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40 Climbing Lessons

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applying the proper intensity during a hangboard session.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Nick Clement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sea bugs are a great source of lean protein.

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

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

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

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

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

Belief is essential!

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing in France – Baume Rousse

by Mark Anderson

World class tufa climbing at Baume Rousse, France. Photo Logan Anderson.

As mentioned in the last post, it rained heavily during the first part of our trip, so for our second climbing day we picked a crag called Baume Rousse, somewhat sheltered in a natural cirque, and close to our home base of Buis-les Baronnies. Before getting into the climbing, Buis deserves a short description. This village of about 2500 people is nestled in an incredible valley, surrounded by impressive peaks and limestone cliffbands. There are three extensive limestone sport crags within walking distance of town (Baume Rousse, Ubrieux, and St. Julien), and another five or so within a 30 minute drive. There’s literally a lifetime of climbing opportunities with an hour’s drive.

Buis-les-Baronnies from Baume Rousse, with the limestone fin of St. Julien just above town, and the snow-capped Mount Ventoux in the background. St Leger is nestled in between Ventoux and the next ridge behind St. Julien, about a 25-minute drive from Buis.

The piercing limestone fin of St. Julien dominates the skyline above Buis-les-Baronnies. The crag features ~100 routes, including many multi-pitch lines and a network of via Ferrata.

A pair of climbers low on St. Julien (in yellow and blue, near the bottom of the cliff, in the center of the frame, at the same height as the tallest tree).

Baume Rousse is a smaller crag with only about 100 routes, but the hardest of those routes climb some of the most amazing tufas I’ve ever seen! Besides its amazing orange & black streaked limestone, Baume Rousse is unusual because it was developed in order to host a climbing comp in the 1990’s (fortunately the rock was not chipped to engineer the comp routes like at some other outdoor comps of the era).

The view towards Buis from the base of St Julien. The V-shaped diagonal limestone ridge behind the village is the crag Ubrieux (which we did not visit). The limestone cirque of Baume Rousse is visible just beyond the ridge, directly above the center of the “V.”

The left half of the Baume Rousse cirque.

Looking straight up at the tufa curtains on the back wall of Baume Rousse.

By far the best route I did on the trip was an 8a called Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit (Google doesn’t seem to know what “Rigpa” means, but the rest of it has something to do with “the nature of the mind”). The route follows a phenomenal tufa fin which juts out from the wall as much as 16” but is never more than 2” thick. It’s a classic pumpfest, maybe 15 degrees overhanging, with strategic exotic rests. The tufas fade near the top, requiring some big reaches between features.

Rigpa ou la Nature de l’esprit. Photo Logan Anderson.

Nearing the crux on Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Another pic of Rigpa. Photo Logan Anderson

Just to the right of Rigpa is another tufa-laden 8a. I tried that line next, but just as I finished it started raining heavily. Thanks to strong swirling winds we found the little cirque was not quite as sheltered as we hoped, so we decided to pack it in for the day. The entire back wall of the cirque is covered in awesome tufas curtains, and if I had one more (dry) day in Buis, I would head straight to Baume Rousse to try more of these amazing climbs.

Amelie enjoying the best rope swing of the trip

One of the highlights of the trip for me (and I think Logan as well) was a short, entry-level via Ferrata I did with him at the base of St. Julien. Like most things at this age, it took a bit of prodding to get him interested, but once we got started he was instantly stoked. I think the pictures illustrate best how much fun we had. Before we were finished he started campaigning to do another, harder, higher via ferrata, and he kept bringing it up throughout the rest of the trip. Unfortunately these are engineered with a certain minimum height in mind, and there wasn’t another one around that was suitable for 6-year-olds.

Starting up the first few iron rungs of the via ferrata. The look of half fear/half excitement in Logan’s eyes says it all.

 

Still not clear if he’s happy or terrified. I think just really excited. I learned later that I was supposed to hook the rope through the metal hook-thing above Logan’s head as a directional. (St. Julien in the background.)

This particular route was designed specifically with kids in mind, more like a vertical park than a mountaineering objective, with closely spaced steps and a number of fun “obstacles” to look forward to (including a suspension bridge, “monkey bridge,” cargo net, and balance beam). It even climbs through a natural stone arch. It was super fun, even for jaded me. It really made me wish we had more via ferrata in the US; it’s a great way to introduce beginners to the mountains and creates no more impact than the typical hiking trail.  It’s pretty awesome the way the local European communities embrace climbing, marketing it as an attraction and encouraging participation.  There was a huge kiosk in the center of Buis describing in detail all the via ferrata, how to reach them, what equipment was needed and so on.

The suspension bridge.

So-called Monkey Bridge.

Climbing through the arch.

The cargo net, with Buis, etc in the background.

Castle of the day – Logan playing with a Trebuchet at Chateaux des Baux.

Climbing in France – St Leger

by Mark Anderson

My family and I just returned from a two-week trip to France and Italy. In addition to sightseeing and eating (my favorite pastime), we visited four distinct climbing areas in Southern France and the Italian Riviera. All of these crags are relatively unknown to Americans, but would be renowned destinations if they were in North America.

The first crag we visited, and the one I expected to be the best, is called St. Leger. It’s a fairly long limestone gorge at the very base of the north slope of Mt. Ventoux. Mt. Ventoux, aka “the Giant of Provence”, is a legendary peak for cycling nerds like me. Fans of the Tour de France will recall many famous ascents of Ventoux, especially Chris Froome’s whacky bicycle-free ascent in last year’s Tour.

Pinching my way up the St Leger tufa classic, La Farce Tranquille. Photo: Logan Anderson

We picked St. Leger because I’d heard it was a relatively new crag, relatively untraveled (compared to other crags in the vicinity like Ceuse and Buoux), and so might be less polished. The crag is basically one long cliffband that seems to go forever, sorta like Sinks in Wyoming, but with about 400 routes. The first thing we noticed was bulging caves covered in amazing tufas. The routes at Leger tend to be long pumpfests. Most of the walls are vertical to slightly overhanging, with a few caves thrown in (most of the cave routes seem to be in the 8c/+ range). The climbing seems to get better the harder the routes get, with most of the tufas following steep cave lines in the mid-to-high 8’s. We definitely struggled to find worthwhile routes in the 5.10/11 range, but I did quite a few excellent 5.12s, and the 5.13s were stellar.

Piedra Salvage, Le Ceil du Loup, Le Voleur de Pesanteur, and La Farce Tranquille sectors of St Leger. This pic was taken on our 2nd day at St Leger—note all the black streaks!

The first day we started at a crag called Le Voleur de Pesanteur, which has a number of great warmups, and is also adjacent to one of the best looking steep sectors, “La Farce Tranquille.” Once I was warm I jumped on a pair of adjacent 8a’s that climb up a smooth, steep pillar that splits the cave ( the broad tan pillar just right of center in the above pic). Both of these lines (Barbule and La Farce Tranquille) featured some amazing, pumpy tufa climbing with weird kneebars, exotic stems, and lots of pinching.

Starting up the sweeping wave of limestone on Barbule.  Photo Logan Anderson.

Tufa wrangling on Barbule, 8a, St. Leger. Photo Logan Anderson.

Later in the day I scrapped my way up Le Voleur de Pesanteur (“The Thief of Gravity” according to Google Translate) a devious 7c on the sector of the same name. It was one of my favorite routes of the trip. This line featured a series of subtle tufas, with nice pockets and edges just where you needed them.

Kate climbing the classic “Piedra Salvage, 6b+” on our wet day. Note the (relatively for Europe) fractured rock.

Overall the tufa climbing at St Leger was awesome. I would highly recommend any of the tufa routes I climbed. However, I was not really impressed by the tufa-less routes. It rained heavily on the second and third days of our trip, and when we returned to St Leger a few days later we found all the tufas were still soaking wet black streaks. There were plenty of dry routes to choose from, but the rock on these routes is heavily fractured. The climbing was still good, but not worth traveling across oceans for. In dry conditions the crag was stellar, and had it not rained we likely would have spent more time here. As advertised, the rock was not polished and we never saw more than 8 other climbers at the crag. It’s definitely a hidden gem, but best in dry conditions and probably better suited to climbing in the higher grades.

Castle of the day – Souze la Rousse, about an hour west of St Leger. This pic is our impression of every Black Sabbath album cover ever.

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.

Aftermath

by Mark Anderson

Fall 2016 probably would have won the title “Best Season Ever” even if it ended after the third day (the day I finished off my year-long bout with Shadowboxing). After that send I spent a night celebrating, which for me entails eating a bunch of food I normally wouldn’t, in this case a greasy double cheeseburger, fries, chocolate shake, onion rings, several donuts…(you get the idea).

High on my new jughaul Aftermathematics, 5.12a, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

High on my new jughaul Aftermathematics, 5.12a, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Normally after a big send, and especially after a landmark send such as that one, I’m content to quit for the season, or at least dial back the intensity significantly. Actually, I often find it very difficult to climb at a high level successfully in the aftermath of a big send.  This is most likely because it’s hard to mentally re-engage with another challenging goal after experiencing the euphoria, relief, and letdown of completing a major goal. But I had trained incredibly hard for this season, in anticipation of another extended battle. To give up my hard earned fitness and slim physique after only three climbing days seemed foolish.

So while I was itching to let myself go, scarf up my “9a Cookie” in one sitting and follow it up with a dozen Krispy Kremes, I felt like I owed it to myself to at least try to eke a few more results out of my new climbing level. Thanks to my late-2015 bolting frenzy I had a long list of potential projects to choose from.

About a week after sending Shadowboxing, this "9a Cookie" (complete with boxing gloves) showed up at my house, courtesy of my friends at Trango. Trango has meant a lot more to me than just free gear, and I really could not have made it to this level without their support and motivation.

About a week after sending Shadowboxing, this “9a Cookie” (complete with boxing gloves) showed up at my house, courtesy of my friends at Trango. Trango has meant a lot more to me than just free gear, and I really could not have made it to this level without their support and motivation.

One such line is perched high on Clear Creek’s Wall of the 90s. When I was working the twin roof-climbs Harlot and Hellcat, I was regularly distracted by an attractive swath of molasses stone heading up the extreme left end of the large roof system on the north end of the cliff. This looked to be the “last great roof problem” at the Wall of the 90s (which was already home to four roof routes in the 13d -14b range). I imagined the line would climb easily out to the lip of the roof along an incut flake, and then follow a series of small crimps up the slightly overhanging headwall.  I bolted the line in November 2015, as soon as I heard that new bolting restrictions would go into effect for 2016.

As steep lines go, it was impossible to inspect the rock in the roof without bolting my way down to it. When I arrived at the roof I found the flake I was counting on to support my body-weight was barely stable enough to support itself.  Once it was cleaned, there was no clear path out the roof.  But, since I had already bolted 90% of the route, I decided I might as well finish the bolt job and hope I could find another free sequence.

The Wall of the 90s' "last great roof problem" climbs out to the swath of dark brown stone ten feet left of Harlot.

Attemptiong the Wall of the 90s’ “last great roof problem,” which climbs out to the swath of dark brown stone ten feet left of Harlot.  Photo Mark Dixon.

So I wasn’t exactly optimistic when I returned to investigate the possibilities. I climbed up into the roof, and spent about 30 minutes dangling and groping for options. When I arrived back on the ground, convinced the line would not go, I started brainstorming ways to salvage the rest of the day. Perhaps I could try to onsight something, or try another open project at a nearby cliff….

Kate’s much more logical in these situations. She realizes if I were to bail after one go, I’d just end up dragging her back out there another day to try it again. And she remembers the countless times I’d lowered off a route after one try, dismayed and convinced it would not go, only to discover the solution on my second time up (in fact, that happened once on this very cliff, during my first day on Double Stout). Unable to deny her wisdom, I headed back up one more time.

Of course, the second time I found hope. I wasn’t able to do all the moves, but I could imagine how they would go, and figured I would be able to do them. The remains of the loose flake offered a couple decent underclings, from which I could make a huge reach to a sloping, 1-pad, three-finger edge just over the lip. The problem with such a reach is that it leaves you over-extended, from which it’s hard to do much of anything, but with the right toe-hooking and core tension I figured I could match near the lip, and then theoretically dyno higher to another good edge.

Reaching up to undercling the remains of the big flake. After matching the undercling, you have to make a huge reach to a 3-finger edge along the crescent shaped rail near the bottom of the lime streak.

Reaching up to undercling the remains of the big flake. After matching the undercling, you have to make a huge reach to a 3-finger edge along the crescent shaped rail near the bottom of the lime streak.

Two weeks later I made it back to the project, and this time I did the move. Once out of about 10 tries. Not super encouraging, but at least I knew now that I could do it, eventually. The rest of the route was getting much easier, and at least the crux was only a few moves in. I wasn’t able to return again until the end of October, and so I assumed I wouldn’t have the power to do the crux anymore, but I wanted to find out for sure before moving on to less bouldery projects.

My first go of the day I managed to stick the crux dyno after only a couple of tries. Anytime you’re throwing and catching all your body weight on small holds, there’s a chance of destroying your skin. I think when I had tried the move earlier in the season, I was reluctant to really commit 100% to latching the target hold, for fear of wrecking my skin. But now, nearing the end of a long season, I had little to lose, and found myself squeezing much harder on the latch.

After a short break I roped up again. I had more trouble than usual getting to the lip of the roof. These moves require my maximum strength, and doing them even a few times can take quite a bit out of me. I had to lunge the last few inches to the three-finger edge, a move I did statically on my first go. As I worked my feet into position for the throw, I could feel my hand slowing opening up on the three-finger edge. “Now or never,” I thought, unleashing myself outward and upward over the lip. I nailed the hold and somehow controlled the violent recoil of my lower body. I threw a foot up, slapped up onto the hanging upper panel, and cruised up incut crimps to the anchor.

Cranking between incut crimps on the pumpy, slightly overhanging headwall.

Cranking between incut crimps on the pumpy, slightly overhanging headwall.

I named the route “Seven Minute Abs” for its core-intensive crux. I reckon this is the hardest of my roof climb first ascents.  The crux move is much harder than the crux move on any of my other roof routes, but the climbing is quite a bit less sustained than on the others.  I put it at the low end of 5.14b, but with a relatively intense, reachy crux that makes for sketchy grading.  I find it bizarrely ironic that I’ve evolved into a roof-climbing connoisseur. I really don’t care for that type of climbing at all, nor do I consider myself in the least bit good at it, but when you want to do new routes in a place that’s thoroughly picked over, you have to work with the rock that’s left over. Clearly nobody else likes hard roof climbing either, since so many “good” roof routes have been left for me to claim.  I am grateful for that.

With my hard projects wrapped up, I was free to try easier routes (and eat donuts). I was particularly psyched to check out some routes at a steeply overhanging wall in Clear Creek called Aftermath that I bolted in December 2015, but hadn’t yet had the chance to climb.

aftermath-topo1The rock is relatively fractured, resulting in tons of jugs, jutting overhangs, and a relatively adventurous flavor (for sportclimbing). Overhanging jughauls are unusual for the Front Range, so I hoped the climbing would make up for the marginal rock quality. I headed  up there a few weeks ago with my friend Boer to check out the routes. We were lucky to have Nick Zepeda along to shoot the flattering photos you see here. Check out more of his gorgeous climbing shots on his website, https://zepedaphotography.carbonmade.com/

Just after topping out the crux mantle of Aftermathematics, 5.12a. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Just after topping out the crux mantle of Aftermathematics, 5.12a. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

Certainly the crag won’t appeal to everyone, but those who don’t mind a bit of an adventure are in for some really fun, exposed climbs at relatively modest grades. The crag has five lines, ranging from 5.11+ to 5.12+. There are three routes climbing out the largest overhang, and all of these climb almost entirely on full-hand jugs. Boer and I thoroughly enjoyed the climbing, so much so that I climbed “Strapped with Lats” twice, just for fun.

The first ascent of Strapped with Lats, 5.12c, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

The first ascent of Strapped with Lats, 5.12c, at Aftermath. Photo Nicholas Zepeda.

This was by far the most successful season of my climbing career. All told I sent my hardest route ever, and still had time and psych left over to complete more than ten first ascents between Clear Creek and Shelf Road (including two 14b’s, a 14a and three 5.13’s). For the first time in a couple years I found myself wanting to extend my climbing season rather than jump back in the barn to train for the next one. I’m a bit bummed it has to end, but I have plenty to get stoked (and strong) for this coming winter.

Training for 9a – Preface

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadowboxing.

Shadowboxing.

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

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

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

A looong way to go....

A looong way to go….   Photo Mike Anderson

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

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

New Anderson Brothers Podcast

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

Mike crushing at the Schleierwasserfall

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

Be sure to follow us on Instagram at @Rock_Climbers_Training_Manual

 

Mark Anderson Sends Shadowboxing, 5.14d

by Mark Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below Shadowboxing after the send. Photo Shaun Corpron.

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

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

Insurrection!

By Mike Anderson

As I said in my last article (Spring, Sprain, Summer, Send?), I’m having somewhat of a “Cinderella Season”…with things just clicking despite some minor adversity. As I bragged in that post, I sent one of my “life list” routes, Grand ‘Ol Opry (5.14c) at the Monastery. It went faster than I expected, leaving me with just under three weeks of “bonus climbing” before our big trip to Europe…what to do…in Colorado…in the summer?

We tried Wild Iris on the first weekend, and found it too hot, so instead, we opted for Independence Pass…maybe the coolest (coldest) climbing in Colorado.

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Mike showing off after sending “Before there were Nine”, 13d at Indy Pass, back in July 2012.

 

Waaaay back in 2012, I worked and sent Tommy Caldwell’s route Before there were Nine (not his name, as far as I know). While I was working the route, Mark visited and we spotted a “futuristic” (for us) line of holds in the middle of the Grotto Wall that we were sure could hold a route.  I was living in Florida at the time, and the proposed route was out of my reach, literally and figuratively.

Mark returned, however, and bolted the line in the Fall of 2013, and sent it just over two years ago, establishing, Insurrection, 5.14c and the hardest route on Independence Pass. He described his epic send in this article from May, 2014. I always wished we could have worked the line together, but, as I said, it was beyond me, and I’m glad he got the First Ascent.

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Mark Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c, back in May 2014. Stretching for the sloping edge at the end of the redpoint crux. Check out those awesome micro-crimpers!!! Photo by Adam Sanders.

So, with about two weeks, I thought maybe I had a shot at sending Insurrection, and completing what Mark and I envisioned four years ago.  It would be really tight, but if it didn’t work out, I could return in the fall to finish it off.

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The best part about climbing at the Pass is the camping!

 

I busted out of work on Wednesday, the 8th of June, with my good friend and trusty belayer, Shaun. I checked out the route, and it seemed plausible, but hard.  The holds were much smaller than those on Grand ‘Ol Opry, and the rests were not as good (or almost non-existent). Nevertheless, there was nowhere else cooler to climb, or better to prepare us for the granite-laden Zillertal region of Austria, so I figured I’d give it the old college try with the roughly 2 weeks I had left.

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Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. In the crux section by the 3rd bolt, setting up for a powerful undercling move. Janelle Anderson photo.

 

Since the 8th, I managed 5 climbing days on the Pass, and squeezed in two ARC’ing sessions at the gym to build up my ability to recover on the route.  This last Saturday, everything clicked…we had great weather (waking up at 4:45 AM helps with that!)  I had the moves dialed by now, and my fitness is peaking, thanks to the work put in on Grand ‘Ol Opry. I sent Insurrection on my first go of the day…a rarity for me. I usually get flash pumped on my first go, and really think of it as a warmup burn.  This time, I warmed up really carefully, took time to stretch thoroughly, and massage my forearms before the send.

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Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. Making the powerful undercling move. Janelle Anderson photo.

The climbing is a power-endurance test piece with hard, dynamic moves and little rests, so for me, the send was all about rationing my effort.  I really focused on breathing and relaxing my grip on every hold…this is especially important with dynamic climbing because you tend to tense up and stop breathing when you dyno, as you engage your core. The key is to recognize this, and make a conscious effort to relax after every dynamic move. The mileage I got on the rock while working Grand ‘Ol Opry really helped me dial-in this technique, and it showed on Insurrection.

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Mike Anderson on Insurrection, 5.14c. Sticking the flake and getting ready to make a strenuous clip.  Janelle Anderson photo.

 

Insurrection is a brilliant route! It’s in the center of Independence Pass’s most prominent crag, and one of Colorado’s most historic sport cliffs. It’s now the centerpiece of that crag. The rock is excellent, and the moves are really cool, especially if you love crimping like I do!

My experience is limited, but I think the 5.14c rating is legit, and I think I’m in a good position to make a comparison to Grand ‘Ol Opry. GOO took me 6 climbing days, and 14 days from start to finish. I was able to send Insurrection in slightly less time…5 climbing days spread over 11, but that was with the benefit of the fitness and technique I developed working GOO. GOO is longer, and has more moves to dial in, but it has much bigger handholds and pretty good jam-crack rests, one huge rest right before the crux. Insurrection is in your face from the start on very small, crimpy holds, and you have to do a long, 3-bolt crux section with no shakes. You really have to hold it together mentally. Regardless, it’s a great route, and it brings Independence Pass back into prominence as a cutting-edge sport crag, the best summer destination in Colorado.

I’m feeling my strongest ever now, at the age of 39, and I have really high hopes for Europe. This winter and spring were humbling for me, and I had to re-dedicate myself to training and climbing. My birthday was May 5th, and at that time I told myself: “it’s a new year…forget about 38 because 39 is going to be your best year yet!”  It’s working so far, and I plan to keep it up! Training on Trango’s Rock Prodigy Forge, with it’s specially engineered micro cripmp, has really paid off. My crimping is the strongest it’s ever been and it’s showing in my climbing.

Mike hang small crimp

How I got this way! Thank you Forge hangboard for your awesome micro crimps that help me train smart and climb hard!

 

Thanks Mark for having the courage to bolt this line and see it through to a route. Your passion and dedication are a huge inspiration to us all!

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