climber

Category Archives: Mental Training

Training For 9a — Part II

By Mark Anderson

This is the third installment in a multi-part series about my training for Shadowboxing. For the first installment click here. For the second installment click here.

Visualization is an important part of any hard ascent, but the picture in our mind is often overly idealized. We imagine everything going flawlessly—executing the sequence perfectly, in optimal weather conditions, feeling fantastic the entire time. I do this because I doubt I have enough margin to scrap my way up the climb, instead thinking that if I’m going to do it, every factor will have to converge perfectly.  Conversely, professional coaches and athletes in major sports often speak of overcoming adversity, such as unfair officiating, weather that doesn’t favor their game plan, or unlucky bounces. I thought about that a lot through the long winter, and tried to prepare myself mentally for the hurdles I knew I would face (such as poor conditions), plus others I wasn’t anticipating.  I needed to be prepared to roll with the punches, rather than fold the first time something didn’t go my way.

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

Mark Anderson making the third ascent of Shadowboxing, 5.14d/9a.  Photo Mike Anderson.

If you asked me at the end of May, I would probably say that I failed miserably in this endeavor. At least, I failed to anticipate the scope of my trials. It started with a bout of the flu that hit at the worst possible moment: three days before I was set to get back on the route for the first time in seven months. I was reduced to oblivion for 60-straight hours, and feeble and woozy for four days after. This resulted in a day of lost training and two sub-par days on the route, but more importantly, about a 10% reduction in strength and power that I was never able to recover.  The next blow was seeping rock that was much worse than I anticipated. When I first returned in May roughly 1/3 of the holds in the lower half of the route were wet. Not that it mattered–I was so wrecked from the flu I was lucky to link ten moves in a row that first weekend!

Training schedule for my May/June season.

Training schedule for my May/June season.

The next weekend went much better. But when I climbed up into the crux the first day of the third weekend I discovered a key undercling was totally gone. The rest of that day was devoted to re-solving that section. The final straw was tweaking my back while rolling over in bed that night (one of the many perils of aging).  It was beginning to feel like the season was cursed–I was half-way through it and I hadn’t even matched my Fall highpoint on the route. I summarized my mindset at the end of the weekend thusly:

“Way not psyched at end of day. Felt like I had so much promise heading into Friday, and then the broken hold took the wind out of my sails, and then again, after that was resolved, tweaked back was the next blow. Depressed and searching for motivation. Trying to wrap my head around the idea that I’m unlikely to send this season.”

Unfortunately that wasn’t my low point. Over the next two days I waffled constantly about whether or not to continue on the route. June was imminent, and I expected the temperatures to sky-rocket at any time. Was it helpful to keep at it when I wasn’t making progress? Even if sending this season was unlikely, would continuing on the route improve my chances of success in the upcoming Fall, or was I just training myself to fail, wrecking my confidence and killing my motivation?  This all came to a head during my weekly indoor training session at the end of May.

By this point I was using Non-Linear Periodization to maintain Strength and Power while emphasizing Power Endurance (PE) training, by following this program:

  • Warm-up:
    • 10-min ARC on 10-35 degree overhangs
    • 10 min Warm-up Boulder Ladder (including V2, V3, V4, V5, V7, V8)
  • Limit-Bouldering (25-35 minutes*, including sending up to V11 and attempting up to V12)
  • Campusing (25-35 minutes*, beginning with 1-3-5-7 and working up to Max Ladders)
  • Linked Bouldering Circuit (Attempt 4 sets of 52-move Extended Green Traverse, reducing Rest Between Sets from 4:00 to 90 seconds)
  • Supplemental Exercises, ~30 min total/2-3 sets of:
    • Advanced 1-Arm Rows/1-Arm Pull-ups/Explosive Pull-ups
    • Front Levers
    • Biceps Curls
    • Lateral-to-Front Raise
    • Shoulder Press
    • Wings
    • Ab Rolls from Rings
    • Rotator Cuff Exercises with Theraband

[* Varied such that the total time, including warm-up, LBing and Campusing are limited to ~80 minutes]

In general, my PE training was progressing nicely, picking up where I left off in March. I continued to attempt 4 sets of my new 52-move circuit, starting with 4:00 rest-between-sets, and reducing it as the season progressed. However, my power training went from phenomenal to dismal after the flu. I was never able to recover my power since my weekend forays on the route were too taxing to allow for sufficiently intense mid-week indoor sessions (in retrospect, it may have been wise to delay my outdoor climbing in order to re-hone my power after the flu, but at the time I felt pressed for time with summer heat a few weeks away).

On that last day of May, my bouldering and campusing were particularly poor, and I ended both segments much earlier than planned. At that moment I was ready to abandon the rest of the season. I went for a short walk, weighing the pros and cons. I decided there was no advantage in quitting at that moment—I could use the PE training either way, so I should at least complete that part of the workout. I went on to have my best PE session ever, sending the first three sets of my 52-move circuit with 2:30 rest between sets (roughly a 1:1 duty cycle). That was enough to re-kindle my psych. I decided I should go out for at least one more weekend.

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

At the “Crimp Crux”.  Photo Mike Anderson

The first day of that trip I finally exceeded my Fall 2015 high point, and on the next climbing day I got my first one-hang, falling at the Crimp Crux. I matched this new highpoint on the next go. That day the rock was completely dry for the first time that season, which certainly helped, but the biggest factor was that my endurance was significantly better. Overall my May/June PE training went better than expected. During my last PE workout of the season I sent the first three laps of my 52-move circuit with only 2:00 rest-between-sets. I was certain my experiments and efforts over the winter had paid off, and my endurance had reached a new level—sufficient to send the route.  Unfortunately I learned that PE alone was not enough. Although I managed to one-hang the route four more times, I found myself falling more and more often on a powerful dyno in the lower third of the climb. My endurance was at an all-time best, but my Power Peak was long gone. By mid-June it seemed I was stagnating (if not regressing) on the route. The forecast predicted a steady 10-15 degree temperate hike, so I decided to end my season.

I never fell on this powerful dyno in the first half of the May/June 2016 season, but by mid-June I was falling on it regularly—a clear sign of waning power.

I never fell on this powerful dyno in the first half of the May/June 2016 season, but by mid-June I was falling on it regularly—a clear sign of waning power.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I was disappointed that I didn’t send, and I still wonder if I made the right call, throwing in the towel when I was arguably quite close. It’s hard to know and easy to second guess. To be fair, I think a younger, less-determined me would have retreated much earlier, prior to achieving the 1-hang that re-kindled my motivation. Had I quit during that workout at the end of May, I might have never come back to the route. In retrospect, I think preparing myself for some adversity prior to the start of the season allowed me to persevere long enough to squeeze out every last drop of adversity that frustrating canyon has to offer.  When I returned in September 2016 it had nothing left to give me–I had already taken all of Rifle’s best shots. Furthermore, the consistent one-hangs I earned in June were crucial to motivating my training over the summer. I had learned how to develop the necessary endurance to link the route. I had learned that I was capable of sending, even in sub-optimal conditions. I just needed to better time my power and fitness so the two converged simultaneously. Orchestrating that would be the focus of the long hot summer.

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

Bishop 2009 050

Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

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

 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0154.

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

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

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

2_bishop

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

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

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

3_phil bouldering1

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

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

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

4_phil bouldering2

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

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

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

5_phil bouldering3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New CCC Crag & Another FFA

by Mark Anderson

Whenever I spot an unknown outcrop of rock I find myself craning my neck for a better view. The more I become interested in first ascents, the more I become curious about the countless blobs of stone that litter the Front Range. Perhaps the backside of that distant cliff is hiding some mega classic line? Clear Creek Canyon is surprisingly complex, with the river twisting dramatically and the road weaving around geologic obstacles and through tunnels. Even after seven years of visiting the Canyon, it seems each time I drive through I spot another mysterious formation (or see an old formation from a new perspective).There’s a plethora of rock out there, and much of it is still unexplored.

In late March, between seasons, I dedicated several days to filling in the blank spots on my CCC map. Some crags were disappointing, others were better than expected, but the sweetest find was a crag I wasn’t looking for. While hiking down US 6 to scope a leaning pinnacle on the south side of the river, I glimpsed a jutting obelisk of gneiss out of the corner of my eye. This reclusive feature was so positioned—tucked in a narrow gulley, obscured by tall pines, and camouflaged by a backdrop of gray stone—that it was only visible from my precise vantage point.

The Sharks Fin from the road.

The Sharks Fin from the road.  [To the English teachers: While this is the possessive case, and an apostrophe is normally called for, I’m following the USGS convention of omitting the possessive apostrophe for place names.  Surely it’s the least of my many word crimes.]

I shifted gears and briskly scrambled up the gulley for a closer look. The apparent geometric symmetry of the block faded as I scrambled closer. So often I have watched a promising feature deteriorate before my approaching eyes. But not this time! The stunning east face of the free-standing tooth was slightly overhanging, sparsely featured, and composed of brilliant molasses stone, infused with a web of swirling pegmatite intrusions.

The East Face.

The East Face.

This is the moment the explorer in me lives for—to find a diamond in the rough right under my nose, yet astonishingly overlooked. The crag was a true gem—great rock, east-facing (providing after work shade), with a short approach, nice staging area and a spectacular position. The cliff was short, but in retrospect it’s at least as tall as the perpetually crowded Primo Wall. I started sketching a topo of the Sharks Fin in my head, but this only led to more questions–how many climbs would there be? Is the rock as good as it looks?

Climbing the exposed southern arête of the Sharks Fin.

Climbing the exposed southern arête of the Sharks Fin.

I returned within a few days to rap the wall and inspect the features. If anything the rock was even better on rappel than it looked from the ground. That was an unusual experience for me! Soon after, I returned with my bolt kit and put in four seemingly moderate lines. I was still in my Strength Phase, and my first priority for the season was The Bunker, so it would be some time before I could return to try these climbs.

Sharks Fin Topo2Once I had finished off the Bunker I returned for what I expected to be a brief session of back-to-back onsights of the Fin’s four lines. I warmed up at home and started on what I expected to be the hardest line. This one begins with some thin face climbing on small edges, and I figured it might be as hard as 5.13a. I was totally shut down at the start. I couldn’t get off the ground! Over about 45 minutes I sussed out some of the opening moves, but there were still a few I couldn’t do.

Near the end of the opening boulder problem.

Near the end of the opening boulder problem.

It was still quite warm, so I moved on to the next line to the left—expecting it to be about mid-5.12 and well within my on sight abilities, even in the sun. Again the wall slapped me down. I spent the next 30 minutes or so sussing the opening boulder problem, which turned out to be V8 or so.   I lowered and went for the send, figuring I could onsight the rest of the climb, but after sketching through the start I was stymied by a devious sequence exiting the large left-facing corner system at 2/3’s-height. This problem I solved fairly quickly after a hang. After continuing to the anchor, I lowered, rested a few minutes, and (finally) redpointed This Ain’t Seaworld absent any additional drama.

Exiting the big left-facing corner midway up This Ain’t Seaworld.

Exiting the big left-facing corner midway up This Ain’t SeaWorld. 5.13c?

With slightly cooler temps, I went back to the first line, and was eventually able to work out the rest of the moves, but I was too worked to link them. I finished off the day with an actual on sight of what I expected to be the crag warmup. Get Your Towels Ready links a series of mini-ledges on the slabby right edge of the fin. It’s a really fun, cerebral 5.11a-ish climb on excellent rock. Unfortunately it’s a bit shorter than the rest of the lines due to the sloping hillside, but it’s still a great outing.

About to top out the Sharks Fin on the FA of This Ain’t Seaworld.

About to top out the Sharks Fin on the FA of This Ain’t SeaWorld.

I returned at the end of the week in cooler temperatures, and with a much more realistic attitude. I think approaching a climb with the expectation that it will be (relatively) easy can seriously undermine the process. We should expect routes to be challenging, and we should expect to have to try hard, persevere, and overcome difficulties, while remaining confident that we have the toughness to do so.

Interesting face climbing midway up I F’ed A Mermaid.

Interesting face climbing midway up I F’ed A Mermaid.

This time I was ready to rage. I scraped up the opening boulder—burly thin crimping which I reckon is V11 or so. The rest of the climb is brilliant and engaging, but nowhere near as hard, and I continued with relative ease to complete the FA. The line is reminiscent of White Buffalo (5.13d) at Wild Iris or The Present (5.14a) in the Utah Hills—quite hard for not very long. With the difficulties coming right off the ground, I think it’s more in line with White Buffalo’s 5.13d/V11 head-scratcher grade.

The exposed start of Nautical-Themed Pashmina Afghan.

The exposed start of Nautical-Themed Pashmina Afghan.

I finished off the day by cruising Nautical-Themed Pashmina Afghan, a mid-5.11 hand crack/arête/hand traverse. This line was the last I bolted and the one I had the least hope for. It’s kinda silly and perhaps contrived, climbing along the left edge of the fin. In many places you could mantle the edge and lay down, or walk easily down the back side and hang out for hours before retracing your steps to finish the “ascent”. Still, if you take it for a warmup and stay on the wall, it’s quite a fun and sustained jug haul. All told I’m really stoked with how the crag turned out, and proud of all the routes. I hope Clear Creekers will enjoy climbing them as much as I did.

Fun jug-hauling on the knife-edge of Nautical-Themed Pashmina Afghan.

Fun jug-hauling on the knife-edge of Nautical-Themed Pashmina Afghan.

[Editor’s note: For route name context, watch this.  Warning: NSFW!]

In the aftermath of my first free ascent of Double Stout, prolific new-router Tod Anderson (no relation) posted on Facebook a reminder about the Vixen extension project—a line he bolted circa 2002 but never climbed. Vixen is a 5.11 slab climb on the broad apron that is the left half of the Wall of the 90s. The top of this broad slab is capped by a system of tiered roofs. A pair 5.12s from that era brave the right edge of these roofs, but Tod’s unfinished line offered a much more direct path through the difficulties.

Chris Barlow stretching through the excellent Y2K, which punches out the right end of the roof system above the Vixen slab. The Vixen Extension pierces the deep roof to Chris’ left. Photo Adam Sanders.

Chris Barlow stretching through the excellent Y2K, which punches out the right end of the roof system above the Vixen slab. The Vixen extension pierces the deep roof that appears to be directly below Chris’ chalkbag. Photo Adam Sanders.

While I was already aware of the project, Tod’s comment compelled me to slide it forward in my lengthy To-Do list. He warned the line may need additional bolts, so during one of my March recon missions I rapped the wall for a closer look. Indeed there was a long runout above the lip of the big roof, from the last lead bolt to the anchor, but the climbing looked much less difficult through this section, and frankly the distance between the bolts was pretty typical of some of the bolder “sport” routes at Smith Rock. The horizontal surfaces of the roofs were dirty—composed of typical sandy Clear Creek schist—but the rest of the stone was excellent. The line would definitely go and I was excited to give it a try.

The left half of Wall of the 90’s is a broad slab capped by a tiered roof system. The Vixen Extension attacks the center of these roofs, beginning from the triangular pod just up and left from the center of the frame. Note all the water!

The left half of Wall of the 90’s is a broad slab capped by a tiered roof system. The Vixen extension attacks the center of these roofs, beginning from the triangular pod just up and left from the center of the frame and exiting through the obvious white streaks. Note all the water!

With the Sharks Fin wrapped up, the Vixen extension was my next priority, so I headed up with my friend Lamont Smith to check it out. Ungodly amounts of spring rain had turned the Vixen slab into a waterfall, but ever-stubborn I devised a circuitous approach to the roof that climbed the first half of Pretty Woman, and then traversed 40 horizontal feet along the top of the slab to avoid most of the water. Once at the roof I was able to figure out the sequences pretty quickly, but there were a surprising number of consecutive, difficult moves. The hard climbing in Clear Creek tends to be bouldery and discontinuous—pump management is rarely a significant factor. This line on the other hand had about 30 sustained moves with no chance to rest, so I wasn’t sure how it would feel on redpoint.

Mid-way through the crux, making a big reach out to the lip of the largest roof.

The Vixen extension climbs through this roof system.  Mid-way through the crux, making a big reach out to the lip of the largest roof.

From the top of the slab, the extension begins with a three-foot roof to reach a horizontal seam in the crook of the main, 10-foot ceiling. The crux is turning the lip and getting established on the sparsely featured vertical headwall. Once on the headwall, the line veers left along a diagonaling seam feature, clearing a pair of overlaps to reach a hanging slab and the anchor. The route is “on” from the moment you leave the Vixen slab until you reach a good jug an arm’s length below the anchor.

On my next burn I climbed my hands out to the lip of the big roof, but fell when I stepped my feet onto the roof and failed to control the ensuing swing. I returned several days later with Kate and Amelie to give it another go.  The extra rehearsal made a big difference and I was able to methodically work my way out the big roof system. The climbing was quite pumpy, but after the big roof it tends to ease as you progress, keeping the pump manageable to the anchor.

The Vixen extension climbs through the big roof system.  Sustained, delicate headwall climbing just above the crux lip pull.

Sustained, delicate headwall climbing just above the crux lip pull.  The line continues heading up and left to an anchor at the top-center of the frame.

I was really excited to complete the first free ascent of this longstanding project (which I’m dubbing Harlot to go with the Vixen theme). However, I felt slightly unsatisfied by the finish. The roof system includes a third, slanted ceiling that Harlot avoids with a left-wards traverse. I have no problem with the way the line was conceived. Traditionally speaking, a free climb should follow the path of least resistance through an otherwise impregnable wall. Harlot does exactly that.

Still, to a certain extent sport climbing is about going out of our way to find challenges, and while Harlot follows the obvious line of weakness, the potential remained to create a directissima—the line a falling drop of water would follow—by heading straight up at the end to confront the final roof. This eight-foot, slanted eave appeared to have a large jug right at the lip, and it seemed likely there were enough features in the roof itself to reach it. While staring at photos on a rest day I became sufficiently convinced the directissima would go, so I gathered my bolt kit and headed up to add three bolts and an anchor.

After sending Harlot, I got to work on the direct finish. Above the crux middle roof, a tenuous, right-ward traverse leads to a pair of slanted jugs and a strenuous rest just below the final obstacle. There’s a flat 1.5-pad edge in the middle of the last roof, allowing a demanding set up for a wild, spectacular dyno to a perfectly sculpted water pocket jug right at the lip.

Moving out to the flat edge on the direct finish.

Moving out to the flat edge on the direct finish.

By now I had the first two roofs well-dialed, so on my next redpoint attempt I climbed to the lip of the middle roof with relative ease. The rightward traverse was slightly desperate with a solid pump, so I shook out for quite a while at the rest stance just below the finish. Feeling good, I worked my left hand out to the flat edge, pulled my feet up, leaned out as far as I dared to spy my target, and launched for the finishing jug. From this point, 250-feet above the river and 20-something horizontal feet out from the slab, I threw my foot up and pulled onto the big ledge just below the top of Clear Creek’s finest cliff.

Pulling over the final roof on the FA of Hellcat.

Pulling over the final roof on the FA of Hellcat.

I’m really proud of Hellcat. It’s a spectacular line packed with a lot of great, hard moves. I think its up there with Double Stout as one of the best hard lines in Clear Creek. The rock in the first roof is a bit chossy, and the approach pitch is not nearly as good as Double Stout’s, but the business is far less cruxy, making for a line that is overall much more continuous and pumpy. Hellcat is noticeably harder than Harlot, though it’s hard to say how much so after climbing them back-to-back. Though I don’t think the direct finish adds a full letter-grade of difficulty, I’m calling them .14a and .13d respectively, figuring the latter is a bit hard for the grade and the former a bit easy. Time will tell.

Topo of the twin lines.

Topo of the twin lines.

 

More New Routes and the Paradox of the First Ascent

After I finished Born on the 4th of July there were two more unclimbed lines remaining at The Bunker. The first, dubbed “Charlie Don’t Surf” by Rock Climbing Clear Creek Canyon author Kevin Capps, was one of the five lines bolted by the crag’s original clandestine developer. It was presumed to be un-sent. The other was a line I bolted at the end of last summer, the last obvious line at the crag—a directissima climbing straight up the center of the cave between Valkyrie and Full Metal Jacket.

Charlie Don’t Surf

Charlie Don’t Surf

With Born finished, my next priority was Charlie. I attempted Charlie many times over several days in June 2014. It was the route that first lured me up to The Bunker, rumored to be 5.14, and with the best rock of the legacy lines. The route is fairly short, beginning with big jugs on gradually steepening rock. There’s a steep bulge at mid-height, where a finger-tip seam emerges, running vertically, eventually flaring into a big right-facing corner. The left face of the corner is composed of brilliant quartzite, laced with incut dinner plate jugs (this is where Apoca-Lips Now! joins Charlie).

Charlie Don’t Surf is the on the left, the new addition is on the right.

Charlie Don’t Surf is the on the left, the new addition is on the right.

The climbing is probably in the 5.11 or low 5.12-range, except for the steep bulge in the middle. The rock is starkly unfeatured over this steep, 6-foot section. The obvious feature is the seam, which is flaring and slick, with rounded edges. It offers few useful fingerlocks, all of which are incredibly painful due to a sharp-edged layer of patina coating the crack walls precisely at cuticle depth. There are a few face features, but they are well-spaced.

Attempting Charlie in June 2014.

Attempting Charlie in June 2014.

I was never even close to doing the route last summer, but I felt there were just enough features that the route should go. I was no longer in top shape by that point, and conditions were on the warm side, so I decided to leave the route for a later time, when I was fit and the rock was cool. As I suspected, when I tried the route this spring, with a fresh perspective, better fitness, and crisp conditions I was able to suss a new sequence and put it together over the course of three days.  Situations like this always leave me scratching my head over the grade. I typically grade things based on the time it takes me to send, which I believe is the typical method. However, if some portion of that time is spent on a dead end, how should those days be counted?

Finishing up the brilliant quartzite panel on the first free ascent.

Finishing up the brilliant quartzite panel on the first free ascent.

The current trend seems to favor only considering the physical difficulty in the grade, ignoring any technical skill or creativity required to solve the movement puzzle (especially now that beta for everything under the sun is easily found on Youtube). First Ascensionists aside, there is no way to know who has made the effort to deduce a sequence, and who has scammed it from someone else, so how can such effort be rewarded in the grade? Yet once you pare away the skill element, all that remains to consider is the bare minimum amount of strength required to execute the moves (with perfect beta, which required no effort to attain). Free climbers have been struggling with this conundrum for decades. It explains why uber-beta-dependent crags like Smith Rock seem sandbagged, and mindless jug-hauling crags (pick one) seem soft. Regardless, it strikes me as a sad state of affairs, and I can’t help but feel like we are failing to capture an essential element of climbing difficulty. I long for the simpler, pre-internet days of John Gill, John Bachar and Jerry Moffatt:

I was trying a Bachar problem at Cap Rock one day and getting nowhere. The man shows up.

‘This is hard, John, how do you do it?’

He wouldn’t tell me.

‘What? What do you mean you won’t tell me?’

He wouldn’t tell me. Bachar reckoned he had got this trait from John Gill; never tell anyone how to do a problem. Let them figure it out, because it’s part of the problem. I kept trying different methods and getting nowhere. All the time Bachar stood there in silence, watching me flail. I couldn’t believe it. A few days later I was there again with a friend of Bachar’s, Mike Lechlinski.

‘Oh yeah,’ Mike said. ‘Bachar hooked a heel around the corner there.’

I tried it. With the heel hooked, supporting some of my weight, the holds all worked, and I soon did the problem. Later that week, I went up there again. Chris was there. He had heard me talk about the problem and had fancied a go.

‘Hi Jerry. How do you do this, I can’t quite work it out?’

‘Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, Chris.’

‘What!’

I wouldn’t tell him. What an idiot. Sorry Chris. It was the only time we fell out in six and a half months.

– Jerry Moffat, Revelations p. 62-3

I happily accept that a more difficult climbing experience is part of the first ascent process, but it doesn’t solve my practical desire to select a grade that will capture the effort required, and yet stand the test of time. So with this massive, spineless caveat, I estimate the bare minimum amount of strength required to execute the moves is typical of that required by many a short, bouldery 5.14a. Don’t expect it to feel so “easy” if the periodic seepage washes away my chalk marks and you have to suss the sequence yourself 🙂

Next I moved on to the final un-finished route in the cave. When I put in the bolts I knew it would be good. The rock is great, and I expected it would yield a hard, continuous line, perhaps in the 14a-range. After a brief slab approach, the route stems up an overhanging corner to a good ledge rest. The business begins just above, with big reaches, kneebars, a few dynos and even a handjam to clear a series of steep overlaps. After this section you get another great rest below a 12-foot, curved ceiling. The ceiling is the kinda thing I used to abhor, but now quite enjoy, requiring huge, committing moves, funky footwork and a fair bit of inverted crawling. It seems that just about every move on this route is hard enough to be interesting, and yet there are no stopper moves. Despite a number of great rests along the route, the pump builds and builds throughout, culminating in an exciting finish on slopey jugs, in a stratospheric position.

Pulling through the sustained overlap section at mid-height.

Pulling through the sustained overlap section at mid-height.

On my first attempt I sussed all the sequences fairly quickly, which left me a bit disappointed. This is the grand paradox of the first ascensionist. When attempting to climb an existing route, the grade is essentially a fixed quantity. When you begin the project, you typically have an idea of how long the campaign should take, based on your past experience with routes of the same grade. If you send more quickly than you expected, you feel like a rock star, with the satisfying feeling that you must have improved recently, and are now a better climber than you realized. If the send takes more time than expected, you wallow in self-pity over your pathetic skill and fitness 🙂 Most grade-chasers (myself included) are constantly developing and re-enforcing this ego-gratifying mindset, which encourages us to pull out all the stops to send things as quickly as possible.

The first ascent situation is completely reversed. You have no (legitimate) preconception of the grade when you begin the campaign. It is totally undefined, and as discussed earlier, will be determined largely based on the amount of time required to send. The longer it takes to send, the better justification you have for proposing a high grade. So if you want the route to be hard, the longer it takes, the better.

Sticking a long dyno near the start.

Sticking a long dyno near the start.

This is a major advantage of new-routing. If your underlying desire is to constantly improve, then you should seek challenges, and revel in encountering them, but the standard route-repeating mindset is at odds with this attitude. When trying to repeat routes as quickly as possible, if you encounter a route that is more challenging than anticipated, you are often disappointed when you realize the route will take more time and effort than expected (possibly impacting other plans for the season). That mild disappointment is harmful enough, but it gets worse. Occasionally we go way out of our way to select routes we expect to be less challenging because we want to increase the odds of an ego-pleasing quick send. So while we should be seeking challenges, we sometimes make it a point to avoid them.

Beginning the final obstacle, a 12-foot concave belly-shaped roof.

Beginning the final obstacle, a 12-foot concave belly-shaped roof.

Conversely, when I’m doing a new route, with no grade attached or pre-conceived notion of how long the effort should take, I’m genuinely happy to find the route is more challenging than expected. “A hard route is good to find”, I frequently remind myself. It’s a much more constructive approach to the redpoint process, but it has the potential to inspire less than optimal effort towards completing the first ascent, assuming you want your first ascents to have relatively “hard” grades, which I certainly do (for example, one might drag their feet during the redpoint process so they can later say, “this took X days, therefore it must be at least Y grade”).

The Zen-Climber would not care what the grade ends up being. He would make an honest effort throughout the process, and let the grade take care of itself. But we all know certain grades are just plain better than others. The local 12a gets way more traffic than the 11d next door. And so it goes for 12d/13a and 13d/14a. All first ascensionists want their routes to be popular, and it’s a simple fact that the d’s don’t get the same attention as the a’s. I surely make too much of this distinction, but once you’ve put up enough 13d’s it becomes hard to ignore.

Groping for better holds near the top of the cave.

Groping for better holds near the top of Fury.

I can’t claim to be a Zen climber, but I will say that the ego-gratifying, send-as-fast-as-possible mentality has been so firmly pounded into my skull that I couldn’t “throw” a redpoint attempt if I wanted to. Once I’m on the sharp end, a different Hulk-Mark takes over and my conscious self is just along for the spectacular view. So for better or worse, I sent Fury on my second go (over two days), resulting in what could not be fairly called any harder than 13d (and may end up at ‘c’), no matter how badly I wanted it to be 5.14a.

Despite this mild (and undeniably shallow) disappointment over the grade, I was completely stoked on Fury’s quality. It’s a mega line, long and sustained, with heaps of interesting movement, great rock, and a peerless position. It’s a great addition to the canyon—easily one of the best 5.13+’s—and one of the best lines I’ve discovered.

Topo of The Bunker with “my“ routes highlighted in yellow.

Topo of The Bunker with “my“ routes highlighted in yellow.

 

Lander Days

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it's always temporary.

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it’s always temporary.

The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!

Lucas's favorite time of the day...heading home!

Lucas’s favorite time of the day…heading home!

When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris. I think there are only a few crags in the US that are suitable for honest-to-goodness training on rock, and Wild Iris is one of them, when it comes to Power (The Red is great for endurance training). Also, early in your season, it’s a great idea to get some easier (for you) routes under your belt to get the rust off, and build confidence going into more difficult projects. To that end, I picked out a couple 13+ routes to try to tick off quickly. The first was Adi-Goddang-Yos, a short, powerful 13c at Rising from the Planes wall, made famous in Eric Perlman’s epic film, Masters of Stone. A hold had broken since the filming, but the route had been re-climbed at least twice since then, at a slightly harder grade. It now requires a pull off a small crimp (my specialty 🙂 ), followed by a very powerful undercling move. I was fortunate to send on my second burn, and was able to play around on some harder routes for the future.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Terifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Tarifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

My next climbing day, I targeted White Buffalo, a short crimping test-piece on a 30 foot boulder in the campground. You probably remember Mark’s account of this route from last fall: Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

I had been intrigued by this line for years (as I’m sure everyone who’s ever camped at the Iris is too), and finally had the opportunity to try it with the right fitness and good weather. We got an 0500 start in Lander to ensure good conditions, and an opportunity to get a couple burns before the sun warmed the face too much (it gets morning sun).

The day before I had just watched BJ Tilden trying his latest sick project at Wolf Point (see below). It was incredibly inspiring. He hasn’t sent yet, but on that attempt you could tell he was really going for it 100% on every move, even though the moves were really risky, low-percentage dynos to small one and two-finger pockets. There were probably five separate occasions when the crowd was sure he was falling, but he hung on and kept moving! It was quite an example.

BJ Tilden on his super-sick Wolf Point project. This think might be 9a+!

I think we all aspire to “climb like Sharma”, really going for it on every move, no matter how desparate.  Sometimes we pull this off in the gym, but for whatever reason many of us seem to hold back when we’re on rock.  Perhaps its the sharpness of the rock, fear of incurring a skin injury (or a real injury), or just fear of falling or failing.  Further complicating this is that certain types of climbing, like long enduro routes or technical on sights, punish over-gripping, and so foster a “don’t try too hard” mentality that can be difficult to overcome when we switch climbing styles.  While the RCTM advocates a “Smarter, not Harder” approach, we all need to remember that often the great climbers are great because they really do try harder than everyone else.  Just trying hard in the moment of the redpoint will not make the difference between climbing 13d and 14d, but all the opportunities along the way, over many, many years, of trying just a little bit harder in the gym, on the campus board, every time you’re on the rock, can eventually add up to that difference.  While Mark and I are not always brawlers on the rock, we are in the gym, and we try extremely hard in training, day-in, day-out, which is one of the reasons we’ve had success with our training.  And though we aren’t at BJ’s level, when the moment is right, we are able to whip out some pretty concerted efforts on a rope every now and then (just yesterday I belayed Mark on the send of his newest Clear Creak 5.14, and it was pretty cool to see him dynoing five times in a row, between insecure holds, eight feet above the last bolt, especially since I was around in the early days when he was much more timid).

So, when I got to White Buffalo, which has some painful and powerful crimp moves, I channeled my inner-BJ…I wasn’t going to pace myself, just give 100% effort on every move, ignore the pain, or thoughts of failure and just try like hell! It worked, and I sent on my second go. It’s the first 13d-in-a-day I’ve done, and my first 2nd try. I’ve done a few in 3 tries, so this was a minor break through. More importantly, I had some confidence to head into some harder projects.

I’ll let my photos do most of the rest of the talking….

America's latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point.  This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months.  Finally made it!

America’s latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point. This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months. Finally made it!

I decided to try a beautiful 14a that BJ had put up called King Thing. It’s a commanding line, on a flawless sweep of limestone up the center of the cave. The moves are outstanding, without a stopper crux, but no opportunity to shake in the first 50 feet or so. You can watch BJ climbing it at about the 48 min point of this film, Wind and Rattlesnakes.

 

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

One of the best parts of the trip was making a couple new friends. First was Rob Jensen, shown below. It turns out, I grew up about 45 minutes from him (he’s from Springfield, Oregon), and we lived in Colorado at similar times, yet I’d never met him. He is also another proud owner of an Ascent Rock mechanized climbing wall, so we had much to talk about. He is a pillar of the Las Vegas climbing community, and hosts numerous climbers in his “garage” for epic training sessions.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing "Dominant Species" 5.11d.  That's Red Canyon in the background.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing “Dominant Species” 5.11d. That’s Red Canyon in the background.

I also met and climbed with Kyle Vassilopous. He moved to Lander last year from Bozeman, MT, and he is super-psyched to put up new routes. He was a pleasure to climb with because he is extremely psyched, and didn’t balk at my desire to start early for good temps!

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Dr Tom Rangitsch has been the driving force behind new route development in Lander the last few years. He’s hiked more cliffline than anyone in town and discovered lots of new crags. He put up many of the best routes at Wolf Point, including this new addition, Full Moon, 5.13b, a 40 meter pitch that overhangs about 6 meters over the length. It started as a 30 meter 12c called Bark at the Moon, and this is an extension to that route. The first anchor is at the first draw visible in the photo. In this picture, he’s at the crux of the extension which is a really cool sequence on small crimps. I was lucky to get to belay him on the FA, then he belayed me a couple days later when I tried it. I wanted to go for an on-sight, and Tom did a great job of biting his lip as I flubbed the beta…luckily I was able to recover, and made the first on-sight of the route. It’s a great route Tom, thanks for the hard work!!!

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Thanks everyone for the hospitality, we’ll be back soon to finish off our projects!

Focus

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

Although the constant need to cultivate & sustain focus can be draining, repeatedly going through your process can help “hone your instrument” so to speak, making it much easier to manifest that vital focus when it comes time to perform on the rock.  Everyone will have a slightly different process for getting into the proper “zone”, and many climbers have different ideas on what that zone should look like.  For example, some folks prefer complete silence while others want their mates shouting encouragement.  When I’m in my “zone” I don’t hear anything at all, so you might as well save your breath 🙂

Below are some strategies you can try, some geared more towards training activities, and others more towards performance:

1. Eliminate any external distractions.  This may take some foresight, a bit of planning, and perhaps a significant amount of negotiation.  If you expect to get good results out of a training session, you can’t be answering phone calls between sets.  The rest period between sets is meant for resting.  There is no extra time built in for doing chores.  Spend your rest time analyzing the previous set, making notes in your training log, shaking, chalking and otherwise preparing for the next set–physically AND mentally.  Here are some things I do to facilitate this:

– Set up a block of time when family, etc will leave you alone.  Discuss this with significant others ahead of time and provide a weekly or monthly schedule if necessary so they can plan around your obsessive/compulsive behavior 🙂

– Isolate yourself from others (if needed).  Some training partners can be a great aid, others just want to gossip.  My wife understands that it’s best for everyone if I’m left alone during timed workouts, but I enjoy company for less rigid workouts like Limit Bouldering

– Turn off/unplug phones, laptops, etc.

– Select appropriate music.  Music can be a powerful aid for cultivating the right mood, which is key to achieving the proper state of arousal.  I prefer Heavy Metal for hangboarding, and Hip-Hop (we used to call it “Rap” when I was a boy) for bouldering/campusing.  Avoid radio, or other sources of noise that you can’t control.  Especially avoid things that will make you laugh, as this can completely ruin a workout.  A few years back I was listening to sports radio while hangboarding when Dan Patrick told a story about his child’s field trip to a local zoo.  This was just after “March of the Penguins” came out.  At one point one of the children disappeared, only to re-appear a while later drenched from head-to-toe.  It turned out this child had jumped into the penguin tank, kidnapped a penguin, and stashed it in his backpack.  The image of this soaking wet child with a stowaway penguin strapped to his back kept popping into my head during hangboard sets.  You can’t squeeze hard while laughing, and so several sets were essentially wasted.  As John Cusack said in Hi Fidelity “I just want something I can ignore” (at 1:21 in the clip below).

2. Keep mental reminders at hand.  During training, it can be extremely helpful to keep the ultimate goal in mind, to remind yourself why you are enduring this discomfort.  In addition, more specific mental cues can be equally helpful while progressing through the individual steps of your routine.  Here are some examples:

– Make permanent notes in your training plan log sheet.   These can be anything from “tape Middle finger base here” to “Remember to squeeze on this set” to “Breathe!”

– Place photos, posters, inspirational messages, etc near your training apparatus.  You may find your eyes wander during monotonous activities like hangboarding, so give them something to look at that will help direct your attention back to the task at hand. For example, friend of the show Jonathan Siegrist used a sharpie to write “Try Hard!” in the center of his hangboard.  I like to post photos of the routes I’m training for.  I have some behind my hangboard and some in the Lazy H.

– Post a list of personal bests near the apparatus.  Although the ultimate goal may be weeks, months, or even years away, give yourself something to strive for in the here and now.

– Make notes on keys to your project.  This can be anything from one or two key points, to several pages of blow-by-blow beta for an entire route.  Keep in mind that endless detailed descriptions can be overwhelming at the moment of truth, so try to come up with no more than a handful of the most critical reminders, such as where and when to shift your hips when executing the crux dyno, details on how to grasp an irregular hold in the crux, or reminders to relax in certain sections or get “aggro” for others.

– Remind yourself of good habits.  Concepts like remaining calm, breathing deeply & continuously, and trusting your beta are universal to all routes.  Keep this in your mind and repeat them to yourself like a mantra while you climb.

– Utilize verbal cues.  If you find your mind drifting, be ready with verbal cues, which can help jar your attention back to your current activity.  These can be as ridiculous as “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na- CLIMBING!” (sung to the tune of the Batman theme), or something more specific such as repeating the name of your upcoming project or long-term goal.

 

3. Control your breathing.  As The Rock Warrior’s Way points out, breathing is the key to the mind-body connection, in that it is a subconscious activity that can be controlled consciously.  Utilize this link to keep your mind calm and attentive and your body relaxed and supple:

– Start your huffing and puffing before you start the training activity or performance.  Its much easier to maintain a good breathing routine once you’ve  already started, not to mention that it can help to start a strenuous activity with fully oxygenated blood.  I also find that starting this rhythmic breathing while I’m booting up helps to calm my nerves and send a signal to my belayer that I’m getting into my zone.

Rest points provide a good opportunity to re-enforce mental cues.  Think about your planned performance through the ensuing section, in terms of movement beta (“shift hips left before reaching for right-hand gaston”) as well as your mentality (“trust the beta and breathe!”).

– Re-establish a good rhythm.  Whenever you get to a rest point, a clipping stance, or while chalking up, note your breathing pattern, take a few full deep breaths, and try to maintain it.  You can practice this using the “Finding Calm” drill described on page 63 of the RCTM.

– Focus on breathing during your training.  Often while climbing difficult sequences good breathing habits are the first thing to go.  This is understandable since the mind is pre-occupied with route-finding and other critical activities.  This is often not the case while training, where movements are simple/non-existant or well-rehearsed, so use these opportunities to force yourself to breath properly under severe strain.  Hangboarding is perfect for this, but so are Supplemental Exercises, Linked Bouldering Circuits, and Route Interval where you are climbing relatively simplistic terrain that you have dialed.

4. Establish a routine.  Hopefully by now you have a reliable process that you can count on to get yourself into your “zone” when needed.  If not, observe some of your local heroes and adopt some of their behaviours.  Once you’ve figured out what works, practice it in your daily training and out on the rocks.  Most things improve with practice.  Here are some things that help me get into my zone:

– Do things in a consistent order.  The order is somewhat arbitrary, but try to keep it consistent, and try to get deeper and deeper into your zone with each step.  For example, when I show up at the crag, I usually like to drop my pack, then run over to my project to re-assure myself that it’s still there.  Half joking, but seriously I want to know that my draws are still on it, figure out if there are other suitors I will have to coordinate with, make sure no key holds are wet, etc.  Although I can’t control any of these things, having the information as soon as possible allows me to plan around any inconveniences.  If I know the draws aren’t fixed, I can incorporate a dogging burn to hang the draws into my warmup.  If the route is wet, maybe I can delay the start of my warmup to coincide with a likely time when the route will be dry.  This simple ritual helps me relax once I arrive at the crag, and allows me to focus completely on my warmup, rather than worrying about some catastrophe I can’t control.  Once I’m warmed up, I like to migrate to my project well in advance, providing plenty of time to get ready to go.  The first thing I do is verify the draws are in place, then I stick clip the first bolt if “necessary”, then I tape up if necessary, tie in, sip some water, discuss my strategy with my belayer, and then I start putting my shoes on.  I’m chalking up throughout these steps, but one finally dip and wipe is always the last step.

– While performing on rock, identify a point during your preparation where you stop the chit-chat with your belayer or other bystanders.  For me, once I start to put my climbing shoes on I’m in game-face mode.  If I have pointers on where I want the belayer to stand, direct the rope, etc, I discuss those before my hiking shoes come off.

The process of booting up provides a good opportunity to transition from recreation mode to performance mode.

–For timed training sets, get a feel for how soon before the start of the next set you need to arrive at the apparatus, chalking up, etc.  For hangboarding and LBC’s or other timed intervals, I prefer to never leave my zone once the workout starts, but if I get pulled out, I want to be back to focusing on the ensuing effort at least 60 seconds before the set starts.

5. Keep your eyes “caged”.  Vision can dictate where your mind is at, so try to keep your eyes focused on things that will re-enforce your mental focus.

– While training, stare at your fingers, the timer, the next hold, or a motivational photo; whatever you find most effective at keeping your train of thought on the current set (i.e. not at the cute blonde in the sports bra).  Same goes for rest intervals–don’t go gazing out a nearby window or flipping through your iPhone.  Focus on your training log, your apparatus, and any mental cues you have available.

–Limit your depth perception.  This trick may take some practice, but it can be very helpful.  Particularly while performing on rock, try to see no more than 5 or 10′ ahead, unless at a rest, but even then keep your eyes on the route and only on the route.  Often during a redpoint or onsight ascent, we are anxious about a looming roof or other distinct crux.  Obsessing over that point won’t help you fire the slab 30′ below it.  Keep your eyes focused on the climbing immediately in front of you.  Obviously on an onsight you need to plan ahead somewhat, but generally long-range planning should be done from the ground or from a good rest stance.

– Don’t look down!  A bit facetious, but seriously, the only thing you need to see when looking down is your last piece of solid pro and an attentive belayer.  Everything else is a distraction waiting to happen.  Granted, it may be prudent to down-climb during a challenging onsight, but at that point the way up is down.  Focus on the task at hand: the series of moves immediately in front of you.  I attribute this tactic to my earlier success as Big-Wall Free Climber.  To this day I have few recollections of the view down El Cap, but many memories of the view up.  Teach yourself to ignore things that aren’t relevant.  5.12 is 5.12, whether you are 80′ off the deck or 800′.  And the ground is just as deadly either way, so there is no need to waste attention on the added exposure.  There will be plenty of time to admire the view from the summit.

6. Be your own CheerLEADER.  You know your belayer is just dying to shout at you while you climb, so give them something to shout–something specific that YOU will find helpful.  When you’re outside, get your belayer involved, or call upon the peanut gallery to re-enforce key points during the effort.  Same goes for a training partner or partners during training activities.  Some recommend cheers include:

– Any specific, subtle crux beta that you are inclined to forget (i.e. “One – Two – Three – Four, flag that leg or you’ll barndoor”, but less lame)

– Reminders to breath at points where you are inclined to stop breathing (cruxes, dynos, awkward sections, or core-intensive sequences)

– Re-assurances like “You can do this!” or “You got this!”  Avoid diminishing the objective with comments like “This rig is easy”/”you should be able to hike this thing”.  Presumably its a challenge for you, and that’s why you chose it.  It will be hard, and you should be prepared to try hard during your ascent.

– Encouragement to try hard during stopper sequences: “Allez” if you’ve been to Europe and you want everyone else at the crag to know it (otherwise “Go for it”, or “come on” works almost as well) 🙂

– Finally, if you find such things distracting, ask the gallery for silence before your start, or ask your belayer to ask them once you’re in the zone.

If you have any tips or tricks of your own for cultivating focus, please share them in a comment below!

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

Meet the Team

Featured Events

There are currently no upcoming events.

All Events

Partners

The American Alpine Club American Mountain Guides Association Access Fund Leave No Trace - lnt.org

Archives

Authors

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail
eGrips Tenaya Fast Rope Descender

© Trango - All Rights Reserved