arise during smearing are predominantly mental. A climber could face the fear of falling or have doubts upon their grip.
The answer is practice. You do not require as much physical strength to smear as you require confidence and attentivity which are developed only by practice. Your balancing abilities and coordination between body parts need to be rhymed and you can smear the way those goats climb up the mountains.
This method requires more perfection in technical aspects as compared to physical abilities. Your body’s natural flexibility and sense of balance along with your confidence and will power will help you advance on seemingly nothing.
First thing, position your foot upon a hold and then press your weight on it while using that pressure to take off and reach for the next hold with your hands. This part of climbing is called smearing.
The pressure needs to be applied to your toes. If the terrain is steep, you need to apply more pressure to stay put. Oftentimes, your body has to be pushed out of the wall so that more weight is concentrated at your feet and then you can create your way up because there is no way otherwise.
This sounds simple and can be learned effectively if one practices enough. Though there is no one approach to smearing on different rocks and holds. In most cases, you’ll need to concentrate more weight and dig your feet onto small footholds. While many times, you will be required to pull your body away from the rock face so that more weight is applied to your toes.
This intuitive approach requires a last-minute analysis of the situation you are in. With time, you’ll learn to determine how much pressure to apply and where.
Use your feet effectively while smearing
Feet are the ship of the mountains. Working up a wall solely with your arms will not be energy efficient. The muscles of your legs have way more capacity for hard work. You need to work with your feet and use your upper limbs for maintaining balance.
When you are ascending a slab or any rock with no apparent footholds, you rely on the frictional forces between the rock and the rubber of your shoe.
Your eyes need to attentively lookout for the tiniest depressions or protrusions that will provide you with more friction. Always look out for footholds that will help keep your body in a straight line and keep your balance.
Your feet should be directly below you, not far from your body, but within the span of your straight body. This will help you maintain balance on this seemingly tricky ascend.
Most beginners spend ample time looking for appropriate handholds, reaching out and hanging on to them, rather than footholds. It is good to follow the steps of your wise mountaineers when you are learning their sport. Footholds will take you higher and faster while conserving more of your energy. The tiniest foothold can be smeared if you want to.
You need not step on a foothold again and again to test it. When you step on one, hold it there, keep it still, and judge before shifting your entire weight. You can thrust your weight more firmly if your moves are more focussed and if your feet don’t shake. This will also lead you easily to your next hold.
The heel of your foot should be kept low. Remember you are relying on friction, more area of the foot in contact with the rock will mean you stay more firm and stable. A high heel means there is less rubber portion in contact with the rock and this will make it difficult for you to smear. Keeping your heel high will also leave less space for your foot to ascend for lifting up your body and reaching out for the next handhold.
It is ideal to smear upward easily when the row of little footholds is lined up in a straight line to the top. The trick is when they are not. When you are on a climb where the available footholds are in different directions, you need to maintain your balance as effectively as your footing.
You cannot apply pressure directly downward if the next target goal is to the side, there has to be a counter-pressure opposite to your new direction of movement so that your balance is maintained and falling off the terrain is not in your notes.
The main rule to keep in mind is, pressure needs to be applied opposite to the direction of motion for grabbing the next handhold. To quote Newton, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Your applied force will thrust you directly opposite to itself and this will be your push for ascending higher on the wall.
Another key to attaining balance is by pulling in the direction opposite to the desired direction of movement by using your free hand or another foot in a hooked position.
Keep in mind to lean over, move your hips away from the wall so that your weight is concentrated on your toes and you acquire a balanced footing.
Climbing is not only about the right techniques, presence of mind, practice, and confidence. Climbing depends a lot upon energy conservation and giving your muscles appropriate rest at regular intervals when they are worked up.
You should always keep your arms straight when heading upward. This will allow your skeleton to take up most of your weight that will otherwise be held by your muscles. You need to distribute the effort amongst as many body parts as possible so that you don’t get pumped up easily. Getting worked up could also result in injuries and falling off a cliff due to overworked limbs could be a disaster.
If you bend your elbow, and not keep your arms entirely straight, that would also exert a load on your arm muscles. So be careful, hands up!
Your hips should be facing away from the wall so that the center of gravity for your body is located below, around your feet where you need to focus the weight and balance yourself. Most beginners will stick to the wall like a lizard to feel secure but this will only keep you stuck and stress out your muscles.
You can try and keep one hip pushed up against the wall for extra support from the wall face as your straight arms help you lean back. This offers another advantage of bringing your shoulder close to the wall so that it is difficult for you to fall off and the handholds become more accessible with straight arms.
Pay attention and be on a lookout for better and accessible holds. Don’t just follow the chalk marks and keep in mind that the best hold maybe towards the side rather than directly upward. And always look out for holds that’ll let you rest. Let yourself breathe, ease your pulse, shake off the tension in your limbs, and charge for your next moves.
What shoes are best for smearing?
A good quality pair of rock climbing shoes would be one of your most important equipment for heading up a tough terrain, especially in a free climb.
It is important to note that all kinds of climbing shoes will not be equally effective for smearing. The smearing technique works upon frictional forces between the rubber of the shoe and the rock face. An ideal shoe for this method should be able to have the maximum sole contact area with the rock face so that more area of the foot comes in contact with the rock and the footing is more strong.
A shoe with a more exposed rubber will work best. This proves the point that downturned shoes will not be as effective in smearing. First, they will decrease the surface area of the foot in contact with the rock. Then, they will provide little space for the foot to extend in order to lift up the body for reaching the next handholds, which means the leverage of the foot will be effectively reduced.
The more flat your shoes are, the better they will work in smearing because more of the rubber will touch the rock.
One widely unknown tactic is about the softness and firmness of the ideal shoe for smearing. Many climbers note that softer shoes allow them to mold their feet and hold on by gripping more strongly to holds than firm shoes. The softness of shoes also lets climbers adapt more of their area to the rock and focus more of their weight on their feet.
It is advised to regularly clean your shoes so that the traction between the foot soles and the rock surface is enhanced. This would make smearing easier. Your shoes can be washed after every climb simply by cleaning them in warm water with soap so that the dirt from the bottom is removed. You will notice that your shoes’ ability to stick to the rock for some duration will be visibly improved when you start washing them regularly.
We have listed some tips to improve your smearing capability. Of course, nothing beats practice. Some of our advice can come handy on a tough climb.
Tips for smearing perfectly
- It wouldn’t be helpful if you kick a hold with your feet a few times to test whether it is capable of supporting your weight. Doing this will only endanger your balance. Similarly, moving your hands more than required will not get you to the next hold faster. You should look carefully and then tread. We cannot hover the center of gravity of our body without having a strong foothold, except in overhanging sections of rock.
- When a foothold is large, instead of putting your whole foot on it, focus on effectively putting the front of your foot up to the maximum surface area. Your heel and the foot arch will not be as effective.
- On narrow ledges, use the inside of your foot because your big toe is stronger than others and will afford more support. Use your big toe appropriately in holds that are small as holes. Keep your heels low and maintain balance.
- It is important to train your toes to avoid lifting the heel when placing the tip of the shoe on hold. A high heel will decrease your stability and put more work on your calves which could even result in shaky feet and tremors. A high heel will also reduce the movement of your pelvis so that it will not be possible to shift one of your hips towards the wall to gather more support. Extension of the feet more than the already raised position will not be possible, there will be an increased reliance on the arms for hanging on to handholds
To put your foot accurately and with an intuitively calculated amount of pressure in order to secure yourself firmly on seemingly blank faces of rock is an art. We hope your next adventure is a masterpiece.