Designing A Transition Phase – New Post on!

Check out my new post on “Designing A Transition Phase”  over at

“In this post I introduced the concept of the Transition Phase.  This is the several-week period during each training cycle in which you shift your focus from primarily indoor training to primarily outdoor climbing (and sending!).  Chapter 10: Building a Seasonal Training Plan from the forthcoming  “The Rock Climber’s Training Manual” thoroughly describes how to build a training plan, and it provides numerous sample plans to get you started.  These plans include these transitions, but we’ll talk about some of the “how and why” in more detail here, to help you build your own plan …”  Continue Reading

Bouldering for Power

Power is an essential element of climbing performance.  One could argue (and many have) it is the most critical physical aspect of climbing performance.  As Tony Yaniro famously said, “if you have no power, there is nothing to endure”.  If you cannot execute the hardest individual moves on your goal route, everything else is moot.  It’s certainly true that every performance-oriented climber can benefit from improved power. 

Last year, I discussed at length how to use a Campus Board to improve power.  While highly-effective at developing pure power, Campus Training is only moderately specific to climbing.  Bouldering can provide ultra-specific and effective  power training, provided it is done “properly”. 

Gratuitous bouldering pic: Starting up the classic Bishop highball High Plains Drifter, V7

Gratuitous bouldering pic: Starting up the classic Bishop highball High Plains Drifter, V7

Bouldering can be great fun, and that can present a problem for climbers-in-training.  The casual nature of the activity makes it easy to get side-tracked on problems that are unique and challenging, but perhaps not ideal for facilitating improvement.  As discussed here power training must be extremely intense and brief to be effective.  Many boulder problems have far too many moves to provide effective power training.  The challenge of such problems is not in executing a single powerful move, but in linking several moderately-difficult-yet-pumpy moves.  This is Power Endurance training at its finest–it has its place, just not in your Power Phase!

This is where Limit Bouldering comes in.  Limit Bouldering is climbing short boulder problems that feature one or two realistic moves right at the climber’s physical limit.  Effective Limit Boulder problems are characterized by:

  • One or Two crux moves
  • Dynamic cruxes (such as a long move to latch a small edge, where core tension is required to keep your feet on small footholds)
  • Cruxes close to the ground, so pump and fear are not factors

Above I hinted at the other major pitfall of bouldering, when I wrote that Limit Bouldering should feature realistic moves.  It is well-known that training must be “specific” to be effective.  That is, if you are training for a route whose crux involves half-pad crimps up a 10-degree overhang, you would be best served training on half-pad crimps, and Limit Bouldering on a 10-degree overhang (if you climb routes in North America, it is quite rare that you ever climb anything steeper than 30-degrees overhanging, even at crags like the Red, Maple, and Rifle).

However,  many indoor bouldering venues devote only a tiny fraction of their terrain to walls that overhang 30-degrees or less.  Instead they favor terrain that is just plain too steep to be realistic.  Steep terrain is really fun, and everyone wants to be the hero swinging monkey-like across the horizontal roof.  There is no doubt such problems are enjoyable, and many are quite challenging; it’s easy to see why they are so popular.  The problem is, in order for us mortals to climb these too-steep features, we require enormous holds that are too big to properly stress the finger flexors (instead emphasizing shoulder, upper arm, and back strength).

Holds like this are skin-friendly, fun to climb on, and minimize the risk of finger injury.  Unfortunately they don't exist in the real world, so they offer little training value.

Holds like this are skin-friendly, fun to climb on, and minimize the risk of finger injury. Unfortunately they don’t exist in the real world, so they offer little training value.

This situation would be dire enough, but often the lack of realism is further compounded by exotic hold shapes (massive volumes, slopers, jugs, and other protruding features that are easily pinched).  The third strike comes in the shape of relatively enormous, incut footholds that encourage huge moves and minimal core tension.  Put these factors together and the result is a smorgasbord of problems that are a whole of fun to climb but provide little training benefit to actual rock climbers.  Hard rock climbing in America is about pulling on small edges and pockets, while standing on tiny footholds on near-vertical terrain.  The ability to campus from one lightbulb-shaped protrusion to the next has no relevance.

The North American sector of the Real World is mostly covered in small edges and pockets.  Train accordingly!  Fred Gomez crushing the Hueco classic Baby Face, V7

The North American sector of the Real World is mostly covered in small edges and pockets. Train accordingly! Fred Gomez crimping up the Hueco classic Baby Face, V7

Fortunately these bouldering pitfalls are easily avoided.  To maximize the specificity of your Limit Bouldering terrain, set or select problems that include these elements:

  • Realistic steepness (rarely steeper than 30 degrees for climbers in the US)
  • Realistic hold spacing (smaller holds, spaced relatively close together)
  • Realistic hold sizes (small handholds AND tiny footholds)
  • Realistic hold shapes (rounded edges, sharp edges, pockets, and intricate footholds that demand precise foot placements)
  • Holds that cannot be pinched
  • Holds that do not inadvertently result in large footholds when used as sidepulls/underclings/pockets (or mark such holds “off” for feet)

If you train at a public facility where you are unable to set your own problems, talk to your routesetters &/or gym management and encourage them to set problems that facilitate effective training.   Gyms want to make their customers happy, so tell them what you want.  They may even allow you to set some of your own problems.  If that fails, make up your own problems linking in situ holds, or use the gym’s System Board to create your own problems (often System Boards are covered in a variety of realistic holds).

For those that set their own problems, below are a few recommendations of some of my favorite hold sets.  If your local gym is lacking, consider recommending some of these sets to the routesetters.  One general piece of advice: invest in high quality holds, especially if you have a small climbing wall.  Good holds will keep you psyched much longer, and allow you to make the most of your training time.  You’ll get far more mileage out of 10 good holds than you will out of 20 low-quality holds. 

All of the sets described below feature realistic shapes that will be challenging on wall angles of 0 to 30 degrees overhanging.  For each hold type, these are listed more or less in order of preference.  The grade ranges are rough approximations and will vary greatly depending on orientation and spacing:

This pic of one of my "Comfy Crimps" says it all.  You know a hold is good when you see 12 pieces of tape next to it!

This pic of one of my “Comfy Crimps” says it all. You know a hold is good when you see 12 pieces of tape next to it!

Moderate Edges:

1. e-Grips “Comfy Crimps”   These were my first set of holds, and they’re still one of my favorites.  These edges are easy on the skin and rather incut.  These are great for 5.12-ish climbers on a steep (~30 degree) wall.

2. e-Grips “Midnight Desert Crimps”   This set includes a variety of sizes and shapes, that are generally a number-grade or so more challenging than the Comfy Crimps.  Most of these holds are ideal on vertical-to-slightly-overhanging terrain, though some of the larger holds can be used on the steeps.

3. Entre Prises “Super Tweaks”   These holds were the secret to my speedy ascent of To Bolt Or Not To Be. The north wall of the Lazy H is dead vertical and plastered with these irregular, sloping edges.  These are nearly impossible to pull out on, so they require great balance and footwork.  Perfect for improving technique on a vertical wall.  These will challenge climbers form 5.11-5.14 depending on how they’re used. 

Super Tweaks: These make challenging hand and footholds, depending on how they're oriented.

Super Tweaks: These make challenging hand and footholds, depending on how they’re oriented.

Heinously Difficult Edges:

1. e-Grips “Ian’s Tribal”    These guys are brutal–the most challending set in this list–they will transform you into a crimping fiend, assuming you can pull off the ground.  These are 5.14 holds when mounted on a 30 degree overhang.  Nearly all of my hardest Limit Boulder problems feature one or more of these.  The pocket that comes with this set is also my favorite two-finger pocket (when oriented horizontally) and my favorite mono (oriented vertically).

Three of my favorites: 2Tex Pure Crimp in red, Ian's Tribal in green, and Supertweak in blue.

Three of my favorites: 2Tex Pure Crimp in red, Ian’s Tribal in green, and Supertweak in blue.

2. e-Grips “2Tex Pure Crimps”   These edges are awesome.  They feature glassy-smooth texture on the backside so they are impossible to use as footholds.  These are ideal when you want a sidepull or undercling that won’t produce a huge foothold.  Most of these aren’t very incut, so they’re 5.13/14 holds on steeper walls, but 5.11/12 on less-steep walls.

3. e-Grips “Buttons”  These are generally small, but very incut edges.  Some of these can be used as footholds, some as handholds, but they work best overhanging terrain.  These can be in the 5.12 range when used on a 10-degree overhang, up to 5.14 on a 30 degree overhang.

4. e-Grips “Hueco Patina Flakes”  These are small but very incut edges.  They’re much more irregular than most edges, which can provide a nice change of pace.  Often you can get your fingertips “behind” the incuts on these, making them ideal for steeper terrain.  These are generally a bit bigger/easier to use than the buttons.

1. e-Grips “Fossil Pockets”  These pockets are smooth, deep, incut, and ergonomic.  They’re on the large side, making for 5.12/13 terrain on steeper walls and 5.11/12 terrain on less steep walls.
2. e-Grips “Limestone Pockets”   These are much more challenging than the Fossil Pockets, and the set includes a couple of mono pockets.  When oriented slopey-side-down on a steep wall, these are 5.14 holds.  When used right-side-up on vertical to 10-degree overhangs these are in the 5.11/12 range.

Drop Art Footholds: Many options for orientation, and some can be used as wicked hard crimps.

Drop Art Footholds: Many options for orientation, and some can be used as wicked hard crimps.

1. e-Grips “Double Disks”   These are highly intricate footholds that require very precise placement and good core tension.  Some of these holds can be used as hand holds too.

2. e-Grips “Drop Art Footholds”  These are intricate footholds that aren’t quite as hard to use as the Double Disks, but they each offer many foothold surfaces so you can rotate them as they wear out.  A few of the larger holds in this set can be used as vicious crimps.
3. Screw on Jibs.  These are available from various manufacturers, including Revolution and Metolius.  They’re cheap, easy to install and offer some very challenging shapes. Unfortunately they’re beginning to vanish from the market as gyms adopt elaborate wall surfaces that won’t accept wood screws.

Screw on "Jibs" are always a great choice too.  They're cheap, easy to install and offer som very challenging shapes.  Unfortunately they're beginning to vanish from the market as gyms adopt elaborate wall surfaces that won;t accept wood screws.

Small, sloping jibs like this one from Revolution are great for vertical walls and “kick plates” below steeper walls.

4. Atomik “Bolt-On Feet”  These holds are a bargain, but still offer some really interesting and challenging shapes.  They all require accurate foot placements, and a few of them can pass for handholds on vertical walls.

Atomik Bolt-on Feet offer a lot of variety at a low price.

Atomik Bolt-on Feet offer a lot of variety at a low price.

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

Joshua Tree

Over Easter Weekend the family and I flew out to San Diego to visit our good friends Rob and Julie and their toddler Samuel.  The first day we headed out to JTree for some mellow sight-seeing and car camping.  This wasn’t a climbing trip but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out JTree’s amazing boulders. 

My friend Will has a house near there and he hooked me up with a few crashpads and a guidebook.  It always helps to have nice tall stack of pads, and the guidebook was a huge help.  I’ve heard it can be hard to find your way around the maze of boulders and jumbled rock formations, but the Miramontes guide has great maps and photos and I was able to find everything with only a small amount of aimless wandering.

The bouldering was really outstanding.  I didn’t know what to expect since the rock at JTree is notoriously fickle, but all of the problems I did were amazing.  I spent most of my time in “The Outback”, but also tried a few things in Hidden Valley.  The rock is sharp for sure, but its not all thin edgeing and smearing.  There are a lot of huecos and scoops, and even though edging is my cup of tea, I really enjoyed the steeper, thuggier problems too.  I would go back in a heart beat, but probably not in late March.  It was really hot for my taste (75 deg F), which limited my options quite a bit.

Here’s a little video of some of the stellar problems I did:

We also did some hiking and what I would call “wandering”–trying to get lost in the amazing landscape.  Joshua tree is completely surreal.  Its a great place to explore and linger.  We headed out toward the Astrodomes and found some cool rock tunnels. Logan had a blast crawling around the tunnels, and managed to burrow himself into several chambers that we couldn’t reach. 

Logan tunneling around in the Wonderland of Rocks.

Logan tunneling around in the Wonderland of Rocks.

Logan loves to scramble around no matter where he is: the house, the park or in the wild.  I’d love for him to be a climber at some point, but I don’t want to push him into, so I’m psyched that he seems to have some inate interest in climbing.

After our all-too-brief stay, we headed back to San Diego for an obligatory Easter Egg Hunt and a beach trip.  Rob is my surfing coach, so we headed out for some waves.  I’m not any good but California seems like a great place to learn, in my limited experience.  The surf was tiny (2-3 feet), but we were able to catch most of the waves we tried for and we had a great time.

Logan scoring some booty.

Logan scoring some booty.

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.