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In Praise of No Hands Rests

Submitted by admin on 2004-04-17

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We climbers seem to take particular delight in discovering and taking advantage of no-hands rests. Not surprising I guess. Our arms tend to get tired. But we take it farther than that. We like to call attention to our no-hands rests. "Hey bro, look, a no-hands rest here, check it out!" And check it out he will. Undoubtedly he will try it, too, when he gets there. That's another thing about a no-hands rest. We feel obligated to use it even if we're not tired. On our trade routes we will let go just long enough to show the belayer that “Yes, there is a no-hands here and behold, I could use it if I wanted.”

There aren't all that many moves in rock climbing that consistently gain 'honorable mention' in guidebooks. Cool no-hands rests often make it into the guidebooks as notable moves. One of the great things about no-hands rests is the infinite variety of body positions we use to achieve them. One of my favorites is a small edge for the left foot up under my crotch, right foot flagged, and head just up under a flake. I hold my entire body rigid, and then flex like a bow, pressing my head backward and out. This holds my belly into the rock and my foot on the hold.Voila! I can let go with both hands by "using my head." That's the cool thing that the pursuit of no-hands can teach us. When watching the masters we see it is in fact the epitome of this special characteristic... using ones head.

Calmness; you have to be calm to work most no hands rests. If you are all wigged out, sure you may be able to let go, but will you find rest? Even when you're 30 feet out from the last crap placement, if you want to use a no-hands rest you really should be calm and relaxed (as much as possible). Most times, in order to even "see the trees in the forest" you have to have a calm mind as you're climbing, too. Or, you won't even notice the opportunities for rest. It is a measure of experience and time in grade when a novice begins to actively court no hands rests.

And then you see her... the master. She climbs with a steady, deliberate grace. In a liquid dance she moves up the rock, like Picasso painting a dove with a single brushstroke. The thing that really sets her apart is how she floats above it all. It's as though the exposure has no meaning to her. Were you or I in the same position, we'd be groveling in the back of the crack or sketching out on the face, legs rigid, eyes blinking sweat. But not her; she's as calm on a 20-foot runnout as she is tying her shoes at the base of the route. And then, bing! She throws one leg out left, backsteps way right against an oddly tilted fold in the rock -not at all obvious, twists her hips in some subtle fashion and there, right there in the middle of an overhanging wall, at the sharp end of a sizable runnout, she lets go with both hands, slaps them together and looks back down at you and smiles that serene, relaxed smile. "Look Dingus, no hands! Hehe!" That's the child-like joy of a no-hands rest. DMT


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