Ever tried to sneak a cookie from the top shelf as a kid by clambering onto the kitchen counter? Or maybe you’ve hoisted yourself out of a pool. Little did you know, you were a climber before you even knew it!
Mantle climbing is where childhood antics meet serious climbing strategies. There is a technique to mantling, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll feel like a mantling pro in no time.
What Is Mantle Climbing?
Mantling in climbing is a technique used to get over the lip or ledge of a route. To mantle, you used a combination of high feet while pushing down with your palms and triceps, like you would if you were doing a push-up.
You’ll find that in most cases you need to mantle while bouldering, whether that’s indoors or outdoors (you will also in some cases need to mantle when sport climbing or big wall climbing). This means you need to get your body over the lip of the route to finish the climb. In some cases, you can just walk up the side of a route or walk your feet up to top out. If it is an overhung boulder or one with a ledge at the top, you’ll have to get your mantling hat on and go for it.
Why Is It Called Mantle?
Strangely enough, the term “mantle” draws its origins from an unexpected household feature: the fireplace. Specifically, it’s derived from the “mantel” of a fireplace, which refers to the flat lip or shelf of the fireplace frame. If you’ve ever observed a fireplace mantel, you will notice its resemblance to a flat and narrow slab of stone, much like the ledges and flat tops encountered in rock climbing.
This similarity in structure is where the climbing technique got its name. When climbers are faced with challenges that resemble the flat lip of a fireplace, they employ the mantling technique to overcome it.
Is Mantling Dangerous? Yes & No
‘Do I really need to top out this boulder?’, ‘Yes, you do, otherwise the send doesn’t count!’. Ugh!
The fear of tipping backwards as I mantled gave me the heebie-jeebies and avoided it for the longest time. Of course, there is an inherent risk in rocking climbing as a whole, but let’s take a look at where mantling in climbing could become dangerous.
The Inherent Insecurity of Mantling
At its core, mantling involves pushing over a ledge or obstacle, a motion that feels inherently insecure for many climbers. Unlike other climbing techniques where the body remains close to the rock face, mantling often requires you to shift your center of gravity in ways that can feel precarious. This sense of instability can heighten the feeling of vulnerability, especially when high off the ground or when mantling at the top of a boulder.
The Risk of Falls
The very nature of mantling, with its semi-horizontal body positioning and reliance on arm strength, can make it easy to lose balance. A slight misjudgment, a momentary lapse in concentration, or even a sweaty palm can lead to slips. And when you’re trying to mantle on a boulder, even a minor slip can result in a fall. Given that mantling often occurs at the top of a climb, a fall from this position can be from a significant height, increasing the risk of injury.
Proper Technique is Crucial
Like all climbing techniques, the dangers of mantling can be mitigated with proper technique and practice. Understanding the mechanics of the move, ensuring that hands are well-chalked for grip, and practicing the technique in controlled environments can reduce the risks. Additionally, having proper spotting and crash pads in place during bouldering can provide an added layer of safety.
Beyond the physical aspects, the mental component of mantling cannot be understated. The feeling of insecurity during a mantle can be mentally taxing. Climbers need to be mentally prepared, focused, and confident in their abilities to execute the move safely.
How To Mantle
As I mentioned earlier, if you do a lot of indoor and outdoor bouldering, knowing how to mantle properly will help you top out every boulder with confidence.
1) Recognize the Mantle Opportunity
Before you even begin, have a look at the route and determine whether a mantle is the most appropriate move. Look for broad, flat holds or ledges that seem challenging to grip in the traditional manner. These are your prime mantling spots.
2) Secure Your Hand Position
Place your hands on the ledge or hold, your palms facing down. Your hands should be roughly shoulder-width apart, similar to the starting position of a push-up. Ensure your fingers are spread out for maximum surface grip. Chalk up if necessary to prevent slipping.
3) Engage Your Arms and Core
Begin by pushing down on the hold using your arms, primarily engaging your triceps. As you push, keep your core tight. This will help maintain balance and stability during the move.
4) Elevate and Position Your Foot
As you start to elevate your body, look for a spot to place one foot on the ledge or hold. I usually bring a high heel which I use to rock into as I mantle. This foot will act as a pivot and provide the necessary leverage for the next steps.
5) Push and Extend
Continue to push with your arms, extending them fully. As you do this, shift your weight onto the foot that’s on the ledge. Your body will start to rise, and you’ll feel the center of gravity shifting. This is where the core engagement becomes crucial to maintain balance.
6) Transition Your Weight
As your arms extend fully, begin to shift your weight from your hands to your foot. This transition is the crux of the mantling move. Your hands, which initially bore most of your weight, will now start to act more as balancers.
7) Bring Up the Second Foot
Once you’ve shifted most of your weight onto the first foot and your waist is level with the hold, you can start to bring up your second foot. Depending on the height and width of the ledge, you might need to twist your hips slightly to make this move smoother.
8) Stand Up and Celebrate!
With both feet securely on the ledge, push yourself to a standing position. Take a moment to celebrate your successful mantle!
If your mantle game is weak, check out these exercises that will help you mantle like a pro!
Types of Mantling
There are generally two types of rock climbing mantles you’ll be faced with.
The “Swimming Pool” Mantel
This type of mantel draws its name from the familiar action of exiting a swimming pool without the aid of steps. Here’s how it translates to climbing:
- Visualization: Think of trying to climb out of a pool at its edge. You’d typically pull down on the pool’s edge to gain some upward momentum. Mid-movement, you’d then plant your palms and start pushing down, finally placing one foot next to your hands to step up and out of the pool.
- Climbing Parallel: In a rock climbing scenario, when faced with a shelf-like rock formation, the sequence is strikingly similar. You’d pull to generate momentum, switch to a push, and then use a high foot close to your hands to bring your body weight past the lip.
The “Beach Whale” Mantel
Less graceful and often seen as a last-resort technique, the “Beach Whaling” mantel is aptly named for its less-than-elegant execution:
- Scenario: This type of mantel typically comes into play when the mantle isn’t a ledge but more of a lip that is overhung and requires you to really extend your body over the lip to get a good hand placement.
- Execution: Hurling yourself onto the rock, just like a beached whale. This approach, while sometimes effective, lacks the control and finesse of a well-executed mantle. It’s essential to note that this technique doesn’t work on steeper terrains, especially overhanging routes. If you lose balance in such situations, it’s safer to abort the move, descend safely, and try again.
For proper mantling techniques, check out below!