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Category Archives: Power Endurance

The Original Campus Board

As soon as Kate and I committed to a trip to Germany, I started looking for information on “The Campus Center”, the birthplace (and namesake) of the Campus Board. Legend has it that Wolfgang Gullich was looking for a new way to train explosive power for a new cutting-edge route he was trying in the Frankenjura. He developed a ground-breaking new training tool that would allow him to apply the concepts of plyometric training to climbing. The “Campus training” worked, Wallstreet was born (the first 5.14b or 8c in the world) and the rest is history. [read more on this here]

My obsession with campus training, and in particular, campus board specifications, is well-documented. I absolutely had to get a look at the original campus board, if it was still in existence. At the very least, I wanted to take a few measurements, especially rung-spacing, rung depth, and the angle of the board (steepness). It was a long shot, but it was worth looking into.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

Unworthy author about to be chewed up and spit out by Wallstreet.

The Campus Center was an upscale fitness center for regular people (not a climbing gym), located in Nuremberg, Germany. We just so happened to be flying in and out of Nuremberg, so if it was still standing, I was going to find it. One of my early climbing partners Bobby Gomez once called me a “climbing detective” for my persistence in uncovering all manner of random historical trivia and beta about various climbing objectives. I put all my powers to the test and (after a few missteps) entered “The Campus Center Nuremberg Germany Wolfgang Gullich” into my Google Machine. This is what I found.

Not only did the Campus Center still exist, they have a website, including a page dedicated to the Campus Board, with pics of Wolfgang Gullich and Action Directe! This was going to be easy. They had a picture of the board in 2010, still intact, so there was a great chance the board would still be there when I arrived. Still, I was nervous. How long could a regular fitness studio possibly keep an old relic like this hanging around before someone decided to remodel?

Nuremberg is a town of roughly 500,000, located in the heart of Bavaria and roughly an hour from the heart of the Frankenjura. The Campus Center is located on the east side of town, in a commercial district with a variety of storefronts. After our flight landed on the morning of September 18th, we picked up our rental car and headed straight there. My quite-rusty German was going to get tested almost immediately.

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

The Campus Center, Nuremberg, Germany

While I was still in Denver I scripted a few lines using my phrasebook in the hope that I could explain my intentions to the Campus Center personnel. Things like “I would like to see the Campus Board” (“Ich mochte das Campusboard gesehen”) and whatnot. I walked bravely through the automatic door, looked the gentleman at the desk square in the eyes, chickened out and mumbled “Sprechen sie English?” Yes, a little. I explained why I was there. He was not surprised. I was lead upstairs and introduced to another gentleman who spoke fluent English. Clearly I was not the first foreigner to make this pilgrimage. Still, it was also not an everyday event, and he was quite curious to know where I was from and why I was so interested. He led me down the hall and into a large room filled with modern-day Nautilus workout equipment. There, at the far end of the room, suspended from the ceiling, was the original Campus Board. I asked if it was still original, if it had been moved or altered in any way. He confirmed that it was all original. It certainly looked original, and comparing the video of Gullich using the board (above) to my photos further confirms that it hasn’t been moved.

The Campus Board

The Campus Board

The wood was glassy and polished. It had clearly been here for quite a long time. On the front side were rungs of three different depths running from bottom to top, and the four lowest of the largest rungs had pairs of two-finger pockets roughly carved into them. All three sets of rungs were spaced at the same interval. The medium-depth rungs had a big, slopey radius on them, and the shallowest rungs were slightly incut with a moderate radius. They looked very similar in shape to the Metolius small campus rungs. The rungs were much wider than Metolius rungs, and vertical lines had been drawn on the rungs in black marker, presumably to measure horizontal or diagonal (typewriter-style) moves.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

Thre front or business side of the Campus Board.

On the back side was an old hangboard, and an even older set of hand-made wood holds cobbled together in the shape of a pseudo-hangboard. Was this the world’s first hangboard? It wouldn’t surprise me. There were also some sloping, quarter-cylinder rungs on both the front and back of the board that looked like they’d been added more recently.

The back of the Campus Board.

The back of the Campus Board.

Once we got talking my escort shared all kinds of interesting details. The board was still used by climbers in the area. He showed me a sequence between a set of pockets and said that was the first move of Action Directe, and so on.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

Two-finger pockets carved into the largest rungs.

I took a bunch of pictures, posed for a pic in front of the board, and then I think I set myself apart from the other pilgrims when I pulled out my tape measure and inclinometer 🙂  I explained how much things like steepness and rung-spacing make a difference, and the value of comparing the configurations of different campus boards with the original. He understood but I suspect he thought I was taking things a bit too far 🙂

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

Measuring the spacing from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the first rung (63.5 cm).

My first measurement was puzzling: 63.5 centimeters from the top of the first rung to the top of the fourth. I also measured the distance from the top of the second rung to the top of the first: 23.5 cm. That doesn’t make sense. I stood back and noticed the spacing between the first and second rungs was larger than the rest of the spacing. This is partially because the first row of rungs was aligned (“justified”, if you will) along the bottom edge of the rung, and the rest were aligned along the top edge. Upon further inspection I realized the spacing between rungs 2 thru 10 was 20cm per rung (on center, or from top edge to top edge), with the spacing between the first two 23.5cm.  According to Jerry Moffatt’s book, Wolfgang Gullich was able to do 1-5-8 using only his two middle fingers.  Presumably that was done on this board, so his 1-5 was 84cm and his 5-8 was 60cm (and his 1-8 has 144cm).  That is insane!  I can’t even deadhang a small Metolius rung with my two middle fingers.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

The distance from the top of the fourth rung to the top of the second rung: 40 cm.

I measured the rung depth: 2cm, which confirms Jerry Moffat’s recollection from his autobiography Revelations. That’s within a millimeter of .75 inches (the depth of a Metolius small rung). The depth of the carved pockets was also 2cm. The angle of steepness appeared to be about 12 degrees. It was hard to be certain since I didn’t have a level with me, but I think it’s in the ballpark. I had previously guessed the angle was 11 degrees from analyzing old photos of the board, so I think that’s pretty close.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Original Campus rung on the left, Metolius small rung on the right.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

Campus Board steepness: approximately 12 degreees overhanging.

In its current state, the Campus Board is really slick and polished. I’ve heard people say that wood becomes more textured over time, as the soft pulp wood wears away and the tougher grain becomes exposed. That may be true to a point, but there’s also a point where it just gets so polished it’s almost like glass. I’m really glad this board hasn’t been altered for the purpose of preserving its historical value, but I wouldn’t want to train on it!

The Campus Board in profile.

The Campus Board in profile.

In conclusion, the key specs of the Original Campus Board are 20-cm rung spacing, and 12-degrees overhanging. If you use small Metolius rungs you’ll be close-enough in terms of rung size and shape (the Metolius small rungs are slightly shallower). I’m really glad to have this data point, however, I would still recommend using “Moon-spacing” (22cm on center). I think at this point Moon Spacing is much more established and universal, at least in the English-speaking world, even if it’s not original. Using Moon Spacing doesn’t change the fact the Wolfgang Gullich was insanely strong, which I was able to confirm every time I tried one of his routes! I’m really happy I took the time to track down the Campus Center. Seeing the original Campus Board in all its glory was well worth the effort and one of the highlights of my trip.

Thank you Campus Center!

Thank you Campus Center!

Designing A Transition Phase

In this post I introduced the concept of the Transition Phase.  This is the several-week period during each training cycle in which you shift your focus from primarily indoor training to primarily outdoor climbing (and sending!).  Chapter 10: Building a Seasonal Training Plan from the forthcoming  “The Rock Climber’s Training Manual” thoroughly describes how to build a training plan, and it provides numerous sample plans to get you started.  These plans include these transitions, but we’ll talk about some of the “how and why” in more detail here, to help you build your own plan. 

For most climbers, the Power Phase is typically the Transition Phase, but it could be the Power Endurance Phase for some, or a period of weeks in between that overlaps these two phases.  As discussed, it is vitally important that this transition from indoor training to outdoor climbing goes smoothly, with momentum and focus building like a crescendo towards your initial opportunities to attempt the season’s primary goal route(s).   However, its much easier said than done.  Often, by the time we begin the Power Phase, weeks of ARCing and Hangboard training have likely sapped our appetite for training on plastic, and yet outdoor climbing is still too far away to provide immediate motivation.  The lack of structure during Limit Bouldering workouts can further compound this problem, making it easy to lose focus during training sessions.  This is the time to re-double your focus and attention on the task at hand.  Keep your eyes on the prize, both figuratively and literally. Do the little things on rest days (like eating right, getting sufficient sleep, and minding your skin) to ensure you are prepared to train effectively. 

The transition phase will usually be a 2-4 week period.  At the start of this period, climbers strictly following the Rock Prodigy method will be climbing indoors exclusively.  By the end of this period you should be climbing outside as frequently as your lifestyle allows (note: that doesn’t mean climbing every day; rather, it means whatever days you would normally climb or train, in accordance with your pre-planned Seasonal Training Plan, should be spent outside, on your project(s), to the extent possible).   The middle of this period will ideally include a gradual transition between the two extremes.

Notional Transition Phase training schedule.

Notional Transition Phase training schedule.

Let’s consider the example above.  The last week of the Strength Phase is Week 0, and a relatively short Power Phase begins with week 1 (for the sake of this example, we are assuming the climber’s goal routes are relatively more pumpy than bouldery, where the climber’s maximum power is not essential).  Initially all workouts are in the gym, either Limit Bouldering or Limit Bouldering and Campusing.  This early period is the mental crux – this is when you really need to stay psyched to get the most out of your brief Power Phase, and to begin preparing for the upcoming outdoor season.  If you’ve not done so already, select your near-term goal routes (considering factors like fitness, weather, accessibility), lay out a detailed schedule for attempting these routes, ask for time off work and arrange for partners.  Begin scouring the cloud for beta, take a hike to the cliff if possible to determine sun/shade exposure, protection quirks, or any other info you can scope from the ground.  Prepare your finger skin for the upcoming campaign and focus on your diet if weight loss is a part of your plan.

"Roped bouldering" on a potential project is  great way to begin the transition to outdoor climbing.  If possible, use this time to attempt your goal route's most difficult moves and perhaps "send" the individual crux boulder problems.  BJ Tilden rehearsing moves prior to his 2009 redpoint of Genetic Drifter, 5.14c.

“Roped bouldering” on a potential project is great way to begin the transition to outdoor climbing. If possible, use this time to attempt your goal route’s most difficult moves and perhaps “send” the individual crux boulder problems. BJ Tilden rehearsing moves prior to his 2009 redpoint of Genetic Drifter, 5.14c.

Beginning with Week 2, outdoor days are introduced gradually.  It’s important to note that these are not just any outdoor days—they are power-focused days, spent bouldering, or “roped bouldering” on your prospective goal route(s).  If your season has been planned around one or two important goal routes, roped bouldering on one or both of these routes is ideal.  This will allow you to 1) train power somewhat (though roped bouldering is not as effective for power training as indoor Limit Bouldering/campusing), while you 2) scope out your project, and hopefully suss-out the cruxes, while your power is still building (Chapter 10 of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual goes into detail on how to effectively incorporate outdoor climbing days into your schedule to maximize training benefit).  The second outdoor day in Week 3 is discretionary – depending on how things are going in your training and climbing.  If you feel you are “close” on your goal route and you have the time, climb outside.  If you feel you need more work/training, climb inside. 

In this example, Power Endurance (PE) training is also introduced in Week 3.  During the first PE workout (on Day 17), the climber begins with a slightly abbreviated Limit Bouldering workout, and then performs a short PE session with a 10-15 minute break in between.  Chapter 8 of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual describes how to blend these two types of training into a single effective workout.  By Week 4, the climber is more focused on attempting his or her goal route and less on training, but some amount of Limit Bouldering training is still important to maintain your power throughout the rest of the season.   By the end of Week 5 the climber will clearly notice improvement in Power Endurance on the rock.  Once again, by Week 6 the climber has the option to pursue more training or more attempts on the project, depending on how things are going. 

Late in the Transition Phase,  climbing outside on a pumpy goal route can provide an ideal training platform, but this only works if the route is pumpy-enough to stimulate improvement AND the climber is hanging on long enough between rests to get properly pumped.  A route like Kaleidescope is ideal because it lacks a stopper crux and seems to get gradually more difficult as you ascend, making it easy to progress gradually up the route as your PE improves.

Late in the Transition Phase, climbing outside on a pumpy goal route can provide an ideal training platform, but this only works if the route is pumpy-enough to stimulate improvement AND the climber is hanging on long enough between rests on the rope to get properly pumped. A route like Kaleidescope is ideal because it lacks a stopper crux and seems to get gradually more difficult as you ascend, making it easy to progress gradually up the route as your PE improves.

Week 7 is essentially the start of the Performance Phase.  At this point, the climber should trade in whatever favors she can to secure the maximum opportunity to send her projects.  If her lifestyle doesn’t permit climbing outside at every opportunity, these days can be substituted with short, intense indoor workouts combining bouldering and PE intervals, as explained above.

The Most Important Phase

Throughout my first several years of systematic training, I believed the Strength Phase (in which hangboard training is the primary activity) was the most “important” phase. That is, I thought the quality of the Strength Phase was the key predictor of whether the upcoming season would be successful or not. If the phase was flat, I improved very little, or failed to surpass my personal bests on most grips, the season was doomed. If I maintained laser focus during each hangboard workout, saw steady progress, and ended on a high note, I could expect to crush my projects a few weeks later.

That theory wreaked havoc on my psyche for years, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that further reinforced it. If my Strength Phase was good, I would enter the Power Phase with enough momentum to carry me through my Power Phase and eventually onto the rock. If the Strength Phase was poor, I would mail it in for the rest of the season, resigned to muddle through on easier projects. A quirk of fate finally provided the test-case that disproved my theory, though it took me many years to comprehend what transpired.

Working my way back into shape in the spring of 2004 on Spank The Monkey, 5.12a, Smith Rock.

Working my way back into shape in the spring of 2004 on Spank The Monkey, 5.12a, Smith Rock.

In the spring of 2004, I trained like a maniac in anticipation of quitting my job and embarking on a year of dirtbag climbing. I had only been training for a few years, and I was still seeing a letter grade or more of improvement each season. I expected to make huge gains, and I did on the hangboard. I entered my Power Phase with new bests on each grip. And then I got the flu. I was useless for a solid week (though I still hauled my infected carcass to the gym a few times in hopes of maintaining my fitness–sorry Albuquerque!). Here was the first example in my career of a stellar Strength Phase followed by a piss-poor Power Phase, and the results were telling.

Once I recovered from the illness I resumed my training schedule, but I could tell I wasn’t at my best. Not only had I not improved, it seemed I had regressed. The previous season I sent my first 5.13b, and was close to sending Smith Rock’s Aggro Monkey (5.13b) during a one-week road trip. Now I was completely shut down on .13b, and struggling to climb .13a. For the next month I climbed outside every other day, struggling to regain the previous season’s fitness. I managed to redpoint a pair of 13a’s during this time, and early in the second month I finally sent Aggro Monkey. I was stoked, but I should have managed all of these ascents in the first couple of weeks, if not more difficult climbs.

Attempting Aggro Monkey, 5.13b, Smith Rock.

Attempting Aggro Monkey, 5.13b, Smith Rock.

Essentially it took me an entire month of climbing outside daily to overcome the lack of an effective Power Phase (had I been working, I would not have had the opportunity to climb so much, and I likely would not have recovered my fitness at all, resulting in another season down the drain). Furthermore, I never demonstrated any quantifiable improvement that season; I trained like a fiend, climbed outside much more than I ever had in my life, and only managed to return to my previous level of fitness. For many years I attributed this disappointment to the flu. But then I had kids. Now I get the flu every year and it rarely affects my climbing like it did in 2004 (despite being older and generally weaker/whiny-er).

Over the past several years my goals and circumstances have forced me to push through at full speed to the Power Phase regardless of how the Strength Phase goes (at my age, I can’t afford any more bad seasons!). Since then I’ve had several successful seasons that followed relatively poor Strength phases, and vice versa. Nearly every fall season is preceded by a mediocre Strength Phase during the month of August, in which I’m overweight from riding my bike all summer, and the temps are too warm for optimal hangboard training. And each September, as better conditions return and my weight drops, I’ve managed to get my season back on track. As result, I now believe that the quality of the Power Phase is usually the best predictor of my season’s success (although I don’t believe it’s a hard and fast rule). That spring 2004 season wasn’t derailed because the flu sabotaged my fitness, it was derailed because the flu killed my momentum, distracting me from persevering through the Power Phase.

Based on this data, it would be reasonable to predict that my Winter 2011-12 Season would be far superior to my Fall 2011 Season. The reality? In the Fall of 2011 I sent my hardest route to date; in the Winter of 2011-12 I sent one 5.12a, one 13a, injured an A2 pulley, and then spent literally the next 6 months rehab’ing my injury.

Based on this data, it would be reasonable to predict that my Winter 2011-12 Season would be far superior to my Fall 2011 Season. The reality? In the Fall of 2011 I sent my hardest route to date; in the Winter of 2011-12 I sent one 5.12a, one 13a, injured an A2 pulley, and then spent literally the next 6 months rehab’ing my injury.

First, the Power Phase is important because, if you’ve done well, the Strength Phase has created a bunch of big dumb muscles. You should be stronger, but not necessarily capable of efficiently applying that strength to the rock. The Power Phase will hone those big dumb muscles into a well-coordinated machine that can perform with speed and precision on the rock. But foremost, the Power Phase is critical because it is often the ‘transition phase’. This is the period during your training cycle when you shift your emphasis from training on plastic to climbing on actual rock. The beginning of a Transition Phase provides the final opportunity to pour every ounce of will into your training, ensuring you are in tip-top condition before deteriorating skin, weather, and other facts of outdoor climbing interfere. The latter portion of the phase is often the time when you will select, or confirm the season’s primary performance goals. During this time, you need your head ‘in the game’ as much as possible, to focus on training, but also to get your skin in shape, manage body weight, mentally prepare for your goals, obsess over the 10-day forecast, line up partners, and organize other logistics to facilitate effective outdoor climbing from day one.

If you’re unable to attend to these matters, it’s easy to find yourself at the wrong crag, at the wrong time of year, with no clear goals, or on a project that is too hard or out of condition. I’ve found that a few bad days early on can sink an entire season, causing me to question my fitness and doubt all the hard work I’ve done, thus undermining my motivation to continue. For that reason, this phase of my cycle is hands down the most important in determining the success of my season.

If you're training for a (relatively) crux-less pumpfest, like some routes found at the Red, the Power Endurance Phase might make more sense as a Transition Phase.  Sean Corpron rises again to crush Resurection, 5.12c.

If you’re training for a (relatively) crux-less pumpfest, like some routes found at the Red, the Power Endurance Phase might make more sense as a Transition Phase. Sean Corpron rises again to crush Resurrection, 5.12c.

For some climbers, other phases are more critical. For example, if you climb at a crag like the Red, where virtually all of your projects are long enduro pump-fests with cruxes few and far between, the Base Fitness and Power Endurance Phases will likely be the most important for you, because (from a purely physiological standpoint) you will almost always be limited by your body’s ability to supply energy to tiring muscles. Your Power Phase will probably be minimized, and so the Power Endurance Phase may serve as your transition phase (in my case, by the time I begin my PE Phase I’m almost always neck-deep in my season’s project. During such times motivation and focus are plentiful and it’s easy to summon maximal attention and effort for training, recovery, and climbing).

Finger strength will eventually become limiting for the vast majority of performance-oriented climbers.

Finger strength will eventually become limiting for the vast majority of performance-oriented climbers.

This is not to say the Strength Phase is unimportant. It too is the ‘most important’ season, but for different reasons. While I no longer believe it is an accurate predictor of the ensuing season’s quality, I do believe that for many climbers it is the most critical factor in determining long-term improvement. Unlike some other aspects of fitness, strength is “cumulative”. That is, you can build on your strength from one season to the next. Once a climber has learned and refined the fundamental climbing skills, finger strength will likely determine his or her long-term progress in the sport. Finger strength takes a long time to improve, so it’s important to start early, and stick with it, season after season, year after year. One season of poor strength training every other year will not have an enormous impact in the long run, but if a climber routinely sleepwalks through hangboard sessions, year-in, year-out, their progress over half a decade will be severely hampered.

In the end, it may be appropriate to take the Zen approach, that the most important phase is the phase you’re in right now. Each phase is important in its own way, and included in the program for specific reasons. If a phase is worth doing at all, then it is worth doing well, with maximum focus, optimal intensity during training, and proper attention to preparation and recovery.

While I’m probably closer to the end of my climbing career than I am to the beginning, I’m still counting on achieving significant improvement in finger strength over the coming years to help me achieve my long-term goals. But I also realize that I’m likely near my career fitness peak, and the time I have near this peak is limited. I still have a lot of routes on my ‘to do list’, so I need to make the most of every individual season (alternatively, a younger climber who takes the long view might decide that near term success is unimportant and solely emphasis long-term improvement through finger strength training). I will continue to strive to get the most out of each Strength Phase in order to realize as much long-term improvement as possible. As the Strength Phase ends, I will stoke my motivation so that I can optimize my Power Phase in order to get the most out of the climbing opportunities that are immediately in front of me.

Learn about Designing a Transition Phase here..

Sunny St. George Part I: Breakin’ The Law

On rare occasions I take a short hiatus from thinking about training, writing about training, and training, to actually go rock climbing.  Over the New Year’s Holiday the family and I headed west to the warm climes of St. George, Utah for a week of climbing.  St George is home to a vast array of rock climbing possibilities, from the Grade VI Big Wall free and Aid climbs of Zion, to the bouldering of Moe’s Valley, and everything in between.  The guidebook lists more than 40 distinct crags, and the area hosts a wide variety of different rock types, including sculpted sandstone, basalt, Volcanic tuff, conglomerate, and some of the best limestone in the US.

Sunny steep stone in the capitol of Utah's Dixie.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Sunny steep stone in the capital of Utah’s Dixie.   Fencing with Tortuga, 5.12a, at The Turtle Wall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

My primary objective for the trip was a power endurance route called “Breakin’ the Law“, which climbs out the upper of two shallow limestone caves at the Black & Tan crag.  The route was the vision of Salt Lake hardman and fellow training advocate Jeff Pedersen.  However, a young Dave Graham nabbed the first free ascent, and the name is reminiscent of the confessionary “I Am a Bad Man” (now known simply as Badman), so-named by JB Tribout after his friend Alan Watts told him, ‘you can have any route [at Smith Rock] except that one’.

The Black and Tan Wall.  Breakin' the Law climbs out the subtle dihedrdal in the left side of the higher cave.

The Black and Tan Wall. Breakin’ the Law climbs out the subtle dihedral in the left side of the higher cave.

The route begins with big moves up a steep wall to reach the roof of the cave.  The crux is climbing out to the lip of the cave, then turning the lip to get established on the headwall. It would be quite a challenge for me to send a .14b in a week, but I’d heard from various accounts that the line was soft.  However, just before we set out for Utah I talked with a prominent, much-stronger-than-me climber, who assured me the route was quite hard for shorter folks.  Apparently tall climbers can get a big stem/dropknee that essentially eliminates the first, harder crux.  So as we left Colorado I was apprehensive and anxious to find out for myself.

Breakin' the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Breakin’ the Law: Midway through the first crux, a difficult traverse to the lip of the cave. Photo Dan Brayack.

We planned to split up the long drive with a break in Grand Junction for lunch and a hike out to Independence Monument.  I avoid aerobic exercise when I’m in performance climbing mode, but I like to go on “brisk walks” at least every rest day.  It helps keep my metabolism humming (for the purpose of weight management), and it allows an opportunity to clear my head.  The trail was snowy and muddy in places, but it was still a fun hike.  I’ve climbed Otto’s Route at least three times that I can remember, and I suspect I’ll climb it again with Logan some time in the next decade.

Hiking to Independence Monument outside Grand Junction, CO.

Logan and I on the hike to Independence Monument, outside Grand Junction, CO.

We spent the night in a flea-bag motel in fabulous Salina, Utah, then continued toward St. George the next day, making a beeline for Black & Tan.  We met my friends Dan Brayack and Lena Moinova at the crag, who happened to be on vacation as well.  Dan is a fellow Trango team-mate, and an outstanding climbing photographer.  A hefty chunk of the photos in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual were generously provided by Dan. Some of Dan’s images are peppered throughout this post, or you can check out his amazing gallery here. 

After warming up , I got on my presumed project.  The climbing starts out with fun, huge spans between large holds.  There’s a big jug at the crook of the roof, then the first crux comes traversing from that jug to the lip of the cave.  You can either shuffle or cross between several holds, but you end up with a good incut crimp and a tufa pinch.  Depending on your sequence you can either dyno into a big iron cross, and then struggle to climb out of it, or you can make a wild lunge to a flat edge at the lip.  I think this is where the drop knee would be used if you were tall enough, allowing either sequence to go statically.  Since I was not able to use the dropknee, I tried the two alternatives and settled on the Iron Cross solution. 

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Struggling to climb out of the Iron Cross on Breakin’ the Law. Photo Dan Brayack

Once at the lip, a really hard crank off a thin, sharp crimp gets you onto the slab.  I struggled quite a bit with this move, perhaps because I was tired from working the lower crux.  I figured this would end up being the redpoint crux but I was too exhausted to really work it.  I moved on to the headwall, which was mostly fun, technical face climbing, but hosted one sinister move in which you have to high-step your right foot onto a polished block that slopes away at a 45-degree angle.  There is a faint bit of patina on this block that allows you to toe-in a bit, which is key since you next have to reach for an over-head undercling, using this dire foothold to push against.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Beginning the second crux, a heinous crank to gain the headwall. Photo Dan Brayack.

At the end of the day I had all the moves worked out.  Typically if I can do all the moves, I can send, but I had no idea if the moves would come together in the four climbing days remaining. The second crux requires a pretty hard crank after a long series of hard moves, and that is something I struggle with.

"Rest Day" hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

“Rest Day” hike to the West Rim of Zion Canyon.

The limestone surrounding St. George is much more monolithic than the stone at most US limestone crags.  That means it’s not very featured, and generally quite sharp.  There are the odd pockets, but most of the climbing is on small edges.  The result is that the climbing tends to be less steep at any given grade than you might encounter at other, more featured limestone crags like Rifle, or the Wyoming crags.  This is great for technicians like me, and these crags really shine in the 5.12+ and up range.  Below that, the climbing often isn’t all that fun; it’s certainly not the type of climbing you want to do on vacation.  Fortunately St George is all about variety, and there really is something for everyone.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a's in the area.  It's a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Jumanji is one of the better limestone 5.12a’s in the area. It’s a fine route, but its sharp, polished, and so not particularly fun by holiday standards. Photo Dan Brayack.

With this in mind, we opted to experiment with some different warmup crags over the next few days.  The notorious Chuckwalla Wall is often derided by serious climbers, but I really enjoy climbing there.  It’s by no means a wilderness setting, but the routes are just plain fun, and the approach takes about 90 seconds, which is key for climbers with kids.  The cliff is stacked with 30+ classic sandstone jug hauls from 5.9 to 5.12, and they make for great warmups and fun all around.  For the next two crag days we started at Chuckwalla, then after my last warmup we hopped in the car and raced down Highway 91 to Black & Tan, slightly frantic to get on my project before my warmup had faded (note: it took us about 50 minutes to get from crag to crag, approaches included; this turned out to be quick enough that I never lost my warmup.)

Unwinding from the Iron Cross.  Photo Dan Brayack.

Unwinding from the Iron Cross. Photo Dan Brayack.

I made good progress on the second day, primarily refining my foot sequences, and rehearsing the big dyno into the Iron Cross at the lip.  I was able to do the crank onto the headwall much more consistently, and on my second go I managed a 1-hang, which is always a nice milestone, but certainly no guarantee of future success.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve by watching Logan’s Strawberry Shortcake DVD 4 or 5 times in a row and hitting the sack at 11pm.

Spotting Logan while while hiking near the Chuckawalla Wall on New Year's Day.

Spotting Logan while hiking near the Chuckwalla Wall on New Year’s Day.

On our third climbing day we revisited Chuckwalla, then hightailed it to Black & Tan.  My last warmup route felt really soft; either that or I was just feeling really strong.  We got the kids situated (i.e., turned on the Ipad), rigged the rope, and I started up.  Often I have a tendency to sprint on short power endurance climbs like this.  Each of the crux sections involve careful foot placements and subtle pressing to stay on the wall.  Perhaps since I didn’t know the moves super well, I took my time and made sure I did every move correctly, following Alex Lowe’s adage to ‘never move up on a bad [ice tool] placement’.  I expected to pump out at any moment, but I just kept motoring, going from one move to the next until I was on the headwall.  After a nice long shake I hiked up the headwall to the chains.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

Logan and me at Black & Tan.

The total effort took 5 burns over three days.  I think the route is comparable in difficulty to Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek (which took me 6 goes over 3 days), which is to say its a hard 14a or easy 14b, without the stem/dropknee.  I’m inclined to go with b 🙂  I’ve been crushing the campus board lately and I believe my power has reached a new level.  Occasionally periodization doesn’t work out quite like you hope, but this time I think the timing of my fitness was perfect for the characteristics of Breakin’ the Law.

To celebrate, we headed to Kelly’s Rock (named for my old friend Kelly Oldrid) and climbed “K-8″, ‘one of the best 5.11s in Utah’, according to the guidebook.  The climb includes two exciting roof pulls and some of the most amazing jugs I’ve ever seen.  Certainly a worthy line and easily the best limestone 5.11 I climbed that week. 

Tune in next week for Sunny St. George Part II!

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N' Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Celebratory Double Meat with Everything (hold the cheese), add whole grilled onion and chili peppers, from In N’ Out Burger. Definitely not on the diet plan but well worth it.

Logan stoked at In N' Out.  His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Logan stoked at In N’ Out. His new favorite food is Chocolate Milk Shakes.

Training Efficiently

Forunately there's no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me :)

Forunately there’s no money in climbing training research, or else this might be me 🙂

I think if people realized how little I train (and climb) they would be shocked.  I often joke with my wife that I should be quarranteened in a plastic bubble and studied by teams of cruel government scientists (ala E.T.). There is certainly a trend among top climbers to perform massive quantities of training (like, 6+ hours per day, 5 or 6 days per week).  That’s not me.  First of all, I don’t have that much time, between work and my family. Second (and foremost), I truly believe “less is more” when it comes to climbing training. Even if I had more time to train, I would probably spend much of that time resting anyway.

Considering those factors, my overarching strategy is to train as efficiently as possible.  That is, I strive to maximize my improvement relative to the training time (and energy) invested.  Doesn’t everybody do that you ask?  No, frankly.  Many people figure ‘the way to improve is to pile on more and more training.  Anyway, it couldn’t hurt, could it?’ This philosophy is popular among runners, cyclists, swimmers and other ultra-endura athletes.

The problem is, it actually can, and does hurt.  Low efficiency activities sap energy, thus undermining high efficiency activities.  In the best case scenario, the added volume forces longer recovery periods between workouts, but far more often, the needed additional rest is omitted, and the athlete simply goes into the next workout under-recovered, thus further limiting the intensity of the next workout.  As a result, every workout starts to become an endurance workout, and pretty soon the athlete is no longer progressing, but rather struggling to maintain the fitness he had when he started.

My strategy for maximizing training efficiency dovetails nicely wtih a complimentary training objective – favoring strength and power training over endurance.  This allows me to emphasize high intensity training, which is short in duration, almost by definition (there are brief periods during each season that I focus on endurance training, but even then I favor higher intensity endurance training followed by plenty of rest).  Furthermore, I only perform activities that I strongly believe provide a direct benifit to my performance; I don’t do any filler or “crosstraining”. [More on Training Intensity here]

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season.  The Strength & Power Training Phases  are very typical of a normal season.  However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is atypical; I'm rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of actual climbing.  I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate's Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

My actual training/climbing schedule from the Fall 2013 Season. The Strength & Power Training Phases are very typical of a normal season. However, the Performance Phase (outdoor climbing) is rather unusual; I’m rarely able to squeeze in more than 10 days of outdoor climbing in a season. I was able to wranlge about five extra days out of Kate’s Maternity Leave and the Government Shutdown.

This is perhaps easier to visualize on a macro-scale, but it also applies on a micro-scale.  For example, Strength Training revolves around my fingers, because they are the single most important factor in climbing performance.  I work my fingers first, but not for long.  When the intensity is right (really high), my fingers can only handle about an hour of work (or, about 18 ~60 second sets of deadhang repetitions, with 3 minutes rest between sets).  Once my fingers are worked, I perform a modest amount of pull muscle, upper arm, and shoulder exercises. 

During my Limit Bouldering routine, I don’t do “fun” boulder problems.  I only do boulder problems that will make me a better rock climber (as opposed to a better plastic climber).  In other words, the Lazy H has very few pinches or slopers, and the walls aren’t super steep.  It has a lot of sharp crimps, tweaky pockets, and small, greasy footholds.  Very few of these holds are oriented horizontally–my problems require core tension and attention to footwork.  It’s often hard to breath while climbing these problems, and my skin takes a fair bit of abuse, but the skill and strength developed translates directly to the rock.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn't "fun", but its good for my footwork.

Warming up in the Lazy H isn’t “fun”, but its good for my footwork.

That said, it’s only fair to note that I have pretty good technique, and that took many years to cultivate.  Now that I have it, it doesn’t take much to maintain.  However, my training terrain is deliberately designed to maintain my technique (in other words, it isn’t “fun” terrain).  My warmup time is split between a dead vertical wall, and one that overhangs a modest 8 degrees.  The holds on these walls are tiny, and precise movement is required to stay on the wall. Those with performance-limiting technique can apply these same concepts to skill develipment by training on realistic terrain, and emphasizing focused, quality skill practice over zombie-like monotonous quantity.

On A Mission

I’m heading out to Smith Rock in a few days for a two-week trip. The climbing at Smith is extremely thin and technical — and difficult to prepare for. I believe strongly in taining and I generally feel that using indoor tools is superior to “just climbing” outside (for building strength, power, and endurance). That said, indoor training is far from ideal for developing or polishing technique. For highly technique-dependent climbing, like that at Smith, some amount of outdoor skill practice is essential. Outdoor training can also help prepare your finger skin if its done wisely (in moderation).

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

To Bolt or Not To Be, 5.14a, Smith Rock

In 2008 I spent two weeks at Smith working and sending To Bolt or Not To Be, perhaps the most technical single-pitch climb in America. My training strategy for that season was pretty unusual, but very effective. I lengthened my Base-Fitness Phase by adding more ARC workouts, and I ordered a bunch of really tiny crimps to add to the Lazy H. I did a standard Strength Phase (but I added a thin, closed-crimp grip to my hangboard routine). After 8 hangboard workouts I immediately transitioned to outdoor climbing 2 days per week (normally I would have a 2-4 week transition period of bouldering and/or campusing). I climbed in the Lazy H a third day each week, doing thin, power-endurance linked bouldering circuits.

The key to this approach was selecting an appropriate “training route”. That season I worked Third Millenium at the Monastery, a barely overhanging, thin, technical, and sustained 5.13d. Ironically I didn’t send Third Millenium in 8 days of work (though I went on to send it later), but then went on to send To Bolt in just 7 days (you do the math on that!). Third Millenium was the perfect route; it got my footwork dialed, my lead head in order, and trained power-endurance on the right types of holds. The point being, if you want to utilize outdoor training to prepare for a goal route, the most effective way to do so is:

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

Third Millenium, 5.13d, The Monastery

1. Pick the right training routes, those that are as-similar-as-possible to the route you are training for, in terms of steepness, hold type, continuity, commitment, and length.

2. Accept that the purpose of each day’s cragging is to train for your goal, not to send! This may mean cutting sessions short to avoid trashing your finger skin, to avoid too much fatigue, or to squeeze in a bit of indoor training at the end of each crag day.

In the pre-parenthood era of 2008 I had a lot more options, whereas now there are significant advantages to staying close to home. I decided the ideal training route this time around would be “Mission Overdirve”, a linkup of “Mission Impossible” and “Interstellar Overdrive” in Clear Creek Canyon. Mission Impossible was bolted by Jay Samuelson and immediately offered to the community as an open project. Dan Woods eventually came away with the FA, calling the line 5.14d and the hardest route he had ever climbed, even hard than Jaws II (5.15a at Rumney), opening with a V12 boulder, followed by pumpy climbing to a V11 finish.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Entering the hardest bit of the low crux.

Jonathan Siegrist actually tried the line first, but didn’t have time to commit to the full route. He established the Mission Overdrive link-up before heading overseas, calling the line 14a/b. This linkup climbs the opening “V12″ boulder of MI before joining Interstellar (5.13d) for its notorious “V8″ crux. The entire line is about 70 feet long and overhangs 10 feet. The first half is basically dead vertical, with super thin, slopey edges and invisible footholds. The climbing is super insecure and there are about 10 moves in a row where you can pop off at any point. The Interstellar crux is steeper, with very tiny crimps that are fortunately incut-enough to pull out on. The pivotal move is a huge lock-off from a half-pad crimp to reach a slopey finger slot. The route is perfect for me and a great training route for Smith.

I first tried the route last Saturday. I was able to do all the moves on the lower crux but I couldn’t see how I was going to link all those moves, or even let go to clip. By the time I reached the top I was too worked to make any progress on the Interstellar crux. Then on the second go I shocked myself by climbing most of the way through the low crux, ultimately stymied by a precarious clip. At that point I knew the line was do-able and I was committed. I spent some more time on the upper crux, then headed home for a campus session.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

Nearing the end of the first crux.

My next outdoor day was supposed to be the following Friday, but I couldn’t wait that long so I arranged for a short outdoor session on Monday evening followed by an indoor Power-Endurance session on Tuesday. Normally I would never climb two days in a row like that, so the key was to keep Monday’s effort short and minimize any wear on my skin. I did two 30-minute burns, with the goal of working out a viable clipping strategy for the low crux, and dialing the low-percentage upper crux, which comes with a substantial pump. I was able to achieve both goals, but at the end of the day there was still a 10-foot transition section that I hadn’t really worked out. The climbing is ~5.11+, easy enough to figure out on the fly, but just hard enough to get you pumped before the final boulder problem., so I wanted to have an efficient sequence worked out.

Friday was a dedicated outdoor day, so I took my time with a thorough warmup. I climbed a rad .12b face climb at the Monkey House called The Reward. This is a brilliant thin edging climb with a committing crux. If only it were twice as long! My first burn on Mission Overdive, I sent most of the way through the low crux, but botched a foot sequence and pumped off. I took the opportunity to work out the 11+ transition section, but then I was unable to do the Interstellar crux. The move is very precise and requires the perferct coordination of all four limbs. You need to move just high enough to reach the hold; any higher and your low hand will pop off. The high hand has to slide perfectly into a narrow slot, requiring a precise deadpoint. Both “footholds” are miniscule, and must be weighted just enough to complete the move but not so much that your feet slide off. After a few tries I was able to find the right timing.

Preparing to turn the roof.

Preparing to turn the roof.

I took a 45-minute break, and then tried again. This time I recalled my sequence for the first crux perfectly. There are many subtle foot shifts, so that was not a trivial feat. I was pumped, but not overwhelmingly so. The low crux ends at a decent left handhold, allowing a clip and a brief shake. Next the route tackles an intimidating roof with a really cool highstep and dyno to reach an awesome rest. I was able to recover completely at this rest, then I cruised up the 5.11+ section. At the high crux I was notably pumped, but there is a so-so shake just below, and I took my time here and got back what I could. My forearms felt powered-down, but I reckoned I could still bear down for a few moves, so I went for it. When you hit each move just right, this crux almost feels easy, and you can understand how this could be called V8. I got the finger slot, then a few more slopey pods to reach damp jugs and the anchor.

Overall the line is fantastic, hands-down my favorite route in Clear Creek Canyon. I’m really stoked to try the full Mission Impossible, but I think that will have to wait until I return from Smith. I’m not too sure about the grade; this is the fastest I’ve sent a 5.14, so based on that logic it seems unlikely that its 14b. On the other hand, I’m in great shape on paper, so who knows? I highly doubt the low crux is V12; I’ve never even tried an established V12, so I really have no clue, but I assume V12 is harder than that! I would say more like hard V10 or easy 11; and a realistic V9 for the Interstellar crux. The real challenge of the route is keeping it together over a large number of difficult sequences.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

The end of the Interstellar crux.

I think it goes to show how strengths and weaknesses can affect grades. Ideally these factors should be accounted for when assigning a grade but its not simple to extrapolate and so these factors often have a big effect. There is a tendency to assume that certain climbers have an absolute understanding of the grade scale (Adam Ondra, for example) but it really doesn’t work that way. The style of route and the climber’s tastes are critical to their perception of a route’s difficulty. The bottom line is, any time you find a sequence that is hard for you, take it as an opportunity to improve, regardless of the grade.  If you find something feels easy, enjoy it!  The pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough.

I’m off to Smith on Thursday, with pretty thick skin, decent footwork, and high confidence. I’ll be teaching a footwork clinic (8:30am at Redpoint Climber’s Supply) and giving a slideshow (8:30pm), both on Saturday April 20th. Come out and say hi if you’re in the area.

Passing the Time

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of climbing, traveling, and more climbing.  I apologize for neglecting my blog, but now you will be rewarded with a barage of tails of my exciting adventures ;)

I spent the latter half of October working a route in Clear Creek Canyon called “Primetime to Shine”.  This is a linkup of two popular Peter Beal 14a’s, “Primeval” and “Shine”.  I’m usually not a big fan of linkups but this one is a rare example of a linkup that actually improves on the piece parts.  The Primo Wall is fairly short (maybe 35 feet tall?) and the geometry is such that the ‘straight up’ lines are really only continuous for a little over half the height of the wall.  The ‘Primetime’ linkup traverses left and up through the middle of a steep shield of stone, keeping the line hard for a good 30 or so hand moves.  The result is one of the most continuous hard lines on the Front Range. 

Most of “Primetime to Shine”  Photo: Jay Samuelson

The route is basically a classic power endurance sprint, so it made for a good objective to focus the efforts of my Power Endurance phase.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with different types of Interval training, besides the classic “4×4″ method that I have extensive experience with.  I used a 32-move “route” for my intervals.  I did about one workout a week, which consisted of at least 4 laps (but as many as I could do without failing), starting with 4 minutes rest for the first workout.  A lap would take a little bit less than 2 minutes to climb, so the work to rest ratio started at about 1:2, with the goal of getting it down to 1:1 by reducing the rest interval by 30 seconds to a minute for each subsequent workout.  When I first set this route in the summer of 2010, I couldn’t send it once with several sessions of work.  Its very motivating to now see myself sending 5 or 6 times in a 20 minute period!

The Green Traverse, 5.13+?

The rock on the Primo Wall is nearly flawless Gneiss, and the route climbs a variety of interesting features, starting with wicked hard crimping up a steepening prow to a series of desparate moves to reach a big sloping ledge.  At this point the climbing transitions from frantic crimping to desparate sloper moves as the line veers left, away form the Primeval finish.  Gymnastic slaps and heel hooks lead straight into the ‘Shine’ crux, which involves a combination of slopers and crimps to reach an odd pegmatite scoop that is best compared to a 2-finger pocket.  If you latch this hold you’re most likely going to send (eventually), but there are still another 10 or so pumpy sloper moves that dashed my redpoint effort more than once.

The campaign was a rollercoaster ride with a lot of ups and downs, and a good lesson in the perils of over-confidence.  The wall is tricky to hit in good conditions in the fall; ideally you would climb here in the dead of winter when cold temps would be guaranteed.  The wall is in the shade until around 10am or so, then bakes in the sun until 4pm.  We bounced back and forth between morning and evening climbing sessions which made it hard to find a good rhythm.   The evening sessions were agonizing because I had to sit around the house all day trying to “save” myself for the evening climbing.  The morning sessions were a complete waste; either the rock was bitterly cold and I would numb out, or I would fail to get a sufficient warmup and get shutdown on the powerful starting moves. 

I one-hanged the route pretty early on, which lead to the ill-advised “next try” mentallity.  Thinking I would surely send “next try”, I put less and less time into each burn, in order to “save” my skin/strength/etc for the next try.  In my experience this is the ticket to a long, protracted and frustrating series of fruitless burns.  The silly part was that I was well aware of what I was doing, but still so confident that I figured it was worth the gamble.  It wasn’t! 

But some lessons are so helpful they’re worth learning several times.  Near the end of October we got the first real snow storm on the Front Range, which brought nice cold temps along with 6″ or so of snow.  The conditions made it possible to climb mid-day which was just what I needed.  For some reason trekking to the crag through snow drifts seems to bring out the best in me.  Perhaps its the solitude that comes with such situations, but I think its simply the cold stone.

Icicles over Primeval. The wet pinch appears to be about a foot directly below the lowest quickdraw.

When we arrived I was disheartened to see big icicles coming off the top of Primeval.  The wall is so steep it hadn’t really occured to me that seapage might be a problem.  The route looked pretty much dry, except for a right hand pinch that sets up the dyno to the big sloping ledge at the end of the Primeval crux, and the last 2 or 3 holds below the chains.  I always figure when redpointing its worth a try no matter the conditions, but I had pretty low expectations.  The dyno had shut me down on a number of attempts so I couldn’t really see sticking it with a wet hand. 

The rock was crisp but not overly-frigid.  I flowed through the opening sequence with relative ease.  After a risky and strenuous clip the right hand moves to an awkward spike, then a big high step and left hand to a small, sharp crimp.  Perch on the righ foot, suck in the hips and then slap the right to the wet pinch.  I could feel the water but my hand stuck.  Fortunately I’ve dialed this dyno to the point that its virtually static; the key is to keep the feet from cutting loose in order to control the swing…stuck.  Dry my hand and shake.  Wetness is no longer  an issue but the hand is much colder than usual from the water.  This is one of those rests that isn’t really that restful, and you wonder if you would be better off sprinting.  At only around 10 moves in, you aren’t pumped, just numb.  I stay long enough to get most of the feeling back in my hands and press on linking intermittent rails. 

De-booting post-send with the upper route behind.

A newly discovered foothold makes a once-desparate slap trivial, and on to the Shine crux.  This part always feels desparate but if you just keep motoring and ignore the insecurity you won’t fall.  Match the sloper rail, left foot way high, rock up and reach high to the pocket.  Gaston with the right, then dyno for the “jug”.  This time I’m not pumped.  Clip the bolt, chalk up, and finally appreciate how peaceful this canyon can be on a secluded snowy day.  The second-to-last hold is wet but incut, leading to a blind slap to a jug over the lip; probably wet–hopefully not filled with snow or worse, ice.  I consider clipping from the lower crimp, but after a slight hesitation I go for the jug.  I’ve never been so relieved to find a hold full of water!

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