Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Long-term projects (a.k.a. dreams)

Long-term projects. I would hazard a guess that every climber has at least one. I have a lot. They're the climbs that you dream about. That page in the guidebook you just have to look at. The dream. The goal to train for.

My list is much longer than you'd ever want to read (and the relative importances of different projects are nowhere near the same), but at the moment there are three that capture my desire and imagination much more than any others...

Sunshine Dihedral, 5.11d, Smith Rock. I first saw this route right after I'd onsighted it's neighbor, Moonshine Dihedral, 5.9, which was my hardest onsight (trad or sport) at the time. A beautiful, perfect, soaring dihedral with a tips and fingers crack that is ideally suited to my smaller fingers. Delicate and technical stemming, one of my favorite types of climb because the movements feel so natural to me and even the unusual body positions seem to flow so easily. I have only touched the bottom of the route, but I'd like to train enough to give it an onsight go (maybe if we get out to Smith this next June) because such a beautiful route deserves it.

Coyne Crack, 5.12, Indian Creek. I've never been to Indian Creek, but I dream about it all the time. This route, to me, exemplifies the reasons behind my desire for IC. Vertical, perfect splitter. A difficult start with a section of mandatory off-finger jams (for any hand-size) leads to red camalots forever (which just happens to be my perfect hand jam size). The idea of the route is so motivating - a sequence of some of the most challenging size jams right off the ground followed by the sweetest reward of running up perfect jams. What makes it more exciting is that I have no idea how my abilities stack up against the route, how hard that beginning section will be, whether or not I will get pumped from all those hand jams up higher. But the chance to go to IC (in March!!) is a dream - so much straightforward jamming, so many different routes to try, skills to test and improve. Crack climbing heaven :-D

And last, but certainly not least, the crown jewel of my dream routes,

Equinox, 5.12+, Joshua Tree. I first stumbled upon this route online and immediately fell in love. Such a steep, perfect crack is really unusual for J-Tree and I knew I had to see it, to feel it, even though it was (and still is) far above my ability to lead. The location is incredible. After driving several miles out Geology Tour road, you walk out into the desert towards one of those big jumbled piles of rocks so particular to J-Tree. The excitement builds as you approach the formation, because you can't see the route until you are quite close. But then you round the curve of the base and there it is - a clean, beautiful crack curving gently up the vertical face of the largest granite block, perched on the top of the pile. I couldn't believe it could be so perfect, that the setting could be so fitting to the beauty of the crack. And then there's the crack itself. It starts with a crazy move pulling onto an ear-shaped flake, then some nice finger jamming (green alien, which is perfect fingers for me, but my fingers are small...) with less than awesome feet (the trend of non-stellar feet continues most of the way up the route because the face is a little slick for smearing and the crack a little small to really be effective jamming your toes in). And then you get into the fun part. As the crack widens to yellow aliens, you pull through a dead-vertical/slightly overhanging section and the crack continues to widen. That's when it gets really hard - grey aliens, somewhat offset, and left-leaning. This size is the hardest I have ever encountered for me personally because it's not quite ring locks or thin hands, but that nasty size in between where nothing feels secure (luckily the two times I've tried it I was on TR so I haven't had to take the whip... yet...). This crux is followed by an increasingly easier traverse left as footholds (!!!) appear when you hand-traverse the crack to the top. Although it has so far proven incredibly difficult for me, I can't help but be motivated and inspired by this route. It is so pure and so beautiful, the ultimate project. (By the way, if you are reading this and happen to be someone short with small fingers who has send Equinox, I'd love some advice for the hard part.)

So those are my dream projects. I think it's really important to have routes that inspire and motivate me. I can often be too much of an aesthetically motivated climber for my own good (although I've been sending harder at the Riverside Quarry, which isn't exactly picturesque), struggling with routes that don't get my heart beating faster. But I find that when I have my goal routes, it's easier to motivate on other climbs that I would otherwise struggle with motivation because I can see them as a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal. That off-size crack in the gym? That's training for Jaws (Mt. Woodson, hopefully not too burned up). And Jaws, well campusing that is training for Equinox.

In related news, this weekend Luke and I are going to try to onsight one of our other long-term projects, Levitation 29, III 5.11, in Red Rocks, so wish us luck!

Grades, Grades, Grades…

As I have been attempting more “hard” routes recently I have been mulling over the concept of grades. Within a given number, whether 5.9 or 5.13, the variability of perceived difficulty can be quite vast. Rock type can vary between crags as can the grading ethics and the style of climbing. How can we relate a 5.9 on Yosemite granite to a 5.9 at the Red River Gorge?

At one point our grading system rated a climb based on its hardest move, but now we try to rate the overall effort required for a climb. Sustained 5.9 moves yield a rating of 5.10a at certain crags despite the lack of a 10a move. These ideas are not set in stone nor are the agreed upon throughout the world, yet people all over base so much on these simple numbers. Is this because we need an expectation for the route we are going to climb? Do we need compare climbs to each other and to our past climbs? What do we need from these grades?

I found this quote about Dave Graham’s feelings on grades quite interesting. It was originally posted here.

"Do we comprehend as a community a system of grading? As a community, are we confident in our current theories about the complex abstraction of high-end grades?

I think the media did a lot more consolidating of grades than we ever did as a community of climbers. For generations it has happened. Capitalism, money, "fame",...these factors of our world are real, and they have a serious influence.

Grades will never be the most inspiring abstraction donated by climbing. They rank low in overall importance. From an artistic point of view, the possible inspiration one can attain from a grade (it being an after-the-fact interpretation of something special) can never compete with the inspiration donated by the actual experience of climbing.

I changed a lot of my ideas about grades throughout my experiences climbing. I learned a lot about how to compare personal experiences and deduce their relativity. I think its amazing, as a community, how everyone involved, can appreciate the attempt to articulate (with a little number) how challenging something felt, or how one experience compared to another."
--- Dave Graham, 2004 ---

I completely agree that climbing is too complex to be expressed by “a little number”. As a community we should work together to push the limits of climbing and make sure not to be confined by grades.

This article really sheds some light on the John Gill B scale. It is cool to see that a younger climber, Klem Loskot, agrees and his explanation of how to grade problems that are so difficult. It is especially important how he says that grades should really just be a personal reflection of the difficulty of a climb. As well that sometimes the best way to look at the difficulty of a problem can be its relation to other climbs you have done.

Personally I use grades as a measure of performance and a way to gauge progress. I target grade ranges when I travel to crags so that I will push my self climbing. In the past I have been too concerned with sending given grades at the sacrifice of other parts of climbing. I would climb 11as instead 10ds since they are the next number grade up and thus more important even thought both grades be quite similar in difficulty.

While I do think the grades do characterize different types of movement I can still be surprised by the effort required to do 5.9 versus 5.12. Just because a climb is graded harder doesn’t always mean it is more difficult. Difficulty is so abstract, especially in climbing, because there is a varied mix of mental and physical effort. A climb can seem more difficult if the moves are harder to unlock compared to a climb with simple pulling.

Overall I think that the most important thing is to keep climbing and trying different styles of routes. A person’s body can learn so much from a variety of challenges. After man years of climbing cruxes will make more sense and perhaps grades will seem less important. The key is to challenge yourself and have fun doing it.
- Luke

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Injuries and Recovery

This week has been pretty crazy down in San Diego with the out of control wild fires. What this mean in climbing terms is no time outside for cardio and no going to the gym. I usually bike to work and because of air quality issues I have been quite hesitant. I may try it out tomorrow since the wind has been calming down but we will see. The climbing gym has been closed the last two days and we will see if it is open tonight.

What this means for me is that I forcibly got a bunch of rest. While I don’t like to take so many days off from climbing I think it has been really good for my finger. I have had some minor tendon pain that occasionally was a bit intense. This has been an injury that is usually solved with tape. It gives me little pain while climbing and is tender afterwards. A bit of massage and stretching help a lot and this injury doesn’t really affect my climbing.

About a year and a half ago in March of 2005 I dislocated my right shoulder at a climbing comp. I was on some thuggy boulder problem and was doing the typical cut feet campus beta. I was not working on technique I was just trying to get it done. I hit the next hold with my left hand but in that instant I felt my right shoulder lift out of its socket. I jumped down and walked out of the cave with my right hand in the air. It felt weird but not very painful. I moved my arm around a bit and it popped right back into the socket, lucky me. I had what is considered a subluxation and I was pretty lucky.

This injury put me out of climbing for the next few months and really changed my attitude towards how I climbed. In the past I was a very dynamic climber and didn’t really consider movement very carefully. I had learned how to propel my body in the right directions and to pull really hard. As well my training was to get huge forearms and be strong, not at all considering that I would need muscular balance.

As Lynn notes it is important to pay attention to our bodies and make sure to develop them correctly. Personally I need to make sure that I get the proper amount of sleep and adequate days off between hard climbing days or workouts. After injuring my shoulder I had to make sure to pay lots of attention so that I did not re injure it. My doctor told me that if I could keep from dislocating it again for the next few years the likelihood of a complete recovery would be much better. I started physical therapy and after the sessions I would ice and massage my shoulder. It was amazing to see how weak my shoulders really were and how much I how little weight I could lift.

In addition to more cross training I am constantly trying to learn how to move better. I have been inspired by a lot of the blogs that Lynn Hill has written lately. This one on prevention really strikes true because I know campusing that boulder problem led to the dislocation of my shoulder. As well, as she notes, staying injury free is really key to continued improvement. How can a climb expect to climb more routes if they are nursing old injuries?

Having hurt my shoulder has led me to climbing in a new style. While some times I am more hesitant I am climbing stronger now than I was before my injury. I have to step away from certain routes and problems because of reachy or dangerous moves but I still have plenty of things to climb. In terms of climbing harder and more routes I am constantly looking to improve my technique. By climbing more I have been increasing my move vocabulary but I want to keep learning. This blog about visualization is pretty cool since I am not that much in touch with my body yet. I still am struggling with how to do some of the moves that I am already familiar with.

Hopefully in the future I can learn how to better listen to my body and how to use it while climbing. Currently I pre-visualize sequences, foot positions and which ways my hips point. Taking this a step further to examine forces and where my center of gravity is may allow me to climb routes while expending less energy and using smaller holds. It will be exciting to try these techniques out next time I am at the crag.

- Luke

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California's Burning

Just like the Augustana song,
California's burning, burning, burning to the ground
And I'm here, wondering where the sun has gone

Even here in Pasadena, where we have had only the slightest breath of wind in the past week, the air smells a little smokey, the light is so orange that it feels like it's been twilight all day, and the sun is just a fuzzy reddish spot amid the haze above. My internal solar biological clock is reeling with the confusion.

It's pretty crazy how cyclical and predictable fires like these are. We had a record low rainfall this past summer, plus super hot, dry weather (several weeks of 100+ degrees here in Pasadena) - everything is just waiting for that tiny little spark. And even though the couple days of rain a few weeks ago might have lulled us into a false sense of security, the plants can't absorb the water if they're already dead (as my Global Climate professor told us in class the other day, it's like dumping water on a dead bush and then blow-drying it with those warm Santa Ana's - the bush is still going to be primed for burning). And what's remarkable is how often fires like these occur. This is the first really big fire season for me in 3 fall seasons living in SoCal, but 2003 was apparently also a big fire year, along with 1994, when fires came through Altadena and the north parts of Pasadena.

The thing is, the fires are pretty much unavoidable. The climate here is hot and dry, the Santa Ana winds are a function of the geography - they're not going to stop any time soon, and in our modern day society, there's always going to be that accidental spark source - cigarettes, electricity, etc. And its not quite the same as with flooding (which is also pretty cyclical and unavoidable) because where a fire goes (and where it starts) can be random. Pasadena was burning 13 years ago, but it's perfectly safe now (*knock on wood*). The house I'm living in right now is over 100 years old. That's 100 fire seasons.

Anyways, what this all comes down to is that I am a little jealous. My family up in the Pacific NW were just dealing with windstorms and power outages (and I'm still young enough to remember that those can be fun), while down here it was raining (lightly, but still raining) ash this afternoon while I was trying to run my team's ultimate frisbee practice. My throat felt scratchy after only an hour and a half outside. And meanwhile, my sister got to snuggle inside the house while the wind blows the cedars and the raindrops, and I'm sure when she finally went outside after the storm abated, it smelled like freshly cut evergreen branches, not like burning.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Red River Gorge Reflection

This past week, after returning from the RRG, has been super busy without the normal regiment of climbing. Since we got back late Monday I had some hours to make up at work and some sleep to regain. The four days of climbing and travel took a lot out of me so I decided to take some days off from the gym to recover. I didn’t get back to the gym until Thursday and my finger was still nagging me from the trip.

For the last few weeks one of my old tendon injuries has been acting up. It doesn’t really hurt when I climb but afterwards the flesh below my knuckle is quite tender to the touch. This weekend became a rest weekend and I had some additional time to recover. I hope to write a blog later this week about injures referencing some of Lynn Hill’s recent blogs.

The lack of climbing and the recent RRG trip have given me food for thought about “hard” climbing. During our stay at Miguel’s I saw more talented climbers than I have ever seen before. It was almost like Dosage 5 or something. I have been to some bigger comps and have seen many of the stronger boulders before but this was something new and inspirational. After seeing all the climbers and reading about their many ascents at the Red I began to wonder about my personal climbing.

The beauty of having all of these talented climbs was that they were sending routes that I was familiar with. Climbs I had stood below in awe of the beauty and difficulty of the line. Not climbs I had sent or even tried but climbs that I dream about getting on. These were climbs not far away on the gorgeous cliffs of Ceuse but here in the USA in the RED!

This trip really taught me a lot about motivation, hesitation and mind set. Of the nine hard routes that I attempted I was able to send five of them. Compared to past trips to the Red I was thrilled with my level of fitness and the climbs I did. More important though were the climbs that I “failed” to lead cleanly. Even the attempts on the climbs I did send taught me a lot about what I need to be working on.

The biggest thing I learned from trying all of these hard routes was the effect of hesitation on the outcome of the climb. In simpler terms when I failed to commit to a move or sequence on a climb I would waste time. There were times when I could have done a move had I tried it first go but I was un-willing to commit. These decisions made me doubt my self and prevented me from giving the 100% needed for the climb.

While my fitness has been improving I think that figuring out how to commit and how to suppress negative thoughts will be a bigger contribution to my climbing. Climbing more routes, as opposed to boulder problems, has really shown me this weakness in my climbing.I think working on this will help me be in better touch with my self and allow me to climb harder.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Petzl Roc Trip Recap

This past weekend Lizzy and I journeyed east to meet up with friends and enjoy the rock at the Red River Gorge. Friends from all over converged by plane and car to meet up relax and enjoy the wondrous sandstone. Good people along with an amazing film and the most stacked campground scene rounded out this fun trip.

A Wednesday night red eye from California got us into Tennessee the next morning. A 3.5 hour drive awaited us but that was the price for cheap tickets. With perfect temps we spent the afternoon at Roadside crag sampling the RRG classics before the crowds showed up.

Friday our crew had doubled and we spent the day between Left Flank and Military Wall. Climbing at the gorgeous table of colors wall was the highlight of the trip for me. Amazing colors and unique holds coupled with steep athletic climbing. Near by was the balancy test piece Hen-ry which played to Lizzy’s strengths. I got to climb Mercy the Huff which had excellent moves on sweet holds separated by fairly decent rests. No knee bars or ledges but good holds.

Saturday we saw maximum capacity with seven people by the end of the day. We had a perfect weather day at Drive-By crag which hosts some of the most fun climbing ever. It seemed each route had just as interesting holds as the last. I took my longest fall to date on a flash attempt on Primus Noctum. I cruised the route to the last bolt and rest spot but I had no beta for the crux which led to the anchor. With many grunts and desperation I slapped my way up getting one hold from the end; I missed the crucial knob and plummeted twenty or more feet through the air. On the way down I screamed with desperation but after flying through a tree and knocking loose some leaves I knew it was all right. Still falling I let out a yipp of pleasure and was gently caught by my belayer.

Sunday was our slow day as pizza and beer from the night before delayed our morning departure. We fought the crowds in Muir valley and climbed on some new routes. These routes, only having been established in the last few years, were still dirty and needed more traffic. I got a chance to lead a very atypical RRG line that I managed to redpoint on my second go. This line, so new it wasn’t in the guide book, was full of slopers and balancy moves. The end, with pumped forearms, required sequential crimping that thwarted my flash attempt. It was amazing how many lines are still left to be bolted and how much rock is still unclimbed. I was lucky enough to meet the equipper of this route and brave enough to climb it.

The trip was quite the success and full of fun memories. My mind is still buzzing with crux sequences and foot placements. I can still see the holds on Jersey Connection and Tic-Tac-Toe, feel the sharp jugs from Mercy the Huff and taste the scream from Primus Noctum. I love the Red and will always be excited to go back, no matter how far way it may be.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Resting and Redpointing

This weekend was my long weekend and it involved a bunch of climbing. Training has been going well with a bit more focus on power problems and campusing. I would like to get back to some more pure endurance training but I am without a belayer.

Friday afternoon Lizzy and I struggled through traffic to get to the Riverside Quarry. Despite its less than aesthetic surroundings I am a big fan of the routes there. While many have been heavily cleaned and glued most are natural lines without chipping. As well most of the lines are quite long a minimum of 7 bolts and the longest line is 21 going for almost a full 60 meters.

Since we arrived late we only climbed a few routes. For training and for timeliness we stuck to onsight climbing and the same routes. I climbed an extension of Lizzy’s warm-up called double whammy. It had a tricky crux with a cool sloper and a powerful gaston high foot combination. This route was super typical of the quarry with mostly easier climbing to a stopper crux if you don’t commit.

The style of the routes at the quarry is very different to those we had be climbing out at echo. While both offer vertical climbing with possible hands free rests the hold consistency is very different. The quarry can have huge jugs quite close to tiny crimpers. The most constant part of the selection of holds at the quarry is that they are far apart. Echo usually has very similar hold size and type that leads to much more sustained climbs. I would find my self tired at the quarry from all the long reaches but not nearly as pumped as at echo.

Saturday I went to Rock City to take pictures of some of the guys I have been bouldering with in San Diego. It was pretty tight to get to take pictures of such a strong crew and I even got to put down the camera and climb a few problems. I probably should have warmed up a bit more and ended up tweaking one of my fingers a bit.

Sunday Lizzy and I met up with two of her friends from Caltech and went out to New Jack City. The previous time we had been out there it had been perfect weather and we got sunburned. While the sun was still shining bright we also got a nasty cold wind this weekend.

The cold and the overall fatigue from the previous days seemed to set in on my first hard climb. The warm up went well but on my first try on my weekend project I got shut down at the crux. I had yet to really figure out how to use my feet and was not sequencing it quite right. After getting through the crux I figure out the rest of the route hanging my way up and setting the draws. After coming down I was ready for rest and Lizzy had fun on a really long easy warmup.

Usually with my hard route of the weekend I hang the draws figure out the beta and then rest and send on my next go. I must have been tired from the comp and chilled since my next try went sour. I struggled clipping the second draw and couldn’t pull the crux. I took, we pulled the rope and then I rested. My next try went similarly with a struggle for the 2nd clip and then I barely made it through the first crux. I got to the next hard part and just couldn’t crimp on the last small hold. My feet were totally insecure and I was probably shaking. I hung, finished the route and cleaned all the draws.

I was totally shut down and not too happy about it. We rested for a while and then went on to some more routes. The first one was cool but I got spit off at the top which was annoying since it was at my usual onsight grade. So then we went to find something a grade easier for Lizzy to do. I botched this one too and missed the onsight and developed the full on funk.

Lizzy top roped this last route and decided it was weird and that we needed to get me smiling again. I think that I had taken my failure on my project a bit hard. I was out of whack and after dogging three routes I was out of my element. I don’t know if it was rest or the cold but I had been shaky all morning. My newly resoled shoes weren’t helping the matter and I needed to kick start my attitude.

We went back to the project and I finally sent Red Devil placing a few draws on lead. The second clip felt hard but I could actually hold on to the small crimp that was my red point crux. This helped swing my mood back to happy and the rest of the day was much more fun.

Monday I was really tired from all of the tries on Red Devil on Sunday and just pretty exhausted from the whole weekend. It wasn’t until this morning, Tuesday, that things seemed more normal.

I am excited for our trip to the RRG and will be resting today and tomorrow in prep. It is interesting as I am trying to keep pushing my self and trying to climb harder to examine how the climbs I try effect my mind set. I had been disappointed by failing to onsight climbs at echo but redpointing them second go helped with that. I guess there are always days we don’t feel quite as strong as we like and Sunday was one of those days. Rest is always key and necessary for improvement.

Quite a bit of a blog but it has been a while since I had last written. Lots of thoughts as it becomes fall and the Petzl Roc Trip approaches.

Till next time,


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Circular Patterns and Onsight Climbing

It’s always funny how we learn things. Some times we go out and search for answer and other times we stumble upon them.

Something like this can often happen in climbing. The crux beta may be given to us or perhaps it is obvious and it just works. Other times we must work through sequences to find the way that works for our own body.

Training will help give you more time and more possible sequences on the rock when trying to onsight a climb. Recently I have been falling off onsight attempts because I am too pumped and either unable to climb the required sequence or unable to figure it out in the time I have.

In the past month I have been out to Echo Cliffs, in the Santa Monica Mountains, twice. I have been trying to push my onsight limit and have been getting really tired on my onsight go. The next try however, after having hung the draws and found all the holds has gone quite well. I am able to milk the rest more on my second try and reach the anchors without the bulging forearms I encountered on the onsight go.

I think that since I am getting really tired on my onsights I either need to be committing faster or need to keep training endurance. On my first hard onsight attempt I committed to the wrong sequence of holds and found my self with nowhere to go. The second time I could not figure out the sequence and I couldn't last on the holds I was on. It was particularly interesting because this sequence took me a while to figure out and then on my redpoint it worked so well. It still felt a bit awkward but the movement linked together perfectly.

I learned a bunch about commitment this weekend and that you need to keep pushing since you can do amazing things if you want them enough. I thought I was going to fall at the 1st crux on my onsight but I made it through even though I had to try two different sequences before it worked.

The start of this post was about learning and how we learn funny things at different times. I was reading this article about saber tooth tigers and it mentions "coup de grace". This is the name of a Dave Graham route in Switzerland. I had wondered what it meant and I now had the opportunity to find out. Coup De Grace is the blow of death (or death blow) and seems suitable for a yet unrepeated 9a.

Dave seems to have lots of cool names for climbs that sound good even if you don’t know what the mean. A recent FA he did in Rodellar is called Los Borrachos Del Mascun which translates to The Drunkards of the Mascun. You can see a video of the FA on MomentumVM.com

That’s really all for now but ill be writing more about training later this week.

- Luke