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Category Archives: bouldering

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

Ethan Pringle Sheds Blood And Sweat In Red Rocks

This spring, Ethan Pringle spent some time working the iconic boulders of Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. He came away with a send of ‘Meadowlark Lemon’ (V14) and several close calls on ‘The Nest’ (V15). Here’s a quick edit of the Meadowlark Lemon send and a burn on The Nest from Tara Kerzhner.

Alex Johnson on Projecting, Sending, and Lessons Learned

So much of climbing, especially projecting, is puzzle piecing. It isn’t whether or not you’re strong enough to do the climb, or do each individual move on the climb, but figuring out how to do each move, and configuring the most efficient way to combine multiple moves in a row while expending the least amount of energy. I think “projecting” is “perfecting.” Working something so much you get it so dialed that it almost produces imminent, consistent success.

Alex Johnson Red Rock

Alex Johnson Sending Monster Skank. Photo: Ray Davalos

That’s how it was for me working Wet Dream Right (V11/8A Red Rock, NV). When I first started trying, I could do a couple moves, but some were so inconsistent, I couldn’t link sections of the boulder in a row. By the time I wrapped it up, I had perfected the climb’s movements. I was able to do every move on its own 100% of the time, and so efficiently, that I even when I linked them, I expended very little energy by the time I got to the final hard move.

Sometimes after I send things, I feel weird. Like I don’t know why they take so long to finish… During the process, you forget where you started. By the time you send something you’ve been working for a long period of time, it’s hard to recall how difficult the climb in its entirety felt at the beginning. This is how I felt about Monster Skank.

Alex Johnson Projecting

Alex on Day 1 of the Monster Skank Project. Photo: Kati Hetrick

You spend a few days, weeks, months on something, and then when you finally do it, you could feel so inexpressibly victorious you almost cry… or you might feel unsatisfied. Like, “Hm. I wasn’t fighting tooth and nail for every move of this climb. Maybe it really isn’t that hard. Why couldn’t I just do this last season?” When in fact, it could be that you’ve so perfected each sequence, that when you eventually finish the climb, all you really had to do was execute, in exactly the way you know how—because you’ve been doing the same moves for months.

There’s also the typical cliched opinion that the more time you spend on something, the sweeter it feels to finish, and of course that’s true. But often for me, it’s the opposite, the previously stated lack of satisfaction, almost disappointment in myself for not completing the climb faster, sooner.

Alex Johnson Day 1 Monster Skank

Day 1 Try-Hard Face

And then all these other questions race through your mind (or mine, at least) like, are the temps better today? Am I stronger? Fitter? Climbing better? Is my breathing more controlled? Am I less afraid of falling?

What was it? What was the determining factor in today’s success, versus all the other days of failure?

I heard on a (non-climbing related) podcast recently, that there’s no such thing as a failed relationship, no matter the result, how shitty it may have been, or how epic it seemed in the end. The entire time you were in that relationship you were learning; about yourself, about how you deal with conflict, emotions, etc. You were growing.

I think I want to start applying that to working projects more. I mean, I know every time I try something I learn something new, even if I don’t send it… But I get pretty in my head about things sometimes, especially when I “can’t” do something. I hate not being able to do something. It’s probably the most frustrating personal issue in my climbing life; being shut down. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Alex Johnson Monster Skank send

Controlled Movement on the Send. Photo: Ray Davalos

And I’m not saying that by needing to project something I’m “being shut down” on it. I’m just saying that sometimes I lose track of the amazing process in my race to success with myself. Being able to climb awesome things is a gift, and if they’re difficult they require more time and commitment. Sometimes I need a little reminder that the process can be just as fun and exciting, if not more, as the end result.

Guest Article: See the Send — Use Visualization to Up Your Climbing

This is a guest article by long-time Rock Prodigy enthusiast Philip Lutz. Phil has had tremendous success recently at applying the Rock Prodigy Method to his climbing, particularly bouldering.

If you would like to contribute content to the site, please contact us!

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Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

Over the past six months, I have been obsessively working my projects to death in the least physically demanding way. On rest days, while lounging around in the sun or on nights before a hard redpoint while curled up in my sleeping bag with homemade skin salve slathered all over my hands, I meticulously visualize climbing my goal route.  From the point in which I take one final glance at my knot and give my shoes a quick wipe against my pant leg to when I am relaxing into my final clipping stance and dropping my rope smoothly through the quickdraws at the anchor, I use my mind to live and practice everything I need to perform during the send go.

 

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Looking down the Eastside of the Sierra Nevadas after a tiring day at the Happy Boulders. Photo by Philip Lutz

I don’t know exactly what motivated me to start rehearsing my intended climbing performances over and over in my head. It could be that I spent the last five years of my life preparing for classical guitar performances.  The associated habitual practicing and eventual performance is similar to climbing in that you must memorize a ton of information, execute all the cruxes correctly and consistently, and then bring a whole performance to life at a particular moment in time.  While I could practice guitar at any hour of the day or night in a prominent music conservatory where you are expected and encouraged to practice at least five hours every day of your life, I could not endlessly rehearse the moves of my climbing projects which were six hours away in Kentucky.

Besides the physical distance and limited time that I had in my life, it also wasn’t an efficient use of skin and physical energy to “remember” and reacquaint myself with a project when I only had a day or two to send.  I realized the more information I could keep fresh in my mind while I was away from the project, the easier it would be to recall those moves and then bring that experience into reality.

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Overlooking Bishop from the Druid Stones. The views and bouldering at the Druids are definitely worth the uphill trudge (if you ever get sick of simply jumping out of your car at the Buttermilks and instantly being at amazing boulderfields).  Photo by Philip Lutz

Regularly running through the correct beta through visualization is not only a great way to make sure that you won’t forget a key foothold mid-crux after paddling past 20 meters of power-sapping pockets; it also builds mental confidence. While many people are putting in the hours “working out” and possibly training (if they have the discipline, patience, and organization) in order to build their physical ability, many are not performing a critical step; putting in the work needed to believe the goal is possible.  In my mind, the easy part of getting better at climbing random pieces of rock that were never intended for people to be on is the physical training.

THE Training Manual clearly and specifically describes all the exercises that you need to do to prepare your body to climb the routes of your dreams.  If you get organized, do the exercises (while trying as hard as you can), rest even harder, and repeat following the structured training plan, then you WILL be physically stronger.  This is one of the most valuable features of the RCTM and was what lured me into the program in the first place. However, the real treasure of the RCTM is the full suite of tools presented that work together to assemble the ultimate climbing machine.  Climbing performance is highly dependent on one’s mental ability, and the mental preparation discussed in the RCTM is a great way to navigate the abstract adventure through your own mind.  The confidence built through mental training like visualization, or positive self-talk, is what I seek to gain during my performance phase and is what I need to send.

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A technical training goal of mine is to use heel-hooks more effectively. I have always avoided them when I could and I never felt totally comfortable on them.  A large part of this is mental, and physically feeling the positions and movements are a way for me to overcome the lack of confidence.  I think I made some progress this season, but there is still a ton of room to improve.  In this photo, I’m about to pull the lip crux on the characteristically crimpy Milk the Milks, V6.  Photo by Charlie Marks.

After weeks spent hanging off a plastic edge and hopping between wooden rungs, visualization is a common homework assignment that gets me ready for the final exam. When I visualize a route, I sit down, close my eyes, and actively climb the route in my mind.  I do not imagine watching myself climb; I go through each move exactly how I perceive it in reality.  Stick the right hand edge, readjust it to a crimp, look down at that ticked pocket to my left, highstep my foot…  Just like repeating a difficult section while learning a route, repeating moves in your mind will make you “stronger” and allow you to do them more consistently.

This is where my approach differs slightly from what is presented in the RCTM. In the RCTM, the Andersons suggest that some may benefit from taking a third-person view during visualization (imagining you are a spectator, watching yourself climb the route), yet I have avoided this as I think it would create a meta-distraction in my climbing performance.  My climbing is purely between me and the rock.  I feel the best when I am completely self-motivated.  If I created a third-person presence that would expect me to send the route, I would simply be annoyed and probably become detached from the present during the performance. On the other hand, you might perform better with an external presence created from visualizing in the third person view, and this is dependent on each climber’s unique personality.  It is important to spend time learning about yourself in order to figure out what will improve your mental game.

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Upon arrival in Bishop and during my hangboarding phase, I managed to do some easy outdoor mileage and enjoyed classics like the Buttermilk Stem, V1. Outdoor mileage specific to your goals is a great opportunity to improve your mental abilities for later in your training cycle.  Photo by Charlie Marks

A little over three months ago, I moved to Bishop, California to gain access to world-class climbing, beautiful weather, and a relatively low cost of living while working a simple job and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. Because I want to greatly improve my power while I am somewhat young and because I have an abundance of quality bouldering within 30min of driving, it seemed like an obvious choice to devote at least a few months (maybe seasons) away from ropes and bolts.

Due to the high arousal level needed to complete powerful moves at your limit and a limited amount of quality attempts on seriously abrasive rock, visualization is an incredibly useful tool for bouldering around Biship.  In between redpoint attempts, I can build my mental confidence while ensuring that I take a moment to slow down and adequately rest.  For example, if you don’t trust that you can prevent your feet cutting as you hit that sharp two finger pocket, what is the point of getting all “agro” and grunting your way up a route? You’ll probably just end up with a bad flapper and wasted time spent training.  A fear of success, or rather an inability to believe that a goal is attainable, can be just as crippling as a fear of climbing above the bolt or fear that your spotters won’t protect you.

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Soul Slinger Right, V8. The problem that ended my bouldering season. I missed the pads and sprained my ankle, but before swelling set in, I gave it another burn and sent.  I failed on this problem in January when I first visited Bishop, and this send was more satisfying than my Thanksgiving turkey. Photo by Charlie Marks.

I recently finished my first bouldering-focused training cycle, and I was very impressed with my resulting performance. Due to a variety of factors, my main projects were in the Volcanic Tableland.  I managed to send my first two V10s, and visualization played an important role in the redpoint process of each problem.

The first one I sent was Acid Wash, which begins with a crunchy, tweaky, and powerful drop knee move to a huge slot jug.  Consensus seems to be that, from the jug, the climbing is around V7. From my initial impression of the problem, I knew I could send it.  The first move was very inconsistent, and I only stuck it 10% of the time.  Visualizing the whole problem calmed my nerves and eliminated all the thoughts that separated me from the present moment when I would stick the opening move.  There were three attempts when I stuck the first move and my mind would begin to race as I continued to climb.  Those attempts ended up with me being very distracted and eventually I would fall off at the reachy bump move to a crimp jug.  Moments before my send go, I had one of these attempts, and after a nice yell (letting the whole canyon know my frustration), I stepped away from the tiny cave to relax and collect my thoughts.  On the send, thanks to my visualization routine, I didn’t have any doubts, and the moment I hit the initial jug, I kept climbing, feeling calm and focused.

Video of Phil sending his first V10, Acid Wash, The Happy Boulders, CA:

Deep inside a more secluded section of the Tableland, I found myself getting cozy on cold, windy evenings after work in the Ice Caves. Despite the constricted corridors and an exceptionally high risk of dabbing at any moment, the Ice Caves have many steep and difficult lines including Beefcake, V10, a power-endurance roof problem.  Figuring out and internalizing the sustained 8 hand-move (and at least twice as many foot and hip moves) sequence was steady and physically draining work.

On one really good evening, despite getting shut down in the Buttermilks earlier that same day, all of the pieces of the problem began to come together as I flowed to the last hard move of the problem, a large cross-over move to a jug pocket.  I fell on the final move from the start three times in a row, and despite the immense progress, I could not have been more pissed off.

Over the course of two rest days (yes, you can be in Bishop and take rest days), I climbed the problem countless times in my mind.  I had it wired, and I was just waiting for the moment when my body was ready to fight again.  On the next evening out at the Ice Caves, I went through my usual warm-up circuit and then very briefly warmed up the moves of Beefcake.  With all the holds brushed and ticked appropriately, I sat at the start and laid down on the crashpads to mentally climb the problem one more time.  I topped it out, opened my eyes, and then pulled up into the sloping undercling.  Sending Beefcake felt like V3, and it was one of those rare moments when climbing was perfect and effortless.

Video of unknown climber sending Beefcake, V10, the Buttermilk Boulders, CA:

Visualization is a very important exercise for my climbing performance. It allows me to keep a large amount of information fresh in my mind; builds confidence in my ability to complete moves and achieve goals; and eliminates doubts and distracting thoughts that cloud my brain while climbing.  When climbing routes, I find it most convenient to visualize on rest days and right before going to sleep on nights before a performance day ( I don’t think my climbing partners would appreciate me as a completely spaced out belayer). When bouldering, I find it helpful to visualize between attempts in addition to my nightly mental rituals.  There seems to be much more inactive time while bouldering, and often, it is beneficial to take a little more rest than you think you need.  Visualization can be a good use of this time, and it will hopefully prevent you from hastily returning to your project.  The “smarter, not harder” mantra/theme throughout the RCTM has become an integral part of my personal improvement, and visualization is one of many ways discussed in the book to train the mind, and thus, train smarter.  Like any training program, attention to detail and commitment to quality are essential to visualization, and the results can be extremely satisfying.

Ethan Pringle Sends Chris Sharma’s “Power Animal” (V13) in Bishop

 

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Power Animal (V13) – Photo by John-Carl Vallejo

Some days just aren’t your days, but some day are! Yesterday I was slipping off the upper crux of ‘Power Animal’ (V13) just like on my previous day of attempts, but on my third go of the day I decided to just try really really hard to hang on and stick the undercling (picture here) and it worked! I screamed my way through the last few moves and topped that bad boy out. A wave of joy and relief washed over me and I was mentally amped, yelling at the top of my lungs. It’s been a battle on this trip, wondering if I’d go home empty handed after being in full on project mode, doing only the same couple warm-ups and trying the same couple nails-hard boulders for the last two weeks, but I’m glad my focus paid off! I don’t know if the rare humid conditions that’ve been plaguing the desert recently made this problem feel harder than it should have felt, or maybe my skin was soft from the salve I put on it the day before (I’m never using salve again!), or if it’s just a hard problem, but it’s certainly a ‪#‎kingline‬ that was well worth the effort in the end. ‪#‎Psyched‬ it’s done. We got some iPhone footage of the send that I’ll be editing up and throwing online soon! I’m already fantasizing about the next projects…

Check out the rough send footage:

Thanks so much to everyone who hiked pads up, spotted, supported and documented over the fours days on this rig! Couldn’t have done it without you.

Bouldering Circuits: A Quickie Power Endurance Workout

 Thanks to a loving husband and a (for the most part) cooperative baby, I’ve been able to consistently get to the gym 2-3 times per week starting around 2 weeks postpartum.  But when I go and how much time I have is always up in the air.  Sometimes I know up front that I only have 45 minutes to acquire a good pump…other times I go in thinking I have an hour and a half, only to have my workout cut short by a screaming baby.  If efficiency was an important component to my climbing workouts with just one kiddo,…Read the rest of this entry →

Remnants Of The Past, Visions Of The Future

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

I have been working relentlessly to finish a 5.14? project in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It’s funny, for only having a few moves, I sure have come up with a plethora of ways to climb it. However, no one particular sequence has worked as well as I had hoped. The last go I had was by far my best. I did the bottom sequence completely clean, but the middle crux is still throwing me. The crimps are so sharp that they’ve permanently scared my right finger tips. Scars, however, are just a stepping stone for me. It means that I am progressing.

After falling over and over again, I started to think that I was not going to be able to send it this year. The granite already feels slippery from the spring heat and, with summer right around the corner, the clock is ticking. This past winter in Salt Lake City wreaked havoc on my training and I’m feeling the results. My left hand does not feel strong enough to make it through the crux. It was time to go back to my favorite stomping grounds and train as hard as I could. It was time to go back to Nevada.

Tucked away from the hot desert sun with my dog Prayta, I studied a massive boulder that if I didn’t climb perfectly could have killed me. That, however, was the furthest thing from my mind because I was in love with the smells of the desert and I felt free. I had trained my mind to forget the word “impossible”. Thinking back to the first time I looked at this boulder I believed there was no way I’d ever be able to send it. This time I could see a clear line directly up the center with tiny crimps, high balling and a scary landing. Would it be hard? Hell yes, but in no way impossible. It was time to push my fear and be present.

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

As I cleared a decent landing for my crash pad, I thought to myself how much I had changed as a man and as a climber in a short period of time. What had seemed out of reach was now a potential onsight. Once on the boulder I moved with relative ease and a high level of confidence despite the twisted crux and slippery top out. That level of ease and confidence stuck with me through the rest of my unfinished projects in the area. I wondered what it was that changed in me since I was there last. I felt the same and, aside from a few new scars and a couple new wrinkles, I looked the same too. I think it comes down to a change in perspective about height and what I consider acceptable risk. As climbers, often our biggest battles are with our fears. Sometimes my fears are consuming and I feel completely unable to make a single move. So… was it fear holding me back from finishing that 5.14 project in Little Cottonwood? My biggest concern, the one that constantly weighed on my mind, was blowing the second clip and smashing into the rocks behind me leading to the demise of my career as an athlete. I decided to put away the idea that I am not strong enough to stick the crux and replace it with the strength to overcome fear and focus on training in a sea of challenging highball boulders for the next week.

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Despite my cut fingertips and pumped muscles, I fought through each one of the boulder problems, sending the majority of them. I fell off a few, but of course that’s to be expected. After grabbing a few first ascents and absolutely crushing some old projects, I decided it was time to head back to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Feeling totally exhausted but entirely inspired, I unpacked and went directly up to my project in Little Cottonwood Canyon. The conditions were perfect. With no hesitation, I tied in and began to climb. With the crux in my reach I held my breath, clipped with ease, and made the first difficult crossover move with my left hand. I stuck it. Then, something amazing happened. Not only did I stick the left hand move I’d been worried about, but I stuck the next right hand move too! Only a few more moves left, I thought to myself…  then my right foot blew and I was off. I sat there, pissed, dangling in space, but happiness soon overwhelmed me because I realized I had just made one of the hardest moves of my climbing career. I know now that it’s only a matter of time until I can link this entire project together. 

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

Photo: Eric Scott Russell

I’ve already begun to venture out in search of new possible 5.14 projects in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and have my eye on a few. Keep your eyes open for the next phase of this year’s adventures.

Bouldering for Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moderate Edges:

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

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

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

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

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

 
Heinously Difficult Edges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

Logan enjoying the Fall foliage along the Loop Road

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

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

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

Sending The Urchin, 5.13a

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

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

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

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

The Rock-over move

The Rock-over move

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

At the slopy 1-pad edge

At the slopy 1-pad edge

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

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

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

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

Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0, in the Tetons

Rest Day in the Tetons with Anderson Climbing Team Version 3.0

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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