How to Downclimb

How to Downclimb
Downclimbing, or down climbing, is a way of moving down the rock face instead of up. This is usually done in situations where you're climbing without a rope; in emergencies, such as if your rope has been damaged by a sharp edge or rockfall; or when a climber has accidentally wandered off a route and needs to backtrack to get back on path. The key to downclimbing is proceeding carefully and making sure that every hold you select is able to support your weight as you shift your other points of contact with the wall and work downward.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Step 1
Adjust your grip on your handholds, so that your hands will be able to support your weight as you move downward.
Step 2
Place your feet on footholds as low down as possible -- your leg should be extended all the way, or as close as you can get to it.
Step 3
Lower your body weight, bending your knees and hips and straightening your arms until your elbows are straight but not locked. Keep your hips in as close to the wall as possible, and think of yourself as squatting down. This will help you support as much weight as possible with your feet and legs so that your arms don't get tired quickly.
Step 4
Bring one of your hands down to a handhold at about chest height; make sure this handhold will be able to support your weight as you move downward.
Step 5
Extend one leg so that you can place that foot on a foothold lower down. Make sure it's solidly situated on the foothold and that the foothold will support your weight. If it moves or you can't get a solid grip on it with your shoe or foot, try another one. Your weight should be on your bent leg that hasn't been moved yet.
Step 6
Move your other hand to a lower handhold that will support you as you move downward, then shift the bulk of your weight from your bent leg to the straight leg down below. You'll be supporting some of your weight on the handholds also, but the key to not tiring out quickly is using your legs to support your weight whenever possible.
Step 7
Lower the foot of your bent leg down to another foothold, then start the process over again: Sink down until your arms are straight and your knees are bent, then move your hands and feet to new holds. You don't have to stick to the hand-foot-hand-foot movement pattern religiously, but you'll find that moving in this sequence is usually more comfortable than other sequences.

Tips & Warnings

Use pushing or mantling moves, where you use the bones of your arm for support instead of the muscles, when you need to rest. Just place your hand palm-down on a hold below you and use this to support your weight as you move downward.
Rock climbing is a dangerous sport -- always practice under expert supervision until you have a firm grasp of the skills and dangers involved. Always wear proper rock-climbing gear.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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