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Climbing back from Cancer

June 2017

I slowly awake out of a deep anesthesia-induced slumber. I have a massive tube shoved down my throat emptying my stomach contents. My mom is there.

“What happened?” I ask her. I’m still hopeful that when they did the exploratory surgery that they wouldn’t find anything. “They found a tumor on your appendix. They removed it as well as 6 inches of your large intestine. They hot soaked all of your organs with chemo.”

I can’t control it. I start crying. Tears and emotion are flooding out of me. I’m angry, sad, afraid that my body has failed me. I hold my mom’s hand as the reality sets in. I have cancer.

Just a few months before

I’m at the top of my game, projecting hard rock climbs above the Andaman Sea in Thailand. The world is my oyster, as I traipse around the planet, only pausing for a part time job in Western Africa. I feel strong, lean, and fit.  I’m beginning to mentally heal from some recent accidents in the mountains, so am very excited when Bruce Normand asks me to attempt a new line with him in Pakistan on Gasherbrum 4 that spring.

I have a little discomfort in my abdomen, but chalk it up as a muscle strain. Over time, the pain increases. Thinking it’s due to a recently diagnosed hernia, I opt to get it fixed before considering a trip to the Himalaya. How quickly things can change in our lives. After the hernia operation, I’m dumbfounded when my surgeon says, “We found something off during the surgery. It looks like cancer.”

Three weeks later.  June 2.

D-Day.I’m on the operating table for what doctors call the MOAS (Mother Of All Surgeries). I spend a week in the hospital and then five more bedridden. My climbing muscles atrophy away day by day. The combination of coming to terms with having cancer and not being able to exercise leads me into dark depression and anxiety. With the pain, I also find perspective. By chance, I befriend a Tibetan monk. He teaches me that the suffering is all in my mind. He teaches me internal peace is possible through meditation and mindfulness.

I think the worst is over by week six, and I’ll be able to start slowly climbing again. Boy, am I mistaken. Next up is oral and IV chemotherapy. For the next few months I feel like I am dying.  Fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. It’s pure and utter hell.

August 14th

A few of my good friends rally with me to the City of Rocks for my birthday. I am struggling something fierce on a 5.8.  But the beautiful, high desert rocky landscape inspires me.  I look at the guidebook and decide, against the wishes of all my friends, to attempt Terror of Tiny Towna beautiful 5.11 technical corner.

“To hell with cancer,” I say. I want to prove to myself that I am still strong.  I slowly make upwards progress using every trick in the book. Side pull, smear, edge, lock off. For a moment, it feels incredible to be free of the nightmare I’m living and be completely lost in the movement. My heart is racing and my breathing is out of control.  For 25 minutes, I battle tooth and nail to total and complete exhaustion. I lower down, pulsating with endorphins and euphoria.

Then I get dizzy. Then I start to dry heave. By the time I get back to camp, I am running a fever. I lie in the fetal position, moaning like an animal just hit by a car.

Once I get home, I proudly recount the story to my doctor with a big smile on my face!  She promptly scolds me!

“Look Skiy, this is life and death. You need to take it easy!”

Finally accepting that it’s all real, I start taking my health very seriouslyeating right and resting daily. It’s a few long and slow months, but finally the doctors say I’d had enough chemo and I am cleared to slowly start rebuilding.

Thirty days post chemo.

I go visit my good buddy Dave Allfrey in Las Vegas.  Dave is a bona fide hard man and all-around crusher.
“’I’m pretty under the weather” I tell him. “Oh, no problem,” he says.  “I have the perfect climb for us. A three pitch 5.6 with a short 20 min approach.” His enthusiasm is contagious and for a moment I have forgotten how low my blood counts are.  “Heck ya, perfect!” I say. I jump out of his Sprinter and for five minutes I feel like a million bucks!  Then I start to slow, and pretty soon the uphill feels like the Hillary step on Everest.

“Dave,” I say, trying my best to hold back the tears, “it’s too far.” So humbling to have to bail on the approach to a 5.6!  Dave is a trooper though, and sets up a top rope on a 5.8 nearby.  After my fourth take we are laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the situation!  “You’re making that look like 5.14” he says. “Trust me, I know!” I reply.

But I don’t care. It feels so good to touch the stone and to move on it.  To be tied in with a good friend.  It’s a reminder of how healing climbing can be.  But still, I am terrified with thoughts that I would be weak and frail for many years to come.  Will I ever get my life back?

A few more months go by.

Finally, I start feeling strong, exuberant, full of energy, but also restlessness. Ignoring the advice of friends and family, I buy a one-way ticket to Thailand. I need the sun. I need the ocean. I need my climbing community to help heal my mind. I land in Bangkok and promptly head for Tonsai. I spend 5 weeks clipping bolts and making new friends from around the world.

It’s strange to brush your own mortality. As scary as it is, it’s also awesome and powerful. Every time I make it through to the other side, whether in the mountains or in life, I strangely feel more alive. More in touch with my true self. More able to appreciate the simple things and not take stuff for granted. I’m always amazed how much each new experience teaches me.

It’s hard to emotionally digest what has happened, but I move forward each day with optimism and stoke. What else can I do?  I continue to follow my passion as a climber and continue to set goals. I feel lucky to live in Bishop CA, where I am able to look to the mountains that color the skyline and find continual inspiration and joy.

Today is a new day, and I will enjoy every second!

Training Takeover: Power Endurance and Linked Bouldering Circuits

Today is the last day of our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We have laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.

The Details

This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:

  1. Base Fitness – 1 Week
  2. Strength – 3 Weeks
  3. Power – 2 Weeks
  4. Power Endurance – 2 Weeks

During the 4 training phases, you will perform the following training activities, some of which you may have heard of before:

Aerobic Restoration & Capillarity (“ARC”) Training
Hangboard Training
Limit Bouldering
Campus Training
Linked Bouldering Circuits

Today, we’re focusing on training Power Endurance through Linked Bouldering Circuits.

What is power endurance?

Power Endurance is your body’s ability to sustain climbing longer and harder movements for a longer period of time. This comes into play when you have to do a number of difficult moves in sequence on a project route. For this training program, we will train for Power Endurance by doing a Linked Bouldering Circuit.

What is a Linked Bouldering Circuit?

In essence, a Linked Bouldering Circuit is climbing boulder problems back to back without setting foot on the ground. That means climbing up and down each problem and continuing on to the next problem without stopping. Here’s a quick explanation of Linked Bouldering Circuits and how they impact Power Endurance training.

 

Linked Bouldering Circuit Workout:

Select a series of boulder problems that can be climbed in sequence without stopping. The boulder problems should include a total of 25-50 hand moves or 1-3 minutes of climbing depending on the type of route you are training for. Completing all of the boulder problems in sequence is 1 set. To start, you’ll do 3-5 sets for each workout with 5 minutes rest between sets. As you progress through your training cycle, you’ll want to decrease the amount of rest time to around 2 minutes between sets.

Be sure to warm up adequately.

Here’s an example circuit:

Thanks for following along with our Training Takeover and make sure to download the 8 week training program. You can find blog posts for each training phase below. Now go crush!

Intro

ARC Training

Installing and Using a Hangboard

Limit Bouldering

Campus Board Training

 

 

Training Takeover: Intro to Campus Board Training

Last week we began our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.

The Details

This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:

  1. Base Fitness – 1 Week
  2. Strength – 3 Weeks
  3. Power – 2 Weeks
  4. Power Endurance – 2 Weeks

Today, we’ll introduce Campus Board training and give you some working examples of how it works and why we use it.

What is Campus Board Training?

The legend of the original Campus Board is well-known and often re-told, not unlike the Epic tales of the ancient Greeks. The incomparable Wolfgang Gullich installed the first board at a Nurnberg gym known as “The Campus Centre” to help elevate his finger strength to levels that could only be described as “futuristic”. The board consists of a ladder of finger edges, and the training method is to move dynamically between these edges with feet dangling.

The concept behind the Campus Board is to apply methods of “Plyometric Training” in a manner that is specific to rock climbers. Plyometrics have been around for a while, originally developed by Soviet Track & Field coaches in the 1960s to help train explosive power in their athletes. Early plyometrics involved activities like jumping off a high surface, landing on a lower surface and immediately springing back up to the original height. Theoretically the landing causes an involuntary eccentric contraction in the leg muscles which must be immediately converted to a concentric contraction in a very short period of time. This type of training is still widely regarded as the best method for improving explosive power. Gullich’s visionary adaptation of these concepts proved to be the key to his ground-breaking ascent of Action Directe in 1991, amazingly still one of the hardest routes in the world.

You can find out more about the History, Theory, and Construction of Campus Boards in this post:

Campus Training Part 1: History, Theory & Campus Board Construction

 

The Benefits of Campus Board Training

Considering that (simplistically speaking) Power equals Force divided by Time, there are two key reasons Plyometric Training is effective at developing explosive power.  While it helps increase muscle fiber recruitment (key to maximizing the force element of the equation), there are many ways to increase recruitment some of which are likely more effective.  What sets plyometrics apart is the dynamic aspect of the training, which helps train muscle fibers to contract more quickly, allowing us to generate high levels of force in short order.  The obvious application to climbers is to use plyometrics to improve “contact strength” (if you’re unclear on the definition, read this), the key to performing difficult dynamic climbing moves (and often the key to success on hard routes or boulder problems).

In addition to the pure strength benefits of Campus Training, this method is very helpful for improving the inter-muscular coordination required for good “accuracy” in dynamic movements.  The more you practice dynoing or campusing, the better your brain gets at aiming for holds. In a few sessions I can pretty quickly get to a point where I’m basically deadpointing every campus move, which makes the moves much easier. This accuracy translates directly to the rock, although on rock, every move is different, so your accuracy on an onsight will likely never be perfect, but it should improve over time.  The more you practice dynamic movements, the better your body & mind get at remembering those types of movements, meaning you should find yourself better able to “dial” dynamic moves on your projects over time.

Finally, its well known that some climbers just don’t do well on dynamic moves.  This could be due to a general lack of aggression or a strong desire to remain “in control” on the rock.  Campusing can work wonders with these issues.  By encouraging aggressive and committing movement in a low-risk environment, climbers can overcome years of overly static movement after only a handful of short campus sessions.

For more on the benefits of Campus Board Training, read this post:

Campus Training Part 2: Frequency & Exercise Overview

 

Getting Started

Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.

Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).  Complete one to three boulder problems at each V-grade before progressing to the next grade (the number of problems completed at each grade should depend on how many grades you need to step through, with the goal of completing the Ladder in 20 minutes or so).  Continue stepping up the Ladder until you reach your typical boulder flash level.  The goal is to do each problem first try, but if you fall off, feel free to repeat the problem or move to another problem of the same grade.  The goal is NOT to get entrenched in an epic project.  Take typical rest periods between problems, which varies between climbers.  If you rest a lot between problems, the set may take more than 20 minutes.  That is ok, this is not a race.  By the end you should have completed between 10 – 15 problems of increasing difficulty.

The final warmup activity is 15-30 minutes of limit bouldering (again, the duration will depend on how long you rest and your level of fatigue.  For me, if I spend more than 50 minutes from the beginning of my ARC traverse to the end of my limit bouldering, my Campus workout will suffer, YMMV).  Pick 2-3 problems that you cannot flash and work them for 5-10 minutes each.  These problems should be right at your limit (in other words, avoid problems you can do 2nd or 3rd try), and they should be powerful, with one or two REALLY hard moves that you can’t do (as opposed to 10 consecutive pretty hard moves that result in a pump-managment challenge).  Its easy to get side-tracked during this activity, so keep your eye on the clock and stay focused on the big picture.  Once completed, take a good 5-10 minute break, get some water, then get ready to rage.

For a sample Campus Board workout, check out this post:

Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

Training Takeover: What is Limit Bouldering?

 

Yesterday we announced our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.

The Details

This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:

  1. Base Fitness – 1 Week
  2. Strength – 3 Weeks
  3. Power – 2 Weeks
  4. Power Endurance – 2 Weeks

Today, we’ll introduce Limit Bouldering and give you some working examples of how it works and why we use it.

What is Limit Bouldering and why is it relevant?

Limit Bouldering is one of the best ways for rock climbers to train power.  When done properly, Limit Bouldering trains max recruitment, contraction speed, core strength and inter-muscular coordination.  If that weren’t enough, Limit Bouldering is also highly sport-specific, so the skills developed will translate directly to the rock.

The crux of Limit Bouldering is finding suitable training terrain.  If you have the luxury to set your own routes, the best option is to build your own Limit Boulder problems from scratch.  Even if you can’t set your own routes you can “make up” problems at your local gym using a system board, or any other part of the wall that has suitable holds and steepness (be sure to take notes on your made up problem so you can remember the holds each session).

So what makes a good Limit Boulder problem?

  • Dynamic movement, featuring dynos that are technically difficult, to holds that are complicated and difficult to latch (if you want to do simple, straight up dynos to flat edges that is all brawn and no brains, use the campus board!).
  • Representative of actual rock, in particular, your goal route(s).  Obviously that can vary depending on the climber, but in most cases that means:
    • Not particularly steep.  Problems in the range of 10 to 30 degrees over-hanging are sufficiently steep to mimic the vast majority of routes in North America
    • Low-profile hand holds, such as small edges and pockets, that are not overly incut and difficult or impossible to pinch.  Such holds are hard to pull “out” on, requiring good core tension and body position.  (Examples of ideal Limit Bouldering holds are discussed extensively here)
    • Small, but plentiful footholds (just like you find outside!) that are complex and require precise foot placements
  • One or two intense crux moves.  The key is really to focus on a few REALLY difficult moves.  This is in contrast to the typical gym boulder problem which may be as many as 15 moves long, with each move roughly the same difficulty.  That is power endurance, not power.  Limit Bouldering is about power.  Your problem can have as many as 8 or so moves as long as “the business” is 1-3 significantly harder moves (with the others being of relatively moderate difficulty).
  • Crux moves close to the ground, so that you can try them repeatedly, without a pump, without having to climb into position, and so that you can really “go for it” without fear of a long or awkward fall to the ground.

This post contains two examples of Limit Boulder problems I’ve used in my training.  Each of these problems literally took me several training cycles, spread over YEARS, to send.  If you can do all the moves of your Limit Boulder problem on the first day, it’s not hard enough.  The hardest moves should require many sessions to do in isolation, and linking the entire problem should take close to an entire Power Phase, if not several.

Training Takeover: How to Install and Use Your Hangboard

Tuesday we announced our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.

The Details

This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:

  1. Base Fitness – 1 Week
  2. Strength – 3 Weeks
  3. Power – 2 Weeks
  4. Power Endurance – 2 Weeks

During the 4 training phases, you will perform the following training activities, some of which you may have heard of before:

Aerobic Restoration & Capillarity (“ARC”) Training
Hangboard Training
Limit Bouldering
Campus Training
Linked Bouldering Circuits

Today, we focus on Hangboard Training. Hangboards offer a wide variety of grip types of varying difficulties and are the perfect way to gain strength quickly and practice specific types of grips. Remember to focus your hangboard training on those grips that are critical to sending your project.

One of the most daunting things about starting hangboard training is installation. Below, we give a detailed tutorial on how to mount your hangboard for use.

Once your hangboard is installed, be sure you know how to use it properly. The video below highlights the features of the Rock Prodigy Training Center and also gives an introduction on hangboard use.

Next week, we’ll continue our takeover as we delve into Limit Bouldering and Campus Training.

Training Takeover: ARC Training Primer

Yesterday we announced our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.

The Details

This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:

  1. Base Fitness – 1 Week
  2. Strength – 3 Weeks
  3. Power – 2 Weeks
  4. Power Endurance – 2 Weeks

Today, we’ll introduce Aerobic Restoration & Capillarity (“ARC”) Training and give you some working examples of how it works and why we use it.

What is ARC Training and why is it relevant?

How do you start ARC Training?

Tenaya Mundaka: First Look, First Ascent

My latest climbing project—a 5.14 wall of thin edges that gently steepens into a cresting wave of granite at Devil’s Head, CO—presented me with a significant dilemma.  The climbing is 80% Smith Rock, precise edging on micro-chips with your hips plastered to the face and most of your weight on your feet, followed by 20% Rifle, gymnastic moves on steep rock with feet toeing in and hooking on glassy features.

I began the campaign in my trusty Tenaya Intis.  These are the ideal edging implement, with a stiff and precise forefoot that excels on credit card chips.  I was crushing the lower sections, routinely climbing up to the lip of the steep wall, but struggling to make progress on the wildly dynamic exit.  I decided to switch to Tenaya Oasi’s, my go-to shoe for gym-style climbing, where sensitivity and flexibility facilitate monkey-style pulling with your feet.

My progress in the steeps improved instantly, but it came at a price.  Though I could still climb through the technical start in Oasi’s, I had to pull a bit hard with my hands, compounding the wear on my already heavily-worn finger skin. I needed a shoe that could excel on both types of terrain—technical thin walls and gymnastic overhangs.

At that pivotal moment I had the opportunity to test-drive Tenaya’s ground-breaking Mundaka.  It was just the shoe I was looking for.  The Mundaka is perhaps best described as a sock with rubber on it, although that’s not doing it justice.  The toe box is tight and stiff—ideal for thin edging.  Yet the rubber sole ends at the forefoot, creating a nearly-bare arch that is completely flexible (you can easily bend the shoe in half at the arch).  This enables tremendous toeing power on steep incuts, allowing the climber to wrap the fore foot around features and pull with your feet.  It’s almost like getting an extra pair of arms delivered in a 12” cardboard box!  Throw in a perfectly sculpted heel cup and it’s got everything a serious climber could ask for.

When I slipped the Mundakas on for the first time at the base of my project, I joked about how tightly the shoes formed to my feet, promising my toes would only tolerate a brief burn.  Yet amazingly I climbed happily for well over an hour.  The Mundakas are so well-shaped, pain was never an issue, and if anything, the shoes became more comfortable and sensitive the longer I climbed.  Also worth noting is the vastly improved Velcro tabs at the end of the adjustable closure system (similar to that of the roundly lauded Tenaya Iati closure system).  The new tabs offer so much sticking power I had trouble removing them as I lowered off the route.  There is zero chance of these coming un-stuck mid climb!

My new footwear gave me the confidence and peace of mind to focus on my climbing.  In a few more tries I finally stuck the burly dyno to the lip, mantled onto the lime green lichen-covered slab and waltzed up to the summit, finally completing the first ascent of Walk Tall Or Not At All, the hardest route at Devil’s Head at 5.14c.

It’s hard compare Mundakas to anything else I’ve climbed in.  Most shoes excel in one aspect and fall flat in another.  Not the Mundaka.  These shoes easily matched the performance of my best edging shoes and far exceeded the toeing/hooking power of my best gym shoe.  They will definitely be my new go to shoe!

Meet Mundaka: USA Launch Tour

Meet Mundaka, Tenaya’s most sensitive down-turned shoe ever. The Mundaka’s meticulous construction combines an aggressive split-sole to maximize sensitivity and 3.5mm Vibram XS Grip rubber to maintain ample edging power. Tenaya’s patented Draxtor lacing system uses four tension points to ensure a cohesive fit while preventing nagging hot spots and a sock liner creates a glove-like fit right out of the box.



Mundaka On Tour

Want to try on a pair? We’re taking the Mundaka on tour this fall. Stop by one of our tour stops or your local outdoor retailer to get your first look at our newest creation!



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