All posts by Daniel Brayack

The Cutting Edge

As I close in on 500 5.12s, I’ve found that the ones I have left to do at my home crag, the New River Gorge are mostly the HARD ones.  Back in 2001 or 2002, I was a top rope tough guy maxing out at 5.11- or so.  However, my climbing mentor Bob was doing his best to climb every 5.12 in the world.  Despite me not being strong enough, I made a point of getting on EVERY single 5.12 I could.  Looking back, I owe Bob big time for all the marathon belay/ “pull me up” sessions!
I’ve gone back and done just about every of these routes, though one route, “The Cutting Edge” 5.12b at Bubba City has continued to spit me off over the years.   I specifically remember climbing 5.13 one day out there, yet once again, not being able to do the route!  Two weekends ago, it was quite hot and conditions were bad, but I finally worked out the two crux sequences on the route.  I went for a send go but got pumped mid-way through the second crux and blew it. 
Climbing Le Grand Fromage V5 at Moore’s Wall.  Boulder is great training for routes!  Photo Greg Loomis
This past weekend, though, it felt a lot better.  I used typical “Siege Tactics”, rappelling off the top of the route to hang the draws, brush and chalk the holds, and work the crux moves hanging there.  I extended several draws to make the clips easier and then waited for some clouds. 
The route has open shuts, which was scary for coming top-down.  I leaned over, dropped my rope over them and also clipped a biner to them, then did the reverse pull up on a couple of maybe dead trees.  Because of the open shuts, my rope fell out of one of the shuts, but it stayed in the other and also, my biner stayed.   A little scary though….
My fingers and body remembered what I taught them the previous weekend and I was happy to do the route pretty easily, though I still had to try hard, spending a lot of time between the first and second crux on really small hands, but good feet shaking.  (I was 95-100 percent on all the moves which is always nice.)
About 10+ years ago, Eric Horst re-engineered the route to add a final 5.12- sequence going to the anchors instead of a jaunt up 5.easy slab to a (now dead) tree anchor.  Unfortunately, this part of the route was wet, but “dry enough.”  This ascent made for number 480 5.12s for me. 
Here is some blow-by-blow beta if any of you ever want to try the route.
Cutting Edge starts on an easy scramble up pillar to a small ledge, then immediately launches into a “so-so feet” traverse right on steep jugs to the arete.  A fairly long, but easy move leads to two great incut hand jugs, and an easy clip (but hard bolt to hang.)  This is where it gets serious.  Some smaller edges and a pretty high left foot leads to a slimper left undercling/sidepull.  Unfortunately, there is a roof so the right foot just dangles, but I worked out a right toe hook under the roof to surf up to a pretty bad sloper/edge.  From that, a move left to a good (well better) sloper leads to the next clip and a shake (though a poor one) before the real crux.  
This route really works the left hand and a couple set-up moves lead to a ½ pad sidepull, a nothing smear for the left and a bad right back-step smear (glad to have my Tenaya Iatis.)   From the sidepull you make a long move to a really bad pocket/crimp.  Still about 80 percent on that left hand, walk feet up some and GO HARD again right hand to the better pocket.  Sticking that pocket, you’re out of the woods if you can keep it together.  A couple better feet lead to a good sidepull and clip.  From here, there’s about 30 feet of 5.10+ or easier climbing and essentially a full recovery before launching into the finish.  A hidden pocket on the arete leads left to a good hold, and then another pocket/pinch on the arete with some high feet leads to some pretty bad holds just below the moss covered top.  The anchor clip is easy because the feet are good. 





Coming back to Training

I basically took this spring off.  Not from climbing.  But from training.  I was doing what most people consider training: Climbing and projecting boulder problems at the gym during the week and climbing outside and trying to send routes on the nice weekends.  I basically “let myself go back to my base ability.”  Of course, that’s not true..but it felt like it.  We are a product of our past training.  It turns out my “not-training” base is climbing 12d second or third go and onsiting 12a and b.  So pretty hard to complain right?  Now that I’m successfully married and honeymooned, its time to get serious with my training.  I think sometimes taking a break is really good – like I am so excited to train right now, I’m bursting with it!
Ryan Smith on Blood Raid 5.13a, New River Gorge.
I’m a dedicated student of training – like all of us right?  So what is my primary weakness?  My natural strength has always been my pure enduro.  I’m a big guy (for a climber) which means I have tons of gas in the tank.  Unless I’m at my limit, I rarely fail on a route because of enduro or power enduro.  Because of my previous hangboarding workouts, my finger strength is awesome – I can hold just about anything.  I will certainly do a new hangboard workout this winter, but I’m skipping my summer hangboard workout to focus on my true weakness:  Power.
If you’re not sure what your weakness is, I would first ask your friends.  Training your strength is good and fun, but its not effective for breaking through barriers.  There are also some online quizzes.  If you’ve never done core training – I’ll tell you right now.  Your weakness is your core.  Especially if you don’t climb “super smooth.”
My climber bro, Ryan’s primary strength is his power, so I’ve been consulting with him and today at the gym, he’s going to take me through a series of ring exercises he’s been doing.  I’ll be training on the rings for core, stabilizer muscles (super important), some pull, and I want to do flies to improve my compression strength – which flat out stinks.  I’m also going to do weighted pull ups as well as train for a one-arm pull up.  I would say right now my 50/50 focus will be the general pull stuff as I described above and the campus board.  Once I get a good base on the pull stuff, I’ll probably move into 80/20 campus board, ring stuff.  I have about ten weeks before I’m going to regularly climbing outside (its hot as crap here anyways.)
All that on top of running of course.  I love running.  Once I get it all sorted out, I’ll post my routines and see if I can get some input from you internet readers.
Lauren Brayack doing some training in Cartagena, Spain
Me doing a little bouldering on the Rock of Gibraltar

Summer Climbing and Training in the East

In the east (West Virginia), summer is the worst season.  The high temperature and more-so the high humidity is overwhelmingly oppressive.  That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun and get some routes in, but what and where we can climb here is extremely limited.  The New River Gorge area has several separate gorge valleys for climbing.  The New River itself is hand’s down the most awesome and scenic climbing area, though Summersville Lake is God’s gift to the summer climber (more like the Corps of Engineer’s gift to climbers.)  In the heat, the lake keeps the temps down a bit and often offers a nice breeze.  That, and the fact that a quick, cooling dip in the lake is the best way to end your climbing day (it feeeeels so good) makes this the ideal summer location.

Instead of doing my normal summer hangboard session, I’ve decided to go off the Mike and Mark Anderson reservation some (The Rock Climbers Training Manual is my training bible.)  Some of the new(er) climbers at our gym (only been climbing for 3 years) came from a gym training background.  We have a pretty awesome training section to our gym, and those guys are always doing rings/pull-ups/ all kinds of weird stuff etc.  Some of the other “strong” guys in the gym do a series of gymnastic training including one-arm pull-ups, front levers, ring dips, etc.  Just for fun one day, I figured I’d try to do a one-arm and some ring dips.  It was bad.  Really bad.  Ditto with the front lever…pretty pathetic…I was really stoked!

Julia Statler on “Under the Milky Way” 5.11d at Summersville Lake in 2009.

In climbing you want to “train your weakness” instead of your strength.  Many training methods including P90x revolve around “initial gains.”  This simply stated is that if you’re really bad at “x”, if you train “x” for a short period of time, you’ll make dramatic initial gains.  As you continue to train “x” you’ll peak, then plateau.  The key is to stop at the plateau and move onto the next exercise.

I’m not recommending this training program for all climbers, but for me, I look at it as touching up in areas that I can use a lot of work.  I start my session by doing some project bouldering for about 30 minutes, including maybe 1 or 2 problems a grade below my limit.

Me on Mercy Seat 5.13a.  That move is a BIG pull of one-arm.

I then do a ¾ campus workout.  I go hard, but not too far past my peak.  (I don’t hammer myself into the ground.)  I then do the following exercises:

1.     Weight assisted 1-arm pull-ups (I use a thumb on the board to keep me straight in the 90-degree position.)
2.     Horizontal ring 1-arm (feet on ground, alternate 1-arm)
3.     Ring Dips
4.     Front Lever on Rings
5.     Toe Points (abs)
6.     Compression Band Training

The gains have been impressive (for me.)  The first time I tried a ring dip, I couldn’t even hold the “dip” position.  My last workout, I did 9 of them my first set!  And I went from barely able to do a 1-arm at -70lbs to doing 3-3.5 1-arms at -50.  My front levers are getting…well…almost to not pathetic which is a huge gain!

What I’m hoping to gain is the climbing equivalent of the 1-arm pull up.  There are several routes which I feel this is my limiting factor.  I can hold all the holds, but I just can’t do ONE BIG pull.  The route at Kaymoor, “Against the Grain” 5.13b is like that for me.  It’s a big move over the lip of the roof.  I can hold the hold, but I can’t let go with my other hand and pull hard to get the next hold (big punch!)  Dial 911 at the New River proper also has a hard move like that.  A lot of routes, really, require ONE BIG PULL off one arm. 

Last weekend at the lake, I climbed the route “All the Way Baby” 5.12b.  A short 15 move route.  I’ve done the route a bunch, but could definitely feel my increased pulling power! I was super happy to see the gains and I can’t wait for the fall season to roll in.

I’ve also been route developing.  More about that when I send the routes.

We managed to find a paper wasp next.  Poor Dustin got hit pretty bad.  I got one to the forehead.


Rule 1 of summer training – ice cream.  (With sprinkles.)

Don’t (try not to) Let Grades Intimidate You.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m the worst about this; I’m really writing this one to myself.  Or another way to take this one is to: “Do as I say, not as I do!”
I spent a lot of time as a 5.10 and 5.11 top rope tough guy.  Maybe the first 4-5 years of my climbing career.  I remember the first time reading through the guidebook of my childhood climbing area, McConnells Mill.  I saw the hardest route there was a 12d.  I was currently projecting (on top rope) the route: Sunshine 5.9+.   12d.  Wow.  That’s impossible!  I’ll never be able to climb that.
Matt Patterson on Mini Ovest 5.11d at McConnells Mill
 I’ve now climbing a lot of 5.12s and a handful of 5.13s in my life.  Still, though.  I will walk up to a route, see that the route is rated 5.12c or 5.12d and think….nope, its impossible.  I’ll never do this route.  Its just so hard for me, mentally, to get over that.  The only way is forward; I talk to my inner self (it puts the lotion on the skin), tell myself I can do the route…I’ll rationalize it to myself and say some of the following:
1.      You can do this route Dan, how hard can it be right?
2.     I bet I can find some sneaky technical beta.
3.     I’ve trained hard and it will pay off.
4.     I can always just stick clip past the crux, or bail (bail-biner.)
5.     If it IS impossible, I can sand bag my friends!
For me, tying in is the hardest part.  Once I get on the route and start breaking it down, then I realize that I can do the route…and then I typically do.  Breaking the route down is the best way to get it done.
Me climbing Five Fingers Arête – 5.8 at McConnells Mill
Lauren Brayack climbing Ross Boulder at McConnells Mill.
Last Friday, we had decent day at the New River Gorge.  I seem to be telling you all a lot that this is rare for this time of year.  It really is!  I think maybe God just loves me a little more than most people; I’ve sure been lucky lately.
Bob Value climbing on Ross Boulder at McConnells Mill
Barb Miller climbing “Laid Back” 5.10b at McConnells Mill
My friend Matt Fanning and I did the epic hike out to the First and Second Buttress at the Meadow.  Conditions weren’t dreamy, but a nice 65 degrees and 50% humidity and a cooling breeze is pretty good.  We did a couple easier routes to warm up, then set our sites on a route put up by Doug Reed in 1996, Red Bull.
Matt Fanning on Red Bull 5.12d at the Meadow, NRG.
Matt looked at me, I looked at Matt.  I go…so you wanna go first?… No….  I don’t want to go first….  Hmm…  Well…  I guess….  Well…..  OK I can always stick clip or bail.
I got on the route and fell at the first bolt, then climbed the route from bolt-to-bolt.  It turns out getting past the opening moves is the crux, with some easier moves leading to an almost full recovery, then one more boulder problem – hard-to-hold small, but positive crimp move and a long pull.  The second half of the second crux is pretty scary, a desperate pull over the roof to some small but positive holds.  This section of the route is pretty run-out, but I put an extended trad draw + a normal quick draw linked so I could clip in the middle of it.  Then its butter.
The route went down for me pretty easily the second go.  Boom! 

Though the next time I walk up to a 12d, I’ll have trouble convincing myself that I can do it.

It’s Nice When the Work Pays Off.

 We don’t get a very big “awesome” window in West Virginia.  This spring, we got more awesome days than one can expect – maybe a month’s worth of cool temps and low humidity.  Then it started raining.  And it really didn’t stop raining.  In-fact, over the past month and a half, its only stopped raining enough for me to cut grass twice.  Pretty bad right?
Sarah Canterbury on “Tar Baby” 5.12b – 1st Buttress, Kaymoor, NRG
Last Sunday we actually got an awesome day of climbing.  The temperature/humidity gauge read 55 degrees and 45% humidity.  That’s unheard of for May!
My past few days out had been pretty bad – conditions were terrible.  The previous Tuesday was our election day in West Virginia and being the good citizen that I am, I went climbing!  The roads in Charleston (WV) were dry, but as we got closer to Fayetteville, things got worse and worse.  By the time we were at the parking lot, the roads were soaked, even though it hadn’t rained.  That pretty much means that the rock will be soaked – even under the roofs – condensation – the worst for climbing.  Falling rain will typically leave a lot of routes dry, especially the steep ones, but condensation is the devil. 
Thankfully enough “The Tantrum” 5.12d was “dry enough” and the holds on it are pretty good anyways.  Despite all the holds feeling “sort of wet,” I was able to do all the moves off the hang and I hit it pretty hard.  Why try hard when the conditions are bad?  A fluke change in weather, and good conditions will make the route go down easy (at least, that’s what one would hope.)
David Statler at the slab crux of “The Tantrum” 5.12d, 1st Buttress, Kaymoor, NRG.
Saturday night was my bachelor party.  I don’t really drink; you know – empty carbs etc though we stayed up pretty late – which isn’t my norm (I’m usually in bed by 9-930 – I’m so boring) but what the heck right?  We slept in a bit and then hit the crag feeling pretty awesome.
I’ve talked in the past about how just “warming up on your project” is the way to go for getting routes done.  I did that, hanging the draws on the route.  Hanging the draws on “The Tantrum” is pretty tough, though once hung, especially with some long draws, clipping is pretty easy!
The route starts with a pretty rude and height-discriminating move right off the ground.  With my 6-foot wing span, I can make the long move over the low roof to an OK hold, scamper up and then get some good holds.  From here, there’s a few easy moves to a good stance and jug below the second clip.  This is where it gets crazy.  Now, the 5.14 climbers just grab some really bad slab holds and crank off of those.  Me not being a 5.14 climber, I have to use some tricky beta. 
From the ground, the slab looks “easy” and the roof looks “hard as crap,” but its really the other way around.  Though…maybe the roof isn’t exactly… “easy.”  An awkward undercling move leads to a key knee-bar and a hard stand-up move to a bad hold.  With my height and choking up on the undercling, I can then make a hard span move to a good hold.  Boom.  For me that was the crux.  I had done the move twice on the bad conditions day off the hang, so I was feeling pretty confident that I would be able to do it.  That just left the 10-foot horizontal roof and some ridiculous moves.
Ryan Smith on “Blood Raid” 5.13a, the Hole, Kaymoor
I’ve heard a lot of people argue that the Red River Gorge has the best stone in the country.  Those folks say that the stone at the red river is clean and super solid, the movement world class.  I would agree the movement there is excellent, but I can’t think of any route where you have to monkey out a roof, helicopter your feet out over my head, get a hand-jam, hand-foot match a foot-jam and hand-jam, then unwind from it.  That’s right.  You heard me right.  It’s perfectly ridiculous, though really, if this were the crux, I bet the route would only be 12b or so.  It REALLY does look ridiculous to watch someone do it…but it works.
Knowing what to do, I took a big long rest under the roof (and kicked off my knee-pad,) then launched into the sequence.  It went pretty easily for me, though I definitely grunted some and boom.  Another check mark in the book.  At the chains, I thought…you know, those check marks are pretty tough sometimes!
Matt Fanning on the crux of “Blood Raid” 5.13a, the Hole, Kaymoor
My current life goal is to hit 500 career 5.12s.  Its getting hard because I’ve done just about every 5.12- at the NRG. Also, a few years ago, I started climbing 5.13s too which don’t count toward the 5.12s.  Right now, I’m up to 473.  Maybe a fall trip to Rumney or somewhere else new will give me a new pool of 12- routes to climb!

I’ve done all the other routes at 1st Buttress at Kaymoor except for two, both of which I think I will never be able to climb, so I spent the rest of the day taking pictures.  Its nice when you send your project early right?.  I never seem to get climbing images of myself since I’m the one always taking the pictures….Maybe I’ll get some pictures of me at my own wedding coming up this weekend!

What to Do When the Rain Just Won’t Quit!

Its been a pretty hard going spring season here in the east.  The first half of spring was awesome – lots of great climbing days, low humidity and no rain.  But we are paying for it now.  I swear, it has rained almost every day and heavily for the past three weeks, making climbing outside quite unpleasant.  Between rain storms, the humidity has been so oppressive that conditions would just be terrible.
Bouldering at Moore’s Wall.  (I’m working on the guidebook.)
So what do you do?  Well, there area a few options.  Gym climbing aside, when the season turns on you, its good to focus on another aspect of training and health.  Myself, I’ve been running.  Running a lot.  You can run in the rain, and I have been.  I’m tentatively planning on running a half marathon in August.  Not that I really care one way or another about it, its just an excuse to put in some miles (well I run kilometers.)  I got a new Garmin watch.  My old one finally bit the big one…but after using it for 5 years, I didn’t hesitate to get a new one.
Here’s a log from Seneca Rocks:
And another from Coopers Rock:
Me personally, though, I’ve been route developing.  I equipped a line at Area 51 at the Meadow River in West Virginia on one rainy spring day (before the current rainy stretch.)  There’s been a lot of debate recently about gear/sport routes and mixed routes.  I’ve never been much of a gear climb climber myself, but I love equipping and sending clean, hard, technical face climbs.  The routes I bolt typically have little enough gear to bolt on, let alone, climb safely on.
Walking down the cliff, I noticed an excellent, blank-looking section of white rock.  Exactly what I look for in a new route.  Though blank-looking from the ground, the rock here in West Virginia typically has enough features to go, albeit in the 5.12 or harder range.
I equipped the route and had some doubts about whether I would be able to do it.  The crux itself was located in the white rock; All the holds seemed to be facing the wrong way, positive, yet small.  It turned out that the crux section comprised of 3 distinct sections.  Two of the three cruxes turned out to just be “really technical” and once I figured out the sequence on them, I was able to do them maybe 2/3 or 3/4 times off the hang.  The third crux, however alluded me the day that I equipped the route.  I just simply couldn’t figure out how to do the moves!  Nor be able to brute strength my way through it.
I knew I was pretty beat up though.  Equipping the route itself takes as much out of me as would climbing half a dozen routes.  Bolting routes is hard work! 
I came back the following weekend.  It felt like it was going to be the last good spring day so the pressure was on to send the route. I warmed up by going bolt-to-bolt up the route and was able to do the first two cruxes fairly easily off the hang, and I spent a good 20 minutes working the third crux.  I just linked two draws together and clipped directly into the bolt so my belayer could just chill and not pay attention.
The sequence was really balancy and technical; the feet were mostly good.  However, no matter hard I tried, I couldn’t find a static way to finish the crux – a move to a ¼ pad crimper.  I finally gave up trying to climb static and settled on the plan:
A right hand gaston on a good hold, an ok right foot.  The sketching part – standing up on a terrible, off-kilter left foot smear and a precision dead-point (more like a jump) to the ¼ pad crimper.  I was able to do that move 1/10 times off the hang…actually…I tried it about 15 times, got it once and kind of half got it once.  Not very good odds….
I took a long rest, waited for the route to go into the shade, then tied in for what I thought would be a long shot attempt.  I even tied a project tag on the first bolt as I climbed up it.
I managed to make it through the first two cruxes fairly easily (Oh….boy…really put the pressure on myself.)  I was so surprised to even be at the crux on red-point…. poised to set-up for the crux, got into it and got to the point of the jump…amazed I was even there…..  I looked at the hold…focused all my attention down to that pin-point moment…..and was like…please get it, please get it, please get it….My heart was fluttering and I was really nervous, almost shaking.  I really had to focus to not shake myself off….. I put my trust into my left Tenaya Iati.   It held and I went hard for the crimp, sticking it perfect…oh so perfectly….I screamed of course, but it was my “I know I got it, but TRY HARD.”  I did. I matched, and then did several more moves to a good jug.  Boom!  I figured it would be exciting to have a bit of a run-out on 5.12- climbing after sticking the crux jump…well…I usually curse myself for that sort of thing, but this go it went no problem.  The final roof pull was a little difficult from what I remember but I just tried as hard as I could and did it fairly easily.
The grade on this route was pretty hard for me to determine.  I would previously just have called it 13a or maybe 12d, but a recent discussion among locals here at the NRG has me starting to question route grades.  I don’t want to be soft, so I figured I’d just say 12c and call it good.  How do you grade something that you feel like is impossible for you?  I still can’t believe I got so lucky as to send that route. Everything went right.  I feel like my MAX is like 12c or 12d (V5 or V6.)  But how much should I include luck?  The first boulder problem, the odds were 2/3, the second 3/4, the third 1.5/15.  I just always feel like I get lucky on stuff like that…
I equipped another route at Cotton Top on a rainy Friday morning.  This route is short, but climbs up this really neat arête feature.  Coming down the route, I wasn’t sure if I was going to equip it, but once I saw the features, I knew I was going to love it!  The route starts with an easy/broken start (ledge) but immediately fires out a body length roof (pretty easy.)  A really tough power move establishes the climber on the left side of this really pointy arête.   There are so so to OK holds on arête (right hand), but there is hardly anything on the slab for the left and and very little holds to pull down on.  After the big power more, the route does maybe half a dozen really balancy and techy, core intensive high-step and body position moves.  I was able to climb this one second go with the help from my friend Ryan who told me that he was going to take me off belay if I fell (just kidding, he gave me great beta!)  I decided to call this one “Two Girls, One Tomahawk” 5.12a (or b?)

It looks like another week of rain here in West Virginia….So running, gym climbing and route developing.  Life is hard.

Tactics for getting it done. Aka. Stacking the odds in your favor.

Anyone who has read my blog or talked to me knows that I’m straight forward with my motivations for climbing. Climbing is my life and I work very hard to climb as hard as possible.
Sticking the crux on “The Beast in Me” 5.12a R.  Photo Jared Musgrave

I will note that I am referring to sport climbing and bouldering. When I gear climb I will typically try to climb the route “well” as in not be a chuffer with my gear, climb efficiently etc.

Here are a few tips to stack the odds in your favor: 
  • Work out beta; Look around too.  Don’t just follow the tick marks, look for new holds and new beta.  Especially at the Red River Gorge, I’ve found “new holds” many times.
  • Stack gear for dangerous sections.  If you are placing small gear, place more than once piece.  The extra energy is worth the headspace.
  • One sporty sport routes, consider hanging really long slings on bolts so you can clip, and then clip up. With some smart sling-work you can put a “bolt” anywhere you want it.
David Statler with the extended sling on “Harlequin” 5.12b.  Endless Wall, New River Gorge.

For a hard start and dangerous second clip, just stick-clip the second bolt.

Climb in good to ideal temperatures/conditions

For a difficult lead, especially a trad climb, work out all the gear and the moves, then try to send the rig.  Once you’ve worked it out, visualize the movements; chalk and tick key holds (I know people talk smack on tick marks…so brush them off when you’re done.)  When you’re climbing, you don’t want to have to think, but just connect the dots.  A great way to mess up a techy sequence is to try and change beta, or forget your beta half way through the crux.

For sending routes at your limit (grade-wise) pick stuff that is your strength.

  • If you’re in bouldering shape, then pick short, but hard routes.
  • If you’re good on pockets, then pick a route with pockets etc.
  • Stick to the steep juggy routes (if you’re good at those.)

Temperatures and conditions are huge. Ideal conditions make hard routes easy and bad conditions make easy routes miserable!  I will typically try to send the hardest routes (peak my training) during the ideal conditions window for the area.  Based on day-to-day conditions I follow:

  • When it’s cold, climb slopers
  • When it’s low humidity, climb crimpers
  • When it’s hot, go swimming and climb jugs!
Slopers on a cold day.  Chronic – V7 at Stone Fort, flashing the problem.  Photo Lauren Goff

I decided that I would try to climb the route: “The Beast in Me” 5.12a R at the New River Gorge this spring. I don’t think this route gets the “R” rating in the newest book, but by most definitions, it should.   The crux has a bolt but there are two cruxes before it (V3 or so) with long falls on good, but must-not-fail gear.

We set the route up on TR and I loaded up my harness with gear. I climbed the route as if leading placing the gear and I works out all the gear beta my first go (and the moves).  I figured out the crux sequence and brushed all the holds.  

“The Beast in Me” 5.12a R.  Photo Jared Musgrave

As I attempted to lead the route after top roping it, I had the gear on my harness in order with the draws already on them. I also sorted the gear on the left and right side of my harness based on the placement.  The plan was to have no extra gear and as I clipped the anchor I had no gear on my harness!

I was poised to “slam dunk” the crux before the crux. I was waaaaaaay over my last piece of gear, a good cam in a horizontal, and for a split second imagined what would happen if I shorted the long move. I quashed the thought and went hard!  Sticking the hold. ……woah boy !!!!…..that was a pretty sketchy 1/4 of a second.   If that cam were to blow, it’s would likely be a fatal or serious ground fall from about 40+ feet.  Climbing is dangerous.

I didn’t get it, I fell at the crux.  I didn’t listen to my own advice and tried to do a different sequence.  My buddy Neal was also working the route and between the two of us, we refined the beta (finding a key foot.)  I wasn’t going to try the frightful lead a third time so I sent the rig on Top Rope to get some confidence and muscle memory.

I wrote down the gear and sent the route my next trip out, once again clipping the anchor with no gear on my harness. I topped out and enjoyed the view before downclimbing and lowering.  I’m not sure if this is my hardest trad line, though it was definitely exciting.  When I climbed the route, it went pretty easy for me, but I was on edge the whole time.  As I went through the dangerous section, I once again imagined what would happen if I fell there.  On Neal’s previous attempt, he figured out better gear beta; we stacked two cams into the horizontal instead of the one.  Cutting the chances of death by falling on V3 in half is a good idea. 


I had a lot more on this, but figured I’d make it a “part two” where I talk about temperatures and bouldering! 

Trying hard(er) in the Gym

V7 at Joe’s Valley

I’m not the type of person who does the whole new years resolutions.  To me, New Years is just another day.  I understand that people need “fresh starts”; “A time to change their lives.”  I listen to NPR podcasts all the time and I see why its important for humans to try to change our bad habits and also, all those fitness gyms need their “black January 2nds.”

Myself, I am constantly looking for ways to improve; not just my climbing, but my life overall.  My bro Ryan and I were talking about how to improve our climbing and we had a revelation: 
We never try hard in the gym.  Like….ever.  
In fact, most of the time, I just half bass it (not a typo.)   The Energy Rock Gym in Charleston has been HUGE for all of us here.  Our collective climbing has gone through the roof, mine included.  I had observed how several of the folks have improved a lot faster than I had; I wondered what I was doing wrong and what I could do to improve.  We did notice that they tried REALLY hard in the gym…their entire lives for 3 hours revolve around sending the purple problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that gyms are ruining climbing all over the country.  (Just kidding, its an inside joke.)  I don’t take gym climbing very serious; nowhere near as serious as climbing outside. When I’m climbing outside, I try as hard as I can and push myself to, and sometimes past what I think are my physical limits.  In the gym though…I’m like “meh…didn’t send the blue problem…not gonna try and hold that hold…meh…(meh.)  Its lame anyways….” 
I would like to say that my hang-ups are practical things like “injury prevention” or “saving myself for the weekend.”  But honestly, I’m just lazy and don’t really give ‘er.  (I do actually try and push my limits while training though.)

So I’ve decided that I’m going to start trying as hard as I can (it will be a process) in the gym.  The conclusion being that the harder I try in the gym, the more the gym will improve my climbing.   Hopefully I won’t injure myself or ruin myself for the weekend. 
I’m in my hangboard phase of my phased training, but I am also setting for our annual climbing competition.  I even ACTUALLY decided to try as hard as I could for one problem yesterday.  It’s a start.  (I’m totally going to send the purple cave problem!!)

2016 Winter Training Season

It’s January here in West Virginia.  Normally by now, the weather is terrible, it’s snowing, everything is wet and everything will stay wet.  And it is way too cold to climb.  That makes training season easy!  Not this year though.  The weather has been unnaturally hot.  In-fact, it was almost TOO hot to boulder in December.  Things have finally cooled off though.   I finished my Fall/Winter climbing season by bouldering at Meadow Top area of the New River Gorge last weekend.
There’s No I in Illiterate V7.
After a short warm-up, I jumped right on “There’s no I in Illiterate” V7 and the companion problem “Mechanical Sensei” V5, flashing them both.  Not too bad right?  The carry-over finger strength from my summer hangboard is still with me!  I then set my sites on “Thomas Pinch-Ons” V8 and after working it a good bit, managed to send it too.  Not a bad way to finish up the season!
Now its time to train!
Thomas Pinch-Ons V8.
I’ve been running and dieting, trying to stay slim.  I find that my hangboard phase is also my best “running and dieting” phase too.  I pay a lot of attention to my weight and when I work HARD to gain 20 lbs on a particular grip, it reminds me how important being slim is for me.  (And how not-important ice cream and pizza are for me.)
Sunshine Arête V5.
 Trango has released the Rock Prodigy Forge.  This is basically a more hardcore “difficult” version of the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I basically (what I consider) maxed out all the two finger pockets on the first board.  Some folks like to overload holds – adding 20, 30, 40 lbs per hold, but because of my climbing style, I prefer not to load up a grip more than 20 lbs.  I’m a static and slow climber, so I don’t feel like I need to gain body weight ++ on ANY grip.  That’s just me.  So long story short, I try to pick grips that I start at -30 or so lbs and try to work these to 0,5,10 etc.  I did this with the smallest pockets on the Rock Prodigy Training Center through 3 hangboard cycles.
Trango Forge
I did my initial workout on the Forge last Monday and found that the new (smaller) pockets were perfect!  My first hangboard workout of a cycle is usually pretty sloppy; its hard to know which weights to start with, but I did pretty OK on this one.  On the Forge board, I got to train the closed crimper for the first time.  For me, this is the revolutionary step in hangboarding technology.  It’s VERY dangerous to train the closed grip position on a normal hangboard.  The Forge uses a thumb bar to safely train this angle. I LOVED IT!
Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center
In the Rock Prodigy Training Manual, the Andersons present scientific evidence about how “joint angle” while training matters.  Below is the page that talks about it, but long story short, training tiny crimps in the open grip, doesn’t necessarily translate to the closed grip.  I close crimp holds all the time – including slopers (I know, I’m weird) so it will be great to get this trained!
From The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Mike and Mark Anderson
For my supplemental training, I’ve also decided that I will start working on my flexibility.  If there’s such thing as a new years resolution for me, I guess that’s it!  BE MORE FLEXIBLE.  I’m not very flexible. I do P90x abs after every hangboard workout as well.

Rock Prodigy Forge

Finger strength is the single best thing to train to be a better Rock Climber.  There are almost ALWAYS small holds in crux sequences.  It is what makes climbing so hard…grabbing those terrible little holds.
Much empirical and some actual studies strongly suggest that hangboard training significantly increases a climber’s abilities to hold smaller holds (trust me it works.)
Rock Prodigy Forge

The hangboard evolution has come a long way.  I remember the earlier boards being different versions and adaptations of medieval torture devices.  With the large climbing hold revolution in the 90s and 2000s, hold and subsequently hangboard designs were artistic rather than functional.  The point was to “look good” while hanging from your doorframe. 

Most folks who bought hangboards would do pull-ups from them now and then and maybe challenged their drinking buddies to see who could hang from the smallest hold.  This was a bad time in the life of hangboards.  Sure, they looked good, but their functionality suffered.  Those who dedicated themselves to actual hangboard workouts still either took the pain or modified the available boards – sanding down some of the texture, reshaping the most usable grips and cutting their boards in half.  Because of poor hold layout, most of the holds on the boards were useless anyways.  Each board really had only 2 or maybe 3 (if you’re lucky) usable holds.  For the other holds, the hangboard got in the way.

The steadily growing training revolution took a large upswing in 2013-14 with the release of the Anderson brother’s Rock Climbing Training Manual and Trango’s Rock Prodigy Training Center (the street name seems to have settled on ‘The Trango Board.’)  This board seriously revolutionized the hangboard, taking all of the benefits of the various boards on the market and addressed the drawbacks.   The board is awesome and a good all-around board for training.  I used the board for 5 hangboard cycles but started maxing out the smallest two finger pockets.  I consider adding more than 30 lbs to a hold to be “maxing it out.”  I was starting to wonder what I was going to do – maybe just consider pockets my “strength” and focus more on crimps?

Rock Prodigy Training Center

Then I heard that Trango was developing a new board.  Voila.  The Rock Prodigy Forge.  I haven’t had a chance to train on the new board; my next hangboard won’t start until this February some time, but just from feeling out the holds and doing some test hanging, I immediately realized that this was this board is seriously awesome and has smaller and more difficult holds for me to train.  The texture is finer too.   Further, I noticed that the pockets are sloped (drafted)!  I really can’t wait to start training on this thing!

The revolutionary step is the ability to train the closed crimp.  In their training book, the Andersons present scientific evidence that supports the theory that grip angle matters. For example, if you train open grip (120 degrees), this does not necessarily translate to a closed grip (90 degrees.)  Only a madman would attempt to close crimp while hangboarding (injury issues) but the Forge Board uses a dedicated thumb support so you can effectively and safely train the closed grip position!  Total genius….and that’s why I love Trango. 



Daniel Brayack


Charleston, WV

Motivation to Climb

My motivation to rock climb is both travel - an excuse to see new places - and the love and passion for the gymnastic movement of climbing. Also, I've been climbing for so long, that it would be hard to consider doing anything else with my life :)

Most Memorable Climb

I was already through the crux, at least I thought. Until I grabbed the good hold and made a big move to what looked like another good hold. It had two tick marks on it - for the left and right and I went for the left. It was bad - 1/4 pad at best and I was out of balance, so I went with my right, hoping it was better. It wasn't. I was already 100 feet out from the belay and really wanted to do the route - I knew I would never get back to it. I was pumping out, the meter was running and the next hold was two feet away. I looked down, my feet weren't right....crap...well..crap crap crap. I looked up, saw a tick on a hold. Is it good? It better be. I dug down deep, used my momentum, and jumped for it. I caught it by the tips of two fingers and it was incut, but I was barely on it and I was extended on my feet. I dug deep and wrapped it, then did a bit of a one point pull up on it to latch it. BAM. crux done. and it was 5.10 to the anchors.It was Huecos Rancheros .12c onsite.

Favorite Climbing Spot

I am so torn between the NRG and RRG. It depends on the day the hour, the moment? I can never pick its so hard!!!!!


Dan Brayack is a climber, photographer and book publisher from Charleston WV. Dan travels to climb with the seasons, climbing at the Red River Gorge and New River Gorge during the spring and fall seasons with trips out west during the summer and winter and trips to the south east for bouldering in the winter. Dan has established over 100 routes at the New River Gorge and Meadow River. His photos have been published in 20+ books and all of the major magazines. He has published the Rocktown and Grayson Highlands guidebooks and authored the Coopers Rock Bouldering guidebook.

[full bio]


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