Skills Clinic: Boinking

Are you projecting a long, steep, overhanging route that has you falling into airy space midway through? Think you’re too far from the wall and condemned to re-climb all that terrain again just to get back to your crux? Think again. Enter “boinking” (the socially acceptable kind), a technique that uses teamwork between the lead climber and belayer to regain the wall. The goal of boinking is to raise the suspended climber back up to the bolt by shortening the amount of rope between the climber and belayer.

The Belayer’s Job

To best do this, the belayer must first use their non-brake hand to reach high up on the climber’s strand of the rope. Pull down on the climber’s rope while simultaneously jumping into the air and pulling rope through the belay device with the brake hand, immediately returning to the brake position (if possible, it is often easier to step up large footholds on the wall). The end result should have you hanging in space yourself a few feet off the ground. Note that an assited-braking belay device such as a Grigri will make this task much easier and safer!

The Climber’s Job

Once your belayer is hanging off the ground and gives you the go-ahead, reach as high up your rope as you can with both hands. Do a pull-up as high as you can muster (this will create 1-2ft of slack between your harness and your hands). As you reach the highest point you’re going to, let go of the rope suddenly. If timed correctly, your belayer will drop 1-2ft, removing the slack from the system and leaving you hanging 1-2ft higher than you started. Do this until your belayer is back on the ground, then wait for them to once again take up slack until they are hanging with their weight on the rope. Repeat until you’re back on route!

Troubleshooting

Problem #1: You’re gassed.
I hear you; “Pumped-out forearms is why I fell off the route in the first place, and now you want me to do a bunch of pull-ups on this skinny little rope!?” Admittedly, this is often an issue. If your grip is too smoked to do a full pull-up on the rope, try kipping (just like you do on a pull-up bar) by starting your pull-up, swinging your feet towards your head then thrusting your hips skyward. This will momentarily release your weight, allowing you to finish the pull-up. This particular technique may require a little practice (and might also be how boinking got it’s name…?).

Problem #2: No progress.
You grunt, heave, pull, thrash and otherwise make a scene, but when your gargantuan feat of superhuman strength is finished, all you have to show for it are raw hands and pumped arms. This could be your belayer’s fault; if they are trying to “walk back” the slack you’re pulling up (unsafe and not recommended) or attempting to leap up and take in the slack at the same time you’re releasing from your pull-up (extremely unsafe and also not recommended), tell them to knock it off and go back to hanging on the rope off the ground. If your belayer is doing their part though, the likely culprit is you. Make sure you are fully releasing your grip on the rope instantly and as you reach the top of your vertical travel! Failure to do so will result in you lowering yourself back down to where you started while your belayer remains uneventfully still. If your hands are still on the rope after your boink attempt, you’re doing it wrong!

Wrap-up

Boinking is an efficient and effective way to regain the wall after falling off an overhanging lead route. A little effort and coordination between the climbing pair can save a lot of time and allow the true projecting of long, steep climbs. Remember that careful attention must be paid by the belayer to ensure safe control, and clear communication between the climber and belayer is a must! Stay tuned for an instructional video where we will demonstrate the do’s and don’ts of this technique. Stay safe and lead on!

Steve Carroll
Instructor/Guide
Vertical Rock Outdoor School