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Alpine Top Tips - Climbing Slicker (and more efficiently)

By Martin Chester

Huffing and puffing and hauling and thrutching my way up another Chamonix crack, I realised I had never tried to climb cracks in my big boots before, yet alone crampons. Thankfully I had left my rucksack on the last runner before it got tricky. Still - could be worse - Tim's got to second the pitch with two sacks in a minute. . . .
If only I'd realised just how much I could have done to prepare for this:

Climb Lots

Get mileage in on the right sort of rock. If you're heading for the granite of Chamonix, get some mileage on the granite in Scotland, or the South West. A good second best is to climb as many gritstone cracks as you can stuff your paws in. If you're off to the dolomites, get plenty of 'trad' climbing mileage on Limestone.

Climb Efficiently

You rarely climb at your limit in the Alps, so concentrate on cruising efficiently and climbing really well at a comfortable grade. Push yourself uphill with good footwork, nibbling away at the mountain with little steps. Practise climbing with your hands low - push and press to avoid pulling. Take inspiration from video footage of the greats - from Gaston Rebuffat to Christophe Profit.

Climb In Big Boots

Practise climbing with mountaineering boots on. Here's a confession - yes I can climb reasonably well in big boots, but no - I don't like it very much. I'm certainly not as quick as I am in rock boots! If you can keep rock boots on then do. That said, stopping to change your boots takes ages compared to carefully picking your way up the odd pitch.

Climb In Crampons

Practise climbing in crampons as well, but don't wear crampons on your local crag! Old brickwork is ideal, or find an old quarry somewhere. The plan is to become precise and confident in your front points. On the North face of the Dru, we climbed several pitches with Tim in rock boots and me in big boots and crampons - we just looked up the pitch and decided how mixed it looked. We then sent up the best equipped leader. The second could then "just have it" on a top rope.

Climb Fully Loaded

Don't forget your rucksack, as extra weight can affect your performance and balance. Take it out climbing before you get to the Alps (fully packed of course) and find out what you can expect to cruise. Imagine it's really fragile, and try to move it smoothly and steadily uphill. This will help avoid any sudden, and energy sapping, pulls on your arms. Think about careful distribution of the weight, and practice packing heavy objects close to your back. It often works best to have a lighter lead sack, as the second can afford to sweat under a bigger pack.


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