Climbing TipsTechnique

Learn to Climb on Polished Routes

Polished routes may intimidate first-time visitors to limestone crags such as American Fork Canyon, Rifle Canyon, Sella, or Chulilla. Unlike other rock such as sandstone, limestone becomes smooth and slick as climbers’ hands and shoes wear down the texture. Feet slide off well-worn footholds, and crimps feel insecure. However, at the end of the day, you can whine, or you can climb! Since the rock will only become more polished over time as more climbers visit these areas, a few tips can help us learn to handle polished routes:

  1. Accept the polish. Yes, its a classic route, and we are using holds that have been pulled and stepped on thousands of times before us. Despite the polish, the route will still be fun (probably)! Don’t let the word “polish” prevent you from exploring a great crag, especially since only a few spots in the rock might deserve this description.
  2. Trust the holds and don’t panic! Most polished holds are still usable. The polish acts almost like a tick mark – it marks where the majority of climbers think their feet should go. Place your feet deliberately so that they do not slide off the rock.
  3. Practice. The more polished routes you climb, the sooner you’ll learn to trust the holds and climb with less hesitation.
  4. Choose a different hold. If the polish renders the hold unusable, or you just don’t trust it, put your foot in a less polished spot that will work just as well.
  5. Avoid the most polished routes on a hot, humid days! Friction is your friend, and hot days do not equal friction. 
  6. Wear shoes with soft rubber. Soft rubber provides the best contact with foot holds.
  7. Climb harder routes. The easier, classic routes tend to have the most polish since they receive the most traffic. Polish can provide great incentive to push the grade!

If all else fails, go back to sandstone climbing!


The route Feline 11b at Rifle stands out as a classic line – a little polished, but not to be missed!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.