Unfinished Business Part 1 – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Unfinished Business – Part 1” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“In 2011, Denver climbing activist, king of psyche and all-around great guy Luke Childers bolted a stunning arête at The Armory, a compact crag at the top of Clear Creek Canyon.  Clear Creek is quickly becoming the epicenter of sport climbing on the Colorado Front Range, largely thanks to guys like Luke who have a knack for finding great new lines on supposedly tapped out cliffs.  After finishing off American Mustang at the end of March, I had a few more climbing days to spare before beginning my summer training cycle.  I was really psyched to check out Luke’s Armory arête, which looked to me like the best unclimbed line in Clear Creek . I was stoked when Luke generously encouraged me to have at it….”  Continue Reading

Focus – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Focus” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt….”  Continue Reading

Mission (im)Possible! – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Mission (im)Possible!”  over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“Last spring I climbed Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek Canyon, a linkup that begins up Daniel Woods’ 5.14c(/d?) test-piece Mission Impossible, and then traverses right at mid-height to catch the upper half crux of the canyon’s mega-classic 5.13d Interstellar Overdrive.  At the time I was curious to investigate the complete Mission Impossible, but the remainder of my season was already booked solid.  After returning from St. George in mid-January I decided to focus my attention on Mission Impossible…”  Continue Reading

Sunny St. George Part I: Breakin’ The Law

On rare occasions I take a short hiatus from thinking about training, writing about training, and training, to actually go rock climbing.  Over the New Year’s Holiday the family and I headed west to the warm climes of St. George, Utah for a week of climbing.  St George is home to a vast array of rock climbing possibilities, from the Grade VI Big Wall free and Aid climbs of Zion, to the bouldering of Moe’s Valley, and everything in between.  The guidebook lists more than 40 distinct crags, and the area hosts a wide variety of different rock types, including sculpted sandstone, basalt, Volcanic tuff, conglomerate, and some of the best limestone in the US.

Sunny steep stone in the capitol of Utah's Dixie.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Sunny steep stone in the capital of Utah’s Dixie.   Fencing with Tortuga, 5.12a, at The Turtle Wall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

My primary objective for the trip was a power endurance route called “Breakin’ the Law“, which climbs out the upper of two shallow limestone caves at the Black & Tan crag.  The route was the vision of Salt Lake hardman and fellow training advocate Jeff Pedersen.  However, a young Dave Graham nabbed the first free ascent, and the name is reminiscent of the confessionary “I Am a Bad Man” (now known simply as Badman), so-named by JB Tribout after his friend Alan Watts told him, ‘you can have any route [at Smith Rock] except that one’.

The Black and Tan Wall.  Breakin' the Law climbs out the subtle dihedrdal in the left side of the higher cave.

The Black and Tan Wall. Breakin’ the Law climbs out the subtle dihedral in the left side of the higher cave.

The route begins with big moves up a steep wall to reach the roof of the cave.  The crux is climbing out to the lip of the cave, then turning the lip to get established on the headwall. It would be quite a challenge for me to send a .14b in a week, but I’d heard from various accounts that the line was soft.  However, just before we set out for Utah I talked with a prominent, much-stronger-than-me climber, who assured me the route was quite hard for shorter folks.  Apparently tall climbers can get a big stem/dropknee that essentially eliminates the first, harder crux.  So as we left Colorado I was apprehensive and anxious to find out for myself.

Breakin' the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Breakin’ the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave. Photo Dan Brayack.

We planned to split up the long drive with a break in Grand Junction for lunch and a hike out to Independence Monument.  I avoid aerobic exercise when I’m in performance climbing mode, but I like to go on “brisk walks” at least every rest day.  It helps keep my metabolism humming (for the purpose of weight management), and it allows an opportunity to clear my head.  The trail was snowy and muddy in places, but it was still a fun hike.  I’ve climbed Otto’s Route at least three times that I can remember, and I suspect I’ll climb it again with Logan some time in the next decade.

Hiking to Independence Monument outside Grand Junction, CO.

Logan and I on the hike to Independence Monument, outside Grand Junction, CO.

We spent the night in a flea-bag motel in fabulous Salina, Utah, then continued toward St. George the next day, making a beeline for Black & Tan.  We met my friends Dan Brayack and Lena Moinova at the crag, who happened to be on vacation as well.  Dan is a fellow Trango team-mate, and an outstanding climbing photographer.  A hefty chunk of the photos in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual were generously provided by Dan. Some of Dan’s images are peppered throughout this post, or you can check out his amazing gallery here. 

After warming up , I got on my presumed project.  The climbing starts out with fun, huge spans between large holds.  There’s a big jug at the crook of the roof, then the first crux comes traversing from that jug to the lip of the cave.  You can either shuffle or cross between several holds, but you end up with a good incut crimp and a tufa pinch.  Depending on your sequence you can either dyno into a big iron cross, and then struggle to climb out of it, or you can make a wild lunge to a flat edge at the lip.  I think this is where the drop knee would be used if you were tall enough, allowing either sequence to go statically.  Since I was not able to use the dropknee, I tried the two alternatives and settled on the Iron Cross solution. 

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin’ the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Once at the lip, a really hard crank off a thin, sharp crimp gets you onto the slab.  I struggled quite a bit with this move, perhaps because I was tired from working the lower crux.  I figured this would end up being the redpoint crux but I was too exhausted to really work it.  I moved on to the headwall, which was mostly fun, technical face climbing, but hosted one sinister move in which you have to high-step your right foot onto a polished block that slopes away at a 45-degree angle.  There is a faint bit of patina on this block that allows you to toe-in a bit, which is key since you next have to reach for an over-head undercling, using this dire foothold to push against.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall. Photo Dan Brayack.

At the end of the day I had all the moves worked out.  Typically if I can do all the moves, I can send, but I had no idea if the moves would come together in the four climbing days remaining. The second crux requires a pretty hard crank after a long series of hard moves, and that is something I struggle with.

"Rest Day" hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

“Rest Day” hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

The limestone surrounding St. George is much more monolithic than the stone at most US limestone crags.  That means it’s not very featured, and generally quite sharp.  There are the odd pockets, but most of the climbing is on small edges.  The result is that the climbing tends to be less steep at any given grade than you might encounter at other, more featured limestone crags like Rifle, or the Wyoming crags.  This is great for technicians like me, and these crags really shine in the 5.12+ and up range.  Below that, the climbing often isn’t all that fun; it’s certainly not the type of climbing you want to do on vacation.  Fortunately St George is all about variety, and there really is something for everyone.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a's in the area.  It's a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a’s in the area. It’s a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards. Photo Dan Brayack.

With this in mind, we opted to experiment with some different warmup crags over the next few days.  The notorious Chuckwalla Wall is often derided by serious climbers, but I really enjoy climbing there.  It’s by no means a wilderness setting, but the routes are just plain fun, and the approach takes about 90 seconds, which is key for climbers with kids.  The cliff is stacked with 30+ classic sandstone jug hauls from 5.9 to 5.12, and they make for great warmups and fun all around.  For the next two crag days we started at Chuckwalla, then after my last warmup we hopped in the car and raced down Highway 91 to Black & Tan, slightly frantic to get on my project before my warmup had faded (note: it took us about 50 minutes to get from crag to crag, approaches included; this turned out to be quick enough that I never lost my warmup.)

Unwinding from the Iron Cross.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Unwinding from the Iron Cross. Photo Dan Brayack.

I made good progress on the second day, primarily refining my foot sequences, and rehearsing the big dyno into the Iron Cross at the lip.  I was able to do the crank onto the headwall much more consistently, and on my second go I managed a 1-hang, which is always a nice milestone, but certainly no guarantee of future success.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching Logan’s Strawberry Shortcake DVD 4 or 5 times in a row and hitting the sack at 11pm.

Spotting Logan while while hiking near the Chuckawalla Wall on New Year's Day.

Spotting Logan while hiking near the Chuckwalla Wall on New Year’s Day.

On our third climbing day we revisited Chuckwalla, then hightailed it to Black & Tan.  My last warmup route felt really soft; either that or I was just feeling really strong.  We got the kids situated (i.e., turned on the Ipad), rigged the rope, and I started up.  Often I have a tendency to sprint on short power endurance climbs like this.  Each of the crux sections involve careful foot placements and subtle pressing to stay on the wall.  Perhaps since I didn’t know the moves super well, I took my time and made sure I did every move correctly, following Alex Lowe’s adage to ‘never move up on a bad [ice tool] placement’.  I expected to pump out at any moment, but I just kept motoring, going from one move to the next until I was on the headwall.  After a nice long shake I hiked up the headwall to the chains.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

The total effort took 5 burns over three days.  I think the route is comparable in difficulty to Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek (which took me 6 goes over 3 days), which is to say its a hard 14a or easy 14b, without the stem/dropknee.  I’m inclined to go with b 🙂  I’ve been crushing the campus board lately and I believe my power has reached a new level.  Occasionally periodization doesn’t work out quite like you hope, but this time I think the timing of my fitness was perfect for the characteristics of Breakin’ the Law.

To celebrate, we headed to Kelly’s Rock (named for my old friend Kelly Oldrid) and climbed “K-8”, ‘one of the best 5.11s in Utah’, according to the guidebook.  The climb includes two exciting roof pulls and some of the most amazing jugs I’ve ever seen.  Certainly a worthy line and easily the best limestone 5.11 I climbed that week. 

Tune in next week for Sunny St. George Part II!

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N' Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N’ Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Logan stoked at In N' Out.  His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Logan stoked at In N’ Out. His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90’s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassionally editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.

Training Efficiently

Forunately there's no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me :)

Forunately there’s no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me 🙂

I think if people realized how little I train (and climb) they would be shocked.  I often joke with my wife that I should be quarranteened in a plastic bubble and studied by teams of cruel government scientists (ala E.T.). There is certainly a trend among top climbers to perform massive quantities of training (like, 6+ hours per day, 5 or 6 days per week).  That’s not me.  First of all, I don’t have that much time, between work and my family. Second (and foremost), I truly believe “less is more” when it comes to climbing training. Even if I had more time to train, I would probably spend much of that time resting anyway.

Considering those factors, my overarching strategy is to train as efficiently as possible.  That is, I strive to maximize my improvement relative to the training time (and energy) invested.  Doesn’t everybody do that you ask?  No, frankly.  Many people figure ‘the way to improve is to pile on more and more training.  Anyway, it couldn’t hurt, could it?’ This philosophy is popular among runners, cyclists, swimmers and other ultra-endura athletes.

The problem is, it actually can, and does hurt.  Low efficiency activities sap energy, thus undermining high efficiency activities.  In the best case scenario, the added volume forces longer recovery periods between workouts, but far more often, the needed additional rest is omitted, and the athlete simply goes into the next workout under-recovered, thus further limiting the intensity of the next workout.  As a result, every workout starts to become an endurance workout, and pretty soon the athlete is no longer progressing, but rather struggling to maintain the fitness he had when he started.

My strategy for maximizing training efficiency dovetails nicely wtih a complimentary training objective — favoring strength and power training over endurance.  This allows me to emphasize high intensity training, which is short in duration, almost by definition (there are brief periods during each season that I focus on endurance training, but even then I favor higher intensity endurance training followed by plenty of rest).  Furthermore, I only perform activities that I strongly believe provide a direct benifit to my performance; I don’t do any filler or “crosstraining”. [More on Training Intensity here]

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season.  The Strength & Power Training Phases  are very typical of a normal season.  However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is atypical; I'm rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of actual climbing.  I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate's Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season. The Strength & Power Training Phases are very typical of a normal season. However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is rather unusual; I’m rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of outdoor climbing in a season. I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate’s Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

This is perhaps easier to visualize on a macro-scale, but it also applies on a micro-scale.  For example, Strength Training revolves around my fingers, because they are the single most important factor in climbing performance.  I work my fingers first, but not for long.  When the intensity is right (really high), my fingers can only handle about an hour of work (or, about 18 ~60 second sets of deadhang repetitions, with 3 minutes rest between sets).  Once my fingers are worked, I perform a modest amount of pull muscle, upper arm, and shoulder exercises. 

During my Limit Bouldering routine, I don’t do “fun” boulder problems.  I only do boulder problems that will make me a better rock climber (as opposed to a better plastic climber).  In other words, the Lazy H has very few pinches or slopers, and the walls aren’t super steep.  It has a lot of sharp crimps, tweaky pockets, and small, greasy footholds.  Very few of these holds are oriented horizontally–my problems require core tension and attention to footwork.  It’s often hard to breath while climbing these problems, and my skin takes a fair bit of abuse, but the skill and strength developed translates directly to the rock.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn't "fun", but its good for my footwork.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn’t “fun”, but its good for my footwork.

That said, it’s only fair to note that I have pretty good technique, and that took many years to cultivate.  Now that I have it, it doesn’t take much to maintain.  However, my training terrain is deliberately designed to maintain my technique (in other words, it isn’t “fun” terrain).  My warmup time is split between a dead vertical wall, and one that overhangs a modest 8 degrees.  The holds on these walls are tiny, and precise movement is required to stay on the wall. Those with performance-limiting technique can apply these same concepts to skill develipment by training on realistic terrain, and emphasizing focused, quality skill practice over zombie-like monotonous quantity.

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

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.

IMG_6927

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!

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.