Shelf Anchor Replacement Wrap Up

The inaugural Shelf Road Anchor Replacement Weekend was a big hit.  We had a lot of volunteers and a lot of fun.  We replaced tons of mank hardware at The Bank and Cactus Cliff, and built a fence at the Bank Campground for the BLM. Anything we can do to maintain positive relations with landmanagers like the BLM is time well spent, but the main objective was hardware replacement. 

Much of the hardware at Shelf is getting to be 30 years old, so I think its really important that we take a pro-active approach to upgrading hardware whenever we can.  Fortunately there are guys like Bob D’Antonio and the American Safe Climbing Association working to make that happen.  In addition to Bob, Bruno Hanche and Derek Lawrence were instrumental in pulling off the event, providing hardware, and upgrading anchors.  Bruno in particular has spent several consecutive weekends at Shelf with Bob, working their way around the area, replacing hardware.

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

A fraction of the hardware replaced on Saturday

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present a slideshow on Saturday night.  “Untapped: The New Wave of Shelf Road Free Climbing” detailed my efforts over the last few years to push the upper end of difficulty at Shelf Road.  It was an interesting logistical challenge, since the show was at the Bank Campground, where there is no power and basically no facilities of any kind.  Trango lent me their projector, which I was able to run using a beefy Black and Decker 500 Watt inverter hot-wired directly to my car battery.  I built a movie screen by stapling a white bedsheet from Goodwill to a rectangle constructed from four 2×4’s.  It gets really windy at Shelf, so I was worried about the screen.  I brought a pile of rope and stakes to rig up the screen, but we found we could mount it quite nicely with a few screws to the new fence we constructed that morning 🙂

Once we got all the construction completed the show went off without a hitch. There was a great crowd, and I got a lot of good questions and compliments after.  Unfortunately I was too distracted to get any pictures of the show.  If anyone has any, please let me know!

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

Kate and Logan giving back at the 2150 Wall.

The next morning the heads of state were already planning next year’s event.  I’d love to see this turn into an annual affair, and considering the massive number of routes at Shelf, it will realistically take many years to completely upgrade all the sketchy hardware.

Off To The Printer

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual has been sent to the printer!  That means as far as my contributions are concerned, the book is “done”.  According to the guys at Fixed Pin, it normally takes about 3 months from the time the book is submitted to the printer until it arrives on bookshelves. 

The cover spread.  Mike took the cover photo of me on To Bolt Or Not To Be at Smith Rock.  The back cover includes some awesome feedback from our early reviewers.

The cover spread. Mike took the cover photo of me on To Bolt Or Not To Be at Smith Rock. Click on the photo to read the awesome praise on the Back Cover from our early reviewers.

Once the printer has the electronic file, they scan all the pages to ensure everything is of sufficient resolution for printing.  Then they will select 16 “representative” pages and print these all (in color) on one giant sheet of paper, which they will air-mail to Fixed Pin.  This will give us one last chance to review the colors and make sure everything looks “right”.  If we see any problems, we highlight them and send the sheet back to the printer.  Once they get the green light, they’ll configure the press to begin printing books.  Once the presses start running, the first book off the press is over-nighted to the publisher, and we have one last chance to “stop the presses” before the full run is completed. 

Once the books are printed, they’ll air-mail a small quantity of books (which are mostly used for promotional purposes), and the rest are boxed and put on a ship.  A large portion of the “3-month” process is consumed by the cargo ship crossing the Pacific Ocean.  If we’re lucky, the books clear customs without any snags and then they will be ready for distribution.

If all goes well, hopefully we will see it in stores/online by Valentine’s Day; tell your sweetheart: nothing says I love you like a climbing training book 🙂

Shelf Road Slideshow and Anchor Replacement, November 9-10, 2013

I’ll be at Shelf Road the weekend of November 9-10 to help organize Bob D’Antonio’s Shelf Road Anchor Replacement Weekend.  I helped out with last year’s event at Penitente Canyon and it was a lot of fun.  The Penitente Event was very productive, but Shelf needs this much more badly in my opinion, so I was really excited when Bob contacted me.  There are a lot of really sketchy old bolts at Shelf and the crag gets tremendous amounts of traffic.  The objective will be to identify and replace any home-made bolts, damaged or excessively worn/lose bolts, and sketchy lowering anchors.  This is a great opportunity to learn the basics of bolting and bolt replacement.

Shelf Anchor Replacement Flyer

The event should be a lot of fun as well.  Bob’s pulled together free food and beer for the masses, there will be a gear giveaway, with lots of different companies throwing in gear, and I’m planning to give a slideshow on Saturday night.  The slideshow will be about my new route development at Shelf over the last few years, how I became interested in pushing the standards at Shelf and what the future holds.

You don’t need to be a bolting master to participate.  If you can turn a wrench you can help out, and even if you can’t do that, we can find something helpful for you to do.  If nothing else, drop by to say, score some free beer and enjoy a free slideshow.  Hope to see you there!

Sport Alpine Climbing and Siege Sport Climbing

I’m currently reading Greg Crouch’s fascinating book “Enduring Patagonia”. I’ve always had this thought in the back of my mind that when the kids are grown up I’ll go climb Cerro Torre for “fun”.  After reading Crouch’s book I now realize the folly of that idea.  Crouch spent 68 days trying and failing to climb Cerro Torre’s infamous Compressor Route before he eventually succeeded.  Over the course of those 68 days he attempted the route 14 times!  I’ve pondered that number quite a bit and I’m having trouble truly comprehending it. It’s a credit to Crouch’s determination and perseverance. During my currently-hybernating alpine career, I’ve never tried a route more than twice, and even that was extremely rare.  On Devil’s Thumb we were within a few hundred vertical feet of the summit on our first attempt before the weather completely shut us down, so we bailed and returned to base camp and finished the climb a few days later.  Even considering my time as a sport climber, I can only come up with seven routes that I’ve tried 14 or more times. 

Marc Spriner (R) and I climbing into marginal weather on Devil's Thumb, Alaska.

Marc Springer (bottom right) and I climbing into marginal weather on Devil’s Thumb, Alaska.  Photo Mike Anderson. 

Yet siege-style sport climbing is hardly rare. I know plenty of sport climbers who have spent 100 or more days working a single project.  I have a special admiration for people who can stay devoted to a single pitch of rock for that amount of time.  I don’t think I have the perseverance to do that; I lack the attention span, plus I prefer to bounce around between various crags. But mostly, I prefer to avoid siege-projecting because I believe it’s not an optimal way to improve at climbing.  There’s no doubt that putting in countless days can yield impressive results, far beyond what one might normally achieve, but there is often a significant difference between achievement and improvement.  Mega-projecting can be a great tool to accomplish a goal when used sparingly, like a .13c-or-so climber going all out to climb one 5.14 before he retires. However, if the goal is improvement over the long run, I think a superior use of one’s climbing time is to climb many different routes, on different types of rock.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t reach for the stars.  I do that plenty, but my approach is to try such routes until I reach the point of diminishing returns.  On any project you will eventually reach that point where you know all the moves, you’re falling in the same spot(s) over and over, and you’re just hoping for a miraculous star-alignment to occur to facilitate a send.  At that point you are unlikely to improve much as a climber by continuing on the route.  You may get better at climbing that particular route, but not much better at climbing in general.  On the other hand, if you move on to another route, you will be exposed to an entire pitch of new moves and sequences.  If the new route is at another crag, you may also be exposed to a new type of rock, new warmups, etc.  Focusing on routes that you can send in 5 or less days will get you up 20 times more routes as the guy spending 100 days on the same 80-foot climb.

A good exception to this policy is the climber with a mental block that is preventing physical progression.  If you’re someone who constantly gets close to sending but never quite pulls it off, putting in the time to break through that barrier may pay dividends on future climbs.  For example, if you’ve been stuck at the same grade for many seasons, and you are sending routes of that grade quicker and quicker, but you just can’t manage the next grade, it may be that your mind hasn’t quite accepted the idea that you are capable of climbing harder.  Proving it just once (even through a protracted siege), can allow your head to embrace your new level, and you may find that subsequent projects at the higher grade progress much more quickly.

Grand Ol' Opry turned out to be a protracted-for-me campaign of ~14 total days spread over two seasons.  It took longer than I wanted, but it helped me overcome my mental resistance to climbing harder than 5.14a.

Grand Ol’ Opry turned out to be a protracted-for-me campaign of ~13 total days spread over two seasons. It took longer than I wanted, but it helped me overcome my mental resistance to climbing harder than 5.14a.  Photo Ken Klein.

Generally, if I’m not on the verge of sending a project after 5 days or so, I select another, shorter-term objective, then when the season has run its course I retreat to the gym for more training.  When I feel I’ve improved enough that the objective is within my 5-or-so-day target window, I plan for a block of time to try it again.  Part of this is simply personal preference; I prefer not to spend an entire season at the same crag, doing the same warmups over and over, etc.  But I also think it’s a better approach for improving.  It allows me to keep the ‘send train’ rolling even if my eyes are too big for my stomach, it keeps me moving over more terrain, and it makes my training cycles laser-focused on tangible, motivating goals.  The initial reconnaissance of the route provides extremely valuable information that I can use to tailor the next season’s training to the route.  With these details about the route, I can determine which grip positions to emphasize, particular movement sequences that need practice (which I can incorporate into my bouldering sessions), and how to design a power endurance circuit to suit the route.

The process of redpointing Scarface, my first 5.14, involved three separate campaigns of 4 or 5 days, spread out over two years. Twice I retreated to the gym for more training, and each time I returned I had improved substantially. I eventually sent after 4 days of work in March 2007.

The process of redpointing Scarface, my first 5.14, involved three separate campaigns of 4 or 5 days, spread out over two years. Twice I retreated to the gym for more training, and each time I returned I had improved substantially. I eventually sent after 4 days of work in March 2007. The process never got stale, and by the end of the journey, I had transformed myself into a climber capable of climbing many 5.14s, not just that one 5.14.

Ideally, nearly every day I’m on a project I’m learning new sequences, trying unusual moves, and making steady progress (reducing the number of hang points, or moving my highpoint steadily up the route).  From an improvement perspective, this is the most productive way to project routes.  So how do you know when to go big and when to go home? There is no precise number of days; its a matter of identifying the point of stagnation and making a decision at that time.  With anything in climbing, it gets easier to make that decision with practice.  Generally, you should be able to do all the moves within the first two days (unless a particular move is right off the ground or comes after a great rest, and you have good reason to believe the move will go with another day or two of work).  Once you know all the moves, focus on reducing the number of hangs it takes to get up the route.  Ideally that number will go down by one or more on each subsequent attempt at the route (from 4 hangs to three hangs, and so on), but at the very least try to improve your hang number at least once each climbing day.  If you find yourself repeating the same number of hangs on subsequent days, its time to make a decision.  If you’re falling in the same spots each time, it might make sense to move on to greener pastures.  If you’re falling in different spots, particularly if you’re pushing those points higher and higher up the wall, it might make sense to stick with your project.

This approach should not be allowed to undermine your commitment to your goals.  The idea is not to quit, but rather to re-group, reconsider your approach, and then return when better equipped to succeed.  This cycle of effort only works if you remain committed to the goal during the interim period between attempts. Often you will experience a feeling of loss when you retreat from such a route.  To minimize any “wasted” effort, document your attempts at the route to the extent possible.  Shoot video of the sequences you’ve worked out, create a “beta map”, and take detailed notes on your efforts. Note what worked and what didn’t, what time of year or time of day would be ideal for the next attempt, and how you would train differently in the future to better prepare for the route.  This information, combined with a sound training approach, will optimally prepare you to complete the project in a subsequent season, and there will always be plenty of other routes to send in the mean time.

I first tried Busload of Faith in 2010.  I spent 4 days working the route, before bad weather and waning fitness shut down my climbing season.  At the time, I felt like I was close to sending and I was disappointed that those 4 days had been "wasted" on a route I didn't send.  When I returned in 2011, I sent the route on my second try of that season!  Clearly the time I invested in 2010 was not wasted.  In reality, its likely I would have needed more that two additional attempts to send the route in 2010.  The time away from the route allowed me to improve significantly, and facilitated a faster send once I was able to get on the route again.

I first tried Busload of Faith in 2010. I spent 4 days working the route, before bad weather and waning fitness shut down my climbing season. At the time, I felt like I was close to sending and I was disappointed that those 4 days had been “wasted” on a route I didn’t send. When I returned in 2011, I sent the route on my second try of that season! Clearly the time I invested in 2010 was not wasted. In reality, its likely I would have needed more that two additional attempts to send the route in 2010. The time away from the route allowed me to improve significantly, and facilitated a faster send once I was able to get on the route again.

Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

We recently spent a few days in Wyoming to take advantage of the last week of Kate’s maternity leave. Sinks and Wild Iris are among our favorite crags.  I can’t ever recall having a bad day at Wild Iris.  Even when I get bouted by a project there (which happens often enough), the warmup climbs are so fun and the setting so magnificent its hard to leave the crag without a smile.

The weather on our trip turned out to be a bit schizophrenic, varying from highs in the 80’s to snow and a high of 40 only a few days later.  This kept us bouncing from crag to crag in search of bearable conditions, but we were able to spend a gorgeous day at Wild Iris and a few at Sinks Canyon. This was our first serious climbing trip with two kids, so we weren’t sure how things would go.

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

We started at the Killer Cave, and I managed to climb a number of great routes, including a pair of classic 5.13s.  I attempted an onsight of The Urchin, a short, gymnastic roof climb right at the top of the approach trail.  I fumbled the roof sequence, which was probably a blessing because I doubt I could have kept it together on the tricky finishing slab.  I also sent Virga, a super fun, super reachy .13c or d (d in my experience, at 5’7″).  Quite a fine effort back in the day by the frequently underestimated Paul Piana.  Virga climbs some of the best limestone I’ve seen in America, but it only lasts for about 20 feet, and the winch start is literally as long as the route itself.  Still, the climbing is super fun and definitely worth doing if you like dynamic pulls between sinker two-finger pockets. Pretty much every move on the route is burly, but the moves are so big that its over in a flash. 

One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull almost to my knee!
One of the big moves on Virga, locking-off a sidepull nearly to my knee!

After a couple of days dragging 60 pounds of Logan-plus-climbing-gear up the steep slog to the Killer Cave, I wanted convenience.  I’ve climbed quite a bit at Wild Iris, but I had never been to the OK Corral, which is located almost on top of the car-camping area.  The cliff is about 100-feet from the road, making it the perfect choice for weary parents. 

I had heard that the rock at the OK Corral wasn’t as good as that at the rest of the Iris.  I couldn’t tell; it was way better than any other limestone I’ve climbed in the last year! I set out with two goals for the day, first to tick ten routes, a major challenge with kids in tow, and second, to try to send the elusive “White Buffalo”, an enourmous boulder with a 3-bolt mini-route on its Southeast face.  The route is given 5.13d/V11, which is a good indication of the way things are graded at Wild Iris.  At any given grade you should expect to have to crank much harder moves than you usually would.  This is presumably because the routes are often quite short, but I think it’s as much an indication of the quality of climbers that have graced the Lander community through the years. 

The Rock-over move

The Rock-over move

Based on the forecast it seemed unlikely I would get another day at Wild Iris, so I would have to give it my best shot to send the line that day.  I took my time getting warmed up, climbing a number of really fun but never trivial warmups.  White Buffalo gets sun most of the day, so I kept running between the main wall and the boulder to check the shade status.  It seemed like the sun was hardly moving at all, so I kept dragging out my warmup waiting for shade.  My final warmup climb was a brilliant “12a” buttress called “Give My Love to Rose”.  It had quite a burly mono crank on it, and to be honest it felt like about a 12c effort to get up the thing onsight…so its probably soft by Wild Iris standards!

At the slopy 1-pad edge

At the slopy 1-pad edge

Around 4pm White Buffalo finally went into the shade, so I jumped on it.  The route overhangs maybe 5 or 10 degrees, and follows tiny imperfections up an otherwise impeccable wall.  The stone is so smooth it looks more like the polished quartzite of Arapiles than Bighorn Dolomite.  The route starts out easily, but quickly gets down to business with a huge rock-over move to a diagonal, left-hand 1/4″ crimp. The crux is standing up with this left hand and moving to a pad-and-a-half-deep four-finger pocket. Its possible to reach this pocket with either hand, either with a huge windmill move with the right hand, or by using a half-pad mono sidepull for the right hand and then bumping the left hand to the pocket.  I experimented with both options for a while but couldn’t manage either.  After 15 minutes or so I moved on to the upper panel.  Relative to the crux, the finish is not too bad, but none of the holds are positive and the feet are small, so each move feels desparate and inscure.  From the 4-finger pocket, a slopy, 1-pad edge allows a clip, then a a pair of 3 finger pockets and a big high-step lead to a committing huck to the lip of the boulder.

Gunning for the lip of the boulder
Gunning for the lip of the boulder

I was a bit demoralized, having failed to do the crux move at all on my first go, but with the sun beginning to set conditions were improving rapidly.  I rested for 45-minutes, trying to cool off my skin, and debating which hand sequence I should use at the crux. Heading up a route without a clear plan leads to hesitation, and on routes like this, hesitation almost always results in failure. Certain routes, like White Buffalo, are best climbed with momentum, barreling onward, leaving the climber no time to contemplate his unlikely position, clinging spider-like to a sheet of glass. The windmill beta was less tenuous, but low percentage.  I commited to trying the mono beta and tied on for my second go.  The natives were getting restless for dinner, so it was doubtful I would get a third try.

I climbed smoothly up to the rock-over move, and latched the left-hand crimp. The rock was much cooler and the tiny edge now felt much better. I carefully stood up, shifted my hips slightly to the left, and delicately placed my finger into the mono sidepull. I popped my left hand to the four-finger pocket and exhaled. After a quick dab of chalk, I reached the sloping edge, clipped, and clawed my way to the high pockets.  I brought up my feet, gunned for the lip, and mantled over the top of the boulder.

Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0, in the Tetons

Rest Day in the Tetons with Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0

Get ’em While They’re Hot!

The Rock Prodigy Training Center is now available for purchase from Trango’s website!  The initial manufacturing run produced a modest number of units, so order right away if you want to be the first climber on your block to have one.

Packaged RPTCs ready to ship to YOUR front door!

Packaged RPTCs ready to ship to YOUR front door!

This ground-breaking hangboard was designed by me, with help from my brother Mike and Lamont Smith.  In my humble opinion, this is the best hangboard on the market, and is a big leap forward in hangboard design.  This board will help beginners unlock the amazing power of hangboard training, by eliminating the top barriers to hangboarding and starting them on the fast-track to finger strength.  In my experience, these barriers are pain and risk of injury.  This board is exceedingly comfortable, and was built with ergonomics in mind first and foremost. 

Two-Piece desing -- your joints will thank you.

Two-Piece design — your joints will thank you.

The most obvious innovation in ergonomics and injury prevention is the two-piece design.  I really don’t understand why nobody has created a two-piece board already (though production cost may be one reason).  Two independent pieces are absolutely fundamental and essential to safe hangboarding.  First, they allow each climber to adjust the hold-spacing to their own shoulder-width, so Jane doesn’t have to do an Iron Cross on Bruce’s board, and Bruno doesn’t have to press his elbows to his ears to use Julie’s board.  Second, they allow the two halves to be rotated independently, so the holds on the board can be properly aligned with the climber’s fingers, accounting for variations in finger lengths, and eliminating unsafe strain on the climber’s wrist. Also, nearly every one piece board has a bunch of holds in the center that are useless (for two-arm hangs).  This board eliminates that wasted plastic and distributes it where it can be used safely.

Skin friendly, large-radius lips on all holds.

Skin friendly, large-radius lips on all holds.

All the holds on the board have large-radius, skin-friendly lips to maximize comfort. The board has three textures (completely smooth, medium texture, and rough texture) to give a secure feel on positive surfaces without wrecking your skin. The board includes multiple size options (usually three sizes or more) for all of the most important grip positions, ensuring that climbers of all abilities will find Goldilocks Holds-those that are just right for maximizing your finger strength.  Furthermore, the size options provide a built-in ladder of progression that will make the RPTC a valuable training investment for years to come.

While I’m certain the above features will help beginners break into hangboarding, this board was wihtout-a-doubt designed with hardcore training fiends in mind.  I’ve been hangboarding seriously for nearly twelve years.  By that I mean, three or more seasons per year, with 8-12, 90-minute hangboard sessions per season.  That’s literally 100’s of hours spent hanging from all manner of hangboards.  Mike has another 15 years of his own experience that went into this design.  We wanted to develop a board that would help extremely experienced hangboarders push to the next level, by minimizing all the little annoyances that inhibit your hangboard training sessions (like skin irritation, joint pain, features that encourage cheating, unrealistic shapes and impractical hold sizes). Even if you aren’t a hangboard connoisseur, you will benefit from the thought and attention to detail that went into the design, and you won’t outgrow this board once you become fanatical about training.

Finally, I was determined to develop a practical yet functional means of progressing to smaller grips, without the need to constantly buy more and more hangboards as the climber improves.  Often once your hangboard does its job – making you stronger – there is nowhere to go except to a new, expensive hangboard. I’ve gone through five different hangboards over the years, not counting a hodge-podge collection of bolt-on holds I’ve used to supplement my insufficient hangboards.  No more! This vicious circle had to stop. The Variable Depth Edge Rails on this board provide an almost limitless ladder of progressively shallower edges to train from.  These features, along with the “Position Index Bumps”, allow tremendous variation in hold size without taking up too much space on the board (or resulting in a fragile design).  Each climber will be able to find a spot on the Edge Rail that is perfect for their finger size and ability, and then as their fingers strengthen, they can incrementally progress to smaller holds by shifting their hands outward, using the Position Index Bumps as a reference point for repeatable training.

Variable Depth Edge Rails, and Position Index Bumps provide incrementally progression in a practical, compact design.

Variable Depth Edge Rails, and Position Index Bumps provide incrementally progression in a practical, compact design. (right half shown)

Slide your hand outward, using the Position Index Bump as a reference point, to incrementally increase difficulty.

Slide your hand outward, using the Position Index Bump as a reference point, to incrementally increase difficulty. (Left half shown)

For moving pictures that further describe the features of the RPTC, please check out the “Using the Rock Prodigy Training Center Video” below.

That’s a Wrap!

The Lazy H, all cleaned up with a temporary hangboard mounting structure installed.

The Lazy H, all cleaned up with a temporary hangboard mounting structure installed.

Last week the Lazy H Barn was the star of its own film.  A big part of launching the Rock Prodigy Training Center is creating a few short videos about the board (describing the key features of the board, how to install it, and how to use it), and Trango decided to use the Lazy H for the shoot location. She was very excited, so I spent some time getting her in tip top shape for the camera.

Adjusting the lights and positioning the camera crane to shoot the RPTC.

Adjusting the lights and positioning the camera crane to shoot the RPTC.

Trango pulled out all the stops for the shoot, sending out Ben Fullerton and Travis Ramos to direct and film the videos.  These guys were super-professional; I was totally blown away.  They had all sorts of fancy equipment, including boom mics, camera cranes, adjustable light stands and this thing they called a “slider” to get super-smooth panning closeups.  They even had a “slate” for marking down the scene and take (with a clacking hinge for shouting “action!”). This was easily the highlight of the day for Adam (that, and trying to find a restaurant that would deliver to the middle of nowhere).      

Ben (L) and Adam Sanders (Trango Product Manager and RPTC Brainchild) prepping the first shot of me walking into the barn.
Ben (L) and Adam Sanders (Trango Product Manager and RPTC Brainchild) prepping the first shot of me walking into the barn.

It was really interesting seeing the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of modern climbing film-making. You have no idea how much work goes into making a really professional film until you participate in the process.  We shot for 8 hours straight, and the end product will probably be around 5-7 minutes of video. Ben and Travis did a great job of arranging the shots and coaching me on my acting skills. I got my first taste of what to expect on the first shot of the day, a straightforward shot of me walking in to the barn.  We did 5 takes of this, varying my pace, what I was looking at, and even how I opened the door, until I got it right.  I had no idea I was such a bad walker–it takes practice to nail the perfect pimplimp 🙂  Keep that in mind the next time you’re watching a climbing film with a shot of climbers casually strolling to the crag.

Ricky Bobby

The whole experience was a blast, with lots of goofing around.  A hot topic was what I should be doing with my hands during the narration, and we kept joking about the scene in Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby is being interviewed for the first time and keeps lifting his hands up by his ears. 

Filming the on-screen narration
Filming the on-screen narration

The narration was fun but exhausting.  I was expecting to do voice over, as opposed to on-camera narration, so I didn’t have any of the lines memorized. The script was extremely wordy, with phrases like, “A good selection for an intermediate climber might include the Warmup Jug, Large Open-Hand Edge, Deep 2-Finger Pocket, Small Semi-Closed Edge, Shallow 3-Finger pocket, Wide Pinch, and a Sloper.”  Everybody was extremely patient as I fumbled the lines over and over again. 

Reading the voice-over. This part was a breeze, and apparently the Lazy H has stellar acoustics.

Reading the voice-over. This part was a breeze, and apparently the Lazy H has stellar acoustics.

Once the on-screen narration was filmed, I did a straight voice-over read of each script.  This will be used to lay over the action shots.  This part was much easier because I could simply read the script.  Also there was no need to re-load the camera memory cards, so this process went really quickly.

With all the sound captured, we got to do the fun part, filming the ation.  This part was much easier, but we still had to do certain steps numerous times to get different camera angles and so forth. 

Travis manning the slider while Ben gets the wide shot.

Travis manning the slider while Ben gets the wide shot.

I was amazed by how much work it was to set up a single shot.  Lights had to be moved around, then constantly tuned (in terms of position and brightness) to get the right look.  Sometimes it might take 30 minutes to set up for 2 minutes of filming (of which only 10 seconds will make the final cut).  At the end of the day, I was blown away by the professionalism of the people involved.  They did an amazing job and I can’t wait to see the final product; I’m sure its going to be stellar. [Ed. Note: The final videos will be hosted on Trango’s site. I’ll post a link from my blog once the final videos are up and running.]

Finally, this was my first opportunity to try out the production version of the Rock Prodigy Training Center. It’s literally a pleasure to hang from.  I’m almost tempted to cut short my season so I can start hangboarding again as soon as possible 🙂 

The RPTC ready for action.

                                                  The RPTC ready for action.

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.

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.

IMG_5829

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.

On A Mission

I’m heading out to Smith Rock in a few days for a two-week trip. The climbing at Smith is extremely thin and technical — and difficult to prepare for. I believe strongly in taining and I generally feel that using indoor tools is superior to “just climbing” outside (for building strength, power, and endurance). That said, indoor training is far from ideal for developing or polishing technique. For highly technique-dependent climbing, like that at Smith, some amount of outdoor skill practice is essential. Outdoor training can also help prepare your finger skin if its done wisely (in moderation).

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

In 2008 I spent two weeks at Smith working and sending To Bolt or Not To Be, perhaps the most technical single-pitch climb in America. My training strategy for that season was pretty unusual, but very effective. I lengthened my Base-Fitness Phase by adding more ARC workouts, and I ordered a bunch of really tiny crimps to add to the Lazy H. I did a standard Strength Phase (but I added a thin, closed-crimp grip to my hangboard routine). After 8 hangboard workouts I immediately transitioned to outdoor climbing 2 days per week (normally I would have a 2-4 week transition period of bouldering and/or campusing). I climbed in the Lazy H a third day each week, doing thin, power-endurance linked bouldering circuits.

The key to this approach was selecting an appropriate “training route”. That season I worked Third Millenium at the Monastery, a barely overhanging, thin, technical, and sustained 5.13d. Ironically I didn’t send Third Millenium in 8 days of work (though I went on to send it later), but then went on to send To Bolt in just 7 days (you do the math on that!). Third Millenium was the perfect route; it got my footwork dialed, my lead head in order, and trained power-endurance on the right types of holds. The point being, if you want to utilize outdoor training to prepare for a goal route, the most effective way to do so is:

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

1. Pick the right training routes, those that are as-similar-as-possible to the route you are training for, in terms of steepness, hold type, continuity, commitment, and length.

2. Accept that the purpose of each day’s cragging is to train for your goal, not to send! This may mean cutting sessions short to avoid trashing your finger skin, to avoid too much fatigue, or to squeeze in a bit of indoor training at the end of each crag day.

In the pre-parenthood era of 2008 I had a lot more options, whereas now there are significant advantages to staying close to home. I decided the ideal training route this time around would be “Mission Overdirve”, a linkup of “Mission Impossible” and “Interstellar Overdrive” in Clear Creek Canyon. Mission Impossible was bolted by Jay Samuelson and immediately offered to the community as an open project. Dan Woods eventually came away with the FA, calling the line 5.14d and the hardest route he had ever climbed, even hard than Jaws II (5.15a at Rumney), opening with a V12 boulder, followed by pumpy climbing to a V11 finish.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Jonathan Siegrist actually tried the line first, but didn’t have time to commit to the full route. He established the Mission Overdrive link-up before heading overseas, calling the line 14a/b. This linkup climbs the opening “V12” boulder of MI before joining Interstellar (5.13d) for its notorious “V8” crux. The entire line is about 70 feet long and overhangs 10 feet. The first half is basically dead vertical, with super thin, slopey edges and invisible footholds. The climbing is super insecure and there are about 10 moves in a row where you can pop off at any point. The Interstellar crux is steeper, with very tiny crimps that are fortunately incut-enough to pull out on. The pivotal move is a huge lock-off from a half-pad crimp to reach a slopey finger slot. The route is perfect for me and a great training route for Smith.

I first tried the route last Saturday. I was able to do all the moves on the lower crux but I couldn’t see how I was going to link all those moves, or even let go to clip. By the time I reached the top I was too worked to make any progress on the Interstellar crux. Then on the second go I shocked myself by climbing most of the way through the low crux, ultimately stymied by a precarious clip. At that point I knew the line was do-able and I was committed. I spent some more time on the upper crux, then headed home for a campus session.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

My next outdoor day was supposed to be the following Friday, but I couldn’t wait that long so I arranged for a short outdoor session on Monday evening followed by an indoor Power-Endurance session on Tuesday. Normally I would never climb two days in a row like that, so the key was to keep Monday’s effort short and minimize any wear on my skin. I did two 30-minute burns, with the goal of working out a viable clipping strategy for the low crux, and dialing the low-percentage upper crux, which comes with a substantial pump. I was able to achieve both goals, but at the end of the day there was still a 10-foot transition section that I hadn’t really worked out. The climbing is ~5.11+, easy enough to figure out on the fly, but just hard enough to get you pumped before the final boulder problem., so I wanted to have an efficient sequence worked out.

Friday was a dedicated outdoor day, so I took my time with a thorough warmup. I climbed a rad .12b face climb at the Monkey House called The Reward. This is a brilliant thin edging climb with a committing crux. If only it were twice as long! My first burn on Mission Overdive, I sent most of the way through the low crux, but botched a foot sequence and pumped off. I took the opportunity to work out the 11+ transition section, but then I was unable to do the Interstellar crux. The move is very precise and requires the perferct coordination of all four limbs. You need to move just high enough to reach the hold; any higher and your low hand will pop off. The high hand has to slide perfectly into a narrow slot, requiring a precise deadpoint. Both “footholds” are miniscule, and must be weighted just enough to complete the move but not so much that your feet slide off. After a few tries I was able to find the right timing.

Preparing to turn the roof.

Preparing to turn the roof.

I took a 45-minute break, and then tried again. This time I recalled my sequence for the first crux perfectly. There are many subtle foot shifts, so that was not a trivial feat. I was pumped, but not overwhelmingly so. The low crux ends at a decent left handhold, allowing a clip and a brief shake. Next the route tackles an intimidating roof with a really cool highstep and dyno to reach an awesome rest. I was able to recover completely at this rest, then I cruised up the 5.11+ section. At the high crux I was notably pumped, but there is a so-so shake just below, and I took my time here and got back what I could. My forearms felt powered-down, but I reckoned I could still bear down for a few moves, so I went for it. When you hit each move just right, this crux almost feels easy, and you can understand how this could be called V8. I got the finger slot, then a few more slopey pods to reach damp jugs and the anchor.

Overall the line is fantastic, hands-down my favorite route in Clear Creek Canyon. I’m really stoked to try the full Mission Impossible, but I think that will have to wait until I return from Smith. I’m not too sure about the grade; this is the fastest I’ve sent a 5.14, so based on that logic it seems unlikely that its 14b. On the other hand, I’m in great shape on paper, so who knows? I highly doubt the low crux is V12; I’ve never even tried an established V12, so I really have no clue, but I assume V12 is harder than that! I would say more like hard V10 or easy 11; and a realistic V9 for the Interstellar crux. The real challenge of the route is keeping it together over a large number of difficult sequences.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

I think it goes to show how strengths and weaknesses can affect grades. Ideally these factors should be accounted for when assigning a grade but its not simple to extrapolate and so these factors often have a big effect. There is a tendency to assume that certain climbers have an absolute understanding of the grade scale (Adam Ondra, for example) but it really doesn’t work that way. The style of route and the climber’s tastes are critical to their perception of a route’s difficulty. The bottom line is, any time you find a sequence that is hard for you, take it as an opportunity to improve, regardless of the grade.  If you find something feels easy, enjoy it!  The pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough.

I’m off to Smith on Thursday, with pretty thick skin, decent footwork, and high confidence. I’ll be teaching a footwork clinic (8:30am at Redpoint Climber’s Supply) and giving a slideshow (8:30pm), both on Saturday April 20th. Come out and say hi if you’re in the area.