Thursday, September 27, 2007

Training, Progress, Belief

Climbing fitness and strength are linked, by many, to the ability to send hard routes. There is definitely something to be said when you can hang onto smaller and smaller holds. Climbing, as with most things, usually shows improvement with time. While a climber may not always improve in a linear fashion I think that things usually change for the better. Personally I find that climbing a lot and getting in the right mindset really helps.

In recent times I consider myself a fairly fit climber but I often struggle with the mental game involved in climbing. I have a hard time pushing to my limit and getting past thoughts of failure and falling. Belief in yourself and the ability to keep pushing when you might fail I feel are key to improving.

As we develop as climbers and move up through the grade ranges the routes tend to demand more from the climber. Bigger holds on slabby faces yield to crimps on a vertical wall. Jugs become slopers and foot holds become smears. This transition can be mentally difficult as a climber finds themselves holding on to progressively smaller holds. Cruxes can be harder to decipher and holds can be directional. Footwork and pressure come into play and all the while you have to keep from getting pumped. The difficulty of a route not only demands more physically but mentally as well.

I think that training in some form or another can be important to steady progress. Personally I keep track of all the routes I have climbed and have a fairly accurate picture of the last 4 years of routes I have sent. A more in depth idea is a Training Journal where one keeps a log of all workouts for future comparison. Both of these things help to keep tabs of where you are and how you are doing.

Personal evaluation is essential to taking the next step and breaking through to the next level in your climbing. Weather the goal is to send a give route or onsight a certain level knowing where you are at shows what a climber needs to work on. The types of routes that you do well on can help you figure out what you are strong in. If one wants to be an all around climber one cannot only go to the same crag and do the same routes. To really grow as a climber one must try and climb the things that are the most difficult. I found this quote fitting as many new climbers become strong boulderers yet struggle with routes.

“If you focus entirely on power based bouldering training you are asking your muscles to work 100%. You have ‘recruited’ all your muscle fibres to work in one explosive effort. The minute you go on a route you are asking your muscles to work at 70% for 10 times as long. No wonder you get pumped!” From Katherine at

Right now I am trying to keep a large variety in the types of routes I climb outside while maintaining fitness while climbing and training inside. The biggest breakthroughs that I expect to be making in the next 6 months will be mental. In addition, I want to gain more endurance as well as learn how to push through when plagued with doubt.

Til next time,


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Harrrrrrd Trad

I'm a little behind on this news, but Sonnie Trotter is at it again. Apparently he's redpointing another contender for one of the world's hardest trad climbs, The Path, at 5.14R. Like the East Face of the Monkey Face in Smith Rock, The Path was originally bolted. Sonnie, however, lead it as a trad route. You can watch the video here.

Those who know me know that Sonnie is not necessarily my most favorite climber, especially for scooping the cutest Swiss climber that ever did be on the Cobra (and not even doing it ground-up). (Really, who could prefer Sonnie and his too-cool backwards baseball hat to Didier and his "zis is not ze crux" middle finger undercling jam?) However, I can overcome my dislike to make a general statement about the current trad scene - wow!

The new cool thing (other than bouldering in RMNP or emulating Sharma) seems to be hard trad climbing. It's not just the Canadians (Sonnie) or the Euros (Didier, among others); Americans are in on the action too. Climbers like Eric Decaria, Matt Segal, and Renan Ozturk are pushing the limits of trad climbing beyond what previous generations might have considered possible. They're taking skills and movements learned from sport climbing and applying it to trad. They're making bolts obsolete. And I think that's pretty damn cool.

It's great (especially for a traddie like me) to see trad back at the leading edge of the climbing world and it's beyond impressive to know that there are climbers out there who are pushing the limits of possibility without all the sponsor-plastered, rappel-placed, pre-placed draws.

In other news, Mountain Hardwear is sponsoring a contest for awesome, outdoorsy women called Diva and Conquer. You can read the entries so far or enter yourself or a friend (with permission). There are also special Ladies' nights at local stores carrying Mountain Hardwear products with special deals, special guests, and gear giveaways. Sounds cool, so check it out!

So get out and climb some trad! (Or clip some bolts to prepare to send some trad)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Movement and Flow

As I have been climbing more freqently I have really began to think about how we climb. I am an active reader of all things climbing and I love watching videos of the pros. It is quite fascinating to see how they move over the rock and how impossible looking routes get sent with ease.

My current infusion of climbing info has been coming from the multitude of blogs that I have found around the web. Instead of having to wait to see an ascent feature in Climbing or Rock and Ice I can read about it first hand. No longer does a DVD have to come out for there to be footage of the hardest sends. All of this information is much more easily accessible and I am loving it.

I have been reading Lynn Hill’s blog and she recently had a great entry about Flow . It coupled with recent climbing outings has made me really think about how we move over rock.

This past weekend I was out at New Jack City and got destroyed by one route by my style. Decent climbing fitness and strength allows me to power through routes when I should be thinking more about moving my body. I struggled on an initial boulder problem of a route many grades below my usual onsight limit. I got confused, pumped and I fell. The second time I got through this cruxy section but without much more technique. I made a sequence and grunted through it wasting much energy.

On comes my girlfriend who shows me a thing or two and sails through this beginning section. She used more feet and less power and had a much easier time with the route.

When I climb at the gym as many climbers do I think we forget that you don’t have to be square. Using feet out to the side and leaning and pulling with your body can be very effective. Strength can help with bigger moves and core tension but I forget to “train” technique.

I think that the biggest problem I face when confronted with irregular movement is how to properly assess the forces and apply the right pressures. I think what this all comes back to is move repertoire. Climbing more routes, especially with funky sequences can really help expand your mind. I think that believing in your movement and proper evaluation of your options can lead to climbing crux sequences more easily.


Despite the ridiculous (rainy!) weather in the general SoCal area this weekend, we managed to get some rock climbing in on Sunday at New Jack City. The weather was perfect - not too hot, but nice and sunny with a little wind and the routes were in general cool and thought provoking.

I was really excited to be pushing my sport climbing limits on lead, redpointing a 10d/11a on the first try and getting very close to a crimpy 11a on several tries, although I still need to return and send it. It's been great to start climbing routes again after so much bouldering this summer because I've really started to feel that there is a lot I can gain in my trad climbing from becoming a better sport climber - the climbing version of cross-training.

I've realized that a big reason that I struggle to push my limits when trad climbing is that I don't believe enough in my ability to not fall - I freak out when I think I need to place gear from a "bad" stance, I take a long time to commit to difficult moves (and tire myself out while doing so), and I am sometimes easily intimidated by a route. I'm beginning to realize that all these issues are problems that I can work on through sport climbing.

Clipping bolts gives me the opportunity to practice clipping quickly and from less-than-ideal stances or holds, which I think will help me realize that I can place protection quickly, safely, and efficiently while trad climbing even if I don't have a great stance or a bomber handjam to do it from. I think these skills would be especially helpful somewhere like Indian Creek, where protection is barely more challenging than clipping a bolt since the placements are so straightforward. To be able to still place pro from a sub-optimal jam would be an invaluable skill.

Sport climbing is also helping me realize that I need to commit to moves instead of wasting time and getting pumped. On the 11a I was working on this weekend, I kept falling at the crux, which involved a few moves off very crappy crimpy holds near the top of the route, because I had trouble committing to a long, balancey move below the crux and was getting too pumped to hold onto the small holds above. Every time I rested below the crux, I could pull the move fairly easily on the first try. I've realized that I need to focus on memorizing and committing to the lower moves so that I have enough energy left for the crux. I'm pretty sure that if I work on this skill through sport climbing I will see a big improvement in my trad climbing, too.

And finally, I think I can also work on my problems with intimidation through sport routes. I often can get psyched out by a route from the ground, resulting in low self-confidence that definitely affects my performance. Sport climbs, for me, are an easier way to approach intimidating scenarios like big moves, overhangs, or difficult grades because bolts seem to require less commitment than gear placement. I'm already learning to take on more challenging routes and have a positive and open attitude towards the route instead of worrying about falling or succeeding (and getting intimidated).

Anyone who knew me a couple years ago probably knows that I used to want to climb only trad routes and turn up my nose at other kinds of climbing, but I've lost that attitude recently. A lot of skills from bouldering and (especially) sport climbing are very applicable to trad climbing and all the best trad climbers also climb fairly difficult sport routes. Overall, I'm actually really excited to keep clipping bolts and pushing my limits because I feel like I'm gaining a lot of valuable skills, especially by stepping out of whatever rut I may be in with my trad climbing.


Friday, September 14, 2007

all about the karakoram

It often seems like the mystical realm of "mountaineering" is so far removed from the rest of rock climbing. But that's not to say that those massive snow-covered mountains don't hold an enormous allure even if you (like me) don't really want to trudge up them.

And what mountain is more alluring, mysterious, or frightening than K2, the crown jewel of the Karakoram range. But really, what is the Karakoram range?

Well, you asked for it, so here it is: all about the Karakoram range, which is mostly in Pakistan, but also extends into China and India. Like the Himalayas, the Karakoram was formed when India collided into the Asian continent, which is why these 2 ranges have many of the highest mountains on the planet, none of them volcanoes as we are so used to finding on the Pacific Rim.

K2 is the tallest peak in the Karakoram and the 2nd tallest on the planet at 8,611m, followed by Gasherbrum I at 8,068m and Broad Peak at 8,047m. Other notable peaks in the range include Gasherbrums II, III, and IV, Masherbrum, and Chogolisa.

Why K2? It was the 2nd peak discovered in the Karakoram by a group of explorers (pretty unoriginal, right?). Other mountains were initially called K1, K3, K4, and K5, but are now known as Masherbrum, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, and Gasherbrum I. The Chinese government still calls K2 Qogir, a name derived from a word created by Westerners from the local Balti words for "high" and "mountain."

K2 was not summited until 1954, when an Italian expedition, including a young Walter Bonatti, succeeded in getting two of its members to the top, while Bonatti and a local porter were forced to spend a night unprotected at extreme altitude. A second ascent was not achieved until 1977, when a Japanese team employed 1500 porters to reach the top. The following year, a strong American team led by James Whittaker reached the summit via a new route, the East Ridge. Although K2 has been summited successfully many times since then, it has earned a reputation as the world's most dangerous mountain. The weather is much worse than that on Everest and the easiest route is much more challenging and dangerous than its Everest equivalent. Ten times more people have climbed Everest than K2, while only 4 times more people have died on the big E than on the Savage Mountain. No wonder Ed Viesturs was more concerned about K2 than any other 8,000-meter peak.

Many thanks to Wikipedia for statistics and background info.