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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.

Julienne Salad Days

By Mark Anderson

My family and I are heading to France (with a few days in Italy) at the end of the month for spring break. I spend the vast majority of my outdoor climbing days working redpoint projects, but on this trip I expect to focus on climbing routes first go, so I’ve spent the past few weeks tuning up my fitness accordingly and practicing on-sighting. All the crags on our itinerary are limestone, so we made a point to visit Shelf Road to climb on similar stone (albeit of much, much lower quality–or so I hope).

Earlier in the winter I bolted 4 routes (and a linkup) on a nice cream-colored panel of rock in the “Tropical Wall” sector of Shelf’s North Gym, which offered the perfect objective. Granted, these would not technically be on-sight attempts since I had rapped all the routes while bolting them. However, I don’t really possess the capacity to remember the details of four random lines I bolted a few months ago, since all my memory banks are filled to the brim with song lyrics and movie quotes. So I expected it to provide good practice nonetheless.

The main feature on the wall is a 3-feet-deep roof about halfway up. Four of the five lines involve this obstacle in some way. The first line I tried (“Booty Sweat”) follows a fairly continuous crack system that skirts the left side of the roof with powerful underclings (for the grade). While basically a crack climb, there are a lot of nice pockets sprinkled around to spice things up.

Shaking out below the undercling roof exit on Booty Sweat, 5.11b. Photo Amelie A.

The most intimidating line on the wall climbs out the center of the roof. Thanks to a few sinker pockets I climbed fairly easily up to a good shake at jugs below the ceiling. Just as I arrived, Amelie announced she needed to pee and she couldn’t hold it. Fortunately there was a bolt right at my waist, so I clipped a loose sling straight in to the bolt so Kate could help Amelie. This gave me plenty of time to contemplate the imposing obstacle above. Once I was properly on belay again, I charged up to the lip and groped my right hand over to a shallow 4-finger dish. I couldn’t see an elegant way to get established over the lip, so I coiled and hucked my left hand for what appeared likely to be a big jug. It was, and I stuck it, but it was incredibly prickly. My feet swung out wildly as I stuck the jug, and Kate shouted up “that was sick!”, which is incredibly rare—usually she is completely and justifiably unimpressed by my climbing antics (having seen the sausage being made, so to speak). I replied with, “what’s sick is what happened to the skin on my hand.” My palm was torn up and bleeding in a few places, but it turned out to be nothing serious, just enough to warrant the name “More Shredded Than A Julienne Salad.”

Working up the headwall after surmounting the big roof on …Julienne Salad (5.12b?) Photo Amelie A.

Perhaps the best line turned out to be the 5.11- linkup that joins the bottom half of Booty Sweat to the top-half of More Shredded…, climbing through the left side of the big roof via a bubbly pancake flake. It’s a classic jughaul with no hard moves to speak of. I’m generally not a fan of linkups, and I had no intention of bolting this line when scoping the wall from the ground, but once I rapped the wall and saw the line of jugs I couldn’t resist.

Scoping holds on The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, 5.12a. Photo Logan A.

The other two lines on the wall, Be Australian and The Boy Everybody Was Jealous Of, involve sustained pocket and edge climbing on great stone. They’re both worthwhile. I hiked past this wall probably 20 or 30 times while developing the rest of the North Gym in 2011, and I always intended to bolt it, but I never got around to it for whatever reason. I assumed somebody else would claim it during my 5-year exile to Clear Creek, so I was surprised and stoked to find it still untouched last November. In retrospect I’m really glad I had the opportunity to put these routes in. I’m sure some day in the future, once every route at Cactus Cliff is polished to glass and has a queue 10-ropebags deep, these routes will be well-appreciated by adventurous loners like me.

Fine edging on Be Australian, 5.12a.

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.

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!

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

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

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

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Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spain Part 2: Cobblestones & Milestones at Montserrat

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Montserrat climbing

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Barcelona! What an incredible city full of life, people, culture, food, history and so much more. It has to be one of my new favorite cities of all time and we just scratched the surface. We will get into Barcelona highlights in a future post, right now I want to focus on climbing.

First, I want to tell you about a real gem, Montserrat. From a distance, Montserrat looks like a multi-peaked jagged saw tooth mountain, which lends to its intricate rocky maze.  As you approach and drive up the windy road, you can see that hundreds of rounded, cobblestone towers, domes and cliffs create this beauty of a climbing destination. Besides the climbing, Montserrat is also a very popular tourist stop and once you reach the parking lot at the end of the road, you’re ripped from your dream-like state of amazement. The touristy stuff is pretty obnoxious and it seems to go on for a mile full of cars, huge buses, people and souvenir stands. Don’t let this deter you. Press on past the tourist stops, and you will be rewarded just as we were!

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

The reason for the tourists; nestled on the hillside about 1000 feet up from the base but beneath the towers is an old Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Our goal, however, was to sample some of the moderate multi-pitch climbing that it is world-renowned for. We only had a few hours of day light so we had to move quickly, hiking up the narrow valley past the abbey. The hike to the base of the route was literally one stair case after another winding up between these towers. It was absolutely beautiful and provided wonderful views of the surrounding area. We were aiming for one of the more prominent summits, Gorro Frigi, and the Stromberg route seemed like a good choice. At the base of the route, we quickly geared up while admiring the colorful cobbles we were about to climb. The rock was gorgeous, and we were eager to test out these cobbles. Mike took the lead while I took out the camera.

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Stairs…

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lots of stairs!

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The stairs eventually turned to trail as we neared the base

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Pitch one up the sea of cobbles

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Trango was representing in Spain!

 

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Mike starting the second pitch. The Monastery is in view nestled in the rocky canyon below.

Sport climbers remembering their rope management at the belay

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Pretty amazing view of the abbey

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Final pitch

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Janelle taking in the summit views.

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Mike next to the summit cross

The climb was very casual, super fun and the views were tremendous. I loved the Catalonian conglomerate cobbles and definitely want to go back! Doing a mutli-pitch climb as a couple is very rare these days, and not something we do with kids in tow (well, not yet anyways).

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Hazy air on the way down made for a cool photo highlighting the pillar we had climbed

We finished before dark and headed straight into Barcelona during rush hour. This was a completely fun and terrifying experience on it’s own. However, with Mike’s defensive, confident driving and maneuvering, we made it to the hotel in one piece. It was time to  head to the Sports Engineering conference in Barcelona, but I don’t want to waste any time getting to the most exciting climbing day of our entire trip! Therefore, we’ll describe Barcelona and the conference in more detail in our next post.  Instead, here’s the exciting conclusion to our Montserrat climbing….

After our first taste of Montserrat, we knew we would need to go back during this trip. The relatively easy one hour drive was perfect for an early morning out on the rock. We left Barcelona before dawn one morning and were rewarded with an incredible sunrise on tall towers above us. Mike had a spring in his step while I hobbled along on my bum ankle. I could tell he was psyched! Today was going to be a great day!!

 

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Gorgeous view in the first morning light

I want you to hear it straight from Mike…this not only was a great day, it was one for the Anderson history books!! Here’s Mike to tell about his incredible experience, and reaching a goal he has had for years and years!

I came to sector Guilleumes at the recommendation of Jonathan Siegrist aka JStar. It wasn’t covered in our guidebook, so we got some sketchy beta at a local shop in Barcelona and hoped we’d be able to find it. On the way to the crag, I had a wave of psych come over me as I watched alpine glow on the cliffs above and just thought about how awesome it was to be here in Spain.

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More morning light making the cliffs glow. Check out that cool thumb rock too…the Caval Bernat. There’s a long multi-pitch climb on that tower we wanted to do, but the hike was too much for Janelle’s hurt ankle. Next time!

When I reached the cliff, I was instantly impressed because it reminded me of my favorite home crag, Smith Rock, but with slightly steeper walls full of pockets and edges. It was extremely inspiring. I did a warm-up (Catximba – “Bong”, 11c) and got on what I thought was another 12a (Diedru – “pipe”). After a little climbing, it was clearly a little more than I bargained for. I realized I was on an 8a (Bolita Moruna), not a 12a (7a+) so I decided I would save it for an onsight. I kept going until the climb got a little too hard then I climbed down.

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La Catximba (“bong”), 6c+ (11c – though the polish made it feel WAY harder 🙂 ). A nice warmup, covered with cool flowstone.

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Higher on Catximba.

After belaying Janelle, I got on the 8a (Bolita Moruna) again, gunning for the on-sight. I felt very smooth and strong, the climbing came naturally to me as I cruised from pocket to pocket. I had trained for this a long time. I reached the crux section, shook out and thought about the moves. I figured out a sequence and went for it. I had to trust some pretty polished feet but I did it and stuck the moves. From there, it was just  managing the pump through some small but positive pockets. A short tufa took me to the chains and I was very psyched to get another 8a onsight!

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At the chains of Bolita Moruna, 8a (13b) after nabbing my second 8a onsight of the trip!

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Mike celebrating his on-sight of a “Grade 8” route at Montserrat.

Now, I had to decide go for another 8a or push myself and try for an 8a+ (one was located just to the right.) Though I have come close a couple times, I have never on-sighted an 8a+ (13c) before, and it has been a goal of mine for years. It was one of my goals for this trip, but there is always the risk that you blow it and wreck the remainder of your climbing day. I took a moment and decided that “I would only live once” and this was my opportunity, so I went for the 8a+. The route looked really cool, following a solitary gray streak from top to bottom with small pockets reminiscent of France. This was what we came to Europe for!

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Rastafari, 8a+ (13c) follows the prominent gray streak up the center of the photo, then up over the roofs to the left.

The route had no draws, and little chalk, so this would be the real deal…no crutches…I didn’t even have a guidebook description (not that Spanish guidebooks have descriptions anyway 🙂 ). What I would have given for a Smith Rock/Alan Watts-esque  play-by-play run-down with accompanying crux-by-crux topo map? In retrospect, this was the perfect situation. No info, and no preconceptions!

The pocket sequence at the start was much harder than I anticipated, and I had to really go for it on some small but positive pockets, making long reaches . I also thought I would be able to get many rests in the opening sections but I was wrong. I had to manage the pump, stay relaxed and pace myself. At the end of the long grey streak, I reached a roof at about  the 2/3 height and was able to shake. To my horror, this is where the real business began! Over the roof I was instantly slapped in the face with hard moves. Long lockoffs to small pockets with bad feet and over-hanging. I had to do a hard mono move with my right hand to reach a good pocket. I stuck it though (yeah hangboard training!), then I got a horizontal crack that I thought would be a great rest, but it turned out to be very slopey. I milked it as best I could for a long time. This climb was taking forever! (maybe an hour to send it?) I was starting to worry I would flame out, but I tried to remain calm and optimistic.

I climbed above the poor ledge and was instantly in panic mode. The holds were too small and I could not see them because there was no chalk. I climbed into a sequence that I was certain I would not be able to do, and thought I would certainly fall . However, I was able to down climb enough to get a good heel/toe cam in the horizontal crack that allowed me to shake enough to recover. I had been here in Spain long enough that I was FINALLY able to recover at rests.  I shook again for probably ANOTHER 10 minutes. I had enough back and had stared at the wall long enough that I had an idea of what to do.  I pulled up on some good pockets with bad feet.  Above me, but a long way away, was a tufa under cling. I reached far, as far as my tired little toes would let me, and I was able to grab it! I was thrilled! I pulled up my feet and locked into the under cling.  I clipped, and was able to shake a little. I moved on, did a couple slopey crimps and slabby moves with decent feet. I was able to reach a sinker pocket…finally something GOOD to hang on to! The angle was rolling back now, so I knew I had it in the bag at this point, but I kept my wits about me. I climbed deliberately to the next bolt where the angle eased significantly. From there it was cruising to the chains. I let out a whoop, clipped the anchors and was totally stoked! My first 8a+ onsight while hanging the draws and with no chalk to boot!

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Whoot! He did it!!! He really did it!

Two climbers from Spain showed up right after Mike topped out. We needed photos of this climb and luckily, they agreed to belay so I could take a few photos.

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Mike “re-enacting” the final moments of his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c). A new milestone for him.

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Another action shot of Mike “re-enacting” his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c).

This day was one for the record books! After Mike’s onsight of the 8a+, he went on to onsight another 8a, “Xilum” making the grand total 3 – 8a’s in one day!!!!!!! Probably his best sport climbing day yet. There was something in that Spanish air of Montserrat…maybe a little magic? It was very magical it was the years of dedication to training, focusing on his weaknesses and setting goals that sealed this deal!

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A local climber, Guilleme, trying “Xilum” 8a (13b). This is the third 8a Mike did that day. Doesn’t this remind you of Moonshine Dihedral at Smith Rock?

 

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Super psyched…what a day!

Coming soon…details of our travels in Barcelona, and the Sports Engineering Conference, complete with VIDEO of Mike’s presentation on hangboard training with the Rock Prodigy Method and RP Training Center. For now, enjoy these teaser photos….

 

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Scooters and motorcycles dominate downtown and seem to be the preferred mode of transportation. Watch out pedestrians!

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Local school

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Downtown soccer field

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Mediterranean Sea with beautiful toasty brown beaches

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Tight streets

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Incredible buildings like the Cathedral of Barcelona

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Mercat La Boqueria

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So, Spanish eggs don’t need refrigeration 😉

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The not so “secret” secret Iberico jamon was EVERYWHERE!

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Cool exotic fruits

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Seafood and sea-critters I didn’t know one could eat

 

 

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

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

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

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

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

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

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

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

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

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

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

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

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

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

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

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

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

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

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

Thunder Strike – Part 1

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge - Mike Anderson established "The Spark, 5.13c" at Thunder Ridge in April.

Upping the ante at Thunder Ridge – Mike Anderson established “The Spark, 5.13c” at Thunder Ridge in April.

Thunder Ridge is a beautiful, but tiny climbing area just West of my home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is somewhat of a backwater crag these days, frequented by locals who know how good it is, but ignored by most. The rock is impeccable granite – possibly the best quality granite in the entire Rocky Mountains (if not North America?) with extremely fine, tight crystals that make for pleasant and bomber climbing, and its walls are covered with gorgeous brown patina that forms wonderful handholds. Unfortunately, this magnificent rock is concentrated in a very small location in the South Platte region of Colorado. By some geological quirk, Thunder Ridge has this impeccable stone, while most of the South Platte region ranges from fair to horrible granite.

Thunder Ridge - before the fire.

I am one of the lucky ones, living only an hour’s drive from the trailhead. Thunder Ridge was discovered in the late 80s, and most of the routes were developed by the mid-nineties under a shroud of secrecy. It wasn’t in any guidebook, and they wanted it that way. Those who knew about it were sworn to secrecy, amidst fears that the sport climbing masses from would descend upon it with their rap bolting tactics and destroy the “traditional” character of the climbing. (The South Platte region of Colorado had long been considered a “traditional” area, with no rap-bolting allowed. Many people felt, and still feel, that it should always be that way.)

The major developers climbed what they could in that time span, and eventually stopped putting in new routes. When all was said and done, hundreds of brilliant routes were established throughout its maze of canyons and walls. The most difficult climbs topped out in the 12+ and 13- range owing to the geology of the rock, such as the cliff angles and hold sizes.

I was extremely lucky to first visit Thunder Ridge in 1998, when I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. A friend of the “officer in charge” of our climbing club, who was an F-15 fighter pilot living in town happened to be neighbors with Kevin McLaughlin – the driving force behind TR climbing. He knew where the crag was and offered to show it to us. I enjoyed the climbing a lot that day, but I was really too inexperienced to really appreciate what a gem it was as a crag. I never went back until just this past spring.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge's Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Climbing in Thunder Ridge’s Wasp Canyon in 1998, when I was a USAF Academy Cadet.

Last summer Jason Haas published a new guidebook to the area, and he got me fired up to take down some long-standing projects in the South Platte, among them a few lines at Thunder Ridge. We ventured out in April to have a look, and were immediately blown away by the potential for high quality, hard routes. I dusted off my drill and a bunch of stainless steel bolts, and got to work at The Brown Wall – Thunder’s biggest and most dramatic wall. Normally, I would try to climb through the grades at a new area, getting to know the climbing style, and getting a feel for the grading, but I was so psyched on the potential first ascents, that I did very little of that.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The spectacular Brown Wall at Thunder Ridge.

The first order of business was a line that had reportedly been tried on toprope and Jason had recommended to me. It was a perfect, vertical swath of granite painted with dark brown patina. If this could be free climbed, it would be absolutely brilliant! I decided I would go along with the tradition of the area and establish these routes in the ground-up style. It was something I hadn’t done in awhile, and I thought it would be fun. So, I piled on the gear and I launched up the wall. First bolt…the threads got stripped while it was pounded into the hole because the rock is so hard (and good). I couldn’t tighten the bolt, and I was going up on lead, so I couldn’t do much about it. I clipped the manky bolt and continued. As I went, I could tell the climbing was going to be awesome, and HARD – my dream come true!

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

My first project would explore the brown indentation just right of the green rope.

I got three more bolts in, covering most of the crux when my old Hilti battery died…shucks! I still had about 40 feet to go before I could get good gear, and I wanted to do this route now, not wait for another trip! It looked like I could get a marginal piece of gear another ten feet up, so I decided to punch it on some easier climbing. I sketched through this and made it to a point where the face rolled over to a heavily featured slab, covered with crazy “chicken-head” holds. I was able to place plenty of gear, and I cruised to the chains. I lowered down, brushed some holds and rehearsed the crux. At the crux, you have a couple nice handholds formed by a 2″ wide ledge, then a long patch of featureless rock. Higher, there is a rounded seam feature, so I thought I might be able to lock off from the ledge and reach very high to a Gaston in the seam. If I latched it, I would be very stretched out and tenuous, so I needed to work out the foot moves to unwind from this. I discovered a possible sequence and lowered down to go for the free ascent.

On redpoint, the moves turned out to be more challenging than I had first envisioned, and the long reach, that had seemed fairly straightforward on the hang, turned out to be quite hard. My first try, I fell, then rehearsed the sequence again. It was getting late, but I decided to give the route a second redpoint attempt. I fell again! I rehearsed the move yet again, and lowered down again. The third try was the charm, and I was able to get through the crux sequence. I had only managed to get four bolts in, so I had to climb the upper part again with no protection, but I knew the moves fairly well by now. The extra fatigue added some spice, but I made it through, for the first ascent of The Spark. At 5.13c, it was now the hardest route at Thunder Ridge. The name is an allusion to what I hope will be the start of a long love affair with Thunder Ridge climbing.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Psyching up for the crux at the mini-ledge.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Bearing down on the tiny crimps in the crux of The Spark.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

Continuing the taxing, technical climbing exiting the crux sequence.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

5.11-ish face climbing after the crux. This bolt and the next one were not present during the FA, but I was able to get a weird cam placement in the horizontal crack feature above the next bolt.

Some funky slab moves.

Some funky slab moves.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

Finished with the hard climbing, and ready to enjoy the cruiser chicken heads that lead to the chains.

While working on The Spark, I realized there could be two routes here. The section of stone to the left appeared much easier…maybe a nice 12- route, but further inspection revealed the potential for something much harder. This would be the next order of business. I borrowed a friends brand new Bosch, so this route went in much easier…no hijinx were required to get the bolts in. I enjoyed the lead bolting because it made the puzzle a bit more complicated, even if it sometimes leaves the bolts in weird spots.

The route, which I’m calling “Game of Drones” (for reasons that will soon be revealed) turned out really nice. It’s not as cruxy as The Spark, making for a nice sustained face climbing with hard, but not stopper moves that build a nice pump:

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Psyching up to try for the first free ascent of Game of Drones.

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Check out the sculpted incut holds!

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

Getting into the cruxier moves, with long reaches between less-positive holds.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

A crazy-long undercling move to a good edge.

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring "Schmausser Traverse" route...the FA is in the bag now!

Nearing the big flake that leads to the neighboring “Schmausser Traverse” route…the FA is in the bag now!

After these two successes, I was psyched, and a little obsessed with the power of Thunder Ridge. Jason had turned me on to another potential route, also on the Brown Wall. It was listed in the guide as “Kevin’s Mega Project”, and reported to be quite hard. This would be next on the agenda. Was I up to the task? Stay tuned to find out….

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