I'm flummoxed by mixed climbing technique, specifically the footwork. Can you give me some tips for using crampons on rock?
—Wes Walker | Carbondale, CO
It's all too easy to over-rely on your axes in mixed climbing, but as in ice climbing, if you can place your feet securely you will save your strength. It's vital to remember that your feet will misbehave just like your axes if you don't give them the same level of attention. Most rock climbers who try mixed climbing are shocked by the lack of feel and sensitivity in foot placements, and the fact that you can't smear. But with practice you can develop a sixth sense for what works, and you can edge on almost anything, provided you maintain stable posture. Study every foothold before you place your points and position them with care and accuracy. Hook your front points over in-cut edges. On larger holds you can slide your foot forward so that the secondary points engage just below the edge. On easy-angled terrain you can drop your heel slightly so the secondary points engage to create a stable tripod. Mono-points give more options for thin cracks and narrow pockets, and also allow pivoting on edges. The big mistakes on marginal footholds are raising your heels too high (so the front-point pops) or simply forgetting to maintain stability while you're concentrating on something else. Front pointing on rock is all about maintaining angles. When you shift your foot 10 mm in a rock shoe, you'll often be OK. In mixed, however, contact between rock and metal is tiny, with little friction, and any change in angle can cause your feet to skate. Keep your foot relaxed, especially in tight-fitting fruit boots, and let the shoe do the work. Be creative with footwork and employ some of your rock climbing tricks like side-stepping, outside edging, flagging and back-stepping. Keep your front points filed razor sharp and have faith.
Unfortunately, mixed footwork isn't just about skill. Bucket loads of core strength will be required, especially when things start getting steep, to prevent your feet from swinging off, and if they do cut, to lift them back up. Train for this with endurance sets of leg raises. Hook your axes over a bar and wear big boots for maximum specificity. Beginners should start with three or four sets of 10 or 15 and high-level climbers may do up to eight sets of 20 or 30