Return of the Viking (Iceland Part III)

Remember how I went to Iceland?  Well, finally, here is the highly anticipated conclusion.  If you missed them, check out Part I and Part II.

         Sunrise in Kirklubaejarklaustur

Day three started in Kirkjubaejarklaustur with an extensice complimentary breakfast at the hotel followed by a couple of quick stops on the way out of town to look at some promising rock formations.  The volcanic tuff-lined Fladrargljufur gorge had some beautiful towers and buttresses, but unfortunately the rock was some of the worst I saw on our trip. 

The sheered off basalt column “floor” of Kirkjugolf

The wind was raging all day, and it really showed how fickle the weather is in Iceland.  The wind made the differnce between T-shirt climbing in the sun, to completely unbearable even in a hooded puffy, and it went form to the other almost instantly.  The penetrating chill kept us in the car almost the entire day, but we were able to find a few sheltered spots to enjoy the amazing scenery.


We also got a chance to inspect a herd of Icelandic sheep up close along the drive.  These sheep are considered the most pure breed in the world, and their wool is one of Iceland’s key exports.  Everywhere you go wool sweaters, gloves and hats are for sale, but a regular wool sweater will set you back $180!  The sheep are really fun to watch, with a hilarious waddle-like gate and enormous fluffy coats of wool.

The massive Dyrholaey (“Hole in the Door”) sea arch

The next major destination was the coastal town of Vik and the nearby Dyrholaey sea arch.  I’ve seen quite a few sea arches around the globe and this was easily the most massive I’ve ever seen.  You could sail a decent sized ship under the thing, and that is in fact one of the primary industries in Vik (shuttling tourists under the arch).  That isn’t really our kind of thing so we admired the arch from the lookout.

The day before while browsing in a gift shop I saw a postcard that showed a promising escarpment of basalt columns on a black sand beach with the arch behind.  I made a point to find this beach and explore the climbing potential.  I either failed to find the correct beach, or the postcard was heavily photo-shopped, because I never found the idyllic view pictured in the post card, but I did find a beautiful sheltered cove of impeccable basalt. 

                            Bouldering near Dyrholaey, with the arch behind

Most of the seaside cliffs I’ve seen are decomposed garbage due to the harsh weather conditions, but this rock was completely flawless, and even featured some aesthetic marble green swirls in the stone.  There was a nice sized cave with some intriguing horizontal potential, but most of that stone was dripping wet, so I focused on the nice cliff to the left.  The cliff is at least 40′ high, and interesting enough to warrant atleast a toprope if not a rack.  The bouldering was excellent with perfect sandy landings.


Next on the agenda was a pair of outstanding waterfalls famous waterfalls.  It was pretty amazing how much the landscape had changed in only 24 hours.  When we blew by these falls the day before they were falling straight down and surrounded by lush green moss.  Now they were falling sideways and all everything was plastered with ice for 50 yards in every direction.

Skogafoss was the first and we stopped in the gift shop for lunch where I enjoyed the most hilarious “sandwich” I’ve ever had.  This feat consisted of two slices of white bread with a single slice of lamb, literally 1/16″ thick.  It was actually really tasty thanks to a healthy serving of honey mustard but I’m skeptical of its nutritional value.  We were beginning to get the feeling we may not see the Northern Lights on this trip so we took some photos of the dramatic posters in the gift shop just in case.


After a brief and bone-chilling stop at the dramatic Seljalandfoss we continued on to Hveragerdi to search for some of the delicious pastries we had heard about and check out the nearby Reykjadalir geothermal site.  There was an impressively large boiling mud pit and a convenient “hot pot” that wasn’t really warm enough to compensate for the incessant wind.

Smoldering craters at Reykjadalir

We headed to Reykjavik to finally check out some of the city sights, get some dinner and hopefully some rest before heading out again in search of the Aurora Borealis.  Reykjavik was quite “quaint” for a capital city, and has some interesting architecture.  The best way to describe the urban areas is “punk”, with lots of graffiti and murals coating the alleyways.  The centerpiece of town is the Hallsgrimkirkja church, situated at the top of the hills, with streets plunging steeply down the hill in every direction like a miniature San Fransisco.

Leif Erickson statue in front Hallsgrimkirkja. In 1930 this statue was given to the people of Iceland by the US on the 1000th anniversy of the first Althing

After dinner we returned to our hotel to get some rest and finalize our plans for Northern Lights hunting.  We planned to head out around 8pm and head straight east.  We initally stopped about 20 miles east of Reykjavik in the middle of a large snow-covered lava field.  There were some faint glows on the horizon that gave us hope, but it was clear we were still too close to the city, so we continued east on Highyway 1 with the plan to eventually head northeast towards Thingvellir National Park. 


We headed east on Highway 1 for nearly an hour, then turned north towards the park.  Almost as soon as we were clear of the lights of Selfoss we began to see the characteristic green streaks…

                                                                        At last!!!

You need a tripod and a camera that does long exposures to shoot the Northern Lights

We stayed until the lights began to fade and then slowly made our way back to Reykjavik, stopping from time to time to get another look.  We arrived just before midnight exhausted but satisfied. 

These are all 15 second exposure with heavy post-editing. Longer exposures would be better, but that is the most my camera would do.

By day number four we were pretty much tapped out as far as tourism was considered, so we headed a bit north of town for a nice scenic hike.  Next we headed to the Reykjanes Peninsula to explore the dramatic volcanic landscape and see a few sights on the way to the airport.  The peninsula has some tempting mountains that would be casual dayhikes.   

We stopped at the Gunnuhver geothermal area which produced overwhelming amounts of steam and fueled a nearby geothermal energy plant.  The final stop was the “Bridge Between Two Continents”, a cheesy metal footbridge that spans an exposed section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The comical Bridge Between Two Continents, a monument to Industrial Tourism

The airport experience was typical, with a fun diversion at the duty-free shop attempting to calculate the maximum amount of cholcolate and alcohol we could get with our few remaining Krona.  It was an exhausting trip, but completely amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone, but I might suggest  visiting in the summer 😉

Northeastern Canada from the plane.

Raise the Roof

Yesterday afternoon I set a new personal best on the Lazy H campus board.  I did a max ladder of 1-8-15 (metolius spacing; 4″ o.c.). 

I realize this is not a super amazing feat, and has been bettered by countless climbers, but its a landmark for me because my board (and therefore my imagination) only has 15 rungs.  When I built the Lazy H in 2008 I scarcely dreamed I would ever need to increase the height of my board; that first season the best I managed was 1-6-11.  The only reason I went as high as 15 was because rungs are sold in packs of five.  The upper few rungs were more of a pipe dream than anything else. 

I bring this up to emphasize two training-related points (besides to spray and post a video of myself with my shirt off): the power of goals and the value of quantfying and tracking the results of your training.  Almost as soon as the dust of construction had settled, that 15th rung became a goal (albeit an unlikely one).  Furthermore, because it was visible and tangible during each campus session, it gave me continuous motivation to get the most out of my training.  Every time I went to the campus board I could see my goal sitting there, gathering dust, waiting for me to get better.  The opportunity to achieve a victory each and every session, even a “plastic” victory, pushes me to put in that extra bit of effort, get enough sleep, eat properly, and focus during the workout.

Quantifying my performance on the campus board, and comparing my progress from season to season has paid huge dividends.  Each season we all strive to be a little bit better than the previous season, but without a yard stick, its really difficult to know what that means.  How good was I last season?  I sent some routes and failed on others.  Were the routes I sent soft?  Were the ones I failed on stiff?  There’s a lot of subjectivty (and therefore ambiguity) on the performance end of our sport.   

This is another area where training (and more specifically, quantifying & documenting our training) can lend a hand.  I know how good I was last season, because I have an emperical record of each hangboard workout, campus session, and power endurance interval I completed.  I can compare that data to this season and its plainly obvious, regardless of how my outdoor projects work out, that I am tangibly stronger than I was last season.  That information alone is extremely motivating; it confirms I’m on the right path (or one of the right paths, anyway) regardless of whether the plethora of circumstances affecting outdoor performance (weather, partners, route selection…) go in my favor.

Now I have a new problem, I need to figure out how to raise the roof of the Lazy H so I can add  the next 5 rungs to my campus board, although that should be trivial compared to the task of expanding my imagination to accomodate those rungs.

Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

This is part 3 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, please do.   This training is for the thoroughly healthy.  If you have any nagging injuries, particularly finger, elbow or shoulder injuries, DO NOT DO THIS!  There are many different ways to use a campus board; this is just one way, and it happens to work.  Remember that the frequency and rest associated with these workouts is critical to avoiding injury (see Part 2 for details).  Avoid consecutive Campus workouts and take extra rest following each Campus workout.

Now on to the basic routine:

Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.

Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).  Complete one to three boulder problems at each V-grade before progressing to the next grade (the number of problems completed at each grade should depend on how many grades you need to step through, with the goal of completing the Ladder in 20 minutes or so).  Continue stepping up the Ladder until you reach your typical boulder flash level.  The goal is to do each problem first try, but if you fall off, feel free to repeat the problem or move to another problem of the same grade.  The goal is NOT to get entrenched in an epic project.  Take typical rest periods between problems, which varies between climbers.  If you rest a lot between problems, the set may take more than 20 minutes.  That is ok, this is not a race.  By the end you should have completed between 10 – 15 problems of increasing difficulty.

The final warmup activity is 15-30 minutes of limit bouldering (again, the duration will depend on how long you rest and your level of fatigue.  For me, if I spend more than 50 minutes from the beginning of my ARC traverse to the end of my limit bouldering, my Campus workout will suffer, YMMV).  Pick 2-3 problems that you cannot flash and work them for 5-10 minutes each.  These problems should be right at your limit (in other words, avoid problems you can do 2nd or 3rd try), and they should be powerful, with one or two REALLY hard moves that you can’t do (as opposed to 10 consecutive pretty hard moves that result in a pump-managment challenge).  Its easy to get side-tracked during this activity, so keep your eye on the clock and stay focused on the big picture.  Once completed, take a good 5-10 minute break, get some water, then get ready to rage.

Record all of your Campus sets in a logsheet like the one shown here.  Note that I’ve also included details on my warmup activites.

Begin with a few sets of “easy” campusing (an oxymoron, I know).  Starting with the largest set of rungs, do a “Warmup Ladder” up the board at a comfortable interval (12″ for me), then jump down.  Repeat leading with the opposite hand.  Do the same set of ladders on the medium rungs, then the small rungs, with 1-2 minutes rest between sets.  If you aren’t strong enough yet for the small (or medium) rungs, skip those sets, but do the remainder of the workout on the smallest set of rungs you are strong-enough to use.

Next do 8-16 sets of “Max Ladders” on the smallest rungs you can, alternating your leading hand, resting ~1-2 minutes between sets.  As I mentioned in Part 2, I only recommend really pursuing 1 or 2 Campus Exercises, and this is my favorite.  This is the most basic movement, the most specific to rock climbing and the best for isolating individual hands.  My first two sets usually entail a ladder I can reliably do every time (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12, leading with each hand) , then the rest of the sets are spent pushing the envelope to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13).  If I succeed and still have training budget available, I try to push to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 or B1-L8-R14-B14) and/or work a variation that will set me up for the next increment (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L8-R13-B13, which is slightly harder for me than B1-L7-R13-B-13). 

Once I feel I’ve stopped making progress on Max Ladders (stagnating or regressing after 2-3 tries on a given movement.), I move to Double Dynos.  Double Dynos should take less than half the time as Max Ladders since you don’t need to alternate leading hands.  Considering they are far less specific, I further skew my effort in favor of max ladders.  I like these for several reasons.  First, they really accentuate the eccentric/concentric contractions required of plyometric training.  Also since you loose contact with the board I think they are great for developing spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination at high speeds.  Additionally, any movement involving a stationary hand will benefit from whatever lock-off strength the stationary hand can contribute, while also increasing the time available to latch the high hold.  Doubles eliminate that lock-off component while also keeping the latch period nice and short, thus encouraging the cultivation of good contact strength.  Finally, I think they require higher arousel and commitment than max ladders, making them good for developing the type of aggressive attitude that is helpful for powerful climbing.  Note that with Doubles, one could argue the second movement is somewhat redundant.  However, if the first and second moves are done in a continuous movement the mid-point requires the ideal plyometric movement of catching the rung and immediately springing back upwards.

The rest intervals are really important.  You need to be able to move explosively for Campus Training to be effective.  There really is no such thing as too much rest for this type of activity, so rest as long as you need to be at your very best when executing each set.  I find that 90 seconds is about perfect for me.  Once you start to feel fatigued, end the workout.  At that point you are only courting injury and no longer improving your power.

The entire workout by set:

Key: B=Both Hands, L = Left hand, R = Right Hand, number indicates Rung Number
Note that my Small Rungs are spaced 4″ on center, as prescribed here  These ladders are what I am capable of, but your ladders will differ based on your ability and body size.  These are only meant to be an example.

Warmup (Basic Ladders, alternate leading with each hand):
Set 1: Large rungs, B1-L2-R3-L4-R5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Left Hand)
Set 2: Large rungs, B1-R2-L3-R4-L5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Right Hand)
Set 3: Medium Rungs, B1-L3-R5-L7-R9-B9
Set 4: Medium Rungs, B1-R3-L5-R7-L9-B9
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-L4-R7-L10-R13-B13
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-R4-L7-R10-L13-B13

Max Ladders:
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L12-B12
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13 (attempt) 
Set 4: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L13-B13 (attempt)
Set 5-10: Repeat Sets 3&4 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand
Set 11: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 3 Ladder; may also try B1-L8-R14-B14, etc)
Set 12: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 4 Ladder)
Set 13-16: Repeat Sets 11&12 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand, or until progress stops

Double Dynos:
Set 1: Large Rungs, B1-B2-B3-B4-B5
Set 2: Medium Rungs, B1-B3-B5-B7-B9
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B4-B7-B10-B13
(max Double Dynos)
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-B6-B11
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-B7-B13 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B8-B13 or 14 or 15 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-B9
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-B10 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)

End each exercise when performance begins to regress, then complete your core exercise of choice.  The campus portion of my workout typically last no more than 40 minutes (with sets performed on 90-second intervals).