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40 Climbing Lessons

by Mark Anderson

A few years ago Steve Bechtel gave me an article called “40 Years of Insight” by strength Coach Dan John.  The article is a list of 40 lessons Dan learned in his 40 years of coaching strength athletes. I liked it so much, I keep it on my nightstand and re-read it periodically.

I can’t imagine I’ll have anything interesting left to say once I have 40 years of coaching experience, but as of today I’ve been on this planet for 40 years, so I decided to write my own version—40 lessons I’ve learned about climbing in 40 years of life. Nobody will agree with all of them, but hopefully everyone can find some use for at least one of these. [Warning: this is a bit of a novel, so you might want to break it up over a few days (Mark D)]

1. Set Goals—We need to reach for the stars if we want to have the slightest chance of reaching our potential. How we do that matters. Many people confuse dreams with goals, but there is one major difference—dreams almost never happen. If you want to get things done, you need realistic stepping-stones and an executable plan to progress between them. Establish a plan, follow the plan. That’s how you get things don

2. It’s Never Too Late—to take up climbing, learn a new technique, develop new strength, rehab a nagging injury. Every few years I discover another aspect of my climbing I’ve neglected and start improving it. In my late 20’s it was power endurance, in my early 30’s it was contact strength, then it was upper arm and shoulder power, then core strength, and most recently I found I had improved so much everywhere else that power endurance was once again a (relative) weakness. Whatever it is that’s been holding you back, start training it today. There’s still plenty of time to reap the benefits.

3. Baby Steps—Big improvements aren’t made in big leaps, they’re made in many baby steps, over years. You can go incredibly far using baby steps, but you have to take a few steps every day, to the best of your ability, for a long time. The good news is, you have plenty of time, the rock isn’t going anywhere.

4. We Don’t Climb in a Lab—I’ll take a real-world anecdote over a laboratory study any day. The climbing studies that have been done thus far are incredibly primitive and rarely (if ever) representative of real-world rock climbing. I couldn’t care less if a training program produces great results in the lab. The point is to get better at climbing rocks, so I follow programs that produce results on the rock. If a program has demonstrated the ability to do that, it’s a good program. If someone is trying to sell you something, the only question to ask is, “how many letter grades did you improve when you used this program?” You don’t need any laboratories, scientists, or double-blind studies. If they can’t answer that question convincingly, save your money.

5. The Weekend Warrior’s Best Weapon is Good Time Management—When I first started working I got a day planner with the Ben Franklin quote: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” In our 20’s, the Anderson mantra was “Maximize Fun,” which was a euphemism for waking up before sunrise, taking no breaks, and finishing after dark so we could cram as much climbing/mountaineering/canyoning into a day as possible. If it didn’t suck by the end of the day, then we failed. I don’t have many days like that anymore, but I am constantly hustling from task to task to clear space for climbing, bolting, or training. If you want to have it all (and you should), it really helps to be as efficient as possible in your daily life: plan ahead, stay on task, do simple things quickly, and do them right the first time.

Maximizing Fun on Lotus Flower Tower. We summited in the dark and got back to camp just before sunrise the next morning.

6. Big Fish Need Big Ponds—If you’re already the best climber in your gym, move! We need rivals to push us, heroes to inspire us, and mentors to show us the way. If you’re the big fish in your pond, find yourself a bigger pond that will give you room to grow. Moving to Colorado in 2008 was the make-or-break moment of my career. While I was incredibly excited about all the new rock, I also doubted my ability to ‘survive’ in a place so stacked with talented climbers. Frankly it started pretty badly. Everything seemed sandbagged, and for the first time ever I was waiting in line to try 5.14s. I enjoyed few successes in those early years, but ultimately it invigorated my climbing, forcing me to become much better.

7. Attack Your Weaknesses Directly—The best way to solve a weakness is to pick a goal route at your limit that perfectly exploits that weakness. You will have no choice but to ensure that correcting the weakness is your #1 priority in training. When I first started working 5.12’s, my footwork was terrible. I picked several projects at Smith Rock (where footwork is paramount), and although the process was initially terribly frustrating, the payoff has been enormous. Solving a weakness is not an extra-curricular activity, it has to be your primary focus.

8. Be A Maverick,—If you want to be as good as everyone else, do what everyone else does. If you want to be better than that, you have to do something different. For literally years, I was the only climber in my gym who used a hangboard (and everyone looked at me funny).

9. Invest in a Training Space—It’s ironic that as commercial climbing gyms have become increasingly prolific, they’ve also become increasingly useless to performance-oriented climbers. Second to making the decision to start training, the next ‘best-decision-I-ever-made’ for my climbing was building my own training facility. It finally allowed me to train the way I want, with no excuses about walls that are too steep, holds that are unrealistic, or poor route-setting. It puts me in complete control of my training. I don’t have to dodge birthday parties, heinous temperatures or primetime crowds. It has everything I need, and if it doesn’t it’s my own fault.

10. Keep a Journal—Preferably multiple journals. I have reams of training log sheets, detailing every rep and set of every workout I’ve ever done. I have a “Training Calendar,” in which I forecast planned training and climbing sessions, and summarize them for each day, after the fact. I have a blog where I bore you all with grandiose accounts of significant (to me) adventures. I also have a spreadsheet capturing every 5.12-or-harder route I’ve ever climbed, another one for every first ascent, and detailed notes in all my guidebooks. These are my most treasured possessions. They are invaluable for entertainment, lessons learned and most-importantly, planning future training.

Jonathan filling out his logsheet during a winter training session in Las Vegas.

11. Get Into A Routine—The trick to sticking with a training plan, or maintaining discipline in general, is to have a routine. We’re all busy, and faced with obstacles that can interfere with training. If you have to shuffle commitments and make decisions on the fly, you’re sure to sacrifice training more often than you’d like. A predictable weekly schedule with few surprises may sound boring, but it’s the best way to ensure you accomplish your training goals for each day. That’s the key to making steady progress. Once training becomes a regular habit, something you expect to do, something you plan around, rather than something you have to plan for, discipline comes easily.

12. The First Step Is the Hardest—The hardest part of every workout is taking that first step towards the gym. Everyone has days when they just don’t want to train. A good way to overcome this inertia is to commit to at least doing a little something on every training day. In my experience, once you get warmed up, you usually find the motivation to go ahead with the scheduled workout.

13. Quality Over Quantity, or Intensity Over Duration. I’m a firm believer that in climbing, power is generally much more limiting than endurance. Even when it isn’t, nobody ever complained about having too much power. So it makes sense for most climbers to favor power in their training. Additionally, intense training takes less time. But the best reason to favor it is that it takes less out of you, so you can get a lot of training stimulus without digging a deep hole that requires extensive recovery. Fortunately this can be applied to endurance training as well—one ARC set done with intention and focus beats three sets of going through the motions any day. Whatever your training goals, train the best you can, for as long as you can, and then call it a day. Piling on a bunch of junk miles at the end will only make things worse.

Applying the proper intensity during a hangboard session.

14. Stick to What Works—The people who experience the most consistent, steady improvement do the same general things for years and years. Bouncing around between plans makes it impossible to optimize your training, because you’re never doing anything long enough to evaluate its effectiveness. Find something that works for you and stick with it. For a really long time. Make subtle tweaks as you learn and grow, but a solid system will continue to produce steady gains for decades.

15. Love the Process—The reason I’ve been able to get through ~400 HB workouts is that I love hangboarding (on some level). If you don’t love hangboarding, find something you do love and figure out how to make it work with your training program. In any field, those with the most staying-power love the preparation as much or more than they like the performance.

16. An Ounce of Prevention—…is worth a pound of cure -Ben Franklin. If you’re reading this it’s a safe bet you already know the importance of preparing your fingers for rock climbing. Additionally, pretty much every climber I’ve ever known has had elbow and/or shoulder problems at one time or another, sooner or later. The good news is that it takes very little effort to reduce the risk of injury to these crucial joints. The first step is to use good form in your training (especially hangboarding and campusing), keeping your elbows slightly bent and shoulders tight. Second, end each session with a few minutes of prehab exercises (for shoulders, try push-ups and internal and external shoulder rotations, and for elbows, check out this article). Finally, stretch your forearms after each climbing or training session.

17. Core Strength Costs Nothing—We all know that your fingers can never be too strong for rock climbing. The problem is that our fingers are incredibly fragile; they must be trained carefully, and then allowed to recover for long periods between sessions. While core strength takes a backseat, it is very beneficial. It’s also very easy to train without detracting from finger training, so there’s no good reason not to do it. You can train your core every day, or on off days (from finger training) if time is limited. In my experience a little bit of core strength goes a long way, opening up a new dimension of exotic and gymnastic rock climbs.

18. Take Care—I can’t remember how times I’ve hurt myself doing mundane things like unloading groceries, putting my kids in their car seats, or even sleeping in an awkward position. Be precise and thoughtful in everything you do. Don’t overgrip when climbing, or when opening doors. Sleep flat on your back. Practice precision movement and situational awareness all the time—don’t be clumsy, oafish or inattentive. Down climb when bouldering. It’s a good drill for regular climbing, a good skill to have for on-sighting, but most importantly, it will save your joints.

19. Injuries Aren’t the End of the World. When you have a serious injury, it always feel like the end of the world, or maybe just the end of your performance climbing career. Any athlete who wants to be the best they can be is going to push the limits of their body. If you flirt with the line between maximum improvement and injury, eventually you will cross it. Looking back, I’ve had four major pulley strains that could have been “career ending” had I chosen to accept that outcome. I’ve had countless tweaks in collateral ligaments, elbows, back, shoulders and knees. Many of them seemed devastating at the time, but none of them held me back in the long run. Train smart, take measures to avoid them, but if an injury occurs, remain optimistic and believe that you can recover 100%.

20. Logistics Matter—I’m a planner. I envy those who can roll up to the crag without a worry and crush 5.15, but that’s not me. I over-think everything, then think about it some more. Many great climbing projects have failed because some mundane detail was overlooked, and that’s what keeps me up at night. Mike and I scrapped our way up a lot of things we shouldn’t have because we’re really freaking good at planning. Whether you’re embarking on an alpine style ascent in the Karakoram, Nose-in-a-Day, or a weekend of sport climbing, create a detailed plan, walk through every possible outcome, and make sure it’s viable. Practice this when you’re young, and it will pay off when your life becomes more complicated. The skills I learned preparing for expeditions in the Alaska Range came in really handy once my climbing excursions become truly daunting (visiting sport crags with kids).

21. There Are No Secrets—If someone is trying to sell you the “secret” to better performance, run away. All the information you need to excel at climbing has been around for years, in books, journals, and/or the interwebs. The 80’s were the Age of Innovation, and while much knowledge was lost during the more recent Age of Grunting, you can still find the wisdom of yesterday in any number of great resources (such as: Wizards of Rock, Revelations, Beyond the Summit, Fingers of Steel, Performance Rock Climbing, A Life in the Vertical).

Photo: Nick Clement

22. Ration Your Skin—It’s literally your interface to the rock. Think about how much you care about your climbing shoes. Your skin is ten times more important. Skin care is 99% prevention. Once you have an issue, it’s probably too late (and you’ll spend ten times the effort on the “cure,” which will be one-tenth as effective). Get a skin care kit and use it daily. When on the rock, pace your efforts and conserve your skin. Check it whenever you’re hanging on the rope and quit while you’re ahead. Once its gone, it will be much more costly waiting for it to heal than it would have been to quit 5 minutes earlier.

23. Get up Early—You get the least crowds, the best climbing conditions, and the most beautiful light.

24. Invest in a Good Partner—The greatest asset for long-term success is a good partner. The best partners are dependable, provide moral support on and off the rock, and do the little things (like bringing your shoes over when you lower off). Those types of partnerships don’t just happen, they have to be nurtured. I’ve had a lot of great partners that deserve credit, including Mike, Fred, Janelle, Chris, Bobby, Ben, Marcus, Rob, Rick, Lee, Steve, Vern, Marc, Gabe, Grace, Lamont, Shaun, Adam, Mark, Evan, Boer and Kevin. My wife Kate is the very best possible partner. She’s the secret to my success.

25. Go Against the Grain—Climb in unpopular areas, at off-peak times. Once there, do unpopular routes. You get the place to yourself, you don’t have to wait in line, and you’ll be forced to learn a variety of techniques on many different types of rock. You also learn self-reliance and aren’t misled by everyone else’s bad habits (or bad beta).

Kate and I atop the Moai after climbing Sacred Site, 5.10-

26. Mileage Over Difficulty—We master moving over stone by doing lots of it, not by doing a few harder moves many times. When I was breaking into 5.12 I would routinely climb 15 pitches per climbing day and never less than 10, whether I was climbing trad or sport. I stretched my partners’ patience, but it made me a better climber. If technique is your weakness, forget about projecting routes at your limit for a few years and just try to climb as many pitches per day as possible when you go outside. Visit as many different crags as possible and climb the widest variety of routes. These routes should still be challenging, but nothing that takes more than 3 tries to send. You can and should still train systematically indoors, but when you’re outside, climb for volume.

27. Figure Out the Beta Yourself—I’m all for doing things the easy way, most of the time. If I‘m loading a sack of bricks into my car, I’ll certainly take the easy way.  When I’m trying to improve myself, I’ll take the hard way. The easy way to get the beta for your project is to watch Youtube videos or other climbers. That may get you to the chains faster, but figuring out the beta yourself will make you a better climber.

28. You’ll Never Send What You Don’t Try—In 2008 I was climbing at the Left Flank in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge with Mike. I was having one of those great days of onsighting—I hadn’t fallen all day and I’d sent a number of hard-for-me routes up to 12d. I was debating out loud the pros and cons of risking my precious final onsight attempt of the day on the classic 5.13a Table of Colors (a grade I’d never onsighted before). Mike said “You’ll definitely never onsight 5.13 if you never try one.” At some point, if you want to do hard routes, you have to try hard routes. I’ve surprised myself many times, including on that day in 2008. It’s understandable to have reservations or anxiety. Anytime you try something truly challenging, your risk failing in spectacular fashion, but you have to give yourself the opportunity to succeed or you never will.

29. Less is More—Generally, climbers climb too much, train too much, and rest too little. Particularly with training in vogue and so many coaches offering new exercises, we tend to add more and more training volume without taking anything away. If you’re lacking “pop,” you’re not psyched to train, or packing for the next climbing day feels like a chore, you’re likely over-doing it. I tend to follow my training plans religiously, and the thought of skipping a workout is heresy. In retrospect, I’ve found that dropping in an extra rest day here or there has only ever helped, and often it’s made my season. Whatever climbing problem is bringing you down, there’s a good chance an extra rest day will help solve it.

30. Conserve Your Energy—It takes a tremendous amount of energy to climb at your limit (especially after age 35). The biggest jump in ability I made in the past decade came when I took a temporary break from rest-day aerobic exercise in 2011. The result of that break was so profound it’s now permanent, except for one or two months a year of cycling in the summer. I miss the daily meditation of trail running and cycling, but not as much as I like climbing a letter-grade harder. If you’re doing any extra-curricular activities, they‘re likely detracting from your climbing performance. Whether those activities are worth the impact is a judgment call for you to make, just realize its having an effect.

31. Eat Lots of (Lean) Protein—I’m not a nutrition geek. I’ve read a fair amount about it and figured out how to lose weight when I need to and feel strong while performing. If I had to summarize my recommendations in one short sentence, it would be: eat lots of lean protein. This will fuel your physical gains, provide plenty of energy for day-to-day life and suppress the glycemic response that causes over-eating. Yes, you also need some carbs and fats, but unless you have an exclusive sponsorship deal with Starkist Tuna, chances are good you’ll consume sufficient quantities of both without thinking about. You can make this pretty complicated if you want (calculating grams per body mass, ingesting at regular intervals, protein shakes just before bed time on training days), but following this simple suggestion will get you most of the way to your climbing goals.

Sea bugs are a great source of lean protein.

32. Pay Attention When You’re Belaying—Obviously you have someone’s life in your hands. Take that seriously. Furthermore, from a performance perspective, engage in your partners’ climbing. Discuss their beta, study their movement, offer suggestions and invest in their success. You will liven up the monotony of belaying, your partner will appreciate it, and you’ll learn a lot in the process.

33. Learn to like Falling—There are climbers who enjoy falling. If fear of falling is an issue for you, don’t be satisfied with barely tolerating it. Take it a few steps farther, to the point that you actually like it. Then trying hard will be second nature. This is constantly a work-in-progress for me, but when I’m climbing my best, falling is fun.

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

34. Write Down Your Beta—Once I started writing beta down, it forced me to really think about how my hips and shoulders were involved in generating movement, and that propelled my technique to a new level. Get into the habit of writing down your beta in narrative form, at least for crux sections. It will help you think through how you’re moving and why. If you have any gaps in your sequence, or limbs that aren’t contributing, that will become immediately apparent.

35. Belief is Essential—Half the benefit of all the endless training sessions I do is convincing myself I can yard on a 1/8” crimp, lock-off a 1-pad mono to my nipple, or link 30 more moves when I’m pumped out of my mind. Remember what you’ve endured in training and take it with you to the crag. The same for working a project. Build belief you can send it by sticking the crux move, doing it again, and then linking through it. It’s ok if you don’t believe at first, you can put in the necessary work to build your confidence over time. But you won’t have a prayer of sending until you really do believe you can.

Belief is essential!

36. Expect Adversity. Every climber will face adversity. How you deal with adversity will determine how close you get to your potential as a climber. That’s true for a given route or for your career as a whole. It’s easy to be psyched and work hard when things are going well. It takes a lot of guts to persevere when everything is breaking against you. The closer you get to your potential, the more adversity you will face. You’ll be closer to your physical limits, and so constantly flirting with injury, illness and burnout. You’ll also need all the external factors to go your way (they rarely will). The good news is that most of my greatest successes came shortly after crushing defeats. The failure showed me what it would take to send and motivated me to work extra hard for the re-match.

37. Don’t Solo—There’s nothing harder than trying to explain to a late-teens/early-20’s male climber that they really don’t know everything, and they really will see the world differently when they (truly) grow up. In the classic Western movie Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s character Will Munny says, “It’s a hell of a thing killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” Consider that when you solo, you aren’t just risking your present life, you’re risking your future life—a life that likely will be filled with joys and wonders you can’t yet imagine (to say nothing of the impact on those who love you). Do the future-you a favor and rope up. Even if you (absurdly) assume climbing is infinitely more valuable than every other part of life combined, think of all the climbing you’ll miss out on if you break your neck. It’s simple math, soloing’s just not worth it.

38. End On A High Note—Whatever your highpoint, be it a new hangboard PR, best onsight or sending a hard project, chances are whatever follows will be a letdown. For many years I would “celebrate” after big sends by attempting to onsight some route I had been longing to climb. I always struggled and I almost never sent. The worst part is that I was then bummed for failing the onsight instead of stoked for sending my much-more-significant project. Eventually I figured out that we don’t get very many “best moments,” so it’s wise to savor them.

39. Be Present—Yoda’s initial evaluation of Luke Skywalker was spot on: “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing…” Focus on the task at hand, give 100% of yourself to it, whether during a hard send, while training, or life in general. If you’re watching the sunset, open your eyes and absorb every ray of light. During workouts, focus on recovering and prepping for the next set between efforts, rather than staring at text messages. When you’re struggling to figure out a crux sequence, don’t covet the next route over, wondering if it might suit you better. Absorb yourself completely in the route immediately in front of you. Make yourself available to give your best effort.

40. There’s More to Life Than Rock Climbing—I hope everybody has at least one opportunity in life to completely immerse themselves in their passion. I dirt-bagged for a little over a year in my twenties. I’m glad I did. At the time, it felt like the ultimate life, but in hindsight it doesn’t hold a candle to the life I live now. At some point it’s wise to open yourself up to other opportunities. Life will offer a multitude of diverse experiences. Shun none of them. I’ve sacrificed a lot of experiences because I couldn’t skip a workout, or I needed to rest up for a hard redpoint attempt. Looking back on roughly 25 years of this, the thing that strikes me is how few of my memories involve actual climbing. My favorite climbs aren’t the hardest climbs I’ve done, or the climbs that got the most press. The moments that stand out are the places I visited, the wildlife I saw on the approach, and the people I shared it all with.

Training For 9a – Part I

By Mark Anderson

This is the second installment in a 4-part series.  The first installment can be found here.

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

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

By the end of the Fall 2015 climbing season, I was consistently 2-hanging the route, and while my hang points were converging, the rate of improvement was glacial. Clearly I needed to reach another plane of endurance capability. Early in the season I was training Power Endurance (PE) by completing four sets of my standard “Green Traverse” Linked Bouldering Circuit (LBC)—approximately 32 moves, on terrain that varied from 35 to 60-degrees overhanging. It would take about 100 seconds to complete a 32-move set, and then I would rest some pre-determined period before attempting the next set (and so on, until I had completed 4 sets). As my endurance improved, I increased the intensity by (first) reducing the rest time between sets, and then by adding more sets. By the end of the season I was doing 5 or 6 sets with just 60 seconds rest between sets, but my endurance was still nowhere close to sufficient for Shadowboxing.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.

My standard, 32-move “Green Traverse”.

 

I knew from reviewing terabytes of video of myself on the route that I would need to be able to endure 150 to 180 seconds Time-Under-Tension (TUT), just to climb between rest stances, where I would need to be able to recover, and then sprint another 100+ seconds of consecutive pumpy moves, and so on. To climb all the difficulties without a hang would take 250+ seconds of just climbing, plus many minutes of taxing shaking at rest stances. Clearly hammering more and more 100-second laps on my trusty Green Traverse wasn’t working, and I think the lack of continuous TUT was the reason.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

My PE Log sheet from the three workouts I did using the standard Green Traverse during the Fall 2015 season.

By the end of that first season I started tweaking things to increase my TUT and improve the realism and specificity of my PE training. In my first experiment, I varied the rest periods between LBC sets, in the hopes of driving the rest between two sets to zero, which would result in completing two laps back-to-back. In terms of timing, the plan for the first workout looked like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~100 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~100 seconds)

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

My Fall 2015 training Schedule, showing the programming of my PE workouts and my two PE experiments.

If I succeeded with this workout, I planned to further shift the rest from the first and third interval to the middle interval. In practice, I crushed the first two sets, and so decided I only needed 60 seconds rest before the 3rd set. I was wrong! I didn’t feel ready to start the 4th set “on schedule” so the workout ended up like this:

Set 1 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 30 seconds

Set 2 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 3 (TUT ~95 seconds)

Rest: 60 seconds

Set 4 (TUT ~83 seconds)

Rest: 90 seconds

Set 5 (TUT ~60 seconds)

Still, I considered the experiment a success. First, it showed the workout timing could be a good stepping stone for a climber who didn’t yet have the endurance to complete a single set of a given circuit. Second, from a personal perspective, it showed I was likely ready for much longer sets.   In preparation for that, I built a down-climb at the end of the existing Green Traverse that rejoined the circuit about 12-moves in, thus allowing for a 52-move set. This new set required around 150 seconds of TUT—just what I needed.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

The pink line shows the extension to the Green Traverse, brining the hand-move count to 52.

I wanted to have a firm endurance-training strategy that I could believe in before I completely wrapped up my Fall season, so after my last Rifle weekend I did one last PE workout to iron out the kinks in my new, longer circuit. I was able to send the first 52-move set, but the next two were pretty rough, and it was clear I was hitting a wall around 105 seconds into each set. Even on the set I sent, I pretty much cruised the first 100 seconds and struggled on the last 50. My goal for the winter season, in addition to sending some outdoor projects near home, would be to hone my power endurance. In total I did 5 PE workouts that winter, consisting of (attempting) 4 sets of the new 52-move circuit, with TUT ~150 seconds per set, and a 4-minute rest interval.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

My Winter 2016 training Schedule, showing the programming of my 52-move circuit PE workouts.

I struggled with these workouts. I never once completed every set, or even the first three sets. I was close at times, often failing very near the end of each lap. During the fourth workout I crushed the first set, and so (somewhat foolishly) decided on-the-fly to drop the rest interval to 3 minutes. That resulted in sending the 2nd lap, failing near the end of the 3rd lap, and mid-way through the 4th lap. Still, it was pretty comparable to my first two workouts in terms of performance, which provided good data points on my improvement, and the qualitative difference between the 3 and 4-minute rest intervals. Even though I never sent the workout, I could tell my endurance had improved considerably from the end of the Fall 2015 season. More importantly, I felt like I had solved the problem of how to improve my endurance—I now had an effective training circuit that I could use to prepare for my next bout with Rifle.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My PE Log sheet from the winter 2016 season.

My hangboarding that April was outstanding, I set Personal Records (PRs) on three grips, and tied PRs on two others. As May arrived, my Power Phase went just as well, quickly matching my hardest Max Ladders on the campus board. What surprised me most was that I seemed to carry-over much of the endurance I had gained over the winter. During my first PE workout of the season I sent the first three laps of the 52-move circuit for the first time (with 4:00 rest between sets). It seemed like everything was coming together perfectly. I was brimming with confidence and buzzing with anticipation. Surely I could send the route if everything went as planned.

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.

xxx

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.

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.

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!

 

 

Designing a Home Training Wall

by Mark Anderson

A home climbing wall offers many advantages to the performance-oriented climber. Chief among them are:

  • Convenience – with a wall literally in your backyard, commuting time and cost is eliminated along with most other excuses for skipping workouts. Those with families or pets can train with their loved ones without disturbing others, and the gym is open 24-7!
  • Control – you are the supreme dictator of your home wall. You call all the shots, including everything from the type of terrain, to grip shapes, to temperature and music selection. You can even decide whether or not shirts are required 🙂
  • Solitude – this is also a drawback of a home wall, but solitude can be a huge plus for training enthusiasts. Certain activities, like ARCing and Linked Bouldering Circuits, can be very difficult to do in a crowded public gym.
  • Route-setting privileges – For performance oriented climbers, this is the primary advantage of a home wall. First and foremost, if you can set your own routes, you can tailor them to your goals and weaknesses, allowing you to get the most from your training. Furthermore you can decide when to add new routes and when to take them down. You can afford to spend a few months or even years working a problem without worrying about the gym staff stripping it at any random moment….
  • “Benchmarking” – Piggy-backing off the last point, home wall users can leave “benchmark” problems or circuits up for many seasons or years, allowing them to gauge their fitness and progress over time. This can be extremely motivating as problems that were initially mega-projects gradually evolve into warmups.
Limit Bouldering on my home wall -- "The Lazy H Barn"

Limit Bouldering on my home wall — “The Lazy H Barn”

This is not a detailed step-by-step guide to home wall construction, but rather, this post will discuss some top-level design philosophies for home climbing walls. Even if you are a member of a good gym, adding a small, supplemental “woody” can help you get the most out of your training.

The first step in building your home wall is selecting a good space. Generally the taller the wall the better (up to at least 12-feet or so). Most home interiors top out at 8 feet, so a garage, basement, attic, shed, barn or other out-building may be the best option. You want your wall to be protected from the elements, so if you select an exterior building, ensure it is at least somewhat protected from moisture. The ability to control the environmental conditions to some extent is a big plus too. Most walls will be too hot more often than too cold, and it’s usually easier to add heat to a space than it is to remove it, so favor a location that is generally relatively cold (such as a basement or shaded room) as opposed to one that is generally warm (like an upstairs room or building with lots of southern exposure).

Another factor to consider is the wall’s proximity to your living spaces. Some folks are more social and will use the wall more if it’s centrally located. I like to have no distractions and complete control over my man-cave, so my detached barn works well for me. That said, I regularly have to post hole through knee-deep snow to get there in the winter, which can be a deterrent to training. If nature calls mid-session, it can be a major pain to get back to a bathroom. I think the ideal option for me would be a detached building that is adjacent (within 10-feet or so) to my house, so I could be isolated, but with easy access to/from the house.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn.  Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

The Lazy H Climbing Barn. Not a bad venue—isolated, with ceilings up to 12-feet high, and located at a nice cool altitude of 7400-feet.

Once you’ve identified the perfect venue, you’re ready to start designing your wall. Three major factors will drive your design:

  1. The size and shape of your available space
  2. Intended uses of the wall
  3. Long term climbing goals

Space will be a limiting factor for virtually everyone, so it’s important to consider how you plan to use the wall, and prioritize those activities to ensure you create the best terrain for the most important activities. Rock Prodigies might perform any of the following training activities on a home wall:

Determining which activities are most deserving of limited real estate is personal, but here are some things to consider.

  • Your ability and experience level will likely influence your training priorities (and therefore your terrain priorities). Those relatively new to climbing tend to benefit more from ARCing and other skill-development activities, while advanced climbers will often spend more time on Limit Bouldering, Campusing and PE training.
  • Every activity will require some type of warm up, so warmup terrain should be a high priority. Fortunately Warm Up Terrain and ARC Terrain can be very similar.
  • ARCing requires the most terrain, so those with limited space will have a hard time building a suitable area for ARC training. However, ARCing can be one of the most difficult things to do in a public gym. If you’ve had trouble ARCing at your gym (due to crowds, unsuitable layout, poor hold selection, infrequent hold spacing, etc), AND ARCing is a priority in your training, consider ARC terrain a high priority. One way to overcome a small space is to build a wall with very high hold density. This allows for long, circuitous routes in a small area while minimizing the need to retrace your steps.
  • Hangboarding can be done just about anywhere and does not require high ceilings. If you have the option to set up a hangboard in another space (like a closet or the corner of a rarely used room), then do that, and save your precious home wall space for climbing terrain. If that’s NOT an option, consider building a removable hangboard mount that allows you to remove the board whenever you aren’t in a Strength Phase.
  • Limit Bouldering is arguably the best use of a home wall for several reasons. First, it demands the least space, so even those with a small area can usually build something that works for Limit Bouldering. Next, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find goal-route-specific Limit Bouldering terrain in public gyms. I’ve ranted about this on many occasions, but in a nutshell, public gyms are looking more and more like American Ninja Warrior obstacle courses than representations of actual rock. To get the most from Limit Bouldering, it must be done on realistic terrain and holds. The best bet may be to create such terrain yourself.  Another advantage of LB terrain is that it is relatively steep, allowing more climbing distance within a given vertical height.
Steeper walls provide more travel (but don't let that be the driving factor in your wall design).

Steeper walls provide more travel.  That said, maximizing travel should NOT be the driving factor in your wall design.  The driving factor should be maximizing utility, and an overly steep wall will be useless for some activities (like ARCing).

  • Campusing is important for advanced climbers, but it is trained relatively infrequently (maybe 4-6 times per season). I love having my own campus board, but if space were limited it would be the first thing to go. Campusing at a public gym is a piece of cake, since no one ever uses the campus board, instead opting for whatever flavor-of-the-month Crossfit exercise is trendy at the time 🙂 That said, your local gym’s board may well be a disaster. If that is the case, consider setting up a removable campus board, or building it in a separate space so you can maximize the climbing terrain on your home wall.
  • There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a Linked Bouldering Circuit at a crowded gym, constantly dreading some unsuspecting climber will interfere with your workout. Fortunately, LBCs can be done on the same terrain (sometimes even the same problems) as Limit Bouldering, so if you have LB terrain, you have LBC terrain. Only a very lucky few will have suitable terrain for Route Intervals, so those are best done at a public gym. Usually this is fairly easy to do since you only need to monopolize a single route (as opposed to say, ARCing, where you are constantly traveling against the grain, or LBCs that require the use of 6 or more boulder problems).

In summary, I think the highest priorities are Warmup terrain, which can double as ARC terrain in a pinch, and Limit Bouldering terrain, which can also be used for LBCs. That said, it is possible to warm up on a hangboard. It’s not fun, but plenty of Rock Prodigies do it. It is NOT possible to Limit Boulder on a hangboard, so LB terrain will be the top priority for all but complete beginners (who would benefit more from ARCing). If you have extra space, throw in a Campus Board if power is a priority in your training, or add more ARC terrain if Skill-Development is a higher priority. If you have an embarrassment of riches like me, add both!

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering.  Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering.  However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

A slightly overhanging wall like this one can be used for both ARCing and Limit Bouldering. Include an assortment of large holds for ARCing, and small, realistic holds for Limit Bouldering. However, the disadvantage of less steep walls is that they will provide less climbing travel (in the direction of the wall) for a given ceiling height.

Now that you’ve figured out your training priorities, what does that terrain look like for you? Ideally we could have a wide variety of wall angles, but most of us will have to make some tough choices. The final consideration is your goals, relative to your ability. Since this is your terrain, it should be specific to your goals. If you live in Bend, Oregon, climb exclusively at Smith Rock (where routes are rarely steeper than 10 degrees overhanging), and your ultimate, lifetime climbing goal is a redpoint of the dead vertical To Bolt Or Not To Be, it will be easy to determine what your goal terrain looks like.

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be

The author climbing Smith Rock’s To Bolt Or Not To Be.  Photo Mike Anderson

The rest of us will need to do an informal survey of our favorite climbing areas.  Fortunately most of us have a relatively narrow range of angles that we really like. Furthermore, if you live in North America, terrain steeper than 20 degrees overhanging is quite scarce. Look through some photos of your favorite crags or goal routes and estimate the cliff angles to come up with a range of steepnesses that are representative of your performance preferences. Also, you’re not building the wall solely for the ensuring training cycle—it should be something you grow into, so dream big when considering potential goal routes.

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The approximate steepness of a few of my recent goal routes.  Photos (L) Ken Klein and (C) Adam Sanders.

Once you have a sample of goal-route angles, add a few degrees of steepness and then use those augmented angles to inform your wall design. The reason for this is that artificial holds, especially footholds, will always be bigger than the outdoor holds they emulate. Furthermore, small holds are hell on your skin, to the point that they can create skin injuries that will limit the duration of your training sessions, and may even impact your outdoor climbing. It’s better to go with slightly larger, more comfy holds, and compensate by kicking the angle back a bit further. Plus you can downsize holds much more easily than you can change the wall angle. Erring on the side of “too steep” will give you the potential to grow into your wall as you improve.

You now have a range of angles to train for. It’s tempting to build a wide assortment of angles with tiny increments between them to perfectly match every goal route on your list. However, the best artificial walls have only a few large planes (or even one) of a consistent angle. For some reason, this just feels better. The Lazy H has a variety of angles, but I spend 95% of my Limit Bouldering on one uniform wall, approximately 12-feet wide by 11-feet high. All the aretes, roofs, dihedrals and other features were fun for the first week or two, but the single consistent plane sees all the action. If you have a lot of space, go with two angles—one optimized for warming up/ARCing at your ability level, and one optimized for Limit Bouldering at your ability level. If you have more than a lot of space, like a huge barn, only then consider including some other angles, but mark my words, much of that extra terrain will be neglected.

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When bouldering (including Warmup Boulder Ladder problems and Limit Bouldering), I spend the vast majority of my time on this wall.  It’s wide, uniform surface allows for a high concentration of smooth-yet-challenging problems.

One final note: invest in quality hand holds! The smaller your wall, the more essential this is, because each hold on your wall represents an opportunity cost. If your holds suck, the wall won’t be fun to use, and that will certainly impact your training. When I’m having fun in the Lazy H, my sessions are longer, more intense, and more productive. You can read some of my hold recommendations here and here.

Later this month I’ll provide a brief virtual tour of the Lazy H, detailing the dimensions and angles of each wall, what I like about it, and what I would do differently.

Clear Creek’s Wildest Free Climb – Part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part series.  Part 1 can be viewed here.

“Foot stabs” like this require good core strength to keep the hips tight to the wall in order to maintain pressure on the extended foot.

“Foot stabs” like this require good core strength to maneuver the extended foot into place, and to keep the hips tight to the wall so that pressure can be maintained on the extended foot.

The most significant obstacle to climbing my looming Bunker project appeared to be a lack of specific core strength. My career for the most part has been spent standing on my feet, not swinging and stabbing them over my head, as is often required for roof climbing. I had pretty good core strength for the types or routes I usually climb, but Born on the 4th of July would require completely different core strength. I ordered a set of gymnastics rings and selected a set of exercises to help solve this problem. [extensive details on my core training regimen coming next week]

From a skill perspective, I knew it would help to practice moving in the horizontal plane. There’s something to be said for familiarity with a set of skills when you know you will be required to execute them in an intimidating situation. We call this “stress-proofing”—when I’m dangling 800 feet above the river, 40 mph gusts battering my backside as I pull out loops of slack to clip that swinging quickdraw, it would be nice to know I can trust my “bicycle*” maneuver to keep me in place. [*Pressing the top of one fore-foot against the back of a protruding piece of rock, and the bottom of the other fore-foot against the opposite or front side of the protrusion, effectively squeezing it between your two feet.]

A "bicycle" maneuver.

A “bicycle” maneuver.

After returning from Germany I was physically spent from such a high volume of climbing, and nursing a mild shoulder impingement, so I took the opportunity to practice my roof-climbing at the local gym. With a pound or 15 of croissant-fueled ballast, I worked my way through the many roof problems, practicing skills like toe-cams, heel hooks, and the aforementioned bicycle.

In mid-winter I took my new strength and skill to the streets, nabbing another Clear Creek prize along the way, the roof-centric open project Double Stout. This litmus test re-assured me that I was on the right track. As the winter snows began to ebb, I redoubled my focus. Spare moments were spent analyzing video from my recon bids, imagining potential sequences around the blank sections, and convincing myself that I would be good enough to execute them, but there was only one way to know for sure.

Practicing roof climbing on Double Stout.

Practicing roof climbing on Double Stout. Photo Mike Anderson.

In late April the Bunker was finally good to go, so I headed up with Kate to give it a shot. There were at least two moves in the first roof I couldn’t do last year, so I would know right away if I’d made any progress. The fingertip rail in the first roof was damp and seeping during my first foray, and I was unable to do a difficult crossing move on the rail. The move seemed plausible, but I kept slipping off the wet rock, so I moved on to the next trouble spot—a big dyno out to jugs on the lip of the low roof. I stuck the slap on my first try, and it felt easy. So far so good.

The tenuous cross move in the first roof.

The tenuous cross move in the first roof.

With one down and several more stumper moves to go, I proceeded quickly to the final visor. I was pretty much entirely unable to climb the visor last year. I mimed some moves with Mike taking 50-80% of my weight at the belay, so I had a sense that they could go, but I was miles from doing them at that time.

The visor crux begins with a long span to a jug rail a few feet out from the crook of the roof. From this rail you can reach out into a crack system that cuts diagonally through the nearest half of the roof. This crack pinches down in one place to create a pretty nice—albeit wickedly sharp—two-finger pocket, and flares open to offer a big pod in another spot. The pod curves as it deepens to offer a set of slopers on the “bottom” side (from the climber’s perspective). Beyond the pod, the crack veers off and pinches down to a seam. A couple feet further a big horn of rock protrudes downward (and slightly west), offering a nice pinch grip. As you near the lip a detached flake emerges from the roof, at first providing a 1.5-pad incut edge, and then flaring into full-finger jugs just before the lip. The lip is adorned with a gnarly blob of knob-covered stone that provides a pair of killer jugs and plentiful footholds.

An awkward stance in the crook of the visor.

An awkward stance in the crook of the visor.

Months of film study had convinced me I knew the sequence, so I set out to execute it. Full stop! My plan to grab the pod sloper, toe-cam in the jug rail and then drive-by to the horn was a disaster. I could barely match in the pod, and even then I had no hope of releasing my toe-cam with any sort of control. The next 30 minutes were spent doing what I do best—putzing around on the rope, groping for possibilities. I messed around with the two-finger pocket, various matches in the pod, and other holds further afield.

A big reach out to "the pod".

A big reach out to “the pod”.  (The knotted orange rope is there to help me pull back on to the rock in the event of a fall.  Since I’m unable to clip again until I reach the lip of the roof, a fall in the latter half of the visor would leave me dangling far below the roof, making it difficult to pull back onto the rock and try again.)

Eventually a new concept emerged: matching hands in the pod, walking my feet around in front of me, and then swinging out to reach the horn. Not easy, but I was able to do all the moves individually. The next bit was at least as hard—linking from the pod/horn to the jug flake. I continued with the same strategy, leading with my feet, and discovered with good core tension I could stab my feet out to the knob garden at the lip. From this position it was barely possible to “unwind” from the pod and slap my left hand to the initial edge in the detached flake. No longer extended, I could get my hips closer to my feet and pull through with my right hand into the good flake jugs. From there it was a formality to swing out to the lip.

Stabbing my foot out to the "Knob Garden" at the lip.

Stabbing my foot out to the “Knob Garden” at the lip.  Note the sage-colored washcloth in the lower left, used to dry a damp hold at the start.

By this point it was raining so I didn’t try the mantel onto the wet moss-covered slab. I looked over the lip, spied a few good jugs and declared it NTB—Not too Bad. I was elated with my progress but still slightly concerned about that first hard move in the opening roof.

The next time out the finger tip rail in the first roof was still damp. Realizing this was the key to the entire route, I put in some more effort on this section, and I was eventually able to do the move in parts, but each time I tried to link the entire boulder problem my fingers would fling off in one spot or another due to moisture. Eventually I was convinced the sequence would go in dry conditions, so I moved on to practice the visor sequence and suss that NTB mantel I mentioned earlier.

As my clever foreshadowing suggests, the mantel wasn’t as easy as it looked. There are two big jugs to work with, one right at the lip, and another about an arm’s-length deep on the slab. The slab itself is about 45-degrees steep, covered in “rock lettuce” (tiny bushes of lettuce-shaped lichen)and offers few appealing footholds. From the jugs, you can throw a left foot over the lip, but due to the angling nature of the visor, that foot is well above head level. Pressing out the mantel begins easily, but then you need to move your low hand up to make room for your hips and the dangling right foot. But there are no more holds, only a plethora of moss-covered bumps, and one finger-tip-wide horizontal crack.

Throwing my left toe up onto the lip in an attempt to mantel onto the slab.

Throwing my left toe up onto the lip in an attempt to mantel onto the slab.

I could make an argument for ending the route at the jugs at the lip of the roof. Sport climbing is an entirely arbitrary construct, and many routes end in the middle of a blank wall, where the holds run out, where the rope ends, or where the climbing stops being enjoyable. It’s the route developer’s decision, there’s no peer review or sanctioning body to appease. However, I really wanted to top this thing out. Since the moment I first considered it might be possible to climb, I wanted it to go to the top. The entire appeal of the line to me was the improbability of it. A magical accident of fate that provides just enough holds to transform something that logic and statistics would deem totally implausible into something that is just barely possible.   Think of the odds! That the roof could exist in the first place, defying gravity for millennia; that I would find it, untouched and waiting to be climbed; that the rock was solid enough to support my weight, let alone its own. And finally the odds that there are just the right combination of completely natural features, the right size and shape, to permit an unbroken chain of free moves! Stopping at an arbitrary point would destroy this miracle of intertwined geology and organics. It would negate the entire endeavor….

A few more burns over the next week allowed me to dial in the sequences and become comfortable with the runouts. I still hadn’t “sent” the opening roof, but I hadn’t tried it while dry either. The weather was steadily improving, and I figured with a bit of luck, I only needed to scratch and claw my way through that roof once.

Finally we arrived on the dry, cool Sunday morning of May 3rd. The very first left hand crimp was wet, not a great omen, but I had fixed a wash cloth to dry it mid-move. I reached out to the finger tip rail—it seemed dry. I went through my sequence, working out to the lip and slapping for the flat mini-ledge at the lip. My left foot popped off as I hit the jug, but I was able to control my swing and reel myself back on. The next section was totally trivial by now, and I quickly climbed to a great rest below the visor.

Clearing the first roof.

Clearing the first roof.

I hadn’t done any Power Endurance training this season—other than working this route—but I figured if I took my time at this rest, and sprinted through the cruxes, I might have enough fitness to make it through. After a long, steady recovery, I was ready. I monkeyed out the relatively brief middle roof, clipped out to the second bolt in the visor, chalked up one last time, and punched out towards daylight. Everything unfurled as I had envisioned. I committed to the slaps, hit every hold just right, and kept my core tight throughout. Before I knew it I matched on the jug flake and reached up to a big knob over the lip. Tactically I was unsure whether to sprint or rest, so I compromised. After a few quick shakes, a dab into the chalk bag, and a moment of visualization, I went for the mantel.

Shaking out at the lip, contemplating the mantel.

Shaking out at the lip, contemplating the mantel.

I threw my left foot up onto a sloping edge, craned my head over the lip, and stabbed my left hand into a fingerlock in the crack. I had considered this beta when I first attempted the mantel, but feared a foot slip would result in me hurtling toward the end of the rope, two or three fingers lighter than when I had started. I like my fingers where they are, but I ultimately exhausted any other possibilities and committed to the fingerlock sequence. With a very carefully placed left toe, and fingers wedged firmly, I was able to squirm upwards just enough to scum my kneecap over the lip. Precariously poised, I moved my right hand into a press and stepped up onto the floating slab.

Success! Stepping up onto the slab.

Pressing up onto the slab…Success!

Born on the 4th of July is not the hardest first ascent I’ve done, but it’s my proudest.  I don’t ever want to leave something unfinished, and so I’m generally fairly conservative when deciding whether or not to equip a potential line.  Considering my relative lack of skill with this type of climbing,  it took a real leap of faith to rappel over the edge and fire up my drill.  It felt like a tremendous gamble, and I’m proud of myself for having the nerve to commit to learning a new style, building new strength and putting in the days on the rock to unlock the sequence.  Making the gamble pay off was extremely rewarding, and I’m sure it will give me the confidence to take more chances on new lines in the future.

Germany Part I: Hitting the Wall

After months of planning, weeks of training and many days of anxious packing, it was finally time for our journey to begin. The flight to Germany turned out to be pretty uneventful. We were really worried about flying so far with two young kids, and perhaps all that worry, and the resultant preparations, paid off. Kate packed an impressive collection of toys and other distractions which really helped keep her entertained.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Kate and Amelie exploring the Nuremberg market below Lorenzkirche, the first of countless churches we would see.

Once we arrived in Nuremberg we went for a short sightseeing walk around the Nuremberg Altstadt (old city), and then we headed north to scope out the approach to the crags for the next day. The Frankenjura is notoriously complex, with a maze of tiny winding roads, and finding your crag can sometimes be the crux of your climb (in the end, we were always able to find what we were looking for, but we made a few wrong turns here and there).

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

Logan and me exploring the walls of Nuremberg’s Kaiserburg Castle.

After some shenanigans getting out of the city we found ourselves cruising the luxurious autobahn. The Autobahn is pretty much like any US freeway, but with a much nicer road surface (no potholes) and no slow drivers in the left lane. The German drivers are very courteous in this regard, frequently sacrificing their own speed to avoid delaying faster drivers. Driving was one of many surprising pleasures of the trip. The landscape is a patchwork of rolling hills, farms, forests abundant with colorful fall foliage, and compact villages. Smooth roads twist and turn through an ever-interesting vista of medieval churches, rainbow-colored houses, hidden limestone walls, and lush vegetation. We made good time towards Plech where we saw the first signs for the “Frankische Schweiz” (literally “Franconian Switzerland”, aka, “Frankenjura”).

Finally some rock!  Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

Finally some rock! Streitberger Schild above the village of Streitberg.

The first crag was easy to find. Weissenstein (“White Wall”) is right on the main road, and when they say a crag is good for kids they aren’t exaggerating. There were easily 10 kids there already, including several who were climbing and one in a pram. The rock looked outstanding, and the holds, while polished, had a nice gritty texture to them that made me think polished holds wouldn’t be much of a problem. [In hindsight, we came across quite a few polished routes, but we were going way out of our way to climb the most famous routes in Germany. Even then, polish was far less problematic than I found it in France and Spain. Most of the time the rock is so featured and the climbs so steep that you don’t mind the polish at all—if anything it’s a plus. On thin vertical routes it can be a bit of a problem on footholds, and I’m certain a few of the routes I did have gotten more difficult over the years as a result of traffic. However, thin vertical routes aren’t very common in the Frankenjura.]

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

The left, vert-ish side of Weissenstein. The rope is on an uber-classic 5.8 jug haul called Boulderwandl

Next we headed for Krottenseer Turm, home to Wolfgang Güllich’s legendary testpiece Wallstreet. Wallstreet was the world’s first 5.14b (11- on the German scale, or 8c in French terms), and I was really anxious to check it out. My primary climbing objective for this trip was to gain some appreciation for what Güllich was capable of in his prime. I also wanted to visit a broad selection of crags and climb a ton of routes. With those competing goals in mind, I set aside my first two climbing days for an attempt on Wallstreet. By this point I had already decided I didn’t want to spend my entire trip camped out under one route, but I was committed to at least trying it. After those first two days I would re-evaluate my priorities.

I headed into the mossy, damp forest and walked toward the towering wall. It was impressive. The sloping hillside makes it even more formidable, looming like a castle facade, with little curved turrets on either side. I flipped through the guidebook and identified all the major lines. I was really amped to come back and try Wallstreet, but it was getting late and we still had a good hour of driving to reach my sister’s house in Weiden.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

Wallstreet begins up the central black streak, then veers right at mid-height to climb the left section of the high bulge.

After a surprisingly good night of sleep, we awoke early and fairly well-rested. Our plan was to warm up at Weissenstein before heading to Krottenseer Turm. In all my travels, Weissenstein is the best cliff I’ve ever been to for climbing with kids. It’s one of the best cliffs I’ve been to period. The cliff has routes of every grade from 5.6 to 5.13a, and literally, all the routes are world class (for their respective grades). The rock is flawless and extremely interesting, heavily pocketed limestone. The cliff base is flat and grassy, the approach is 30 seconds, and there’s a mix of shade and sun. The best domestic comparison I can think of is Chuckwalla Wall in St. George, Utah, but with twice as many routes, infinitely better rock, and half the approach. It’s a true climber’s paradise.

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on Damphammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

The right, steep side of Weissenstein, with unknown climbers on two Kurt Albert classics, Dampfhammer (“Steam Hammer”, lower) and the aptly named pump-fest Panische Zeiten (“Panic Time!”, upper)

Every route we did was stellar, culminating with two lines on the right “steep” side of the wall. The first route, a Kurt Albert 12a called Dampfhammer, was climbed via huge, sequential reaches between perfect jugs. We accidentally stranded some draws on the upper slab, so rather than climb it again I decided to try the Wolfgang Güllich 13a to its left. Normally I don’t try to onsight 5.13 as part of my warmup, but I really wanted to get those draws back! And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a Güllich line. This became a theme throughout the trip.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer.

Doulbe-mono warmup on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

The crux was supposed to be low and bouldery, so I figured it would be a good warmup and not too taxing. After a few technical moves, I arrived at the Krampfhammer crux, a blank wall with several mono pockets. Welcome to the Frankenjura! The first few moves weren’t too hard, but then I was in the bulge, with my left hand in a high mono and nothing else within reach. I hiked up my feet, uttered the predictable “watch me”, and lunged high and right for a hidden patch of chalk. Jug! After that more 5.11 jug-hauling led up the steep wall to the chains.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer.

About to make the crux lunge on Krampfhammer. Photo Logan Anderson

We packed our stuff into the car and raced towards my rendezvous with Wallstreet. The route starts with an easy slab, and then gets progressively harder as you ascend, culminating in a crux roof encounter a few meters below the anchor. The climbing up to the roof was beautiful, with technical moves on mostly sinker pockets. There’s a powerful move just below the roof, and then a long reach out to a good clipping jug at the lip. The headwall is relatively monolithic, with a few shallow, well-spaced two-finger pockets.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

Rose move! The technical lower bit of Wallstreet.

The crux boulder problem begins at the lip of the roof with a reach to a three-finger dish, and then a difficult stab to an incut but shallow (3/4-pad) two-finger pocket. The hardest individual move is pulling off this pocket. Güllich apparently placed his right hand in this pocket (shown in the Wallstreet poster), threw his left foot super high to the lip of the roof, and then made a big reach to another shallow, sloping, two-finger pocket. Another option is to take the incut two-finger with the left hand, get the left foot up, back flag and lunge desperately for a thin three-finger crimp. There are also various other divots and dishes with smatterings of chalk that didn’t seem too promising. Above here, two or three difficult, but not desperate moves lead to easier ground and the anchor.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

Reaching for the jug at the lip of the roof.

I spent about 45 minutes trying the various options. I could get the incut two-finger but I couldn’t realistically pull off of it. With the undercut roof, and the slick, featureless nature of the stone at the lip, you basically need to suspend your entire body weight from that pocket. It felt incredibly tweaky and painful, and I gained new respect for the few climbers who have done this sequence on redpoint. I gave it two burns on Friday and one more on Sunday, but I was pretty well-convinced after the first burn that it was not going to happen.

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

Latching the incut two finger. Now I just need to throw my foot up to my armpit, lock-off the pocket to my kneecap, and dyno precisely into a half-pad mail slot!

I’m really glad I got the opportunity to try it, and that I was able to try it at a time in my career when I was strong enough to appreciate it. I was actually very relieved that it was just plain unrealistic for this trip. My biggest fear heading into the trip was that I would fool myself into thinking I could do it, spend the entire time flailing on it, and still walk away empty-handed. The outcome was pretty clear-cut, and that freed me to enjoy other routes without any regrets.  Still, it makes me wish I lived nearby, because it’s precisely the type of route I would really enjoy training for and working as a long-term project.  At the same time, I realize I live in a great place too, with plenty of awesome climbs to keep me busy.

Kate climbing 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Kate enjoying 40-meters of gently overhanging 5.10 pockets at Roter Fels

Before we left Krottenseer Turm on Sunday there was one more route I desperately wanted to do. In 1981, the great John Bachar visited Germany to participate in an international climbing festival. During his visit he claimed the first ascent of an open project on the right side of the cliff. The line followed a discontinuous groove with an intermittent crack that climbed over several steep bulges. I would imagine it seemed very futuristic for the day, considering its steepness. He graded the route 5.13a, which made it the hardest route in Europe at the time, and one of the hardest in the world [ultimately the route was downgraded to .12d, but it would easily rate 5.13 and any of the world’s modern vacation crags]. He called the route Chasin’ the Trane, the title of a John Coltrane album.  Many have taken this to be a not-so-subtle dig at the European climbing scene, although others have alleged that Bachar denied that. According to Güllich’s Biography (the must-read A Life in the Vertical), Bachar’s ascent was a huge deal in Germany. It made Bachar an instant star, and the route an instant test-piece.

Chasin' the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

Chasin’ the Trane climbs through the dihedral, under the big roof and then back left onto the headwall.

By the time I cleaned my gear off Wallstreet, it was pouring down rain and the top of the cliff was soaked. I waited in vain for the rain to stop, as the various waterfalls inched their way lower and lower down the cliff. The route was still mostly dry, so eventually I decided I was going to take my chances and deal with whatever moisture came my way.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

Waiting for the rain to stop at Krottenseer Turm.

The route begins with slabby moves on big jugs to reach a horizontal break below a steep bulge. I made a few big moves between sinker pockets to reach a pumpy stance at the lip of the bulge. At this point a thin seam appears and most of the pockets vanish. I made some strenuous liebacking moves to get established in the groove. I was able to get good shakes from some awkward stems, but the climbing was really physical and surprisingly pumpy. I could see how a California crack master would excel on this type of terrain. At the top of the seam, the route traverses right below a roof, and then clears a final bulge before following a long slab to the anchor. I got one last shake below this roof, contemplating my exit strategy. It was still raining hard, and I knew the best case scenario was a soaking wet run to the anchor. At the very top of the seam is a good incut sidepull that I was able to lever out on, allowing a huge reach to a flat jug at the top of the bulge. The jug was a puddle, but it was positive enough that with dry footholds I was able to work my way up onto the slab. Much to my relief, the finishing slab was littered with incut pockets and good footholds. I knew I wasn’t going to fall and enjoyed the early shower as I made my way to the top.

Climbing Hitchhike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line.

Climbing Hitch Hike the Plane, 5.13b, Wolfgang Gullich’s clever answer to Bachar’s line. Photo Logan Anderson

Check back here soon for Germany Part 2: Getting Blasted!

Auf Wiedersehen!

I’m off to Deutshland morgen!  I’m bursting with excitement (and a fair bit of justified anxiety about our 12-hr airplane extravaganza).  I’ve had my best-ever summer strength phase, a really good two weeks of power training and I feel like I’m in outstanding shape.  I’d still like to lose a few pounds, which may be tough in a country that’s known for its breads, pastries, sausages and of course, beer.

A proper castle in Spain.

A proper castle in Spain.

We have a whirlwind itinerary planned with lots of sighseeing and even more climbing.  One of my favorite things to do is wander around the old villages and just take in the experience of being in a strange land.  I think Logan will get a big kick out of all the castles and romantically shaped houses.  Plus, like his dad, he loves a good pastry!

I have a huge list of routes I’d like to try and crags I’d like to visit, and I surely won’t make it to all of them, but I’ll be happy just to sample some of the most legendary routes in the world.  The climbing looks beautiful and powerful.  I expect it to be just plain hard, but I’m confident I will enjoy it.

I really like to have a project in mind when I’m training.  It helps you decide which tradeoffs to make in your schedule, when to shoot for your peak, which grips to focus on, etc.  However, when you’ve never laid eyes on the goal, let alone the crag where the goal is located, you have to make quite a few educated guesses.  When you’ve approached a goal route in this manner, there’s nothing quite like tying into your rope at the base for the first time.  So much effort and obsession has been directed at this patch of stone that you’re finally going to touch.  So many questions that have kept you awake for weeks or months are about to be answered.  Did I train the right grips?  Do I have enough power?  Do I need more endurance?  Is this thing even within the realm of possibility for me?

Climbing in Germany adds an extra dimension of mystery because they use the UIAA grade scale.  This scale is less discrete than the YDS or French system, making conversions tricky at best.  It’s one thing to train for a route where you at least know the grade, so you have some ballpark idea of the range of attempts or days it might take to send.  With the grade itself ambiguous, there’s an added shadow of doubt that the route might be completely out of the realm of possibility, given the time constraints of an overseas trip and a fixed itinerary.

As I finish up the Herculean task of stuffing 4 people’s worth of clothing and supplies for three weeks into two checked bags, these are the thoughts that occupy my mind!  I can’t wait, and yet I’m nervous.  I’m confident, yet prepared to be flexible if things don’t go the way I want.  Regardless I know it’s going to be an awesome experience.  Wish us Viel Glück!

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