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

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

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Bishop 2009 050

Heather cruising The Bowling Pin, in the Buttermilks.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Indy Pass 5.14

by Mark Anderson

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

The crux of Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

Captain America, Independence Pass, Colorado.

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

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

Logan swinging from the lip of Calamity Jane.

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

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

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

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

Black Bear in Grand Teton National Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

Logan crushing in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton NP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan in Jackson Lake (Tetons)...

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

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…Taggart Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…String Lake (Tetons)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

…Weller Lake (Indy Pass)…

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

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

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

Dressed for the occasion.

Dressed appropriately for Captain America.

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

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

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

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

Double Stout

Roof climbing is my nemesis.  As someone who “grew up” climbing at Smith Rock, I always gravitated towards clean, monolithic faces that sweep skyward in one continuous plane of consistent steepness. My best angle is probably plumb vertical, and the steeper it gets after that, the more I struggle. The climbing on the Colorado Front Range tends to be far more varied, with undulating walls, short steep overhangs and jutting roofs.  When I moved to Colorado it was clear that I would need to adapt my style if I wanted to have success on the local terrain, so over the last several years I’ve made a conscious effort to attack that weakness. I began the process by focusing more attention on Whole Body Strength Training, as described in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual.  In addition to that, I dedicated more and more performance time to attempting routes that didn’t suit me. It was an “arranged marriage” at first, but I’ve since come to really appreciate all the intricacies and limitless options that my local crags have to offer.

I decided to dedicate the long winter to further targeting this weakness by adding a handful of new exercises to my winter Strength Phase (I’ll get much more into that in a series of future posts we’re working on that discuss core training).  Two weeks ago I finally emerged from my training lair ready to scuff up my fingers.  To gauge my progress, and further practice my roof-climbing skill development, I decided to try a long-standing project in Clear Creek Canyon called “Double Stout.”  Double Stout was envisioned, cleaned, and equipped by my friend, all-around great guy, and author of Clear Creek Canyon Rock Climbs, Darren Mabe.  It’s a towering 35-meter line, rising front-and-center up the proudest section of Clear Creek’s premier sport cliff, The Wall of the 90’s.  It sits just left of my route American Mustang (which itself is a variation to another of Darren’s routes, Wiled Horses), and the Mission routes, so I’ve had plenty of time to gaze longingly at it while hanging at various cruxes.

Double Stout begins up the near-vertical wall, darts out the big roof, and then weaves through tiered overhangs to the top of the cliff.

The climb begins with 20 meters of absolutely brilliant technical face climbing up an 85-degree slab.  Others have noted that this slab of stone seems to have been transplanted from the NRG’s Endless Wall.  The rock is magnificent and breathtaking, with fabulous orange and black swirls reminiscent of Quinsana Plus. The climbing is intricate, insecure and fantastic.  The slab ends at a 2-meter, slightly-steeper-than-horizontal roof.  The crux is surmounting this daunting beast.  Above, another 10ish meters of cerebral and pumpy climbing snake through a series of small, tiered roofs, to the apex of the cliff.

The brilliant calico slab.  Photo Mike Anderson.

After equipping the line in 2009, Darren quickly sussed and sent the slab.  I think Darren wouldn’t mind me saying that he put his heart and soul into freeing the entire line to the top of the cliff, but after a valiant effort, he graciously opted to open the project to other suitors in the summer of 2010.  Darren moved to Flagstaff a couple years later, but interest in the route has remained high.  Since the route was opened, the slab has been enjoyed by many as a great 5.13b route in itself, and is now regarded as one of the best 5.13s in the canyon (if not the best).

Smearing up the first slab crux on miserable bumps.  Photo Mike Anderson.

As for the continuation through the roof, more than a few great climbers have taken a stab at it since it was opened.  The word on the street was that the roof was significantly height-dependent, and likely impossible for those below average height.  I was well aware of that rumor, and it certainly discouraged me from trying the line sooner.  That, and the fact that regardless of wingspan, it just looked plain hard! But with more likely projects sent or out of condition, it was finally time for me to investigate.

Finishing up the slab.  Photo Mike Anderson.

My first attempt was less than inspiring.  The roof crux begins with a long reach to an incut flake in the roof.  This has to be grabbed as a gaston, with the left arm in an Iron Cross position, followed by a shoulder-wrenching negative contraction to sag onto the hold.  The first time I tried that move I felt like my shoulder was going to explode.  From there, you need to work out to a slopey, 1-pad edge at the lip of the roof.  The other climbers I had seen on this were able to reach the slopey edge with their feet still on the ledge at the top of the slab. My 67” frame was unable to bridge that distance, but I found a small foothold in the roof that provided a decent setup for a precise dyno to it.  I wasn’t able to do the move on my first burn, but I felt confident that I could eventually.

The iron cross move into the roof.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I was more concerned about the next move.  The standard beta was to campus from the slopey edge to a big, slanting rail above the roof (with the left hand still on the first roof hold, the incut flake).  To make this reach I had to turn my head to one side and paste my ear into the wall!  It seemed doubtful I would be able to do that, without hanging on the rope, on redpoint, or that I would be able to “unwind” from it if I did manage to stick the slap.  After exploring the headwall a bit I lowered with mixed feelings.  I debated packing it in and looking for another project.  I often experience these crises of confidence, which is really kinda silly considering how many times I’ve lived through the exact same scenario, lowering in defeat, only to later redpoint the route in question.

After reminiscing over such recoveries, and realizing there was no upside to quitting early, I tied in for another attempt.  This time I was able to stick the dyno to the slopey edge at the lip of the roof after a few tries.  Then I discovered some sneaky over-head-heel-hook trickeration that completely disarmed the presumed crux.  After practicing a few times and refining my sequence I was ultimately able to do the move statically.  For all my endless rambling about finger strength and training, I really think my greatest asset is my knack for devising whacky beta to get around “impossible” moves.  There were still a few transition bits to work out, but now I knew the line was within my abilities.

Controlling the violent swing after cutting my feet off the ledge.  Photo Mike Anderson.

After one more day to refine my sequence, I returned last Friday for another set of attempts.  On my first burn I gingerly worked up the relentless slab, barely staying in contact in numerous spots due to completely numb fingers.  I was able to warm my hands at the no-hands stance in the crook of the roof, and then I climbed with surprising ease out to the lip.  I latched the heel hook, but as I reached for the slanting rail my flagging foot, which I had neglected to place in the correct spot, suddenly popped off, with the rest of me in tow.  After dangling for a couple minutes, I pulled back on and continued to the top.  It was my first one-hang but might have been a send.  I wasn’t expecting it to go nearly that well, so I was quite psyched despite the foot flub.

The key campus move to the slopey edge.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I took a short walk to warm up my toes, and then started back up.  With my fingers properly warmed up the slab felt much more solid.  After a nice long shake atop the slab, I quickly moved out toward the lip of the roof, and then threw my feet overhead to setup for the heel hook.  Just as I got my feet set I realized I had forgotten the campus move out to the slopey edge!  My first thought was that I was hosed and needed to take.  I quickly decided to re-set and continue climbing if I could.  I reversed the front lever, took a deep breath and slapped for the edge.  I didn’t hit it quite right, but was able to bounce my hand into the correct position.  I pulled my legs back up over my head, and walked them out to the lip to snatch the heel hook.  As I arranged my hands for the decisive move, I noticed my biceps were quickly fading from so much extra footless dangling.

Pulling the lip, feet first and almost completely inverted.  Photo Mike Anderson.

This time I put my flagging foot into the correct position.  I no longer had the lock-off strength to reach the rail statically, so I took a deep breath and coiled.  Bracing for a fall from an inverted position, the thought of slipping out of my harness briefly flashed through my brain.  Stupid brain!  I was committed and determined, so I went for it.  I stuck the rail, gingerly allowed my hips to swing into balance, and removed my low hand to clip.  After matching the rail I made one final campus move and then swung my left foot over the lip.  I lunged for a jug, threw my other foot up, and manteled onto the headwall for a much-needed no-hands rest.  My heart was beating out of my chest, but I knew it was in the bag.  After a long rest I weaved up the headwall, clipped the chains, and Double Stout was free!

Working along the lip to reach better holds.  Photo Mike Anderson.

I owe a great deal of thanks to Darren for envisioning and creating the line, and for encouraging me to try it.  Dave Montgomery also put a lot of effort into the route, and the video of his attempts helped get me started.  People like Darren and Dave keep Colorado climbing fresh and relevant with their imaginative and inspiring creations.  If you take a good look at the history of Clear Creek climbing, the top end was really starting to stagnate in the early 2000’s. Darren and his like-minded partners re-invigorated the scene with a slew of great new routes, including selflessly cleaning and equipping futuristic lines like Mourning Glory, largely for the benefit of other climbers.  As a result, Clear Creek now stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Front Range when it comes to hard sport climbing.

Beginning up the excellent tiered headwall.  Photo Mike Anderson.

As for Double Stout, it’s really an awesome route and a great addition to the varied assortment of hard Clear Creek sport climbs.  I think a typical climber (read: someone who doesn’t have a demented fascination with razor sharp edges and miniscule footholds) would find it to be the most enjoyable of the many stellar hard lines on the Wall of the 90’s.  For those who enjoy routes that offer a little bit of everything, there are few routes on the Front Range that compare.  With the right beta, it’s not as cruxy or reachy as advertised.  That said, it’s a tough line to grade because I do think it is height-dependent (but not height-excluding, at least not at my height).  I can only say that for my dimensions, with my beta, it felt about 5.14a.  I suspect climbing out to the lip of the roof would be easier for a taller climber, but how much easier, and how much taller, I have no clue.  We will have to wait for such a climber to do it and let us know.  Darren tells me he’s training for a re-match, so I’m sure we’ll have at least one more opinion to go off of in the near future.

The top of the Double Stout headwall.  Photo Mike Anderson.

Unfinished Business Part 1 – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Unfinished Business – Part 1″ over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“In 2011, Denver climbing activist, king of psyche and all-around great guy Luke Childers bolted a stunning arête at The Armory, a compact crag at the top of Clear Creek Canyon.  Clear Creek is quickly becoming the epicenter of sport climbing on the Colorado Front Range, largely thanks to guys like Luke who have a knack for finding great new lines on supposedly tapped out cliffs.  After finishing off American Mustang at the end of March, I had a few more climbing days to spare before beginning my summer training cycle.  I was really psyched to check out Luke’s Armory arête, which looked to me like the best unclimbed line in Clear Creek . I was stoked when Luke generously encouraged me to have at it….”  Continue Reading

Focus – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Focus” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

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

Focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Turn off/unplug phones, laptops, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 II: The Present

After sending Breakin’ the Law, I faced the kind of dilemma I always dream of: what to do with my remaining two climbing days.  I thought something in the 5.14a-range would be a good goal; something I had a good chance to send in the time remaining, but not a sure thing.  I spent the night scouring the guidebook, and the next day I left early to recon various approaches, cliffs and climbs.  I feel extremely fortunate to be able to climb as much as I do with two kids in tow, but there are constraints.  Not every cliff is safe for kids, and that must be considered when selecting a project.  After scouting the VRG and Gorilla Cliffs, the choice was clear.  The Present was absolutely stunning, had a perfectly flat crag base with no loose rock, and the climbing was short and powerful (perfect for my current state of fitness).

Gorilla Cliffs!  The Present climbs the short, steep, dark gray streak a bit right of center.

Gorilla Cliffs! The Present climbs the short, steep, darkest gray streak a bit right of center.

The Present was originally prepared by longtime Salt Lake climber and climbing-film-producing legend Mike Call. When the project turned out to be much harder than anticipated, he graciously gifted the line to Boone Speed (hence the name).  Boone is a climber I’ve long admired, at least since I first saw Call’s film “Three Weeks and a day”, about a trip to my then-home-crag, New Mexico’s Enchanted Tower, to attempt Child of Light (incidentally, the film’s heroes climb at Kelly’s Rock on their way to New Mexico).  Speed was one of the key figures in consolidating the 5.14 grade in North America.  He’s put up tons of classic hard routes, including the first .14b established by an American, Super TweakThe Present was a route that had a history, and I love to climb such routes.  I also looked forward to the opportunity to climb a Boone Speed 5.14.

Climbing my first 5.13, Goliath, on the prow of the Enchanted Tower, in 2003.

Climbing my first 5.13, Goliath, on the prow of the Enchanted Tower, in 2003.

The Present overhangs about 15 degrees, and is covered in 2 or 3 finger pockets and tiny edges.  Despite its brevity, its not really a pure power route; the challenge is linking twelve-or-so continuous moves with barely an opportunity to clip, let alone shake or chalk. None of the moves are terribly heinous by themselves, but from the ground to the slab every move is hard. Although I was in optimal shape for The Present, this type of climb has never been my strong suit, so it would be a good challenge to try to do it in just two days.

Before I could unwrap The Present (bazinga!), I had another objective.  I had my heart set on visiting the mysterious Arrow Canyon, so that afternoon we headed south towards Las Vegas.  With 2WD, the hike was 90-minutes each way and agonizing, with lots of loose sand and large river rocks. But it was worth it–the canyon was magnificent.  It’s hard to describe, but imagine a slot canyon like the Zion Narrows carved out of limestone.  The canyon walls are easily 500 feet high, and the rock has been beautifuly sculpted by the river. The walls are covered in many places by intricate pictographs.

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Entering the impressive narrows of Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

Pictographs in Arrow Canyon.

Most of the rock climbs I noticed were not particularly remarkable, and my sense is that this will never be a popular crag.  The hike is long and unpleasant, and the crag is relatively isolated from both St. George and Vegas, which both have plenty of good rock that is much more convenient.   However, I saw a few lines that were simply stunning.  Jonathan Siegrist’s twin lines La Reve and La Lune appeared to me from the ground to be the most beautiful limestone 5.14s in America.  These will become must-do routes for the scant few capable of climbing them.  The Swamp Cave, at the far end of the canyon, also has a handful of intriguing lines (and room for many more).

The twin lines La Reve and La Lune climb the right side of the arching cave.

The twin lines La Reve and La Lune climb the right side of the arching cave.

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

The ultra-featured Swamp Cave.

We expected cooler weather for the next climbing day, so we took the opportunity to check out The Turtle Wall, which is composed of the same ultra-featured sandstone as Chuckwalla, but with eastern exposure and more route variety.  The moderates are largely thin and technical, whereas the .11s and .12s are super steep, and on par with the best jug hauls I’ve ever climbed (though relatively short).  All the routes we tried were outstanding, and I will certainly go back.

Picking plums at the  Farmer's Market, Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Picking plums at the Farmer’s Market, Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Gorilla Cliffs gets no sun in January, which wouldn’t be a problem by itself, but unfortunately the cliff forms a shallow canyon with The Snake Pit to the north, and the wind whips down off Utah Hill and whistles through this gorge.  Earlier in the week I was almost too warm in shorts and a T-shirt, but the cold was debilitating during my first go on The Present, and I was lucky to reach the chains before retreating after 15 shivering minutes.  There were three moves I couldn’t do; things weren’t going well.

We hiked around to the west end of the cliff and got the kids situated on a calm and sunny knoll.  I headed down to the car to warm up and correct my wardrobe.  The next go the wind abated a bit, I was able to climb effectively, and I managed to do all the moves.  It took a while to figure out the fourth move, a precision stab off a small, sloping pocket.  My skin was pretty worked by the end of the second burn, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for my next go.  After another 40 minutes in the sun, I was surprised to one-hang it on the third go of the day.  I was making a lot of progress between burns and I liked my chances of sending on our next and final climbing day.

Nearing the end of the redpoint crux.  The next move is a big slap to a jug.

Nearing the end of the redpoint crux. The next move is a big slap to a jug.

The climbing on The Present is stellar, and its everything I dream of in a route.  The rock is absolutely flawless, the movement is big and aggressive, and the holds are fingery.  I’ve always had a knack for standing on my feet and  finessing my way up ticky-tacky routes, but a power climb requires a basic amount of brute force which can’t be learned.  I’ve never been particularly talented at pocket climbing, big moves, or power routes.  When I first started sport climbing, I perpetually struggled with these styles of climbing.  I’ve since devoted tremendous time and energy to improving these weaknesses, and while I’m still better suited to technical enduro climbing, I find myself drawn to routes like The Present.  I guess I’m still trying to prove something to myself.

For our final rest day I took the opportunity to scope out The Cathedral in anticipation of many return trips to St. George.  I climbed at The Cathedral for a day in 2005, but many new, hard, and spectacular lines have been added since then and I was eager to get a second look.  The Cathedral is a European-style limestone cave; steep and covered in pockets of all sizes.  The routes looked amazing, perhaps even better than the world-class lines at the VRG.  Unfortunately the crag base was a complete no-go for kids.  There are literally two gaping holes in the floor of the cave, each dropping about 15 feet down to a lower level (not to mention all the belay areas are perched above exposed cliffs).  It may be some time before I’ll be able to manage the logistics for a Cathedral trip; it’s too bad because the climbing looks magnificent.

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

The Cathedral and the left end of the Wailing Wall.

With a 9+-hour drive looming, we didn’t have any time to waste on our last day.  We warmed up at the Snakepit to save time, which hosts a few nice 5.12s, then headed over to Gorilla Cliffs.  The first go was disappointing;  I fell on the fourth move, a tenuous left hand stab, with the right hand in a poor, slopey two-finger pocket.  I took the opportunity to try out some different beta, then ran to the chains to make sure I could recall all the moves.  It was noon, and we needed to hit the road, so I figured I would only have one more shot. 

The fourth move: a precise stab, from a poor, right hand two-finger pocket.

The fourth move: a precise stab, from a poor, right hand two-finger pocket.

After another sunny rest break, I tied in and headed up.  The third move begins with a huge high step, then a rockover onto the high right foot before reaching for the slopey two finger.  As I rocked-over, my foot poppoed off and the go was over.  I was stunned.  Was this how it would end?  I lowered to the ground, pulled on my puffy and tried to calm down.  ‘Just think of it as a warmup.  This is basically a boulder problem anyway.’

After a few minutes, I started again.  This time I was sure to place my foot precisely for the rock over.  I latched the slopey 2-finger pocket and bounced it in.  I stabbed for the fourth-move left-hand pocket. My hips swung out, but my feet stayed on and I was able to reel it in.  Next a long reach to a high sidepull, where I fell on the previous day’s 1-hang.  It didn’t feel great, but I lunged for the next chert knob anyway, and somehow I latched it.  The next couple moves were casual, but then followed by a difficult long crank to pinch a jumble of pockets.  Accuracy is important here, and I managed to hit the hold correctly.  I stepped my left foot high, then worked the left hand into a deep pocket, stood up, and slapped for the jug.  Finally I was able to clip, and then I floated a few delicate moves to pull up to the slab, and the chains.  

Pulling onto the slab.

Pulling onto the slab.

Now it was time to pay our pennance.  We stuffed ourselves into my dirt-caked Civic at 1pm, and headed for home.  Two nursing stops, a 15-minute layover for fuel and take-out from the gas-station Arby’s, and we were home by 10pm.  It’s rare that everything comes together the way you hope, but it was a perfect trip, and we will definitely be going back!

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

Amelie chillin at the Turtle Wall. Photo Dan Brayack.

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.

Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90′s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassionally editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.

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