Tuolumne

A couple weeks ago I spent the weekend in California visiting one of my good friends and original climbing partners Chris Graham.  Chris recently moved to Sonora, which is ideally situated at the base of the Sierra range.  There’s an overwhelming amount of rock in this area, and not just the ubiquitous pristine Sierra granite.  Sonora is home to a number of excellent basalt crags, including the sport crags of Jailhouse Rock, Table Mountain, and Columns of the Giants, and one of the more unique bouldering areas around, a marble crag of sculpted fins known as “Columbia”.

However, since it was the dead of summer, with temps in the 90’s, all of those crags were out.  I was pysched to head up high and re-visit one of my favorite alpine playgrounds, Tuolumne Meadows.  Tuolumne offers the perfect combination of adventure and accessibility.  Many of the best crags are only a few minutes from the road, with quick approaches and straight-forward descents, making it easy to get a number of routes done in a single day.  It seems like no matter what route you end up on, its hard to have a bad day in Tuolumne.  Its just too beautiful!

Pywiack Dome from the road

Pywiack Dome from the road

The objective for the day was a pair of moderate classics that for some reason or another I had never gotten around to trying.  Pywiack Dome is one of the first prominent rock formations you notice if driving in from the west.  It sits right next to the road, and the base is actually 100-feet or so below the road, so you can look straight across at any climbers on the lower flanks.  I had driven by this dome countless times and always fixated on a striking series of dikes that zigzag up the West Face. 

Me and Chris on Pywiack Dome.

Me and Chris on Pywiack Dome.

The Dike Route has a reputation for extremely runout slab climbing.  For whatever reason I’ve always had a pretty good knack for that sort of thing, but I’ve found it requires the right kind of partner; someone you can trust in a tough situation, but also someone who keeps the mood light.  Extremely runout climbing is tense enough without a trembling belayer.  Chris was just such a partner, “Down for whatever” as Ice Cube* would say.

*Note to Generation Z: Ice Cube is the name of a hardcore gangster rapper. In the late 90’s he was abducted by aliens and given a lobotomy, and has since become the star of such hardcore children’s films as Are We Done Yet?”

My old SuperTopo from 2001 calls this route the Bachar-Yerrian of 5.9 climbing, so I expected it to be a bit dicey.  Apparently the mental crux comes on the fourth pitch, where a reasonably protected 5.9 leads to 80 feet of 5.8 split by a single bolt.  Many folks fail to locate the key bolt, turning a hairy but survivable R-rated stretch into 5.8 X.  My plan was to find the bolt.

The 5.4 first pitch.

The 5.4 first pitch.

The route starts out with 120 feet of gearless 3rd/5.4 slab paddling to reach a nice stance.  The 100-foot second pitch had infinitely more protection: 1 bolt, located about halfway up the pitch.  This route was bolted on lead, presumably without hooks, so the bolts were few and generally located at hands-free stances.  The topo calls this pitch 5.6, and doesn’t mention any sort of crux at the top, but I found it to be the mental crux of the entire route.  Within spitting distance of the belay stance  the angle steepens just enough to make you doubt your rubber.  Either I was off route or something broke, but I had to do some very commiting friction moves literally 50-feet about the lone bolt.  This is the kind of situation where finger strength is useless; eventually it comes down to trust in your footwork. 

The second pitch, and the crux in my experience.

The second pitch, and the crux in my experience.

At the belay I contemplated how we would retreat if I had to chicken out on the 5.9 pitch.  Fortunately the 3rd pitch was essentially grid-bolted, with three bolts in 100-feet.  This was a really cool pitch, weaving between twin dikes.  At one point you “walk the dike” with your feet on the left dike and your hands on the right dike.  It was really fun and not at all scary.  By the end of this pitch I was feeling much more confident. 

The crux fourth pitch begins with a tricky mantle to reach a bolt, then some commiting 5.9 smearing to clear a bulge.  Above this, the dome is covered in a sea of shallow, polished knobs.  The sun came over the top of Pywiack Dome just as I pulled onto this section, and all the knobs were highlight by sun and shade.  At this point I began my search for the key bolt.  All the shadows on the rock made it impossible to pick out a tiny steel hanger.  Suddenly it occured to me that, considering the history of the route, I should be looking for a free stance, not a bolt.  I immediately noticed the only scoop in the entire face and quickly located the bolt five-feet above this stance.  I gingerly made my way to the bolt and clipped.  By this point I was a granite slab-smearing master and I made quick progress over the glassy glacier polish to the top of the slab. 

Tenaya Lake PicAfter a quick rap and easy scramble back to the car, we had a snack and then headed for Lamb Dome.  Our next objective was On the Lamb, a totally unique climb featuring a 500-foot dead horizontal traverse, the ideal terrain for ARC training 🙂 

Beginning the horizontal traverse.  Once you turn this cornerthe ground drops away and the route becomes instantly exposed.

Beginning the horizontal traverse. Once you turn this corner the ground drops away and the route becomes fantastically exposed.

The route starts with a couple hundred feet of scrambling, fourth class and low 5th class climbing to reach an amazing horizontal crack about 300-feet off the deck.  The crack follows a heavily featured dike, offering some of the best chickenhead jugs I’ve ever seen.  Most of the time there are enough footholds that the climbing is super fun and casual, but every now and then the footholds disappear entirely, leading to a hasty dash to the next good stance.  

Its always a good idea to ditch the big gear early; looking for a nice pod to deposit my #8 Flexcam.

Its always a good idea to ditch the big gear early; looking for a nice pod to deposit my #8 Flexcam.

The crux for me was certainly protecting the traverse for the second.  I wanted to get gear in every ten feet or so, but the crack is surprisingly uniform (right around 3/4″ with only a few variations) and the pitches averaged almost 150′ in length.  My rack wasn’t very deep, so I had to be creative and I spent a lot of time fiddling with nuts.

By the time we reached the end of the fourth pitch we had done enough traversing to last us for a few years.  We stopped on the descent to watch a party climb Oz, a classic 10d crack climb, then headed to the General Store for It’s Its.

An ice cream sandwich covered in chocolate.  Mmmmm.

An ice cream sandwich covered in chocolate. Mmmmm.

The next day was designated for Frolfing (Frisbee Golf).  Chris is a 5.13 Frolfer.  He’s got a monster drive and he’s a very good putter.  I’m about a 5.11 Frolfer I would guess.  We played a really fun course near Sonora that follows an old irragation canal through a cedar forest.  We played two rounds, which I will summarize thusly:  The course crosses the canal twice, so in our two rounds I had to throw across the canal four times.  I managed to throw my disc in the water twice.  Even Chris’ dog Hera only fell into the canal once. Fortunately we were able to extract both Hera and my frisbee each time.

Putting my smearing skills to good use.

Putting my smearing skills to good use.

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Beating the Heat – Tips on TrainingThrough Summer Temps

Almost like clockwork, every year I find myself struggling to hangboard through the month of August, seemingly the hottest month of the year.  In order to be fit in time for prime Fall sending conditions, most of us will need to do some form of training in late summer, when conditions are far from ideal. 

Some might wonder, why does it matter how warm it is, after all, its only training.  The primary reason is that training in warm environs can trash your skin.  Nobody wants to start a climbing season with a skin deficit, and in-attention to skin whilst training is a sure way to do just that.  Another good reason is that a quality training cycle boosts your confidence and can help inspire a successful climbing season.  For those that train in a methodical, controlled manner, its hard not to notice how much less resistance you can handle in bad conditions.  Its nearly impossible to quantify the effect of the heat and humidity, so poor conditions can lead to a spiral of waning confidence and unispired training efforts.

Fortunately there are some low-budget steps we can take to improve our training conditions:

1. Prepare your Skin.  Take some time on each rest day to tend to your skin.  Assemble a Skin Care Kit, including tape, tweezers, cuticle cutters (ask your lady, or find them in the makeup department), nail clipper and a sanding block (hardware store).  Cut away any loose bits of skin with the cuticle cutters, and sand down any remaining rough edges.  Sand every finger pad each rest day to stimulate new skin growth.  Don’t sand too much; 15-30 seconds per pad should do it depending on your choice of sand paper.

If training early in the morning (see Item #3), try to keep your hands above the covers while sleeping.  Wash and then thoroughly dry your hands, then begin chalking  15 minutes or more before you begin your warmup so the skin can dry and toughen up completely.  If you use Antihydral or similar drying agents for climbing, consider using them during hot periods of your training cycle.  Chalk frequently and thoroughly througout the workout.

2. Prepare Your Training Environment.  Ideally you are doing some form of hangboard training, and ideally you are doing it at home, where you can control your environment.  If you hangboard/training area is located in a large or public area of your home, consider moving it to another location where you can better control the training environment. In many houses, the temperature and humidity varies quite a bit from room to room. The lowest floor of the house is usually the coolest, but some basements have high humidity.  Generally rooms on the north side of the house will be cooler (or any room with minimal sun exposure).  If possible, select a training room that is cool, dry, and small (making it easy to manipulate the temperature and humidity).

Prepare your environment by making it as cold and/or dry as possible before you begin your workout. First, eliminate any heat sources to your training area (for example, turn off the baseboard heater, etc, in the room where you are training). Cover any windows that receive sun exposure the day before your workout.  The simplest way to do this is to draw the blinds, but if you want to go overboard, get some “Rigid Insulation” from your hardware store and cut it to the size/shape of your window.

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A piece of Rigid Insulation cut to the size and shape of my east-facing window to block the sun. I’ve covered the edges with duct tape to keep things clean.

If you have Air Conditioning or Evaporative Cooling, experiment with running this system in your training area all through the night before your training session.  Some AC systems will ice up when the temperature drops below 60 degrees F or so, but 60 is much better than 75! 

If, like me, you don’t have a mechanical cooling system, the best way to cool your training session is to open all the windows the evening before and run a strong fan  all night long to circulate outside air into the training area.  Wake up around sunrise, turn off the fan and seal and cover all the windows.  This trick works so well that I stopped using my window-mounted AC unit. I can routinely get my training room down to the low 50’s (F) despite day-time highs in the 90s!  Granted, I live at 7400 feet, where we have drastic temperature swings, but it will work to a lesser extent at any altitude.  Once the room is cool, avoid adding heat to the room.  Keep lights or any other appliances off, and stay out of the room (until its time to start your training session).

A box fan in the same window.  I open all the windows and run this fan overnight, then turn off the fan, close the windows and cover them with insulation when I get up in the morning.  I usually train within an hour or two of waking up, so I leave everything sealed throughout the workout.

A box fan in the same window. I open all the windows and run this fan overnight, then turn off the fan, close the windows and cover them with insulation when I get up in the morning. I usually train within an hour or two of waking up, so I leave everything sealed throughout the workout.  On the rare occasion that its colder outside than inside (while I’m training), I will leave the window open and fan on.

3. Start Early.  The break of dawn is almost always the coldest time of day.  In some areas humidity is lower in the afternoon, so if you live in a humid area, note the humidity and temperature changes to find the ideal training time.  Most of us need an hour or two to hydrate and get our whits together before beginning a difficult training routine. If you are such a person, get in the habit of waking up a bit earlier in the summer months so you can get your workout in as soon as possible.  This time of year I like to start my Hangboard workouts no later than 8:30am, but earlier is much better.  At my house the outside temperature jumps about 20 degrees between 7 and 9am. Even those training at a public gym may be able to take advantage of this tip.  Plan to arrive at the gym as soon as they open.  If your gym is closed in the morning, train as late at night as possible.

4. Use a Fan.  Thermodynamics tells us that adding a fan to a closed room will raise the room’s temperature.  However, this effect is easily offset by the evaporative propoerties of circulating air (in my experience), and most training sessions are over before the air temperature has increased more than 5 or so degrees. If you have prepared your training area properly, the outside air will be much warmer than the air in your training room, so keep the windows closed, and just circulate the air within the room. 

Note how close the fan is positioned to the hangboard.  This model fan can be bolted directly to your mounting board.  Another good option is a "Clip fan" that you can quickly move around to target different grips, but they generally won't generate as much air flow as a fan like this.

Note how close the fan is positioned to the hangboard. This model fan can be bolted directly to your mounting board. Another good option is a “Clip fan” that you can quickly move around to target different grips, but they generally won’t generate as much air flow as a fan like this.

The size and number of fans required may vary depending on the type of training.  For Bouldering or Power Endurance training in my barn, I use a large box fan to circulate air over a large climbing surface.  Hangboarding only requires a small fan (this $16, 8″ fan is sufficient), assuming it is positioned effectively. I use two small fans since my hangboard apparatus is so large.  The Honeywell fan is screwed to my hangboard mounting board and supplies plenty of airflow.  The clip fan can be used to direct air into my pocket grips.

5. Clothing Optional.  Normally I like to wear a shirt while training, but when its really hot the shirt comes off and I wear thin nylon shorts with no pockets.  The higher your core body temperature the more likely you are to sweat, so do whatever you can to keep yourbody cool.  Try to get your torso in the airflow during rest periods. Consider using a secondary fan while hangboarding for this purpose.

6. Don’t Breath on Your Holds!  This may sound silly, but most of the water our bodies lose during day to day activity is lost through exhaling!  When huffing and puffing during hangboard sets, use your lips and mouth to direct your exhaust away from your hangboard.  I’ve considered wearing a snorkel but I haven’t gotten quite that extreme yet 🙂

If you have any other heat-beating tips please post them in a comment!

Good Things Come in Threes

It’s been a nice long summer and as usual I’ve been neglecting my blog. I have some good excuses this time around though. I’ve been really busy the last six months or so working on three exciting projects (well, two really). The first one came to fruition on June 28th, when my second child, Amelie Karen Anderson was born. I will concede, my contribution to the initial 9-month phase of this project was minimal, and admittedly not all that time-consuming 🙂 though the beginning of the 18-year second phase has kept me quite busy over the last two months. Amelie came out happy and healthy and Kate is doing great.

copyright Katy Moses Huggins 2012

Amelie Karen Anderson at one week, photo copyright Katy Moses Huggins 2013

At this point we are beginning to adjust to life with two children. The adjustment from one to two is much easier than the adjustment from zero to one, but that said, having two is really hectic. With one child, parents can tag-team and its not too difficult to get some alone time. With two, both parents are occupied most of the time. Logan’s arrival didn’t really affect my climbing life until he was about a year old, but I think having two will make climbing quite a bit more difficult. Just the sheer volume of crap (literally, in some cases) that has to be hauled to and from the crag is overwhelming. Fortunately we live in a place with lots of crag options. We may have to be more selective for a while but I’m sure we’ll find a way to make it work.

The next two projects I’ve been working on were just unveiled at the Outdoor Retailer show last week, so its time to let the cat out of the bag. First, I’m co-authoring a book with my brother Mike Anderson on the subject of climbing training, tentatively titled The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. The book will be published by Fixed Pin Publishing and will hopefully be out some time this winter. Mike and I have been kicking around the idea of writing a training book for many years, at the suggestion of many different people. The book is loosely based on “The Making of A Rockprodigy”, a training article Mike wrote for Rockclimbing.com. Many climbers have had tremendous success using the Rock Prodigy training method and they have encouraged us to write something more expansive.

We began hashing out an outline in early November, and spent all winter writing more than 300 pages of copy for fifteen chapters. Here’s a preview of the table of contents to give you a rough idea of what the book is all about:

Part I: Taking Action

– Chapter 1: Introduction
– Chapter 2: Goal Setting and Planning
– Chapter 3: Skill Development

Part II: Physical Training

– Chapter 4: Foundations of Physical Training
– Chapter 5: Base Fitness
– Chapter 6: Strength
– Chapter 7: Power
– Chapter 8: Power Endurance
– Chapter 9: Rest, Injury Prevention, and Rehabilitation
– Chapter 10: Building a Training Plan and Other Training Considerations
– Chapter 11: Weight Management

Part III: Performing

– Chapter 12: Preparing to Perform
– Chapter 13: Red-Point and On-Sight Climbing
– Chapter 14: Traditional and Big Wall Free Climbing
– Chapter 15: Bouldering

Fixed Pin began the layout work in March, and we conducted a couple of photoshoots with Tommy Caldwell and Paige Claasen to help illustrate the concepts described in the book. The book will be in full color with more than 200 figures and pictures. If nothing else, I’m confident this will be the most visually appealing training book every produced! At this point the layout is almost complete and with a bit of luck the book should be off to the printer in a few weeks.

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Photoshoot strategery at Movement Climbing Gym with Tommy, Paige and my publisher, Jason Haas.

I’m really proud of this book. It was a ridiculous amount of work, but I think it will help a lot of people and it breaks a lot of new ground. Readers will notice right away that its very prescriptive. The book tells the reader exactly what to do and when, but it also goes to great lengths to educate the climber on how to tailor the workouts and schedule to meet his or her own specific needs. I think people want a step-by-step guide that removes the guess work form training, and that is exactly what this book does. Climbers with more training experience will easily be able to evolve the programs detailed in the book and make them their own, but at the same time beginners can follow each workout exactly as described and see amazing results.  The book also includes a helpful “Quick Start Guide” that will allow the reader to get to work immediately so they don’t have to read the book cover-to-cover before they can get started.

Many other books provide a catalogue of potential training activities, and then leave it up to the reader to decide how and when to put those activities together. This book provides an easy to follow formula for identifying a specific goal or set of goals, then explains exactly how to devise a comprehensive plan for attaining the goal, along with a detailed schedule explaining exactly which training activities to perform and when. No other resource spells out how to make your climbing dream into a reality quite like this.

CH9 draft1 high_Page_6

Sample page from Chapter 9. Photos on the lower left courtesy of Frederik Marmsater.

Furthermore, every exercise, tactic, plan, etc, we describe in the book is something we know works, because we actually do it ourselves. There are other books out there that go way out on a limb, describing exercises and training methods that the author obviously has never used (at least not extensively). This is not one of those books. The techniques and methods described in our book have been extensively tested and proven to produce serious (5.14-serious) results.

The project started as a detailed manual on physical training, but it also provides plenty of practical information on other improtant topics like skill development, weight-management, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and on-the-rock strategy and tactics. In particular, this is the first book I’m aware of that discusses strategy and tactics for Big Wall Free Climbing. Check back here for more details and status updates as the release date approaches.

The first sketch of the hangboard

The first sketch of the hangboard

The third and final “project” I referred to was spawned by the book. In February, after reviewing some of the early drafts of the book, my friend Adam Sanders at Trango texted me to see if I would be interested in designing a hangboard. I’ve long–well “fantasized” is really the appropriate word–about designing a hangboard. I’ve been using hangboards seriously for training for more than twelve years, and I’ve been through countless boards over that time. I’ve never been satisfied with any hangboard, and I’ve come up with many ideas on how to improve the concept. I was really excited by this opportunity, so I put together some concept sketches for Trango. 

In my view, there are three primary innovations with this product.  The most fundamental and obvious is the two-piece design, which has a number of benefits, including eliminating dead space and wasted plastic in the center of the board, allowing the board to fit climbers of different shoulder widths (thus reducing injury risk to shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers), and allowing for more “clearance” for inactive fingers when using pocket grips.  The next second innovation is the pinch design.  Without going into a bunch of detail, I’ll just boast that the pinches on this board will blow all other commercial hangboard pinches out of the water!  Finally, this board incorporates a variable depth rounded edge that will allow climbers with different finger sizes to find a nice, comfy edge that is repeatable while allowing for steady progression to smaller and smaller edges (more on this later).

HB Sketch Rev2

After about a week of discussing with various hangboard experts (Mike and Lamont), the sketch evolved into this.

Often you start with a noble vision, but reality, budget constraints, the laws of physics, and so forth get in the way. When Trango responded to my concept sketches I knew I had found the right partner. Trango was completely supportive of my ‘outside the box’ vision for the hangboard, and trusted me to make the board the way I wanted to. The result is something that will be both innovative and practical. My hope is that the “Rock Prodigy Training Center by Trango” will be a leap forward for hangboard design.

Lamont's CAD Model.

Lamont’s 3D CAD Model.

To be blunt, designing a hangboard is much harder than it looks, and that is why so many boards fall short. I learned this early on in the process, so we took our time with this board. I built mock-ups of all the grips so I could test them to ensure they were comfortable and ergonomic, but still challenging. My friend Lamont Smith built a CAD model of the design so we could tweak hold locations and shapes. We spent literally months fine-tuning the dual-texture finish to come up with a final result that looks good, performs well, and doesn’t trash your skin.

An early prototype of the left half, testing different texture options.

An early prototype of the left half, testing different texture options.

The Training Center should be available for purchase by early October. I will post a full (though admiteddly somewhat biased) review here before its released, including a detailed explanation of why its designed the way it is. I will aslo let everyone know when and where to get it. Trust me, if you have any interest in ever using a hangboard, you’re gonna want one of these!

Both halves in action.  This is another prototype before we settled on the final texture solution.

Both halves in action. This is another prototype before we settled on the final texture solution.