Introduction to Smearing in Rock Climbing
One essential skill used by rock climbers, especially on faces with few solid holds, is "smearing". But what exactly does this term mean?
Smearing is utilizing the friction of your climbing shoe against the rock to temporarily grip the vertical surface and enable you to progress upwards.
Instead of reaching for detectable handholds or footholds, you carefully press your flexible climbing shoe against the bare slab and shift your weight onto your foot. When done correctly, this allows you to cling to seemingly blank sections of rock.
Mastering smearing technique opens up much more terrain for climbers. We rely on the sticky rubber of our steep-angled shoes to help create temporary friction against the rock. Understanding how to properly position your foot and transfer weight to "stick it" is invaluable for the versatile climber.
When and Why Smearing is Used
Smearing comes in handy in a variety of climbing situations when the rock face does not offer many distinct holds to grip.
Situations Calling for Smearing
The ideal time to employ smearing is when climbing slabby or moderately angled rock that lacks defined holds. Some situations where smearing shines:
- Smooth rock faces with few cracks or edges for hands/feet
- Bouncing between temporary small holds
- When current holds are too distant to reach the next handhold
- Transitioning between quality holds to rest specific muscles
Smearing lets climbers "stick" to blank sections between good holds on overhangs and vertical walls. It can provide a welcome break for the forearms and hands when used intermittently.
Benefits of Smearing
Proper smearing delivers a few advantages:
- Enables progression on blank rock faces by frictioning shoe rubber to rock
- Foothold alternative when distinct holds are absent
- Resting opportunity by changing up muscle groups used
- Supplements balance when used judiciously with other holds
On Freerider, one of the most daunting physical and mental challenges Honnold faced was two pitches of steep, undulating expanse of rock about 600 feet up. Polished smooth by glaciers over the millennia, the granite here offers no holds, forcing a climber to basically walk up it with his feet only. Honnold used a delicate technique called “smearing,” which involves pressing his rubber shoes against the rock to create just enough grip to support his weight on the incline. He had to keep his weight perfectly balanced and maintain enough forward momentum to avoid sliding off. ~ National Geographic, on Alex Honnold Climbing El Capitan
Trusting the smearing technique opens up options for the smart climber. Combine it with quality holds for better control.
How to Execute the Smearing Technique
Now that we've covered when to leverage smearing, let's look at how to actually perform this key climbing skill. Proper technique creates enough friction to temporarily "stick" your shoe to the rock.
The first key is precise foot placement. Analyze the rock face in your zone and select a spot that is relatively clean and smooth. Carefully rotate your foot to place as much rubber in contact with the stone surface as possible. Find a slight edge or irregularity if possible.
Leg and Foot Motion
Gently shift your weight towards the smearing foot, keeping heels lowered to maximize shoe contact. Slide your foot across the rock a bit to test the friction before fully committing. The more rubber surface area you can press directly into the stone, the better.
Posture and balance are important when smearing. Keep your hips and chest close to the rock face, centered over your feet. Maintain tension in your core. Use your hands primarily for overall stability rather than heavily weighted support.
Dialing in proper foot positioning, motion, and body placement takes smearing success to the next level. Don't rush the process - find optimal foot placement spots, test friction slowly, and climb deliberately.
Tips for Developing Strong Smearing Skills
Mastering the smearing skill demands targeted practice. Follow these key tips to improve your friction-creating abilities:
Start Low and Easy
Smearing confidence starts small. Seek out low-angle slab walls and begin experimenting with easy terrain. Focus solely on precise foot placement and weight shifting technique.
Shoe Choice Matters
The right shoe rubber stickiness and sensitivity helps. Aggressive downturned shoes like the La Sportiva Solution excel. Test softer versus firmer rubbers to find your ideal friction.
Train With Smearing Focus
Dedicate climbing sessions to mastering smearing body mechanics. Traverse easy routes relying solely on friction created from feet without using hands.
As technique improves, combine occasional smearing with solid handholds, especially when resting or transitioning between grips.
Assume Proper Stance
Climb more deliberately when smearing is needed. Keep weight centered over feet, increase core tension, and maintain balance.
Dedicated training, dialed footwork, and complementary handholds will ingrain smearing skills. Be patient and allow your confidence in the technique to build over time.
Smearing is an advanced climbing skill that utilizes the friction of rubber shoes to temporarily grip the rock and progress upwards. This technique allows climbers to "stick" to blank sections of rock face lacking defined holds.
Executing proper smearing involves precise foot positioning to maximize contact, careful weight shifting, and excellent balance. Use it as part of a larger repertoire when the rock offers few cracks or edges. Combine occasional smearing with solid handholds to rest the upper body.
Trust in your foot rubber and confidence in your body position. That temporary stickiness when smearing could be the difference between sending your next project or taking flight! This versatile skill is a necessity for the well-rounded climber.