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Training for 9a – Preface

by Mark Anderson

This is the first in a multi-part series about how I prepared and trained for my ascent of Shadowboxing in Rifle Colorado. For background on the route and details of my ascent, please read here.

The decision to embark on a multi-season redpoint campaign should not be taken lightly. It’s a huge investment in time, energy and motivation. It also comes with a tremendous opportunity cost, meaning the time devoted to a single mega project could otherwise be spent working and sending many other routes, that offer a wider variety of moves and growth experiences. Not to mention the fact that even after a year or more of effort, you might not send!

I’d been stuck at 5.14c for a few years, and had been thinking for a while that sooner or later I would need to test myself on the next grade up. I wasn’t in any particular hurry—I was still improving, and so I figured the longer I put it off, the better prepared I would be. That changed in the summer of 2015, when inspiration and circumstances converged to create the right opportunity.

The first step in any major escapade is selecting an appropriate objective. Despite my admonishments to the contrary in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual, the underlying goal was to climb the grade, 5.14d (or 9a in Old Money). Routes of such grade are fairly few and far between in North America, so I didn’t have a ton of options to choose from.

Selecting the optimal goal route can be critically important. A good long-term goal route will have the following traits:

  • Inspiring enough to keep you motivated through several training cycles, even when the end is nowhere in sight.
  • Logistically convenient enough to allow as many opportunities as possible to attempt the route. Factors such as typical weather, length of climbing seasons, approach and geographic proximity all come into play.
  • High quality, so you are psyched to get on the route day after day (or at least you don’t dread getting on it)
  • Non-threatening (from an injury perspective), so you aren’t accumulating injuries throughout the process.
  • Challenging, yet still possible.

I had a few ideas in mind, but there is one guy who knows the American 9a landscape better than anyone else (so much so, that he created a website for it: http://usa9a.blogspot.com/ ). I put my initial thoughts together and asked Jonathan Siegrist for his recommendations, considering where I live, my climbing style, and strengths and weaknesses.

Jonathan's masterpiece La Lune climbs the right side of the arching cave.

Jonathan’s twin Arrow Canyon masterpieces La Lune and Le Reve climb the right side of the arching cave.  Note the sloping belay stance.

The primary factor for me was logistics. Jonathan thought the most suitable routes for my style would be one of his lines in Arrow Canyon (Nevada), La Lune or Le Reve. Unfortunately those routes are about a 12-hour drive-plus-approach away, each way, with a belay off a sloping ledge that would be marginal-at-best for my kids. We also discussed Algorithm at the Fins (Idaho), which seemed perfect for my style, but is probably more difficult to reach than Arrow Canyon (and likely hard for the grade).  Eventually we narrowed it down to Colorado’s two 9a’s (at the time), Shadowboxing and Kryptonite.

The latter was the first 9a in America, and easily its most popular (based on the number of successful ascents). I’m a huge climbing-history nerd, so it was the obvious choice. It climbs out the center of a massive cave known as The Fortress of Solitude, only about 5 miles (as the crow flies) from Rifle, and similar in style—steep, burly and continuous.

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The Fortress of Solitude, with Kryptonite roughly marked.  On  the lower left you can see the top of the steep scree fields that mark the end of the approach.

Unfortunately the Fortress sits at the top of one of the most notorious, soul-sucking approaches in Colorado. I made a trip out in late July to see what the approach would be like with kids: nearly impossible without a helicopter. The crux is several hundred yards of loose scree and talus, which you ascend by “Batman-ing” up a series of fixed ropes (while your feet skate in the steep debris). I could probably devise some scheme of shuttling backpacks-stuffed-with-kids to make it work for a few climbing days, but there was no way I could expect to get them up there 10+ times per season. It was equally unlikely to expect I could arrange babysitters, or sucker other partners for the number of trips I would need. That left Shadowboxing….

Based on what I knew of the route, it didn’t seem particularly well-aligned to my climbing strengths, but I figured its proximity to home and ease of access would make up for its sub-optimal style in the long run. I decided I would commit the first four climbing days of my Fall 2015 season to attempting it, and if I felt it was a poor choice at that point, I would retreat and consider other options.

Shadowboxing.

Shadowboxing.

Through seven weeks of hangboarding, campusing and limit bouldering, I wondered about the route. What would it be like? Was I in the ballpark? Would I be able to do the moves? Would I like it? Finally my first day on the route arrived…and it was rough. There were at least 10 moves I couldn’t do (although so many of them were consecutive, it’s hard to get an accurate count). My journal entry for the day says, “Got pretty worked–many moves I couldn’t do and pretty much completely baffled by the dihedral crux and undercling crux. Pretty overwhelmed/discouraged at the end of it all.”

Typically my first day on the rock at the beginning of each season is relatively poor, and so it was this time. By the end of my second day I’d gotten good linkage through the easier sections and done all the moves but one, the infamous crimp move. I stuck that move twice on day three, and by day four I had linked the entire route in four sections. I had made a ton of progress during my 4-day litmus test, and so with nothing better to do elsewhere, I decided to continue working the route.

The rest of that Fall 2015 season included many ups and downs. One day was entirely consumed working out a single frustrating foot move. At various points I had bleeding splits on the first pads of the index, middle, and ring fingers of my right hand due to one particularly sharp crimp. I acquired a number of nagging aches and pains in my shoulders, biceps, elbows and back from the many thuggish undercling moves low on the route.  While I two-hanged the route on my fifth day, that metric never improved over the next eight climbing days. By late October my highpoint was creeping up the route at a rate of about one move per weekend. I could do all the moves consistently, and link long sections with relative ease, but I had hit a wall where my endurance was concerned.

A looong way to go....

A looong way to go….   Photo Mike Anderson

As November approached, it seemed like I still had an outside shot of sending that season, but in retrospect I realize that was naïve–I was nowhere close. I needed a whole new level of endurance, not something I was going to acquire on the route over the course of a couple weeks.  Eventually weather, illness and previous commitments mercifully converged to provide an obvious stopping point.

As we made our way east over the Rockies for the last time of 2015, I was optimistic. I had made great progress and learned a tremendous amount about the route, and my capabilities relative to it. I could to start to see myself as a 9a climber.  I would need better upper body strength, and vastly improved endurance to have a puncher’s chance, but now I knew where my weaknesses lay, and I had six long wintery months to attack them.

New Anderson Brothers Podcast

by Mark Anderson

Last week Mike and I did another podcast with our friend Neely Quinn over at TrainingBeta.com.  You can check out the podcast here.

The interview runs about an hour and covers a wide variety of topics including:

  • What went into designing the Rock Prodigy Forge, and why we think it’s the most advanced hangboard on the market.
  • What we learned at the International Rock Climbing Research Association conference, what other research we are working on, which questions need further study.
  • How I trained differently for my ascent of Shadowboxing.
  • Mike’s recent 8a+ and 8b onsights in Europe.
  • Whether or not hangboarding causes forearm hypertrophy.
  • The secret to climbing hard with a family.
  • Questions & Answers from the Training Beta Facebook community
Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

Hope you enjoy the listen, and if it generates any questions, please share them in a comment below, or (ideally) in the Rock Prodigy Forum.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @Rock_Climbers_Training_Manual

 

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

On Friday, September 23rd, I reached my lifetime sport climbing goal of climbing a 5.14d.  Actually it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “lifetime goal”, since for the vast majority of my life I never dreamed I’d be capable of climbing a route so hard. That changed last summer.  I was at the International Climber’s Fest in Lander, WY, listening to Ethan Pringle’s inspiring keynote address about his journey to send Jumbo Love.  He spent seven years working the route, including 18 days during the Spring 2015 season in which he eventually sent it.  I had never spent 18 days on any route ever, even spread over multiple seasons or years.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, contender for Rifle's hardest route.

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, 5.14d.  Photo Mike Anderson

My takeaway from Ethan’s talk was that I didn’t know the first thing about commitment. Not on the scale that sport climbing’s elite practice it.  I routinely hear tales of top climbers spending scores of days, over many seasons or years, to send their hardest routes.  I had never even tried to do that.  I typically picked projects that I already knew I could send, and expected to do in a single season.  Never once had I clipped the chains on a hard project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb; I can’t climb any harder”.  Instead I most often felt a deflating “well, that was easy” as I casually finished off my dialed project. Never once had I selected a goal route expecting it would take multiple seasons to send, if I were able to send it at all.  If I wanted to find my true limit, some day I would have to try something hard-enough that the outcome would be uncertain.  To have any chance of succeeding, I would have to commit to an all-out effort despite the very real possibility that it could culminate in utter failure.

I had been enjoying life at 5.14c for a few years.  While I’m still making gains through training, frankly, the pace is glacial.  At 39 years old, it’s unlikely I can count on suddenly becoming a significantly stronger or more powerful climber. If I’m not at my lifetime physical peak, I’m pretty close to it.  Furthermore, I have two young kids, and I don’t want to plan my family’s lives around hard sport climbing for much longer. It was the right time to make an all-out effort, to put my 20+ years of hard-earned knowledge and ability to the test.  I needed a worthy goal.

In the American grade scale “5.14d” may not sound much better than 5.14c, perhaps not worth an extra special, once-in-a-lifetime effort. But most of the world uses the French scale, where 5.14c is “8c+”, and 5.14d is “9a”.  The Ninth Grade is a magical threshold.  Wolfgang Gullich separated himself from the other protagonists of the sport climbing revolution with his ascent of the world’s first 9a, Action Directe.  It’s what every top sport climber around the globe aspires to, and clearly worthy of a special effort.

Shadowboxing climbs the gently overhanging sweep of porcelain limestone directly across from The Eighth Day.

Shadowboxing climbs the gently overhanging sweep of porcelain limestone directly across from The Eighth Day.

After several weeks of research and deliberation, I settled on Rifle’s hardest route, Shadowboxing, a phenomenal, slightly overhanging 40-meter wall of underclings, slopers and edges. The route was originally bolted in the 90’s by Nico Favresse, tried by many, but left to collect dust until Jonathan Siegrist arrived in 2011 to bag the first ascent. This attracted more suitors, until a key hold in the crux crumbled, leaving the route’s status in question. Jonathan eventually re-climbed the line to prove it would still go, but despite attempts by most of Rifle’s best climbers, no further ascents came until Jon Cardwell put it together in August 2015.

That history provided plenty of unnecessary intimidation for me. I don’t have a great track record at Rifle.  I’ve failed there more than at any other crag.  I’m best suited for thin, technical lines where I can stand on my feet and use my tediously cultivated finger strength.  The burly, upper-arm intensive thuggery of Rifle has sent me slinking out of the canyon with my tail between my legs more often than I care to admit. So I decided to give it four days of reconnaissance, and then re-evaluate.  At the end of those four days I was still psyched to continue, and soon after I was hooked.

Shouldery, burly climbing low on the route. Photo Mike Anderson.

I spent 13 days working the route in the Fall of 2015. I made a lot of progress, including many routine “2-hangs” but wasn’t truly close to sending. I did, however, gain some confidence that I could do it, eventually. I returned in May 2016 for another 12 days of frustration stemming from the flu, perpetually wet and seeping rock, broken holds and a tweaked back, ultimately devolving into oppressive heat. Despite my laundry list of excuses, I made significant progress, most notably a handful of one-hang ascents. By mid-June I was failing more often than not about seven hard-but-not-desperate moves from the end of the difficulties. As the summer heat squashed my chances, I could honestly say I was close. But I would need to wait several months for decent conditions to return to the canyon.

Over the summer I trained, adjusting my program so that I would arrive physically ready to send when I returned in September. It worked.  In training I was experiencing the best power of my career simultaneously with the best endurance of my career. Normally those peaks are separated by 4-5 weeks. On my first go back on the route I matched my previous highpoint.  I knew I was physically strong and fit-enough to send, I just needed to re-gain the muscle memory for the route’s 100+ moves.

Thursday night we checked into our hotel, with the Friday forecast showing a 40% chance of rain, mostly before noon. The next morning it was partly cloudy with a scant few sprinkles, but a sickly dark cloud loomed ahead as we approached the crag.  We arrived to a steady rain. Shadowboxing was still dry, except for the last two bolts of 5.10 climbing.  But based on the forecast, we expected the rain to stop within a couple hours, so we decided to wait.  Four hours of hyper-active pacing later, I was pulling out my hair to climb.  The rain seemed to be ebbing, but water streaks had streamed down the top third of the climb, soaking the thin edges and pockets surrounding my previous highpoint.  I decided the day would be a loss anyway, so I might as well get started, regardless of the wetness, figuring I could at least rehearse the lower cruxes in preparation for redpoint attempts on Sunday.

Surprisingly by the time I finished my warmup, the upper panel seemed dry. My first go of the day was solid, resulting in my 8th one-hang, but with some encouraging micro-progress on the “Crimp Crux” that ended the burn (along with the seven previous one-hangs).  The fickle move is a long rock right on a slippery foothold to reach a shallow crimp/pocket.  While certainly difficult, I realized my troubles with this move were more mental than physical.  After failing here so many times, I had trained myself to expect it–to brace for the fall instead of focusing on my execution.  After I fell I rehearsed the move a couple times, making a point to move off the hold as soon as I grabbed it, instead of bouncing and adjusting my grip until I had it latched perfectly.

At the "Crimp Crux", eyeing the shallow crimp/pocket that had eluded me on 8 one-hang ascents.

At the “Crimp Crux”, with my left hand on the “Pinch Plate”, eyeing the shallow crimp/pocket that ended eight redpoint attempts.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I rested about an hour and tied back in for my last attempt of the day. I cruised up the opening slab, over a short roof, then into the business.  I flew past a series of crux holds, each one representing the doubts and tribulations I eventually overcame to master them in previous seasons. I was going well, confident I would reach the rest at two-thirds height.  Once there, I implored myself to try hard and remain focused at the crimp crux–just keep cranking full speed ahead until you fall off.

Eventually I went for it, feeling the first wave of pump doubt about ten moves higher. I kept motoring, paddling my hands and feet toward the Crimp Crux. I stepped up to the hovering, thin panel of rippled limestone, and grabbed the sloping and thin “Pinch Plate” with my left hand.  This time I completely committed to latching the crimp–I tried hard and focused on doing the move correctly.  I hit the shallow crimp–not especially well–but I didn’t care and I didn’t hesitate.  Instead I immediately rolled it up, and proceeded, fully expecting to fall on the next move—a sideways slap to an incut slot—but I didn’t.  The key piece of beta turned out to be: TRY FUCKING HARD.  Don’t give up, and don’t hesitate. If you hit the hold, however badly, just keep going.  Assume you have it good enough, until gravity says otherwise.  That’s not always the right beta, but it was right on that move, on that day.

I had finally done the Crimp Crux from the ground, but there were plenty of hard moves remaining.  I felt pumped but I kept charging. I stabbed for a shallow three-finger pocket and latched it.  As I moved my left foot up to the first of two micro edges, my leg began to shake.  I stepped my right foot up to the next micro edge, and it too began to shake.  I got my feet on as well as I could despite the vibrations, leaned right, and stabbed left for a half-pad two-finger pocket, again  expecting to fall.  I latched it and pulled my trembling right foot up.  Now I hesitated.  The next move was really hard.  While I’d never reached it on redpoint before, I’d had plenty of nightmares about falling off here.  And now there was no denying–I was absolutely pumped.  I took a good look at the target (a 4-finger, incut half-pad edge), settled in my stance, and with zero reluctance I slapped for it, putting 100% effort and concentration into the latch.  I hit it accurately, but I had a lot of outward momentum to stop.  I had it well enough though.  I bounced my fingers on, amazed that I stuck it.

Next I had to high-step my left foot into the incut slot. It felt incredibly hard for a foot move, but I got it on there, somehow.  By now my elbows were sticking straight out. I noticed I wasn’t thumb-catching with my right hand like I ought to, but it seemed too late to correct.  Now the only thing to do was huck for the jug and pray the friction was sufficient to keep me on the wall. Somehow it worked, but I wasn’t home free yet.  I was pumped out of my skull and had one more long throw to do.  As I was wiggling my left hand into the best position on the jug, I could feel the lip crumbling under my fingers.  Not good!  I kept it together despite an evil impulse to give up and jump off (saying take wouldn’t have helped, I was now ten feet above the last draw!).  I squeezed a few fingers of my right hand onto the jug so I could adjust my left hand and clear the new formed debris.  I pulled up into position for the throw and hesitated for an eternity, fruitlessly kicking my flagging left foot around in hope of some purchase.

I felt my momentum fizzling and my hips sag.  As I imagined my pathetic, sorry-excuse-for-a-climber-carcass hurtling towards the ground after failing to even try a 5.9 dyno, I heard, for the first time, the shouts of encouragement from the gallery of climbers warming up at the Project Wall. At my moment of greatest doubt, although not uttered particularly loud, I heard clearly, as though he were standing next to me, Dave Graham* calmly urge “Allez”.  I can’t explain it.  It wasn’t the word but the way he said it–like he was talking to himself, and sincerely wanted me to do it.  That was the difference, and in that moment I chose to do it.  I slapped up and stuck it.

[*the first American to climb Action Directe, and one of the first three to climb 5.15]

The end of Shadowboxing's lower crux section. Photo Mike Anderson.

The end of Shadowboxing’s lower crux section. Photo Mike Anderson.

The desperation of the last sequence and support from below forced an excited “YEAHHH!” out of me once I realized I had the hold. I rested on the jug for a long time, or rather procrastinated, terrified that the 20-feet of climbing remaining, which were exposed to the full fury of the rain, would be wet or covered in silt from the runoff. Although the climbing was only 5.10 in this section, it’s very insecure, balancy climbing on non-positive slopers. In the end it was trivial–the holds were neither wet nor dirty.  I methodically worked up towards the anchor, with no drama, clipping the anchor easily, exclaiming “Wooooohoo!  You’re my bitch Rifle!” –the last word on an up and down love/hate relationship with Rifle.  To have my greatest triumph there, even though it came at an absurd cost, was incredibly satisfying.

And it was my greatest triumph. Obviously, objectively, it’s the hardest rock climb I’ve done. I spent roughly twice as many days on it (28) as any other project, at the time of my physical peak. But the real challenge was mental. Jonathan named the route “Shadowboxing” as a nod to its lack of shade. But the name took on a different meaning for me, the dictionary definition. It became increasingly clear as the process evolved that I was fighting myself. Physically, I was able, but mentally I was not prepared to accept that I was good enough to climb such a hard route. Overcoming that barrier and sticking with it to the end was the most mentally difficult thing I’ve ever done—harder than the Cassin Ridge, finishing a marathon off the couch, Boot Camp, or the endless drudgery and starvation of high school wrestling. Never have I had to persevere through so much persistent failure, so many setbacks, over so many days and multiple seasons. So many times I could have quit, and I would have been well-justified in doing so. But I kept going. Each off-season, I looked at fat Mark in the mirror and wondered if I’d be able to regain my form in time for the next season. Each time I did. The day of the send was a microcosm of the entire campaign. So many things didn’t go perfectly, so many moments of doubt or indecision crept in to derail my focus. But I kept moving towards the goal, and I was rewarded for it.

Falling off at the Crimp Crux--an experience I was all-too familiar with. Photo Mike Anderson.

Falling off at the Crimp Crux–an experience I was all-too familiar with. Photo Mike Anderson.

When I first got to the ground, someone asked how long I’d been working the route, and I said “So long I’m embarrassed to say”.  I am slightly ashamed of how long it took.  From a performance improvement perspective, I’m skeptical that was the best way to spend an entire year of my climbing life, even though that is precisely the experience I signed up for.  Still, despite my excessive sieging, the route never really got any easier.  During the process I (or others) broke at least seven holds that I can remember.  If anything the route got objectively harder.  That difficutly forced me to train far harder, and sacrifice far more than I ever have for a sport climb.  As a result, I got significantly better. I stayed focused and determined despite countless setbacks and distractions.

That’s the great thing about a stretch goal—it forces you to stretch yourself in order to reach it. It wasn’t an experience I enjoyed, but it is was the experience I needed if I wanted to know my limit.  As I clipped the chains, I never once thought “well, that was easy”. Instead, I reflected on how hard I worked over the last year, and marveled at how hard I tried in the moment of truth. I’ve never had to try that hard during a redpoint. I’ve never successfully linked so many consecutive 50/50 moves. I doubt I ever will again. That was a special moment, the culmination of a special year. From the admittedly narrow perspective of this one moment in my life, I can truly say, that is the hardest I can climb.

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

Below Shadowboxing after the send.  I’m told hangboarding doesn’t cause forearm hypertrophy. Someone please tell my camera.  Photo Shaun Corpron.

PS, I have to thank my wife Kate. If you ever wonder how it’s possible for me to climb so much with two small kids, the answer is Kate. She takes up the ample parenting slack that my climbing creates. This project was particularly burdensome. Kate endured interminable belay sessions, interminable rest days, and my interminable whining over every little setback. I simply could not have done it without her. Thanks also to my brother Mike who constantly pushes me to be better than I ever think I’m capable of (and for the photos and belays). Thanks to Trango for supporting me despite a year of meager results, to Shaun Corpron for the belays, and to all my friends on the Rock Prodigy Forum who shared their wisdom and support with me.

The Beta

by Mark Anderson

Fred Gomez cool and collected on his send of Smooth Boy, 13b, Smith Rock, OR.

Fred Gomez cool and collected on his send of Smooth Boy, 13b, Smith Rock, OR.

Last week I had to upgrade to a new binder for my training records.  The old one was full.  This is actually my fourth or fifth binder.  My first binder was just an old manila folder.  The oldest sheet in my binder is a hangboard log for a workout I did in June 2003.  I was training before that time, but either I did not write down what I did, or (more likely) I misplaced those records.  Since that first workout I’ve added 347 more hangboard sheets–one for each workout, plus an inch or so worth of campus, ARC, Linked Bouldering Circuit and Supplemental Exercise sheets.

The oldest hard-copy sheet I have, for a hangboard workout in June 2003.

The oldest hard-copy sheet I have, for a hangboard workout in June 2003.

After a few seasons of training, I upgraded to my first three-ring binder: red, 1”-thick with D-rings (super plush!).  This most recent binder is 3” thick and lasted me almost a decade, but now it’s bursting.  My new binder is 4” thick, but I think I’m going to split my records into two binders—one for hangboard logs, one for everything else—so I don’t have to keep moving it between the barn and my hangboard room, and to increase capacity in each binder.  Hopefully this approach will last me through the next decade.

This is what perseverance looks like. Each blue tab represents a season of training, although I’m slacking on adding tabs—the most recent one is from Fall 2012.

This is what stubbornness looks like. Each blue tab represents a season of training, although I’m slacking on adding tabs—the most recent one is from Fall 2012.

One of the most common questions heard at the crag is “what’s the beta…?” or “how did you do that one move?”  Well, if you ask me, here is my answer—in the many chalk-dust-covered pages of those creaking binders.  In other words, the beta is: do lots of thinking and lots of hard work.  Do a little bit of each of those things every week.  Then continue that month after month, season after season, year after year.  Keep doing it.  Do it  even when you don’t really feel like doing it.  Every page in that binder represents a decision point:  whether to do what is presently the most satisfying, or to invest temporary discomfort in the hope of future returns. Training is a ‘long con’–you will not see results in one week, or one month. There is no quick pay-off or silver bullet.  You have to keep at it for years.  It may be monotonous, it certainly isn’t glamorous and it often isn’t fun.  But if you do stick with it, if you follow through, you will be rewarded.

And that—with all sincerity—is how I did ‘that one move’.

Anderson Brothers Interview at PaleoTreats

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Earlier this week Mike and I were invited on Nik Hawks’ podcast over at PaleoTreats.  PaleoTreats is a web-based mail order company that makes delicious and nutritious desserts for active and health-conscious folks.  In their own words,

“…We’ve been making foodie-approved Paleo desserts since 2009. We are serious about flavor, texture, ingredients and Paleo. Yes, all of them. We’ve shipped around the world, from Australia to Afghanistan, and we’ve ironed out all the kinks of getting a great dessert to your door.”

Nik’s podcast isn’t really about that though.  He’s interviewed an impressively diverse group of folks covering the gamut from elite athletes, to coaches and nutrition experts, focused on a wide variety of sports.  He’s really interested in the pursuit of excellence, and the common factors that make athletes successful, regardless of their athletic vocation.  Our podcast covered a variety of topics, including:

  • Goal-Setting in life and sports
  • How to develop the ability to work hard in yourself and your kids
  • The time and place for skill development in climbing
  • What we’re most proud of (in a training sense), and what we would change about the RCTM
  • How self-esteem (or lack thereof) has impacted our motivation and success
  • The next big innovations in climbing training

(Pretty much the only thing we didn’t talk about is food)

Check out the podcast here!

This photo has nothing to do with the adjacent text. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

Putting the Project on a Pedestal

by Mark Anderson

A recent discussion got me thinking about some of the mental impediments to advancing to the “next level.” Whether the next level for you happens to be 5.11a or 5.15a, many of us encounter a feeling of inadequacy when pondering the next jump in difficulty—a sense that “I’m not worthy of [insert grade or route].”   Nearly every time I’ve dared to attempt any sort of advancement from one level to the next (be 12a, 12c, 13a and so on) I’ve faced self-doubt. When it came time to try 5.14 it became a serious problem. I had decided that only legends climb 5.14, and I’m not a legend, so logically I couldn’t climb 5.14.

To Bolt Or Not To Be sits in the middle of Smith's "Main Area". Not a good place to hide from the crowds. If you're wondering, "will Mark ever tire of posting pics of himself on To Bolt?" the answer is "no!"

To Bolt Or Not To Be sits in the middle of Smith’s “Main Area”. Not a good place to hide from the crowds. If you’re wondering, “will Mark ever tire of posting pics of himself on To Bolt?” the answer is “no!”

Even after I convinced myself to try (and eventually send) my first 5.14, I was still self-conscious about being seen on other routes of the same grade. When I travelled to Smith Rock to attempt the legendary line To Bolt Or Not To Be, the crux of the campaign was just getting up the nerve to drop my rope below it on the first day (a Saturday no less)! The route is smack dab in the middle of the park, in plain view of hundreds of other climbers. I sheepishly felt that maybe I didn’t “deserve” to be on such an historic climb, or perhaps other climbers would think I was a “poser” [Note to millennials: a “poser” is someone who pretends to be good at something they are not. In the 1990s, it was important to NOT be a poser. Social media has made this term obsolete, since now everybody is posing all the time 🙂].

One of the areas where Mike has always been better than me is that, at least outwardly, he seems to have much greater confidence, and a willingness to dream big. If not for his lead and example I wouldn’t have accomplished a fraction of the routes I have. Especially in our early days as alpinists and adventure climbers, Mike usually set the agenda and picked out objectives that I would have considered too difficult—routes like the Cassin Ridge, Devil’s Thumb, Mt Waddington or the Greenwood-Locke. Sometimes we got in over our heads, but most of the time it worked out, and I learned inch-by-inch that we were better than I had estimated.

MA135

Enjoying the belay on the nut-shriveling South Face of Mt Waddington in 2000. Mike talked me into many situations like this.

So what causes this self-doubt? There are many contributing factors, and they surely vary from climber to climber. Here are a few mental traps that I believe have undermined my climbing over the years:

Worshipping History: I love climbing lore. I gobble up biographies and make a point to learn the backstory on all my goal routes. I’m so frequently saying “Wolgang Gullich this…” and “Jerry Moffatt that…” you’d think I was living in 1989. I’ve spent so many years idolizing different climbers that by the time I get good enough to try their routes they seem almost forbidden. This NOT-SUITABLE-FOR-WORK clip from The 40-Year-Old Virgin sums up this mindset pretty well:

WARNING: This clip is not suitable for work:

I periodically make the mistake of putting that “next level” project up on a pedestal, treating it with excessive reverence, as though it’s some unfathomable, unattainable fantasy. Whether the next level is a landmark grade (such as 5.13 or V10) or a specific, premiere route, in reality, it’s just the next arbitrary increment on a fairly linear spectrum. There’s usually no empirical reason why it would be any more difficult than your previous increments of improvement. The only differences are superficial distractions fabricated by your reluctant mind.

If history-worship is holding you back, ponder the last time you made a jump in difficulty. Perhaps at the time you felt unworthy of those jumps as well, but you succeeded anyway. Another option for some is to try a route at the next increment when you’re on vacation. In the US, 5.12a is a “big deal” because it’s the first sub-grade of 5.12, whereas in France (and most of the rest of the Sport Climbing world), a route of the same difficulty is just 7a+ (in other words, “no big deal”). If you’re overwhelmed more by the iconic nature of a particular route than you are its grade, consider trying another, less-legendary route at the same grade. Attempting “just another route”, even if you have no intention of sending it, can build your belief that the goal route really is not such a big deal.

Margalef (127)a

In America, milestone grades like 5.12a, 5.13a, and 5.14a can seem intimidating. In Europe the same routes would be graded 7a+, 7c+ and 8b+, which to European climbers have no particular significance. Climbing Magic Festival in Margalef.

Comparison to Others: Some improving climbers may compare themselves to individuals who climb at the “next level”, and think “I’m not as good as they are, so logically I can’t climb the same routes/grades they do.” You could be dwelling on a specific difference such as, “Everyone I know whose done Route XYZ can do a 1-arm pull-up. I can’t do a 1-arm pull-up, so I probably can’t do Route XYZ.” Or perhaps you are bounding your own potential to that of your mentor. Many of us have a climber or two that we look up to because they showed us the ropes, gave us encouragement, and indoctrinated us into the sport. These people are often our heroes, and it may seem unthinkable that you could succeed where your trusty ropegun did not.

Or, as in the case of Mike and my ascent of Freerider, it could be more general. At that time every other person who had freed El Capitan was a full-time pro climber, and most of them were household names (Skinner & Piana, Lynn Hill, The Huber Bros, Yuji, Tommy and so on). I was understandably skeptical that two nobodies could roll into the Valley and free the Big Stone (the fact that Mike did it, unrehearsed, with no falls, is so unfathomable it probably explains why it has since been largely forgotten by the media). But we did it anyway. We got up the nerve to try, and once we were engaged, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and before we had time to hesitate over the improbability of it all, we were at the top.

Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.

Mike traversing out to the start of the Monster Offwidth on Freerider, May 2004.  Alex Huber once quipped that this pitch would never be on-sighted.  Mike onsighted it rather casually, and I followed it free on my first go.  I imagine countless others have done the same since.

If some form of comparison is a problem for you, remember that we’re all human. When looking inward, many of us have a tendency to dwell on our weakness and understate our strengths. When looking at others, we do the opposite. That’s not realistic. While it’s no secret the best climbers all have certain talents that give them advantages, the big taboo is that even the world’s elite have significant weaknesses, just like everyone else. The difference between them and the average Joe is that they don’t let their limitations hold them back. They maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. You can do the same thing.   Everyone has talents, and you likely have strengths where some of your peers, mentors, or even heroes, are weak. You may be able to compensate for a disparity in one attribute, say finger strength, by excelling in another, such as footwork. Your hidden strength might be the ability to lay out a long term plan and stick to it even when the payoff is months away. This “talent” is surprisingly rare, yet the people who achieve greatness in this world, in any field, do it because they never lose the drive to get the most out of each day. Those who have that drive will eventually outpace the vast majority of climbers, despite any lacking physical talents.

Fear of Failure: One of the unexpected side-effects of training effectively is that sometimes your body improves more quickly than your mind can really accept. This is often the case for those new to training, even more so for those who adopted training after experiencing a long plateau. Our Egos have a lot invested in our self-image, and it likes to maintain the status quo. That goes both ways–at times providing false confidence in something we haven’t done in a long time, while at other times preventing us from accepting that we’ve improved. The Ego finds comfort in sticking to grades that are well within our known ability, because success is nearly assured. The Ego doesn’t really like challenges, because they carry an inherent risk of failure. The problem is, facing challenges is essential to improving. If you want to get better, you will have to learn to overcome the objections of your Ego, including allowing for the possibility that you are stronger/better than your Ego can accept, even if that means risking failure.

TD2 RRG Dec08

In 2008, I joined Mike for a short trip to the Red. While wrapping up a nice streak of on-sights, I debated whether to “waste” my last go of the trip by attempting to on-sight a 5.13a—a grade I had never before tried on sight. Mike correctly pointed out, “one thing is certain, you will never on-sight a 5.13 if you never try one.” The route in question,Table of Colors, climbs up to and along the chalky rail in the upper-left corner (while Mike cruises The Dinosaur).

I’ve struggled with this constantly, delaying attempts at the next grade countless times over the years. In the end, I always tried eventually, and while I didn’t always send right away, I almost always discovered that I was closer to that level than I had expected. I still struggle with this even now, but it helps knowing that I’ve faced this dilemma many times before, and the vast majority of the time “going for it” was the right choice. With sport climbing in particular there is very little physical risk in attempting something that may be “too hard”. If you are considering attempting a next level route, the choice is simple: go for it! There really is no downside, beyond a bruised Ego, and that really isn’t so bad.  Even if you “fail”, you will surely learn something valuable in the process, such as the skills and abilities you will need to develop to reach the next level.

Fear of Commitment: For most of my career, I struggled with the first three items on this list. Now that I’ve overcome those limitations time and again, I tend to struggle primarily with a fear of commitment. I’ve persevered through many successful campaigns, including my share of protracted sieges, and I know very well the effort required. Generally I will do whatever it takes to see a goal route through to completion. Committing myself to such a route when the send is still likely multiple seasons (or even years) away can be incredibly daunting. Now my greatest mental obstacle is the knowledge that reaching my next level will require working even harder in training, making even more sacrifices in daily life, and spending even more days on the project. It’s hard enough just maintaining my current level, do I really want to up the ante? It seems that at present, I do, and that is somewhat terrifying.

Clearly making such a commitment is completely personal. For some climbers, committing to the next level might mean dedicating two weekends to a goal route instead of the typical in-a-day send. If the next level for you will require a relatively large amount of time, visit the route and give it a few tries before you decide. You may find it will go more quickly that you think. You may find that you enjoy the process enough that committing more days than usual isn’t a burden. Or you may find you’d rather get a few more training cycles under your belt, consolidate your route pyramid at the levels you’ve already reached, and save the next level for the near future.

Slide Show Oct 31 at Shelf Road

by Mark Anderson

High on the First Ascent of Shelf Road's hardest climb, Flight of the Phoenix, 5.14a/b.

High on the First Ascent of Shelf Road’s hardest climb, Flight of the Phoenix, 5.14a/b.

The American Alpine Club’s Craggin Classic series will be descending on Shelf Road this weekend.  The festivities will include clinics on Saturday and Sunday, food and beverages, a costume contest and slideshows Friday and Saturday night.

Friend of the Show Jonathan Siegrist will be presenting Friday night and I will be presenting a slideshow Saturday with help from Shelf Road pioneer and all-around legend Bob D’Antonio.  The Saturday night show is scheduled to begin ~8pm, followed by a Halloween costume contest.  Bob is expected to talk about the early days at Shelf, and it’s seminal role in establishing the nascent discipline of sport climbing in America.  My show will center on my recent efforts to raise the upper limits of difficulty at Shelf into the 5.14-range, including video footage of Shelf’s best hard lines.

I believe the festivities will be centered around the Horse Trailer Parking area, which is located at the bottom of the hill, where the road to The Bank splits off from Shelf Road.

I will also be teaching a clinic on Saturday that will have something to do with training and climbing.  I anticipate I will present a top-level overview of the Rock Prodigy method, and then discuss methods for maximizing performance on the rock.  Unfortunately the clinic is full, but if you’re out at Shelf for the weekend, please come by and say high and enjoy the slideshow.

Kids Climbing Wall

by Mark Anderson

Growing up, I rarely had the opportunity climb. As a teenager, I occasionally had the chance to try it, typically on the most pitiful excuses for climbing walls you could imagine (one vertical sheet of 4×8 plywood with 2x4s nailed on for holds, and the like). The small geographical area within my reach was completely devoid of rock, but the local libraries had enough books to pique my interest—Steck and Roper’s 50 Classics, Harlin’s Climber’s Guide to North America, Watts’ Smith Rock guide. I knew I wanted climb, despite virtually no experience actually doing it. It wasn’t until the end of college that I finally had sufficient freedom and transportation to really get into it.

I now have two kids, Logan (4.5 years old) and Amelie (2). I sincerely don’t care if they become climbers, but if they choose to pursue it, I want them to have the opportunities that I lacked, and that means regular access to climbing terrain. The Lazy H Barn provides them far more opportunity than I had, but it’s a bit of a hike for their small legs, and they can’t physically open the door. Not to mention, the terrain isn’t exactly designed for them, and the few vertical sections quickly become dull. I expect as they grow up they’ll find it more enticing, but currently they rarely climb in it more than about once a month.

With that in mind, I decided last year to build a climbing wall inside the house, designed specifically for the kids. This would greatly improve their access, especially during winter when our place is frequently snowbound. We have a pair of really kid-friendly gyms on the Front Range (ABC Kids in Boulder and CityROCK in Colorado Springs). These gyms have done a great job of including elements that make the experince fun and entertaining. I wanted to do the same because more than anything, I want climbing to be fun for them.

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding)

The space, in the first stages of framing. My hangboard rig used to reside in the corner in center, but now that I’ve realized the wisdom of the “just climb” philosophy, I don’t need it anymore. (J/k of course—I’ll quit climbing before I quit hangboarding).

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

Complete framing. The ramp behind the wall (on the right edge of the photo) supports a slide tunnel.

A look at the Monkey Bars that connect the two walls.

A look at the Monkey Bars and catwalk that connect the two walls.

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Painting panels. I had a bunch of scrap OSB lying around, and I really wanted to maximize re-use instead of scrapping it and buying new sheets. In the end I only had to buy one new panel (but lots of paint).

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Gluing wainscoted (whiteboard) panels onto the slide. It took as much effort to build the slide as it did to build the rest of the wall! But it was worth it—the slide is by far the most popular feature.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Logan about to test the slide tunnel. I created the curvature at the bottom of the slide by laminating two sheets of ¼” plywood together.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

Installing panels. From L to R, the wall angles are 80 degrees, 100 degrees, and vert.

The finished product.

The finished product.

A closer look at the right half…

A closer look at the right half…

…and the slabby left half.

…and the slabby left half.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Mayhem! From L to R: Ayla topping out the slab, Logan rolling a basketball across the catwalk, Mike J supervising, Xander running, Mark S contemplating a sit start, Lucian running across the high platform, and Quinn coming out of the slide tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

Lucian on the Monkey Bars while Mark S, Ayla, Logan (and Amelie, hidden) play in the slab tunnel.

I got a number of great holds sets for this wall from e-Grips. In addition to their outstanding collection of killer normal-human grips, they have a number of sets that are super kid-friendly. Many typical jug sets don’t work so well for kids because their stubby fingers aren’t long enough to reach into the incut part of the “jug”, effectively leaving them with a sloper. The sets described below are kid-tested and great for small hands:

Big Buttons These are the perfect thickness for tiny hands, super incut and non-slopey.

Meridian Pulls Medium-depth edges for adults, moderately-incut full-finger jugs to kids.

Pure Line Finger Buckets Full-hand buckets for small-sized climbers.

Pure Line Mini-Jugs These are actually pretty monstrous from a kids’ perspective—two full hands, but thin enough to wrap their short fingers around.

Jr. Bugguy Interesting shapes, but also plentiful kid-size features. Best on slabby to vertical walls.

Sea Food The Sea Horse and Starfish are among Amelie’s favorite holds.

Jungle Animals Easily Amelie’s favorite set. Every time she comes in the room, she runs and points out the Ape, gesticulating while say “ooh-ooh, ahh-ahh”. Holds like these really do help attract the kids to the wall. That said, this set is non-positive, so best used on a slab.

The wall has been a huge success. My kids love it, and so far, so does every other kid who’s seen it. Instead of me asking Logan if he wants to go out to the barn (to which he usually says “no”), he’s asking me to come climb with him.  Both Logan’s and Amelie’s climbing skills have improved dramatically since it was finished. I really try not to push my kids towards climbing, but if erecting a fluorescent opportunity right in front of their faces influences them, so be it. 🙂

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

It’s been ages since I’ve done a proper road trip. Camping with young kids can border on misery, so we’ve made a point to avoid it since Logan came along. When Amelie turned two last month (Logan is four-and-a-half) we tested the waters with a 3-day trip to the Black Canyon and discovered they’ve magically blossomed into champion campers. With new confidence we headed north to the annual Lander International Climber’s Fest with a trunk full of camping gear and a loose itinerary.

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

The festival itself was loads of fun. Our friends at Trango provided awesome lodging in a rustic cabin (not that rustic—it had a shower, microwave and mini-fridge) at the Baldwin Creek B&B. We enjoyed two great days of craggin’ at Wild Iris, including the clinic on Saturday. Logan’s been getting much more interested in climbing (and rope swinging), and we found a great spot for him to practice his skills on rock, capped off with a great swing off the lip of the Calamity Jane roof. The best part of the festival for me was meeting numerous Rock Prodigies and hearing their inspiring success stories.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Another highlight was Ethan Pringle’s keynote address on Saturday night. He shared several short videos about his effort to snag the second ascent of Jumbo Love (5.15b!). It was downright hilarious and ultra-inspiring at the same time. My favorite bit was Ethan’s Seven Commandments for climbing success:

  1. Coffee
  2. Poop
  3. Safety Third
  4. Lookin’ good
  5. Food
  6. Sex
  7. Send!

Ethan spent seven years working the route and 18 days just this season. It made me reflect on my definition of a “long term” project. I’ve never spent 18 total days on a route, despite several projects that spanned multiple years. I’ve never clipped the chains on a project and thought “that’s the hardest I can climb”, either. Instead I always finish knowing I could do something harder if I could tolerate the uncertainty of a project that was seriously in doubt (and commit to the extended effort required). Perhaps it’s time for me to make a serious commitment to something.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

After the festival we headed further north to Grand Teton National Park. This is one of Kate’s absolute favorite places. The mountains are spectacular and for whatever reason the wildlife viewing is incredible. We saw a Grizzly Bear and a Black Bear on the slopes of Signal Mountain. The only other time I’ve seen a grizzly was 15 years ago in Alaska (which almost seems like cheating). At one point he stood up on his hind legs to scratch his back on a tree and he had to be at least 8-feet tall.

Trust me, there's a Grizzly Bear in there somewhere.

Trust me, the blurry brown blob is a Grizzly Bear.

If the last pic didn't convince you, surely this one will!

If the last pic didn’t convince you, surely this one will!

We did a nice family bike ride, took the ferry across Jenny Lake, watched climbers on the classic Baxter’s Pinnacle and hiked to several mountain lakes. Logan loves swimming and doesn’t seem to mind icy cold mountain water at all. I think he has the makings of a successful alpinist. I could stare at the mountains for days, and I was definitely feeling the itch to climb up there again. I did The Grand and Mt. Moran in my “youth”, but it’s been such a long time that I’ve nearly forgotten the alpine starts, unplanned bivies and knee-pounding descents.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Next we headed back south to Independence Pass, just east of Aspen, CO. Aspen’s one of those rare places where you can see a beater ski-bum-mobile parked next to a Ferrari. Despite its Beverly Hills sparkle the town is surprisingly kid-friendly. There are many great parks, fountains, ice cream shops, etc. There are endless things to do and sights to see in the area, from abandoned mining towns to the Maroon Bells, flow-style MTBing, whitewater and sport climbing on the Pass.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass).  For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

Amelie and Logan at Outrageours Overhang (Indy Pass). For some reason Logan’s look in this pic just kills me.

We were there for the climbing of course. In particular I was hoping to work and perhaps send an open project that Pass local Jay Brown had recommended to me after I finished Insurrection. A couple weeks earlier we made an overnight trip to the Pass to climb with Mike’s family. I took that opportunity to check out the project and it captured my interest immediately.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

Tricky footwork and burly pinching in the crux of Captain America.

The line climbs the 20-degree-overhanging arête of a shallow right-facing dihedral. I’ve long considered myself an arête connoisseur, having cut my teeth at the arête paradise of Smith Rock. The climbing involves burly pinching and slapping for 20-or-so relentless moves (and a finishing boulder problem after a sit-down ledge rest). I was bouldering fairly hard in the Lazy H at that point, and I was able to do all the moves that first day, but I was unable to link several sequences. I hadn’t done any real training since early May, so I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. I often feel that way early in a project, and it seems I’m constantly reminding myself to trust the redpoint process—routes do become easier with practice.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

A short, insecure boulder problem guards a bivy-sized ledge rest.

Once I finally got back on it the climbing went better than expected. After one burn to reacquaint myself and refine some sequences I one-hanged the project twice on my first day back. Both times I fell on the same stopper move though—a dyno into an overhead 3-finger undercling on the arete. You have to hit the hold precisely while also maintaining strong core tension. It’s the kind of move I could imagine falling on repeatedly on redpoint.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

Logan swinging from the top of the classic 5.11 Thug Route.

We spent the next day enjoying some of Aspen’s other outdoor attractions. Logan hopped in a couple more mountain lakes, we gazed at the Maroon Bells, strolled around downtown and did several short hikes. We had a nice picnic in Wagner Park and bumped into Kevin Costner (actually his grocery cart) at the Citi Market.

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons).  Notice he didn’t bother to remove his shoes or pants…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.

…and Maroon Lake (Aspen area), the only one he seemed to think was cold.  He was easily the most hygienic member of our party.

By the next climbing day we had been on the road for nine days, including the last five nights in a tent. The kids were still happy as clams but Kate and I were itching (literally) for showers and a real mattress. Knowing that a send would be rewarded with soap and a fluffy clean comforter, I tied in under the leaning prow early that morning.

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

I climbed briskly to avoid exhausting my meager power endurance. This time I stuck the undercling move and managed the desperate clip at the third bolt. I barely stuck an arête slap a few moves higher, and I could feel my legs and arms trembling slightly as the pump grew. I finally reached the first shake 30-feet up and took my time recovering my breath—not a trivial matter at an altitude just under 10,000 feet. After one more insecure windmill move I pulled up onto a massive ledge.  Still quite worked, I took off my shoes and relaxed for a good 10 minutes. The short headwall above is probably V7 or 8 in its own right, requiring several committing slaps to clear a steep bulge. After an unsettling moment of hesitation searching for the proper right-foot hold I snagged the first left hand pinch, then the second. I set a high heel hook, slapped my right hand up to a good sidepull, and paddled up jugs to the top of the cliff.

Staring down the ensuing heel hook on the final boulder problem.

Staring down a heel hook on the final boulder problem during the first free ascent of Captain America, 5.14a.

 Many thanks to Wade David who discovered, equipped and cleaned the line, and thanks to Jay Brown for telling me about it.

Bridge Cycle for Summer Training

by Mark Anderson

Performance-oriented climbers often ask me what to do with their time when facing a month or more of unsuitable outdoor climbing conditions. A good example is the climber who lives in the northeastern US and can’t climb through the dead of winter due to snowpack or extreme cold. On the other end of the spectrum, the summer heat stymies many in the southern part of the continent.

My standard disclaimer is that it’s personal: it really depends on your near-term and long-term goals, and your current level of motivation. If you’re psyched to train, you really want to eke every last bit of performance out of your body, and you’re willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life to do so, then the best bet is to complete a Bridge Cycle. This is a truncated version of a typical Rock Prodigy training cycle, tailored to span the gap between full-blown training cycles.

A Bridge Cycle could be as short as a month, or as long as several months. The distinctive element is that it essentially skips the Performance Phase, or at least minimizes its importance to the extent that any outdoor climbing is an afterthought, rather than the primary focus of the cycle. For example, let’s say it’s June and you have a big project looming for the fall. You’ve determined that in order to peak during optimal sending conditions in early November, you should begin your full fall cycle in mid-August. But what to do in the mean time?

Over the summer of 2011 I trained as usual and focused on working Grand Ol’ Opry, located in a relatively cool, shady alcove at nearly 8000-feet.

Over the summer of 2011 I trained as usual and focused on working Grand Ol’ Opry, located in a relatively cool, shady alcove at nearly 8000-feet.

If you’re like me, you might benefit the most from a break from climbing. I like to climb in cold weather, and it’s generally “too hot” for my taste in the summer. My strategy for bridging between the spring and fall seasons varies from year to year. Some years I select a relatively cool goal route, go all out as usual to train for it, and then “suffer” through the sub-optimal redpoint conditions. Some years I stop climbing completely, ride my bike instead, and focus on family and house projects. I find a long layoff helps stoke the flames of motivation for my next training cycle. Of course, I have a lot of miles under my belt, and even after an extended break I seem to be able to pick up right where I left off—physically, technically and mentally (after completing a full training cycle). Other climbers find an extended layoff makes them “rusty”, and the sabbatical negatively impacts their next full season.

A low key summer season also allows me to catch up on house work and spend more time with my kids. These two goals converged in early June, when I built this climbing wall for my kids. [more details on that project to come]

A low key summer season allows me to catch up on house work and spend more time with my kids. These two goals converged in early June, when I built this climbing wall for my kids. [more details on that project to come]

This year I’m using a combination of several approaches. I began with a full bore spring season, which included working and sending several hard projects. Rather than ending the season when my peak ended (around the end of May), I’m continuing to climb easier and easier objectives as my fitness fades. I also started riding my bike and began some serious house projects around the 1st of June. I will stop climbing in the middle of July, for a full two weeks of straight rest, and then resume training around August 1st for my fall season.

Recently I’ve found summer is a great time for developing new routes like The Smear Hunter, 5.13c, at the Bunker. During prime seasons I’m very focused on my projects and refrain from anything that interferes, like the often strenuous work of cleaning and bolting new routes. During summers like this one, my goals are modest enough that I can afford to divert some energy towards route development.

For me, summer is a great time for developing new routes like The Smear Hunter, 5.13c, at The Bunker. During prime seasons I’m very focused on my projects and refrain from anything that interferes, like the often strenuous work of searching for, cleaning and bolting new routes. During summers like this one, my goals are modest enough that I can afford to divert more energy towards route development.

There are many situations where an extended break doesn’t make sense and you would be better off with some form of training.   Perhaps you are new to climbing and should keep your nose to the grindstone. Perhaps experience shows you’re best off maintaining momentum from one season to the next. Perhaps you are just plain psyched on training, there’s nothing you would rather do, and you can’t stand the thought of wasting an opportunity to get better.

How you spend the training phases will depend on your goals, strengths, and weaknesses. If you have any glaring weaknesses, they should be your first priority. A bridge cycle provides a fantastic opportunity to focus completely on addressing weaknesses because you have no specific near-term goal that demands attention. For example, if you find you struggle with a particular type of move—say, pulling the lip of a roof—you can spend this time training the physical, technical and mental aspects of these moves, including seeking out sub-limit routes to practice on.

Chill summer seasons like this also allow me to explore new areas like Mill Creek Crag (which is about an hour west of Denver). When I’m super-fit I’m reluctant to go places I haven’t thoroughly scoped, for fear of “wasting” a precious day of peak fitness. Completing the First Free Ascent of Lou Reed, 5.13b.

When I’m super fit I’m reluctant to visit unknown crags for fear of “wasting” a precious day of peak fitness. On the other hand, laid-back summer seasons allow me to explore new areas like Dumont, CO’s “Mill Creek Crag” where I made the First Free Ascent of the scenic Lou Reed, 5.13b.

Next consider the relative importance of any short and long term goals. Going back to the original example, let’s say your fall goal route is long and pumpy, but the individual moves are well within your ability. You may want to design your bridge cycle to improve your redpoint endurance, and so emphasize Base Fitness and Power Endurance training. Perhaps your fall goal route is short and bouldery, in which case emphasizing Strength and Power is the way to go.

For many, the near-term goal route is less significant than the desire for long term improvement. This could be because you haven’t identified a fall goal route yet, you have many goals for the fall that span the gamut of climbing styles (so focusing on one climbing style takes a backseat to general improvement), or maybe you’re “all-in” on the Time Value of Climbing Ability. If any of these apply to you, and you have no glaring weaknesses (dare to dream), I recommend focusing on Strength and Power, since these are the most difficult to attain and will benefit every aspect of your climbing.

An example of a Bridge Cycle emphasizing Strength and Power is shown below. It includes a few Base Fitness workouts to get you ready for hangboard training, a relatively full Strength Phase, and a brief Power Phase so you can realize a short payoff from your training (in the form of a few sessions of Limit Bouldering–these can be done indoors or out). It clearly favors strength over power for a number of reasons (it’s more basic, more universal, more cumulative and easier to train, to name a few).  If you have more time to work with, expand the Strength Phase, then Power Phase, then Base Fitness Phase accordingly.  For most the PE Phase would be the last priority since there is no Performance Phase planned.

Bridge Cycle ChartFor some great discussions and first-hand experience with planning Bridge Cycles, check out these threads on the RCTM Forum (more or less in order of relevance):

Finally, if you do find yourself training in the mid-summer heat, you might benefit from some of these tips.  Good luck and happy training–fall is just around the corner!

 

 

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