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Story by Zoë Zulauf Ware /

It seems like just yesterday that freshly fallen leaves crunched underfoot on approaches in the Cottonwoods, and American Fork was bathed in hues of orange and yellow. With the arrival of December, the bellyache from the mounds of instant mashed potatoes you gobbled at Creeksgiving has finally subsided, and although you’re sleeping under a roof instead of the stars, you might find yourself reaching for a puffy as you stumble out of bed to brew coffee and feed the dog. Brr.

Perhaps your eyes are still turned south toward Moab, daydreaming of splitters and sunshine… but you’re exhausted, sore, and beat-up after the gloriously long outdoor climbing season. Now, your posture looks more Neanderthal-y than human, your tendons ache, your eyes water at the thought of your bouldering shoes, and you’ve given all your gobis names––Fred really ought to be healed by now, but he likes hanging out on your third knuckle too much.

As the flakes begin to fall in the Wasatch range, taking a rest period is integral to keeping your body healthy and your psych high heading into winter indoor climbing and snow season.

In this four-part series on restorative practices for worn-out climbers, you’ll learn some TLC tricks to speed healing and get you feeling recharged. First on deck: your tootsies.

Feet: The Unsung Heroes of Climbing

1. Tennis Ball Treats

Ah, sweet relief. After months of grunting and swearing while pulling on tight climbing shoes, you can finally do something to your feet that feels… Nice. All you need for this foot massage is a tennis ball––no significant other or begging and pleading required. Placing one foot on top of a fresh tennis ball, start to weight the foot. Shift the tennis ball under different areas of your foot––heel, midfoot, ball mount, toes––and repeat. Continue by rolling the tennis ball all around with the soles of your feet, spending extra time on sore spots.

2. Namaste Ankles

Whether you love toeing tiny nubbins, lapping The Green Adjective, or jamming your tootsies in Supercrack, climbing takes its toll on your ankles. “Namaste Ankles” stretches out and strengthens the muscles that stabilize side-to-side motion.

To start, find a comfortable seat with your legs stretched out in front of you. Flex and point your feet five times each, and follow with ten ankle rolls in each direction. Then, rotate your feet inward as if you were bringing your soles to touch. Next, rotate your feet outward, pulling the outer edges of your feet toward your outer shins. Repeat inward and outward rotation 10-20 times.

3. Broken Toe Pose

It feels a lot nicer than it sounds, I promise. Downturned climbing shoes shorten the flexor tendons on the bottom of the foot, often leading to cramping, discomfort, and curled-up toes. This variation of Hero Pose (virasana) deeply stretches the plantar muscles and offers relief from chronically cramped feet. 

Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine. Tuck your toes under and spread them wide. Slowly, push into your hands to shift your weight to your feet. If it’s accessible to you, start walking your hands in to sit back toward your heels. The sensation can be very intense, so start by staying in the pose for three deep breaths. As your flexibility increases, you’ll be able to rest here for longer. This pose can be modified by placing blocks, blankets, or bolsters under your knees, or keeping your hands planted to distribute the weight.

Modified Broken Toe Pose. (Photo by Mala Yoga)

Broken Toe Pose. (Photo by Mala Yoga)

4. De-Stank Your Climbing Shoes

If a stranger opened your climbing pack and took a whiff, they might wonder, “ugh, how long did they leave leftover nachos in here?!” But you know better… It’s your boots. Here’s the down-low: microbes, generally bacteria, cause the compelling bouquet of aromas that make up “Eau de Climbing Shoe.” Bacteria only love two things more than they love pouncing on the snack you dropped after waiting ten seconds: warmth and moisture. Gross, right? So, to combat the stank, you’ve gotta address both factors.

First off, washing your climbing shoes gets you the closest to a fresh start without buying a new pair. Hand-wash with a gentle, antibacterial soap (like Molly’s Suds Natural All Sports), a dish brush, and lukewarm water so as to preserve the glues, fabric, and stitching. After rinsing thoroughly and pressing dry with a dishtowel, stuff them with newspaper to help retain their form and speed the drying process. Momentum deskies aren’t the only people that spray a bit of Lysol in climbing shoes––if you don’t want to wash your shoes, a quick blast of any anti-bacterial spray also combats the wee beasties that cause odors.

As stink-proofing maintenance, let your shoes dry out completely after use, and don’t leave them festering in the tropical paradise that is your pack. Hang those suckers up as open as they can be, and try sticking an activated charcoal deodorizer insert in each shoe to absorb moisture and funk.


So, climbers, head into your next rest day with revitalized feet and climbing shoes that would no longer make a skunk run from in fear. Stay tuned for the next installment of The Winter Wind-Down: taking care of your hands, tendons, and skin.

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