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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.

Coming back to Training

I basically took this spring off.  Not from climbing.  But from training.  I was doing what most people consider training: Climbing and projecting boulder problems at the gym during the week and climbing outside and trying to send routes on the nice weekends.  I basically “let myself go back to my base ability.”  Of course, that’s not true..but it felt like it.  We are a product of our past training.  It turns out my “not-training” base is climbing 12d second or third go and onsiting 12a and b.  So pretty hard to complain right?  Now that I’m successfully married and honeymooned, its time to get serious with my training.  I think sometimes taking a break is really good – like I am so excited to train right now, I’m bursting with it!
Ryan Smith on Blood Raid 5.13a, New River Gorge.
I’m a dedicated student of training – like all of us right?  So what is my primary weakness?  My natural strength has always been my pure enduro.  I’m a big guy (for a climber) which means I have tons of gas in the tank.  Unless I’m at my limit, I rarely fail on a route because of enduro or power enduro.  Because of my previous hangboarding workouts, my finger strength is awesome – I can hold just about anything.  I will certainly do a new hangboard workout this winter, but I’m skipping my summer hangboard workout to focus on my true weakness:  Power.
If you’re not sure what your weakness is, I would first ask your friends.  Training your strength is good and fun, but its not effective for breaking through barriers.  There are also some online quizzes.  If you’ve never done core training – I’ll tell you right now.  Your weakness is your core.  Especially if you don’t climb “super smooth.”
My climber bro, Ryan’s primary strength is his power, so I’ve been consulting with him and today at the gym, he’s going to take me through a series of ring exercises he’s been doing.  I’ll be training on the rings for core, stabilizer muscles (super important), some pull, and I want to do flies to improve my compression strength – which flat out stinks.  I’m also going to do weighted pull ups as well as train for a one-arm pull up.  I would say right now my 50/50 focus will be the general pull stuff as I described above and the campus board.  Once I get a good base on the pull stuff, I’ll probably move into 80/20 campus board, ring stuff.  I have about ten weeks before I’m going to regularly climbing outside (its hot as crap here anyways.)
All that on top of running of course.  I love running.  Once I get it all sorted out, I’ll post my routines and see if I can get some input from you internet readers.
Lauren Brayack doing some training in Cartagena, Spain
Me doing a little bouldering on the Rock of Gibraltar

Anderson Brothers Interview at PaleoTreats

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Anderson Brothers thinking about training.

Earlier this week Mike and I were invited on Nik Hawks’ podcast over at PaleoTreats.  PaleoTreats is a web-based mail order company that makes delicious and nutritious desserts for active and health-conscious folks.  In their own words,

“…We’ve been making foodie-approved Paleo desserts since 2009. We are serious about flavor, texture, ingredients and Paleo. Yes, all of them. We’ve shipped around the world, from Australia to Afghanistan, and we’ve ironed out all the kinks of getting a great dessert to your door.”

Nik’s podcast isn’t really about that though.  He’s interviewed an impressively diverse group of folks covering the gamut from elite athletes, to coaches and nutrition experts, focused on a wide variety of sports.  He’s really interested in the pursuit of excellence, and the common factors that make athletes successful, regardless of their athletic vocation.  Our podcast covered a variety of topics, including:

  • Goal-Setting in life and sports
  • How to develop the ability to work hard in yourself and your kids
  • The time and place for skill development in climbing
  • What we’re most proud of (in a training sense), and what we would change about the RCTM
  • How self-esteem (or lack thereof) has impacted our motivation and success
  • The next big innovations in climbing training

(Pretty much the only thing we didn’t talk about is food)

Check out the podcast here!

This photo has nothing to do with the adjacent text. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog post. Sticking the crux dyno on Nailed It, 12d, at the Sterling Wall.

Optimizing Post Exercise Recovery

The following is a guest-post from Seiji Ishii, well known to readers of the RCTM forum as “Coach Seiji”.  Coach Seiji has an extensive background in Exercise Physiology, has coached world-class athletes in various sports, including stints working for Carmichael Training Systems and Ultrafit.  He currently trains professional supercross/motocross athletes and operates a CrossFit gym in Austin, TX. During his free time he’s working to revive his dormant rock climbing career.

Coach-Seiji-3-600x400.jpg

Coach Seiji

It is a well-known and researched practice by even recreational athletes to ingest protein directly after both endurance and strength training as it has repeatedly shown to aid in positive protein balance and thus stimulate protein synthesis.  This increases recovery rates and muscle adaptive response to each subsequent training bout, making training more efficient. Several research groups have and are still studying the optimal amount and type of protein. Reading studies related to this up to 2013 have shown that increasing the amount of protein ingested in a single dose post-exercise increases the amount of protein synthesis (up to 20g, at which point the rate of protein synthesis is maximized). Several types of protein have been studied, including dairy-based proteins like whey, casein and casein protein hydrolysate, as well as whole milk, fat free milk, and yes, even chocolate milk. Soy and egg protein have also been studied. I haven’t found that many studies comparing protein synthesis rates of the various kinds of proteins, but what has been shown is that milk protein and its isolates, whey and casein, perform better than soy.  Furthermore, whey seems to stimulate a larger protein synthesis response than casein. These differences arise from the differences in amino acid profile and digestion and absorption kinetics.

The timing of protein ingestion has also been studied; it has been shown that consuming protein right after training produces a better protein balance than waiting a few hours. It has also been shown that consuming carbohydrates with the protein further enhances muscle protein building due to the quicker delivery of amino acids to the muscle cells. Ingesting protein both before and during exercise has to stimulate muscle protein synthesis during the exercise bout.

Coach Seiji crushing at Sitting Bull Falls, NM.

Coach Seiji crushing at Sitting Bull Falls, NM.

All of this is good of course, but the surprising thing is that studies have shown that overnight muscle synthesis rates are not positively affected by post exercise protein intake, even when the training and subsequent protein supplementation ocurred in the evening. Muscle protein synthesis rates were even lower in the morning than with an overnight fast! Bummer!

I located a study that specifically addressed if protein administered during sleep affected protein synthesis rates compared to fasting overnight, then the same with ingesting protein just prior to sleeping.

Who:

Luc J.C. van Loon, researcher, and recreational athletes that performed a resistance training bout at 8pm.

What:

Protein supplementation both directly before sleep, and during sleep, and its effects on overnight muscle protein synthesis.

Why:

Athletes have ingested 20-25g of protein directly after training bouts as it has shown to increase muscle protein building in the crucial recovery period.  However, even if this happens in the evening, no positive effects have been shown on overnight muscle protein synthesis. This could be due to the slowing of digestion and other related processes that would reduce the amount of amino acids available in the plasma during sleep. Regardless of cause, this seemingly doesn’t take advantage of the most restorative time in the athlete’s 24-hour period. The purpose of this analysis is to find a way to take advantage of this time to optimize recovery and make training more efficient in the long term.

Where:

Department of Movement Sciences of Maastricht University of the Netherlands

When:

First published by the American College of Sports Medicine in 2012

How:

The first method studied was to supplement protein through a nasogastric tube (tube going in through the nose into the stomach) during sleep. The casein protein had a tracer on it both prior to ingestion, then again with a different tracer administered via IV drip throughout the night to track the protein once it entered the plasma.

The second method involved recreational athletes, who all ate nutritionally equally during the day, performed their strength training bout at 8 pm, and then ingested 20g protein/60g carbohydrate at 9 pm.  These subjects then ingested a recovery drink 30 minutes prior to sleep that contained either  40g of casein protein with tracer, or a placebo. Sleep time was standardized to 7.5 hours.

Results:

The protein delivered via feeding tube did increase muscle protein syntheisis rates overnight compared to no feeding overnight. The tracer proved that the casein protein was indeed digested, caused an increase in the concentration of amino acids in the plasma, and wound up in new muscle proteins by morning. The 40g protein drink given 30 min prior to sleep also increased amino acid concentration in plasma, increased protein synthesis rates compared to the drink that didn’t contain protein, and the tracer was found in the newly assembled muscle proteins in the morning.

The subjects that received the 40g protein recovery drink showed both reduced protein breakdown during the night, an average increase of 22% of protein synthesis for a much improved overall overnight protein balance during the 7.5 hours of sleep.

My take:

This is all good! Much better overnight muscle recovery with the ingestion of the 40g protein 30 min before sleep. This, to me, is an awesome benefit to daily recovery and long term effectiveness and efficiency of training, for very little effort.

My suggestion would be to do this after any strength training day and any heavy day of training. I would find the type or mixtures of proteins that work the best for you, both in terms of digestion and effects on your sleep. I do think that this varies depending on the person and I do think that what you eat before you sleep can affect your sleep (I am researching what types of proteins affect sleep in what way after reading this study), so you need to experiment to find what works best. I do think finding easily digestible protein matters, as digestion rates do slow during sleep. Easily digestible protein sources will create less work for your body during sleep, freeing up more energy to devote to other recovery tasks.  Also, the amount of work your body has to do to digest the protein can negatively affect sleep from what I have observed.

Bottom Line:

  • 20-25 g Protein with each meal
  • 20-25g Protein right after exercise
  • Can consider some Protein with Carbohydrate during exercise, but in most people I know and myself, protein during exercise can cause GI stress/GI slowdown thus negatively effecting hydration and carbohydrate fueling. This also seems worse as exercise intensity increases. In these cases, to me, it’s not worth the downsides at all for the upside of increased protein synthesis during the exercise bout.
  • 20-40g Protein right before bed, not to exceed 30 min prior to sleeping

Heck ya! Enjoy the benefits of increased muscle recovery while you sleep! It doesn’t get much easier than that.

If you are interested in  contributing to the RCTM Blog as a guest author, please contact us here!

Rest Phase Phun

Climbing has a tendency to become all-consuming. For me, when I’m in my performance Phase it seems like climbing is on my mind 24/7 and I have no mental or physical energy for anything else. This is how I like it, but after a couple months of this I’m usually exhausted. In some ways the climbing culture seems to foster this idea that in order to be a “core” climber you have to shun everything else and eat, drink and breathe ONLY climbing. That’s nonsense! Variety is the spice of life and there are many other ways to get your stoke on.

One aspect of periodic training that I’ve really come to love is the opportunity it provides to take a step back from “the grind” every few months. Before I became completely obsessed with climbing I enjoyed many other forms of outdoor recreation, but when I’m “in season” I have no time for these things. By the time my Rest Phase rolls around I’m really excited to enjoy some other types of fun.

This past weekend Mike and I took maximum advantage of our brief Rest Phase to crawl around in the muck and ubiquitous red sands of the Utah desert. I first came to the desert as a climber in the mid-90’s, but I quickly fell in love with canyoneering. Its exploratory and adventurous nature really appealed to me, plus it has a lot in common with desert trad climbing. Basically, if you love chimneying you’d love canyoneering. It’s another excuse to wander around in a spectacular landscape.

Mike arrived early and did a couple Canyons with our high school buddy Chris Graham, and a newer friend, CJ Powers. Here are some shots of Larry Canyon, in the Robber’s Roost region:

L to R: Chris, CJ and Mike in Larry Canyon

L to R: Chris, CJ and Mike in Larry Canyon

Deep in the slot it was so dark we needed a headlamp, but when we lit it up, we could see the walls were covered with spiders!

Deep in the slot it was so dark we needed a headlamp, but when we lit it up, we could see the walls were covered with spiders!

A pretty slot in Larry Canyon, in the "Robber's Roost" region.

A pretty slot in Larry Canyon, in the “Robber’s Roost” region.

The exit of Larry Canyon requires a steep climb up the canyon wall, but with a breathtaking view.

The exit of Larry Canyon requires a steep climb up the canyon wall, but with a breathtaking view.

The night sky at Robber's Roost.

The night sky at Robber’s Roost.

Larry Canyon

Larry Canyon

Sunrise

Sunrise

A rare sunrise rainbow!

A rare sunrise rainbow!

Over the course of the long weekend I did 6 canyons, but I only brought a camera on the last one, so here are some of my blurry images of “Leprechaun Canyon”, about 30 miles southeast of Hanksville on Highway 95….

Leprechaun Canyon from the top, the Henry Mountains behind.

Leprechaun Canyon from the top, the Henry Mountains behind.

CJ deep in the slot.

CJ deep in the slot.

Tight slots like this involve a lot of down chimneying which starts out fun but often becomes tedious.

Tight slots like this involve a lot of down chimneying which starts out fun but often becomes tedious.

Chris "Handlining" (aka Batman-ing) down a 15' drop.

Chris “Handlining” (aka Batman-ing) down a 15′ drop.

The slot ended with a pair of beautiful swims in a dark chamber.

The slot ended with a pair of beautiful swims in a dark chamber.

The second swim was a bit narrow.

The second swim was a bit narrow.

The nice stroll back to the highway.

The nice stroll back to the highway.

Hangboarding starts tomorrow!

Reflections on the Time Value of Climbing Ability

Readers of the RCTM should by now be familiar with our concept “The Time Value of Climbing Ability” (if not, you can read about it on page 12). In a nutshell, the more you improve, the easier climbs at a given grade become to send, and therefore, you can send them more quickly. So if you invest your time in improving, rather than investing that time in trying to send, the resulting improvement will payoff in the ability to send much more quickly in the future. This may sound simple and obvious, but lately I’ve noticed that some really smart climbers have trouble embracing this concept.

Smith Rock.

Smith Rock.

For many climbers, the unrestrained desire to climb all the time will be their undoing. This becomes particularly apparent when injuries and rehabilitation are involved, but rehabbing from an injury and improving are really just different ends of the same spectrum. Imagine “Jake” has a minor ligament strain in his ring finger. Jake also has a road trip scheduled for early fall. Laying out his training schedule it becomes clear that he won’t be in shape for his fall road trip unless he compresses his re-hab and skips all the extra rest days his Physical Therapist recommended. So that’s what he does, and three weeks in his “minor” ligament strain is now a minor tear, and a major bummer. It will take Jake 6 months to get healthy again, assuming he’s ever able to find the patience he couldn’t muster a few weeks ago.

That’s hypothetical but I see it all the time in real climbers (and in myself). We have a short-term goal that we are obsessed with. In the grand scheme of our career, it’s just another route, but at present it’s the most important thing in the world. Often there really is no sane reason for this single-mindedness, but we want to have it all so we push and push until something snaps. The irony of this is that what seems really important and life-changing in the present often seems far less significant with the passage of time.

My first Smith Rock 5.12 was the “first pitch” of a route called Heinous Cling (aka “Lower Heinous”), front and center in the legendary “Dihedrals”. I first attempted this route many times on toprope over the summers of 1995 and ’96. Once I was onto the training thing, I returned in 2001 and eventually sent after several days of work. It was a big deal for me. I had done a couple other routes that might be 5.12, but this was the first I had done that was solid at the grade. Also it was at Smith, a crag I revered above all others.

In 2007 I was at Smith to work Scarface. Each day before heading over to the base of my project, I stopped off at the Dihedrals to run up Lower Heinous for my daily warmup. I’ve probably done the climb more than 30 times by now, and I’ve done nearly 700 5.12s. Thinking back to the time I spent struggling and fretting over my first few 5.12s makes me laugh. If I only I had known how trivial it would become with time.

I’m not saying that such ascents are meaningless. We all need to go through the process of slaying these dragons, building confidence to try harder climbs, as well as learning better strategy and tactics as we overcome the struggle (and accept the occasional failure). Furthermore, the joy of striving towards and achieving a goal is essential to fueling further effort and progression. I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not gone through the process of selecting, training for, and achieving short-term goals time and again. It’s a delicate balance, made more precarious by the influence of our Egos and our desire to constantly exceed our abilities. I’ve certainly found myself on the wrong side of the equation at various times, and in some cases I’ve paid a hefty price for my lack of patience.

My first 5.13, Goliath, took six climbing days and the better part of the season.

My first 5.13, Goliath, took six climbing days and the better part of the season.

If you find yourself constantly sacrificing your long-term interests in favor of the climbing opportunities immediately in front of you, you may very well be undermining your own development. This can manifest itself in many ways. For some climbers, its perpetually selecting slightly too-hard redpoint projects that devolve into mutli-week or even multi-season campaigns of downward-spiraling fitness and motivation .   Other climbers love climbing so much that they sacrifice recovery periods. They think a little bit of “easy” climbing on a rest day, or before a workout, won’t hurt. As a result, they carry a little bit too much fatigue from one workout to the next, permitting only mediocre effort during the workout, culminating in lackluster improvement. [Perhaps that little bit of extra climbing is worth it. That’s a personal question, but I would say certainly not! There are other ways to have your cake and eat it too. For example, carve out a week at the end of your Performance Phase for these less demanding objectives. Then when it’s time to train your can really focus on training.]

It’s taken me a while to get to this place, but these days I’m rarely in a hurry.  I know I’m always improving, so the longer I wait to attempt a goal route, the easier it will be.  Sometimes I want a more difficult challenge, or I want to reach for something that is a bit beyond me (or more often I mistakenly think something is closer to my grasp than it really is), so in those situations I will be more aggressive.  But most of the time, I’m quite content to focus my energy on the day-to-day task of getting just a little bit better every day, waiting for my goals to come to me.

Don’t be in such a hurry. Take the long view. Chances are you have many good years ahead of you. Use the time you have right now in such a way that will produce the most results in the long term. If you stick to your plan, follow through with diligence, the results will come. Whatever route or boulder problem you’re stressing over at this moment, don’t worry about it. It’ll come together, and then eventually it’ll become a cooldown, and then maybe even a warmup. One day you will marvel that you ever thought it was hard.

Mission (im)Possible!

Last spring I climbed Mission Overdrive in Clear Creek Canyon, a linkup that begins up Daniel Woods’ 5.14c(/d?) test-piece Mission Impossible, and then traverses right at mid-height to catch the upper half crux of the canyon’s mega-classic 5.13d Interstellar Overdrive.  At the time I was curious to investigate the complete Mission Impossible, but the remainder of my season was already booked solid. 

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.

Mission Impossible from across the canyon, finishing up the headwall.  Photo Adam Sanders

After returning from St. George in mid-January I decided to focus my attention on Mission Impossible.  I had worked out the first half the previous spring, so I focused on the upper half.  Where the lines diverge, an easy jug rail leads left to a great rest, followed by about 15-feet of easy 5.12 climbing.  Above this lies the crux, composed of two back-to-back boulder problems separated by a relatively big, incut horn. 

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible.

Battling shallow slopers and thin crimps on the ‘Mission’ crux – the lower half of Mission Impossible. Photo Adam Sanders

I was able to suss the first boulder quickly, but the second was completely baffling.  The holds essentially disappear, leaving about a 6-foot gap from a slopey 1-pad edge just above the horn, to a series of arcing horizontal slashes that traverse the lichen-streaked headwall.  There was no chalk and no hint of a sequence between these holds, only a few slippery pegmatite micro-crystals.  However, there were many footholds below the void, and a 2-foot tall depressed channel running horizontally across the left side of the wall, the bottom half of which formed a short, 75-degree slab.  This mini-slab had a few imperfections, ripples really, that provided just enough relief to offer the scantest purchase.  On a vertical wall these ‘razor crimps’ would be pitiful footholds, but situated on the slab, with good footholds below, they presented potential.

After half an hour of thrutching I discovered a desperate sequence of slaps between the razor crimps, followed by a burly rockover onto the incut horn, and finally a precision stab to the distant horizontal slash.  These were hands-down the hardest moves I’d ever climbed on real rock.  It was hard to imagine linking this boulder problem after 60-feet of pumpy climbing, but experience told me that if I could do the moves, eventually I could build the muscle memory and fitness needed for a redpoint.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.

Entering the ‘Impossible’ crux, with my right hand on the incut horn, and left on the lowest ‘razor crimp’.  Photo Adam Sanders

Over the next couple days I rehearsed and refined my sequence, battling the canyon’s fickle conditions.  Finally, on the fourth day of work I redpointed up to the lowest razor crimp, but failed to stick the second.  I was able to bag my first one hang, and then on the next burn I made it one move further, falling going for the third crimp.  Two 1-hangs in a day, I was stoked!  This was going better than I expected.  I spent the rest of the burn trying to link into and through this crux from as low as possible.  It was hot, and I was struggling, but each time I managed to pull through. 

After one link, I noticed I had sliced a thin layer of skin off my right ring finger pad.  The second razor crimp has a jutting crystal positioned between the middle and ring fingers, and it was cutting harshly into my ring finger.  I foolishly persisted, and on the next link this scalpel sliced completely through.  My journal entry for the day summed it up perfectly: “Blood everywhere.  Didn’t have any tape with me, and wasn’t ready to quit, so I tried to find another way to use the right hand there, and in the process managed to make the finger pad worse.  Totally fucked now”.    I took a few extra rest days, and then taped my mangled finger the best I could, but I struggled to match my previous efforts over the next few climbing days.  By the end of January, with bitter cold temps and snow on the horizon I decided to retreat to my hangboard and let my wound heal.

Finger pad carnage!  I can smile about this now.

Finger pad carnage! I can smile about this now.

After five weeks of solid strength and power training my skin was perfect and I was ready to get back on the horse (this time with a roll of tape threaded onto my chalkbag belt!).  At the end of my first day back on the route I shocked myself by redpointing up to the incut horn.  I struggled to repeat the razor crimp moves – perhaps my power was lacking, but my fitness was far beyond my expectations.  I felt a bit more limit bouldering and campusing was in order, so I returned to the Lazy H for one more power workout.  The next day on the route, the second of the season, I matched my previous highpoint on the first burn, and then made it one move further, to the highest razor crimp, on the next burn. 

Once this crimp is secured, I throw my right foot high onto the incut horn, and make a long stab to the first horizontal slash.  On this burn I snatched for this slash, touched it, but wasn’t close to latching it.  Still, after falling on redpoint six times at the razor crimps, I’d finally made some quantifiable progress.  Learning from the previous season’s disaster, I quit while I was ahead.  I was feeling confident, but also, quite suddenly, I felt a wave of pressure – now I knew the send was close at hand, and I would need to climb at my best over the coming days.

Perched on the highest razor crimps, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux.  Photo Adam Sanders

Perched on the horn, eyeing the horizontal slash that marks the end of the ‘Impossible’ crux. Photo Adam Sanders

I spent two stressful rest days obsessing over the beta, my skin, and my diet.  Hardly a moment passed without thinking about the route or my preparations.  This kind of stress is not pleasant, but I think it actually helps.  Many athletes talk about performing their best when they feel ‘butterflies in their stomach’.  It conjures the fight or flight response that taps into our body’s ultimate strength and endurance.  But where technical precision is required, it can certainly be an impediment, resulting in jittery foot movements and poor dynamic control – it’s a precarious balance.

Finally it was Sunday, time to go climbing again, and another opportunity to clinch my goal.  It was cold with a slight breeze, nearly perfect.  I climbed smoothly up to the mid-way rest, shook out my hands for several minutes and tried to warm my numb finger tips.  Eventually I ventured upwards, latching each crimp with relative ease.  I felt great.  I latched the highest razor crimp, and rocked up on my right foot with only a moderate pump.  Perhaps I was overzealous, or just unprepared to feel so collected, but I lunged wildly for the horizontal slash, over-shooting it by a few inches.  I was able to find the hold but not control my now-downward sailing momentum.  I managed to grunt out a pair of expletives during the long descent onto the rope.  I had it, I felt fine, I should have stuck the move easily, but instead I panicked.  It was frustrating, but still, it was my best burn so far, and I was now very close.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux.  Photo Adam Sanders.

Clearing a small roof just below the upper crux. Photo Adam Sanders.

By the time I was ready for my second burn, the crag was teeming, and a small gallery had formed, including strongman Jon Cardwell, who was patiently awaiting his turn on the route.  Jon is originally from Albuquerque, and I watched him develop into one of the best young climbers in the country during my seven years climbing and training at Stoneage Climbing Gym in New Mexico.  It was oddly inspiring to see us now working the same route (although I imagine he’ll find it much more accessible than I 🙂 ).

The first half was merely a formality by this point, and I quickly worked up to the midway rest.  I thought through my sequence, recalling how to grip each hold, when and where to shift my weight, and preparing my mind for a struggle through the final headwall.  Once I could feel my fingertips again, I cast off.  I cruised to the razor crimps, feeling only the slightest pump.  I moved methodically from edge to edge, not statically, but with complete control.  The moves had never felt so easy.  I targeted each hold, and reeled them in, one after the other.  Finally I rocked up onto the incut horn, preparing to dyno.  I delayed for a moment, and then coolly –and statically – reached up to the horizontal slash; gotcha!  I danced powerfully up the final eight moves, my excitement building as I neared the lip.  I clipped the chains, unleashed a loud yodel, and mantled onto the summit.  Mission accomplished!

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.

Shavasana

It is a new year, time for new goals.

Last year at this time, I had committed to climbing the Nose with careful preparation as days turned from January to late May.  I began slowly with my training regimen — easing on the ice cream, alcohol, and exercising too.  If you know me, you know that I am sort of non-stop.  This was an endurance training, so non-stop was great, but I didn’t want to wear too quickly.

After the Nose in June, I cancelled a massage appointment and to this day haven’t made time to reschedule….


It has been an awesome year, but I have realized that I need to rest.  I want to have another rad year!!!
A little nap in the midst of the already full year of events– 2013 has a full schedule of trips, expeditions, retreats, training and more training, work, growth, and hopefully laughter and health.

I have athletic ambitions, as well as, work commitments.  Dovetail Mountain will take another leap….for the best I can only hope!!!

To start this year, I have moved to the beach for a month of yoga, surfing, running, napping, and handstands.   I felt strong before I left Colorado–forearms full of endurance— but the earth was also full of freezing cold temperatures.  Rock climbing season was in hibernation.

This is my mini-hibernation.

I do worry about loosing my endurance or mental strength, but am also aware of this much needed break.  It is a new year.  Time for new beginning.

Re-set, let go, start from a base that is even better than the year past.

Looking, standing, breathing again!  

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

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