Climborexia

Disclaimer- Before reading this article, know that it will have some controversial things and I truly don’t think it’s safe or smart to starve yourself. There is suppose to be an element of comedy in the recommendations, especially given that climbers comically joke about being too heavy even though most maintain a healthy weight. Take it for what’s it worth before reading on…

There have been a few times in my life when I experienced dramatic weight loss, mainly due to some kind of illness. When I get sick, I learned from some top Naturpathic Doctors to NOT eat anything. Sustaining from eating, or fasting as it is called in the health world, is a very effective tool to use to beat an illness, whether it be a common cold or something more serious like the flu. In a nutshell, digestion from eating food takes energy and when you don’t eat during a period of sickness, your giving your body more energy to fight off your illness. Plain and simple, it works. I have experienced this first hand. One thing that has distinctly grabbed my attention each and every time I have experienced weight loss during a period of fasting, is my climbing performance when I return to rock.  Although you may feel like your going to be weak, even lethargic, from lack of calories, I have found that the exact opposite is usually the case. In all my instances when I have lost weight, sometimes having not even climbed or trained in weeks, I return to only find myself crushing. Hopefully the stories listed below will ring a bell and make you realize how important body weight is to a rock climber. Read the following short stories and be prepared to have your jaw dropped(and to start starving yourself)…

Story #1- The Mexican Send 

It was a hot winter day. The sun was scorching down on the dried cactus that surrounded us on our hike in to the crag. Back in my home state of Colorado, the snow was piling up outside people’s windows and burying the cars that lined the street. But in Mexico, it was hot and sunny. My feet burned as I walked cross the arid landscape. Finally arriving at the crag, after a little over and hour hike, I dropped my rope on the ground. Above me lie a route called Surfer Rosa, a route I spent 28 hours getting to by car. I was focused. I wanted to do this route since my last trip to Mexico and it was my main objective for this trip. As opposed to a week the last time I was here, this time I had a full month. And despite being surrounded by loads of quality routes, this is the route I came here to do. I looked up at the dangling draws on the looming overhanging wall, amidst a sea of giant snakelike tufa features, and couldn’t help but feel the excitement and nervousness.

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Being light has it’s advantages, as I found out quickly on a project in Mexico, which ended up not being so much of a project…

I had one major problem though. I had gotten extremely sick prior to this trip, back in Colorado and should have probably cancelled altogether. I hadn’t eaten food in nearly 10 days and had lost a ton of weight. My digestive track was ravaged by a virus and I couldn’t seem to keep anything down. So, I didn’t try to eat. My energy levels were at an all time low and my body weight was as low as when I was in college nearly 10 years prior. Despite feeling like shit(pardon my language), my persistence or maybe stubbornness prevailed, and I chose to go on the trip anyway. If anything, I could just work the route for a few weeks until I felt better. I roped up and got on the route only to find myself making quick work of all the moves I remembered to be most strenuous. After hanging, I blasted through the crux first try, moves I severely struggled with the year prior. Funny thing was, in my mind I just felt weak and super scrawny. I lost a good portion of muscle in my back, chest, biceps and stomach over the last 10 days and it showed. “Dude, you ok?”, asked my friends. They barked, “You don’t look so good”. The truth was, they we’re right. I had no business being on a route of that difficulty. I looked and felt anorexic.

Long story short, this route and especially the difficulty level, at that time, should have taken me the entire trip and there was the lurking possibility that I spent an entire month on it and didn’t get it. Funny thing was, I didn’t need a month. I sent the route in 4 tries on my second day of the trip. When I clipped chains, I lowered down in complete shock, utterly speechless. Even to this day, well over 5 years since that day, I am still shocked.

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Climbing wild tufas on my Mexican project, which only ended up taking me a few tries over two days due to my lower bodyweight…

Story #2- Tensleep Troubles

A few summers ago, I hopped on one of the most ultra-classic routes in Tensleep Canyon called Hellion. It is an absolutely brilliant route, described in the guidebook as 80 feet of climbing perfection. I was surprised to find that I could do most of the moves early on. I was very psyched that the route was solidly difficult, such high quality and I thought I could put it down pretty fast. Man was I mistaken. I had a fairly flexible schedule that summer and thus had planned on being in Tensleep most weekends from the start of the season to Labor Day weekend. Each weekend that I subsequently went back to try to send Hellion, another 10 burns ensued. I had the route ridiculously wired. The crux was getting through a powerful and lengthy V7 sequence for the first 4 bolts, then it was super pumpy 12d/13a to the top. I had the section from just after the crux to the top so wired I could have probably climbed the route in my sleep. Problem was, I could never get there. Every single time I got on the route, I just couldn’t get through the the first four bolts to save my life. I fell hundreds of times at the exact same spot. Despite the route maybe taking another summer of working as the season was coming to a close, I would not give up. The route was amazing and worth putting 500 burns into if that is what it took.

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Powerful starting moves always made it challenging getting to the 4th bolt. That is of course until I lost a bunch of weight…

On the very last weekend, and my very last trip to Tensleep that summer, I had doubts that I could pull it off. I had been extremely sick and once again, lost a bunch of weight leading right up til the trip. I went to bed at midnight on Thursday, got up at 6 am the next day and made the 7 hour drive to Tensleep. Around 2:00 pm, I pulled into the parking lot utterly exhausted, having only slept 6 hours the night before and had eaten very little food all week. I hiked up to the cliffs and once again felt like I was going to pass out. I had no energy whatsoever. I did my usual warms up and then dropped my rope below Hellion. There was another climber on the route, lowering down, brushing, ticking holds and struggling to get through the crux even on top rope. Yup, the crux was hard. When the climber reached the ground, I asked politely If I could give the route a “quick” burn on his draws. He of course said yes. When I tied in, a crowd gathered to watch my burn. Others heard me telling the person working the route that I had been on Hellion a bunch and was going to be fast. If anything, they wanted to watch and get some beta. My girlfriend at the time, who had belayed me many times earlier that summer, was on the other end of the rope. Now, a large crowd had gathered to watch. As I tied in to the sharp end, I yelled over to people spectating not to expect much and that I had been sick and had zero energy. Once again, I got on and completely crushed it. When I clipped chains at the top and was lowering back down, people cheered and my girlfriend yelled up with joy. I had a shitty ass grin on my face that had to have been a mile wide. When I first stepped foot on the ground, I was shocked at what had just happened. I barely broke a sweat making the route feel like it was an 11a and not the 13+ that it was. Honestly, it was so easy I probably could have sent it 6 times in a row with no rest between burns. I  untied my rope, threw my shoes into my pack and thought to myself ” Wow, it really pays to be light!”.

The point of these stories is to NOT portray my badass-ness, there are 15 year old girls sending harder routes than I ever will, somewhere between math and science class. I’m really just a wanker. However, one thing is for damn sure, being light really helps if your wanting to climb harder grades. Going back to said 15 year old girls sending 5.14’s, “Do you think they have an advantage?”. The answer is YES. They are light. And if you look at a good portion of the elite sport climbers out there, you will notice that all are pretty skinny people. And no matter how “light” you think you are, we can all stand to lose a few pounds, even if it’s muscle. If your abs are NOT totally popping, you can drop more weight. If you have any excess bulk in your quads, back, chest(like myself), etc, you can lose more weight.

The most important thing to take away from this article is that for ALL rock climbers, body weight is a very important factor in how hard you can climb. Being light when your trying to send a hard route or project, as I have showed, can be more beneficial than your endless training sessions in the gym. I thoroughly recommend going on a strict diet for a full 2 weeks prior to sending a project. You should reduce your caloric intake to at least 1/3 of your normal daily calories. If your trying to break into a new grade, you may want to go full “Climborexia” and eat nothing at all. And even though this may seem like horrible advice, it works whether you want to believe it or not. When you send your hardest route, I will of course say ” I told you so!”. And when you send, treat yourself to a rice cake with a little bit of salsa…

Special Note: If your going to go FULL Climborexia, you should probably consult a physician first…

 

The Art of Redpointing

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I am not a 5.15 rock climber. I am not on the US climbing team. I am also not a professional. I have what many people would consider a “normal” life. I have been lucky enough to climb rocks from time to time and to have in my eyes some great success along the way. One thing I have found great success with over the years is something many climbers do consistently once they reach a certain level, the infamous “project”. I don’t remember what grade it started at for me, probably somewhere around the 5.11 mark, that I began doing routes more than once to climb it successfully. Over the years, working or projecting a route has quintessentially become what this sport means to me. Get on a route, fail, sometimes a lot, in order to one day maybe succeed. It is that moment of success that truly is the inspiration in our sport. No matter how short, how brief a moment in time that the success is, it IS glorious. I have been lowered down from the top of a rock climb literally in tears, not because I hurt myself but because I was elated with joy. The tears of success are what keeps me coming back for more.

Those tears fuel my passion like rocket fuel in a spaceship. Without them, the sport would mean nothing. Those same tears are why I move on to the next project and start the whole process of failing over and over again. No matter how long it takes for me to succeed, I will not stop. In my mind, I treat a climbing project much like I would my own child. And much like my own child(I don’t have kids yet!),I would never give up on them. Perhaps, this is why I have been largely successful with the routes I have tried. Whether a route takes me 2 tries or 1,000, I will not stop until the process is complete. Through these trials and tribulations, successes and failures, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined. I would like to share in what my eyes is the most beneficial thing I have learned along the way. To my fellow comrades trying to take down their next project, the secret lies in one single thing…

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THE ART OF THE REDPOINT

Consistency- This is probably the most important thing in overall redpointing strategy. As discussed above, in order to succeed you must sometimes fail a lot. The harder the route or more lofty the objective, the more you are going to fail. Expect it, except it. Now that is out-of-the-way, you must first focus on getting on the route with great frequency and consistently. For me, the hardest rock climbs I have done at any given time required me to be on them every few days. This is very important. No matter how hard I trained or how fit I thought I was, the one thing that brought victory the quickest for me was simply being on the route over and over and over. I’d thrash myself, my skin, my body, and often times my ego, only to rest a few days and go back at it all over again. The more you get on your project the more likely you will have success come at a more rapid pace. PERIOD. On this note, be selective with picking your project.

Training for the route-Not all of us have the luxury of living in a mecca for climbing like Boulder, Colorado. I have 10,000 routes within a 60 mile drive from my house. This makes projecting largely, well, easy. But, what happens if your project is in another city, state or even country? For instance, getting on a project consistently in Ceuse, France when you live in Canada may be difficult, actually make that nearly impossible unless you’re a traveling professional. So, for all us mere mortals, what in the world are you supposed to do if you can’t follow RULE #1? The answer is to train for the project. I personally have had great success with adjusting my training specifically to my climbing objective. If the route is long and endurancy, no need to work power. If the route is short and bouldery, there is no need to be doing doubles or triples in the gym. Bottom line, cater your training to specifically meets the needs of the route your successfully trying to climb. Do you need more finger strength for the route? How hard is the boulder problem crux? Do you have enough power? Do you feel fit enough? Answering all these questions and formulating a plan to train for a specific route you wish to redpoint could be the best approach to ticking a far away project. Instead of a route taking you 20 tries, it may only take you 5 because of the time spent training appropriately.

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Trying hard projects means your going to fail, A LOT!

Top roping a project- There is no shame in top roping a project in order to feel more comfortable and intimate with the rock climb before you choose to lead. In fact, I am constantly surrounded by some of the top climbers in the country(people who climb 5.13 and 5.14) whom commonly use this tactic. Top roping a route or the crux sequence of a particular climb could save you many burns in the long run. Could you get past your ego for one minute to top rope a route for a few burns if it meant you sent the route in half the amount of tries? The answer should be yes and you should  certainly try it. Now looking back, I know for a fact that I could have redpointed certain routes quicker if I actually top roped them a few times to actually make it through the crux which I couldn’t pull. The best climbers in the world do this and you should too. Now, I’m not saying to top rope the route until your ready to send but a few times can certainly help.

Stick Clipping- Most sport climbers these days are intimately familiar with what a stick clip is and how to use one. The next time you start a project that is above your onsight or flash ability, try opting to drag a stick clip up the route and stick clip your way to the top. This will allow you to touch holds, explore sequences, tick holds(Please no foot long hot pink tick marks) and simply get familiar with a climb you have never been on. This is especially important if you are breaking into a new grade of difficulty or are intimated by the route. I have had many projects in the past where I couldn’t get to the top and refused to use a stick clip or top rope it. Now knowing what I know, I am positive I could have sent the route quicker had I done these tactics.

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In order to succeed on a project, you must be willing to try hard….

Hang dogging- A classic methodology and what I consider a lesson in Redpoint 101! I recently started working a route which was pretty difficult for me. Rather than try to actually rock climb, I chose to hang on every single bolt despite the fact that I certainly could have linked sections. In fact the first time ever on the route, I linked the first 6 bolts or so but the second time I got on it I chose to hang every bolt. When you hang-dog a route, you can really work out the best sequences and clipping stances. Usually upon starting a new project, I will intentionally do this to shave burns on the back-end of the project. In a nutshell, if your going to be projecting a route at your limit, you need to be hang dogging, at least for the first few burns until you find the most efficient beta. It is only then that you should start linking sections and begin the actual redpoint process.

Breakdown and linking- Leading into our next redpointing tactic, lies the art of breaking down a rock climb into sections and then attempting to link sections. This is very important and a tactic I see ALL but the best climbers forget to do. Lets say a rock climb is 100 feet long and the hardest parts are at the top. This was exactly the case for a route I worked about 3 years back, which at the time was harder than anything I had ever done before. When I mentally thought about doing the route in its entirely, it felt overwhelming and impossible. I always said to myself, how in the world am I going to do that boulder problem at the top of the climb after already completely 70 feet of pumpy climbing? You will probably NEVER have success if you think like that. I chose to mentally break the route up into sections that I thought were doable and then ONLY work sections one at a time. For example, I was able to climb the first 3 bolts to a knee bar rest. That was section #1. The next section was 2 bolts before getting into another kneebar. That was section #2, I did this exact thing more or less for the entire rock climb and then began to climb it in sections. I would climb section #1 and than hang and rest. I would than climb section #2 and than hang and rest. I got to a point where I could consistently climb each section clean without falling or hanging on a rope. Once I got to that point, I started to link different sections together. Before I knew it I was linking numerous sections and maybe hanging 5 times on the route. Maybe over time I worked that down to 3 times, than 2, than one and before I knew it I had SENT! Breaking down hard sections and than practicing linking sections with rests in between is perhaps one of the most effective tools in the art of redpointing. When your climbing a 100 foot rock climb it can be overwhelming to think about right? Well, on the flip side to that, how about climbing a 20 foot section? That doesn’t sound too bad does it? Use this tool and I guarantee it will prove to be helpful in your next project.

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Take the whip!

Strategy- You can’t possible send a route, especially if it’s at your limit or maybe even a little beyond, without having some strategy around it. For me, when I am getting close on a project, my entire training and climbing schedule will be switched up in order to help aid in my success at a redpoint attempt. If I know I am headed up to a project on a Friday and I’m going to give it a ball to the walls attempt, I may opt to rest on a Wednesday and especially on the Thursday before. Maybe I will focus on some stretching the day before, or going for a very light run to just get the muscles engaged. You should also think about getting a good night of sleep and being properly nourished the day of your redpoint attempt. This WILL greatly help with your success and a tactic I see most elite climbers perform like clock work. Other items to consider as strategy is to lock down a warmup regime. I see many people warm up on the route going bolt to bolt or warming up on a route nearby that they have wired. When everything is said and done and your ready to go into battle, you need to make sure your mind and body are ready to put up a fight.

Pick Realistic Goals- I see climbers on both ends of the spectrum whom pick projects that are either too easy or too difficult. I have always found that my redpoint limit is usually somewhere right around a number grade higher than what I am capable of doing first try. For example, if you have flashed or onsighted a 5.11a, you are probably capable of projecting and redpointing a 5.12a whether you think you can or not. Obviously, this is not set in stone and there is no mathematical formula to this equation. Sometimes the difficult thing about a project is that the outcome is unknown and that you could potentially end up putting a ton of work into one single route and never actually getting it. However, I have found that this is usually NOT the case. I am a firm believer that if you can do all the moves on a route, you can most certainly send the route. Sometimes doing all the moves and sending may seem galaxies away from each other but for the most part you just need to develop the appropriate strength and fitness to start connecting sections of the climb together. And even once you get the route down to a one hang, victory could still be a long ways off. I have one hung routes literally dozens of times before sending. Most likely, the stars will align, you will feel strong, you will have perfect temps and a send usually ensues. It’s important to pick realistic goals and to slowly work your way up in difficulty. Climbing at elite grades of say 5.13 and 5.14 requires nothing more than dedication, determination and patience.

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I spent a precious day trying to send Table of Colors(one of the best routes I have been on in the United States) at the Red and came up short. Next time…

Project like a pro- I always think it’s a bit ironic when you see people freaking out on their projects due to failure. If you don’t like failing, than projecting is probably not going to be your cup of tea because your probably going to fail a lot before you succeed. Except the fact that if you are projecting a route, especially if it’s at your limit, that the route will take a lot of attempts. Don’t stress about it. Some of the most respected climbers in the world stay calm and collected despite feeling the pressure of sending a route that they have put a ton of work into. You have to understand that projecting is like an art. The more you do it, the better you will get at it and over time, you will probably have success. I have had projects that I ended up sending far before I should have and many that took way longer than I thought they would. The bottom line is to have fun and truly enjoy the process. Don’t forget that the more burns a project takes, the more you will grow to appreciate the route when it’s all said and done. My favorite rock climbs have not always been the hardest routes but the ones that I put the most amount of effort into. In a nutshell, failing a large portion of times while on a project will make it that much sweeter when you eventually are clipping the chains. My hardest routes, in some cases, have taken me multiple years to complete. Enjoy the process!

Believe in yourself- I think its important to walk into a project with the right mindset and that is to have the confidence that you can ultimately do this thing. Don’t be cocky and think your going to crush a 5.14 when you have never actually done a 5.14. In fact, you can probably expect the opposite when entering into a new grade or a new domain. Prepare and expect to get beat down. The beat downs are what makes us stronger. I usually walk into a project and have confidence in everything that may help me send that rock climb. Whether you’re a strong endurance climber or have a lot of power in the bouldering domain, use your strengths to your advantage. Your mind goes a VERY long way in the sport of rock climbing and your need to know when to use it to your advantage. If I’m walking up to a roue that is extremely long and more endurance based, I will tell myself that I have done routes of the same length like this before and I’m good at resting. This is one of my strengths. On the flip side to this, if I’m choosing to project a route of the same difficulty but maybe is only half the length and more bouldery (one of my weaknesses), I still might use my mind to help me block out doubt. I may say, well the route is only half the length so I don’t have to hold on for as long. Again, my mind just turned something negative into something positive. Bottom line, if you truly believe that you can send a route, then ultimately you most likely will. Having a strong mindset will take your climbing to another level…

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Sometimes with a project, its DO or DIE…

You should try every single strategy and tactic this article has to offer. The burns its saves may be countless and the smiles you will have after sending something you never thought possible will be bottomless. This will do nothing but fuel you for your next adventure.

Get after it!

 

Breaking into new grades

Never have I done a sport in my entire life like rock climbing. Despite picking up climbing fairly late in life, I’m happy that I found it, or rather, that it found me. I have learned a lot over the last 10 years since starting on plastic at a gym in Jackson Hole, a place where I resided during my stint as a professional freeskier. I can remember the exact ski season, sometime around 2008, when I started spending more time in the climbing gym than I did on the ski slopes.

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For me, skiing had always been there. I was intimately familiar with what life was like as a skier. For more years of my life than not, I made the slog from my home in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia in the flat farm lands of South Jersey to the mountains(more like hills) in the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania. I practically lived at Blue Mountain Ski Resort during college, sometimes sleeping in my car so I wouldn’t have to make the drive back home during multiple ski days. Moving to Vail after college was a game changer for me and ultimately changed the direction of my life. Even to this day, that two day drive on a cold dreary November day from New Jersey to Vail was probably the most important decision I have ever made. Leaving New Jersey and making the decision to follow my dreams of skiing the Rockies meant a change in my lifestyle. I was giving up good jobs and security for a life of passion and adventure. Something about the unknown allured me more than any high paying job ever could.

Now nearly a decade into the sport of rock climbing, I’m hooked. Most if not ALL my days are planned around my climbing schedule, or training for climbing. Every day has a purpose, whether it be a rest/recover day, or training finger strength at the local gym just a mile from my house, or climbing a project outside. Weather, work, condition of my skin, soreness of my forearms, objectives, every single little decision for climbing or training is carefully evaluated. Despite all the things I have learned over the last decade and especially the last 5 years since I sank my teeth into the sport, I have learned one very important thing along the way.

The mental game of climbing for me has become the most important element to being a stronger climber. No matter how many hours you train on the campus board or finger board, nothing will improve your skills more than using your mind to your advantage. I remember when I first started climbing 5.12- at my local gym, the Boulder Rock Club, and thinking to myself, “Could I really be a 5.12 rock climber?”. I couldn’t believe that I, me, Curt MacNeill, was going to climb a 5.12. This was a very big deal! I went from hanging virtually on every bolt in the gym, to hanging every other bolt, to two hanging the route, to one hanging the route and to eventually sending the route. All along the way, I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, I just knew that I wanted to climb a 5.12 and break into the rock god status. Eventually one 5.12 led to another and before I knew it I was a 5.12 rock climber. The transition to sending 5.12 outside may have been a bit more time consuming but in the end, the same thing followed.

Several years later, I was in the exact same scenario with breaking into the 5.13 grade. In the back of my mind, the infamous and rhetorical question popped up again, “Could I really climb 5.13?”. When I projected my first 5.13a outside, a route called SuperKreem, at the Slab up in the beautiful Flatirons, the outcome was completely unknown. Frankly, SuperKreem was a big step up in difficulty than anything I had previously done before. And the question of whether or not I was a 5.13 climber lurked in the back of my mind every single god forsaken burn on Superkreem. When I first started working the route, I remember thinking to myself that this could take me forever to complete. Everything said and done, it didn’t take me forever, it took 6 weeks. And even after sending my first 5.13, I still thought, “Can I really climb 5.13?”. Afterall, some people gave the route 5.12d? Doubt set in once again. But as with climbing, when you break into a new grade, usually with one specific route, others tend to follow. And they did, lots of them…

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My very first 5.12a outside, Empire of the Fenceless at Easter Rock…

Several years later, having climbed and trained my ass off, the same exact rhetorical question popped in my brain. But this time, it was different, it was more serious. Afterall, I was getting into more serious grades, a grade that very few people ever reach, a grade so elusive, so mythical, it’s as if I had a better chance of seeing Big Foot in the Flatirons than I did of actually sending a route of this difficulty. As I progressed, the question started lurking in the back of my mind like the Lochness Monster would in Puget Sound. “Could I really climb 5.14?”. Many people try, even fewer succeed.

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One of my very first 5.13’s, Sonic Youth in Clear Creek Canyon…

In the grand scheme of things, I had always believed that climbing at the 5.14 level was reserved for the “super elite”. Despite living in Boulder, Colorado, a place where it seems like everyone climbs 5.14, and also being constantly surrounded by media source’s portraying more climbers than ever sending hard, climbing at the 5.14 level meant you had mastered the sport. I had no idea what that meant, I just knew that it was really really hard and that I could probably never climb one. But everyone seemed to be doing it around me so I thought, “Why not me?”. It was a good question and one that I asked myself 500 times over the years. In the past week alone, I learned of Ashima, a little 15 year old girl from New York City, and her feats of climbing V15 and 5.15. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “I’m a total wanker!”. Then I read of Margo Hayes, an 18 year old local super crusher, sending 5.14c at the Red River Gorge shortly after winning the national championships in sport climbing. Again, I asked myself, “Why not me?”. Despite being surrounded by people like this all the time, only because I happen to live in the center of what many people would call the “mecca” for rock climbing, realistically, probably less than 1 percent of the total climbing population actually climbs at the grade of 5.14 or harder.

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And once again, I asked myself, “Could I actually climb 5.14?”. The answer didn’t really matter in the long run, the nature of who I am as a person is to try to push myself as hard as I could. Call me a grade chaser if you want, I think its clear that the best rock climbs in the world happen to be the really hard ones. Every time I watch a video of Chris Sharma projecting a 50 meter 5.15 somewhere in Spain, I start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. What can I say, it’s the hardest lines in the world that are the ones that inspire me to want to get stronger or try harder.

When I first started projecting my first 5.14, I didn’t think I could ever actually climb that route successfully. It was hard, really hard. I couldn’t do crux moves and I could barely get through sections to clip up. But, I was stubborn, really stubborn. I was inspired by the line and wanted to climb it no matter what it took. Nearly 18 months after touching the holds on a route of that difficulty and a grade I never thought I could climb, I SENT. And even after I sent, I still asked myself the question, “Could I really climb 5.14?”. Afterall, some other strong climbers who climbed the route said it was 5.13d. And as with all routes, when you do one, you typically want to do another. To me, this is what climbing is all about, its that “search” for the route that inspires you to pound yourself into the ground, sometimes doing whatever it takes, to take it to the next level.

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Burly tufa pinching on what would be my first 5.14, nearly 18 months before the send…

The most important thing that I learned throughout the process of self doubt is to take the rhetorical question of “Am I really a_______climber?” and throw it out the window. Having self doubt will do nothing but undermine what your really capable of. Replace it with, “What do I need to do to climb a________?”. Having self confidence and setting realistic goals in small incremental steps should be your best plan of attack to break into new grades. Slow and steady progress is the key and before you know it you will be climbing a new grade that you never thought possible.

After being immersed in this sport for nearly a decade, and meeting super crushers in every shape and size, I am a firm believer that anyone can climb anything if they are willing to put in the work. So now that I have done a few 5.14’s, I ask myself, “Can I climb 5.14b, or 5.14c, or even 5.15a?”. Instead of having self doubt moving forward, Im moving on with confidence, determination and sheer motivation. The important thing in regards to the question above should not be a simple yes or no, but rather, “How hard am I willing to work to climb a______?”. The answer to this question, again steers away from a simple yes or no and gives me a plan of attack. How am I going to train for a harder grade? What is my weakness? How long will it take me? What obstacles will I face?

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My dad following on his first ascent of the 1st Flatirons…

Entering into a new domain on the difficulty scale really may just mean you have to work a little harder. Since I have now climbed 5.14a, of course, I now have my sights on bigger and better(and a wee bit harder). Maybe climbing a 5.14b or 5.14c that really inspires me will take me several years to complete? Maybe I will never get it? Maybe I will never be a 5.15 rock climber? In fact, maybe I will never even climb anything harder that the routes I have already done? But, and this is a big “but”, I just might die trying…

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One of my best days of climbing with my father atop the 1st Flatiron…

 

How I trained power for Shine 5.14a(part 2)

Let’s get one thing straight. I am an endurance athlete, always have been, always will be. Being able to endure pain for long periods of time is my specialty. Ever since my days as a long distance runner in high school and later a competitive cross country mountain bike racer, the longer events catered to one of my strengths. Decades later, it doesn’t surprise me that when it comes to rock climbing, I have always enjoyed the mega long sport pitches. I have to say, my style, and what I love the most, is that “fight” to hang on. Now with a large number of very difficult routes under my belt in the 30+ meter category, the long and pumpy routes have become my favorite.

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Routes like Snake Watching(5.13a) at Overhang rock, which requires the full length of an 80 meter rope just to get back to the ground safely or a climb like Choose Life(5.13d), which is a 100 foot long endurance testpiece in the Flatirons, is what pushes my buttons or trips my trigger. Even though I sent Choose Life a few years back, the experience sometimes feels like it was just yesterday. I remember very vividly what it was like climbing through the v6 crux section of Choose Life all the way at the top of the climb, pumped out of my mind. Stupid pumped, silly pumped, the kind of pump where you can’t even hold onto a gigantic jug if your life depended on it. I love that feeling.

 

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Dan Levison on the super long and super pumpy Choose Life 513d

Primo Wall in Clear Creek Canyon outside the bustling city of Golden, is the polar opposite of that climbing style. Housing some of the hardest routes in all of Clear Creek, condensed into a small 100 foot section of cliffline, routes at Primo wall simply put “pack a punch”. All of the routes at this wall, topping out at no more than 50 feet, have wicked hard moves that cater to the climber who has power and bouldering strength. Power is the name of the game at this wall. Shine(5.14a), a route put up by Peter Beal around 1997, still stands as one of the canyon’s hardest lines nearly 20 years later. I remember when I first got on the route years ago to test the waters that I got shut down hard. It is the vicious boulder problem at half height that I could never do, not even close. This same boulder problem over the years has thwarted the attempts of many strongman. To my surprise, I revisited Shine back in the fall after finishing another 5.14 project and quickly stuck the single hardest crux move that I could never pull. I can probably attribute my progress on Shine to two distinct factors.

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Housing Clear Creek’s highest concentration of difficult sport lines, Primo has become a mecca for the aspiring 5.13 and 5.14 climber…

The first factor was simply the sheer amount of time I spent on Thunder Muscle(TM for short) in the Flatirons. Despite coming super close to TM back in May 15′, I came up short and the warm weather of summer started to set in. I more or less let go of the route entirely for the summer. Once September hit, I started going back to TM a lot. And I mean A LOT! For the most part, TM was the only route I climbed on for virtually the entire fall season. Being on a route as difficult as TM, clocking in at 5.14, would be the best training that I could have ever done for my climbing. Power, something I clearly lacked since I have never been strong at bouldering, was something that TM addressed first hand. The moves and boulder problems were difficult. Let me rephrase that, the boulder problems are some of the hardest I have ever done in my life. Whether I actually sent the route or not, I knew it was working a weakness so I stuck with it. Fuel for the fire, that’s all it was…

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Training power on Thunder Muscle’s V8 crux proved valuable

 

The process of working and ultimately sending TM proved quite valuable to my overall abilities as a climber. I always had the endurance as I stated in the beginning of this article but the one thing that dramatically changed for me was my overall power and bouldering strength. TM has crux sections in the v8 range that I must have done several hundred times by themselves. Think about what doing a v8 several hundred times would do for your climbing? Sometimes I did the moves over and over, essentially doing a v8 multiple times in a single session. What do you think that would do to my climbing? You guessed it, I got strong. Very strong.

The second factor which helped me develop more power in my climbing was the amount of high intensity/ hyper-gravity bouldering I did at the gym. As soon as the cold of winter set in, sometime around mid- December, I started to do some bouldering with a weight vest.  Hyper-Gravity training as it’s often called is hands down one of the fastest ways to increase power and certainly grip strength. Most, if not all the bouldering I did training in the gym between the start of the year and the time I sent Shine, always involved climbing with more weight than just my body. Now several months later after training in this very specific way, all I can say is WOW! Never in my life did I think I would ever be able to boulder in the V double digit’s or have the ability to climb a 5.14 that’s only 50 feet tall. Basically, for the grade, the shorter it is the harder the moves are going to be.

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Many years ago ascent of Flying Cowboy’s, one of the many powerful and classic routes at Primo Wall…

When I started the hyper-gravity bouldering back in January, I was only using about 4 pounds of added weight. Slowly over time I built up to using about 7 pounds. It may not seem like much but I can certainly say that it made a HUGE difference on how difficult everything would feel. If you have never tried hyper-gravity training before, I suggest you give it a whirl. Your body in a nutshell adjusts to the excess weight during your workouts and slowly adapts to the added stress. Fingers, forearm and bicep muscles get strong. Bottom line, when the weight vest came off, I crushed in a way I never had before.

The biggest overall gain in my personal climbing(in the way of power) was clearly achieved by these two factors. Hyper-gravity training with a weight vest was immensely helpful. I have also heard pro climbers in the past talking about consistently working a route at a difficulty level your trying to break into. For me, it was the ever elusive grade of 5.14. I could have climbed 5.13b all day every day but it wouldn’t have helped to send a 5.14. If I wanted to send a 5.14, then I would need to be on a 5.14 ALL THE TIME. I did and fortunately all the stars aligned and I sent TM back in the fall. Now, with Shine, it was just climbing another route of the same difficulty I had already done. No more mental block. No more asking myself the rhetorical question, “Could I really climb at a 5.14 level?”. Frankly, Shine, although given the same grade as TM, felt worlds easier to me. Could it be the fact that I am that much stronger than I was before I trained all of my weaknesses?

Only time will tell…

 

 

 

Shelf Road goes OFF

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A long time ago, in what feels like almost a different life, I was a die-hard surfer. I was fortunate enough to have a father into such a cool sport and lucky enough to have an aunt and uncle who owned a beach house in Ocean City, NJ. The combination proved to be very inspirational in my life. By the age of 10, I had my first surfboard gifted to me on Christmas morning, my dad as excited to give it to me as I was to receive it. Needless to say, I have been hooked ever since. The classic Billabong slogan, “Only a surfer knows the feeling” is very true. I have done a lot of fun things in my life, including rock climbing, but just for the record, there is NOTHING like pulling into a glassy barrel at your local break. Absolutely nothing. Surfing at such a young age is still one of the most memorable and gratifying things I have done in my entire life. I can remember there were days when the weather was beautiful, the swells were up(meaning big waves) and everything was perfect. It was a surfers dream come true. Surfers would often refer to those perfect/dreamy days as “going off”.

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Jim Mankovich in the middle of Shelf Road “Going off”

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Winter Camping at Shelf Road with views of the crags in the back drop

Shelf Road, located in the western foothills outside of Canon City west of Colorado Springs, can be absolutely dreamy when the rest of the state is buried in snow. Many winter climbing days are spent basking in the warm sun working on your tan. The temps are perfect, the routes are prime and for the most part, just like my former surfing slogan, the days seem to just “Go Off”. Truth be told, for more or less 4 months out of the year, Shelf Road quintessentially “goes off” and it has become my go-to winter crag here in the Centennial State.

This winter has been a very fun and successful one for me down here in the high desert and its only getting started. Coming off my first 5.14 send back in October, my strength and fitness were as high as they have ever been leading up to the start of the winter.  I started out the year with some great Shelf Road onsights in the 5.12 range, a feit I always feel proud of given that this climbing area can be not so straight forward and relatively blank, sometimes humbling the strongest of climbers. Getting a 5.12 onsight at Shelf, even if your a 5.14 climber, can be quite a challenge. One wrong move as simple as putting your left hand in a pocket where your right hand needs to be is definitive enough to spoil a first try attempt. Sometimes, even on some easier climbs, reading a sequence for the first time on the fly can be utterly frustrating. Needless to say, first try climbing at Shelf can be a heart breaker.

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My dog Mama wondering “What the heck we are doing at this place, AGAIN?”

Despite being a solid onsight climber overall, having done as high as 5.13a on my first try in other areas around the country, I have not done harder than 5.12b at Shelf Road on a first try attempt. This is where second try “sends” become the norm at this beautiful climbing mecca in the heart of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. It’s pretty common to  get on a new route here, climb about half way up, fall on a blank panel of rock, yard back up only to figure out a sequence that works, rehearse the moves til your fingers are shredded and turn purple, then turn around and try to fire it second try. Yup, that sounds about right! It seems as though with most of my sends this winter thus far, this was exactly the case.

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Shaking out on the Example 5.13 a/b

 The sad thing about Shelf Road is that the climbing never really lived up to the difficulty of the first ascentionist’s dreams. Unlike Smith Rock, which happens to have a plethora of hard routes in the 5.13 an up range, Shelf never fully delivered. There might be a couple dozen 5.12+ routes and maybe only 20 routes that are 5.13a or harder. This is not to say that Shelf Road doesn’t have hard climbing though. The hard routes at Shelf(basically anything 5.12a or harder) can be extremely challenging, especially given that the harder routes tend to be a very old school style of climbing. Over the years, I have tried many of Shelf’s hardest lines, only to find many of the climbs much harder than what the given grade was in the guidebook. If you don’t believe me, try a route like “the Example”, put up by none other than Colin Lantz in 1988 right before the International Sport Climbing Competition at Snowbird, Utah. This route was cutting edge at the time and despite only being given a 5.13a/b grade, the route is super sandbagged.

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The guidebook explicitly states, “Undercling like your life depends on it” at the crux

So far this winter, some of my sends have been epic; and others, well, not so epic. I bagged Cure for the Common Crimp (5.13a) on my second try, after coming extremely close to my first true 5.13 onsight. I had no beta whatsoever and came one move away from hiking it first try. It didn’t take much effort to send it on my second go and it felt pretty soft for the grade. Literally the day after, I went and did My Generation(5.12d) on my second go, in what was a full on “balls to the walls” attempt. On my first try of My Generation, I couldn’t even do the boulder problem off the ground. It was really hard and I fell right away not even making it to the first bolt that I had stick clipped. The moves felt desperate and I didn’t think there was any chance of sending on my second try. I worked certain sequences over and over and over til my face turned blue. On my second go, with every bit of fight I had in my body, I stuck the opening boulder problem, feet cutting and my body swinging far away from the wall trying to stick a jug near bolt one. I surprised myself and got through it, only to have the crux of the route coming up next. I think I fought harder on that route than I ever have on a 5.12d! But for the record, that’s how Shelf Road can be. I happily clipped chains on that beast second try.

Check out this video of me sending My Generation 5.12d on my second try!

A week later I returned to the same area, only to send Ejection Generation(5.12c), a linkup of its two classic neighboring routes, very casually on my first burn. It felt extremely easy compared to what I did the week before. It was fairly straight forward and the holds felt like jugs compared to everything else I have been trying at the equivalent grade the weeks prior. Next up was Fossil Future, again the experience being polar opposite of my send on My Generation, which happened to fall in the similar 5.12+ grade range. The day I did Future Fossil, I had a pretty big mileage day. I think I climbed close to 10 routes before giving my first burn to Future Fossil at the very end of the day. I was physically tired and my skin was totally shredded. I only got on it to check it out and maybe come back to it on another trip. To my surprise, I had a little fight left in me and managed to fire it second go. Future Fossil was certainly one of the best routes I have done at Shelf and not one to be missed!

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Shelf Road Sunset Circa Winter 2013

Warm days, abundant sunshine, epic camp fires, delicious meals and great people have made this winter at Shelf totally epic. Shelf Road plain and simple has been going off!

How to Train Power(part 1)

*Due to the length of this article, it will be broken up into 3 parts*

The 3 main Power Principles

1. Back Strength

2. Bicep Strength

3. Grip Strength

Part One(Back Strength)

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Looking up the word “Power” in the dictionary yields a huge list of actual definitions. Most of them in the Meriam-Webster relate to more of power as a “status” rather than a physical component of say fitness. The closest definition in the dictionary related to the purposes of this article is:

Power:  noun / pow.er / ˈpau̇(-ə)r- “Physical Might”

When we speak of power most climbers know exactly what we are talking about. I refer to it as a climbers ability to generate a maximum amount of force in any given motion, typically portrayed when a rock climber moves from one hold to the next. The power, or maximum amount of force that a climber can produce on a boulder problem or route, greatly affects how strong that climber is. So its probably safe to say that power is directly related to strength in rock climbing.

We have all heard someone in the climbing gym or outside at the crag referring to another climber as being a “powerful” one. Does this mean they are strong? Typically, I would say yes. When it comes to climbing and power, every single climber out there could benefit from more of it. Whether your a 5.14 super crusher or just getting started, everyone could benefit from a training program that focuses on power specifically. With the exception of people I see climbing at a very elite level, say v10 and 5.13 and higher, most climbers completely neglect this aspect of their training in their climbing programs.

So the big question is, “How do we become a more powerful climber?” The answer is simple and a sure fire way to propel you to that next level. Whether your trying to break into a new grade or just simply working on a weakness, the following training principles will undoubtably  make you a beast compared to the former shadow of yourself. You will get strong following this program. There are many things that you can do from an exercise standpoint to make you a more powerful person, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus more on climbing specific exercises to make you a more powerful climber. We will explore exercises and training variations for each of the three categories listed above.

Back Strength

Having a strong and healthy back is truly an essential part of becoming a strong climber on boulder problems or routes. Think of back strength like this. What muscles do you think make a soccer player strong? If you have ever watched the World Cup, you will quickly notice that every single player running up and down the field has very strong and powerful legs. They are able to run for long periods of time, sprint with short bursts of explosiveness, and lunge and jump to incredible heights. This is a perfect correlation to a rock climber. For a soccer player, their legs are their bread and butter so to speak. For a rock climber, it is hands down your back. Having a strong and healthy back will help you to not only pull up harder but you’ll be able to generate more explosiveness in the process, relating directly to power. Much like an Olympic Sprinter that’s about to launch out of the starting blocks at the start of a 100 meter sprint, a climber entering a crux sequence on a boulder problem or route, may be forced to move from one hold to the next in a very explosive manner. This is the essence of what I mean by “power” when I’m relating it to rock climbing.

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Taking advantage of a sit down rest on a tufa in El Salto, Mexico

So how do you build back strength as it relates directly to climbing and the principle of power? Well, in all honestly, the best way to train power for climbing is to actually climb. You can do all the back exercises in the world but it won’t necessarily equate to being a stronger climber. We are going to get real specific here. Number One: Probably the easiest way to work on power for climbing is to do some bouldering, focusing on problems that have big moves from one hold to the next. This is a great way to train power. Even if you can’t send the boulder problem, it would be beneficial for you to work problems that have individual moves that you simply can’t do. It’s like your projecting. But again, completing the whole problem and topping out is NOT the goal. The goal is to successfully pull the one single move that you are struggling with. Pick boulder problems that are at your limit, or even better maybe a little beyond, that have really big moves in them.

A special note that by “big move” I do NOT mean a dyno. Although dyno’s are fun and for the advanced climber can be beneficial, just picking problems that have long reaches and big moves will be more helpful. When you do the big moves or long reaches on the problem, you don’t want to try and statically reach to the holds. If you do this, your working lock off strength and grip more than you are power. I like to pick boulder problems that have opening moves that I can actually do but maybe has a stopper move somewhere just after the beginning or in the middle. I would NOT pick boulder problems that have the “big” move so to speak at the very end because then your probably working power endurance over anything and working the hardest move all the way at the end when your already tired. I find that being able to do a few moves before setting up for the stopper move seems to help. It helps for you to get in a flow and also won’t frustrate the hell out of you by not even being able to get your feet off the ground. That can suck and make you resent the move. Work the move over and over, taking ample rest between attempts. Set a timer if you need to. I would recommend a 3-5 minute break between a maximum effort attempt.

Focus on the subtleties with each subsequent attempt. Focus on the holds your moving off of. Can you find better feet to setup for the big move? Can you get your body into a better position to make the big move slightly easier? Can you grab the holds your moving off of slightly different to make them feel better? All these little things will make a big difference in your success. Most gyms have an array of boulder problems and you should be able to find problems that have this description. Even if your a rope climber, training some bouldering will be extremely beneficial when you get on a route down the road and get up to a crux sequence that happens to have big moves. Either way, whether your a boulderer or sport climber, the purpose of training power in this way is to prepare you for the difficulties that lie ahead. Typically, I will work on “power” in cycles throughout the year, in a block of time that usually lasts 4 to 6 weeks. If you were to train some big moves consistently several days a week for 4 to 6 consecutive weeks, most if not everyone will experience gains in their overall power that there bodies will be able to produce in the middle of a difficult sequence. The gains are usually very noticeable. If your looking to make things more difficult at the advanced level, try experimenting with more difficult problems or try adding weight to your body while you climb to add more resistance, making that “big” move even harder. Hyper-Gravity training(adding weight to your body) is what a lot of top notch climbers use in their training to take their own climbing to the next level. It clearly works. If you don’t believe me, try strapping a mere 5 pounds of additional weight to your body and do some bouldering. The first thing you will notice, or more or less feel like, is a fat sloth. Trust me on this one…

Some other training exercises that you can do to help develop back strength that will typically correlate directly with a climber’s ability to  generate power are as follows:

  1. Weighted Pull Up’s- The idea here is to be able to do a full pull up with good form, all the way up and all the way down with a brief 1 second pause on each end, with as much weight as you can put on your body. I like to strap a kettle bell to my waist using a traditional weight belt. I will then brace the kettle bell in between my legs to keep it from swinging. Focus less on the “more is better” in terms of repetitions. You should only be able to do 4 to 6 reps at a time. If you can do more, increase weight. You can also increase the grip to make it more difficult, although this starts working more grip than it does pure back muscles. I like to use a taped 1 inch thick standard pull up bar. This will allow you to go even heavier.
  2. Lat Pull Down- Although not as climbing specific as I like(I would prefer body weight exercises over a machine), most climbers in the 5.5 to 5.11+ range could benefit from doing this exercise. To change things up, you can do a lat pull down with two arms in a standard format or simply use a handle and pull down with one arm at a time. This will help develop sheer lat strength which is a crucial component of generating climbing power between holds. The lat muscle happens to be a key muscle in generating explosiveness in climbing movement. If your climbing at the 5.12- level or higher, weighted pull ups as described above will be more beneficial and will translate more onto the rock.
  3. Hyper-Gravity Training- Invest in a good weight vest or weight belt with the option to increase or decrease the weight. Most people will only need to be able to adjust up to 10lbs. If you ever want to explore what it would be like to be a lighter climber( a topic I will discuss in a future article), simply add 5 pounds to your body during a climbing session. The difference is quite noticeable right from the start. In a nutshell, you will feel like a fat sloth. Holds that you are use to using will feel much worse. Individual moves will feel much harder and getting to the top of problems or routes you normally have no problem with will become quite a challenge. On the flip side to this, imagine what losing 5 pounds would be like? In essence, it’s the exact same thing, only it works in reverse! (Again, look for this in a future training article titled “The essence of being light”). When you add weight to your body, you ultimately get use to that weight. Everything from the large pull muscles in your back to the tiny tendons in your fingers will adapt to the new stresses of the added weight. Over time, if you train like this consistently, what do you think will happen? When the weight vest or belt comes off, you won’t believe how “light” you will feel. All the holds your use to using will feel bigger and better. Moves will become much easier. This is the added benefit of incorporating hyper-gravity training into your program. A lot of top climbers swear by it. If you have ever read any of the training books written by the famous climbing coach Eric Horst, you will certainly come across this type of training. It is really that effective and a type of training that most people neglect.

I recommend trying this for small blocks of time throughout the year, say 4 to 6 weeks at a time before changing up your training. If you do the above things too much without taking a break, most people will simply burn out. If you do this type of training too little or not at all, your seriously missing out on a HUGE opportunity to increase your power as a climber. If you do decide to incorporate some of these exercises into your training regime, you just might surprise yourself the next time you get into a crux section of a route or boulder problem.

You may just find yourself blasting through it like never before…

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The man, the myth, the legend! My close friend Chaz Ott showing us what a powerful climber looks like…

*Part 2 of this article will focus purely on how to develop power for climbing, through your biceps specifically*

Stay Tuned…

 

 

My First 5.14

Whistler Bike Parl Circa 08'
Whistler Bike Park
Circa 08′

I don’t even know how to start this article. I have worked so hard for so long at an array of different sports. I picked up climbing fairly late in life(my mid twenties) but my experience with this unique sport has been some of the most powerful in my entire life. Most people don’t realize this about me but I have performed many sports at an elite level including downhill mountain biking and skiing. I don’t consider myself a natural athlete either. In every sport that I have excelled, I had to work my ass off to get there.  For every athletic accomplishment I have ever achieved in my life, I had to work year after year after year to achieve a goal. Perhaps, this is what has made my pursuit of rock climbing at the highest level so gratifying. In downhill mountain biking, I lived in Whistler, British Columbia and was proud to call myself a bike-park local. I tore it up for many eventful summers, both good and bad(injuries).  Many people would be stoked just to get down a trail like Whistler’s famous A-line, which is one of the most famous jump trails in the world with over 200 hundred GIANT man-made jumps in a trail that took about 5 minutes to ride. The jumps were so big that they would boost you a solid 6 feet in the air, basically enough height to clear a normal size adult, not to mention doing it all fed on gravity at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour or more. This was the essence of downhill mountain biking.

Living the dream...
Living the Whistler Dream…

I was good, really good. Riding A-Line, a trail most people just struggle to get to the bottom of in one piece, was quite a wild ride for me. I could not only boost enormous heights off some of the most pristine mountain bike jumps that the world had to offer(Whistler is ranked the  #1 Mountain Bike Destination in the World) but I could also throw tricks into the mix. There is nothing like shredding down a trail on a $5,000 bike with the skills to match, twisting and turning your bike in any position I saw fit. That is of course, until you crash. In all honesty, I didn’t crash very much, but when I did, it was epic. Epic to the point of broken bikes, broken bones, broken teeth and completely flattened seven hundred and fifty dollar wheel-sets. You name it;  I did it. I remember the first time I busted my teeth out(Yes, as in I have done it more than once) hitting a 40 foot step up gap in a remote part of Nevada outside of Las Vegas in an area called Bootleg Canyon. Come to find out, finding emergency dentistry at 5 pm outside Las Vegas was like finding gold treasure buried in your front yard.

Severe Consequences. If you fall of the ladder bridges, you get eaten by black bears...
Severe Consequences. If you fall off the ladder bridges in Whistler, you get eaten by black bears…

Skiing was another sport I pushed the limits of for many many years.. Fully sponsored and living in Jackson Hole, I lived to go fast and get big air. Skiing was something I was really good at and in reality, it’s where my fuel for adrenaline all started. At the age of 16, I threw my first helicopter(360 degree rotation in the air). At age 21, I was ripping mogul lines at Winter Park faster than most ski racers could ski down a groomed run. By my mid twenties, I was throwing backflips off 50 foot cliffs in the Jackson Hole back country representing the Liberty Ski’s Pro Team. I had some pretty epic experiences to to say the least; that is until stuff started going wrong. And when your pushing the limits of a sport, things do go wrong. In a single ski season, I manged to fly off a 40 foot cliff and break a full face moto helmet in 2 pieces. In that same crash, I lost both my ski’s, both my poles, a glove and the carnage path down the side of the mountain looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. I don’t know how else to say it, I got fucked up. That toboggan ride by ski patrol was one of many I had in my life. That same winter, my friend Ben that worked with me at the Snake River Lodge was ripping down a snow filled powder run when he struck a stump underneath the snow, shattering his femur into a dozen pieces. He was out of skiing for many seasons to come. Another friend, Trevor Hiatt, was pushing the limits of aerials up in Alaska and managed to come up short on a 100 foot blackflip only to break virtually every bone in his face. All this happened in a single span of a few months time. But it really didn’t hit me until my close friend Justin Kautz was killed in the Jackson Hole back country on a day I was supposed to be with him. Funny how the loss of such a close friend will change your perspectives on things. Justin was amazing and a person I will always have respect for. This guy would point his ski’s towards some of the biggest cliffs in the United States and just send it. Pretty damn impressive!

Those were the days...
Those were the days…
With a broken face after a gnarly ski crash. Circa 07'
With a broken face after a gnarly ski crash. Circa 07′

Close to the time I ended my skiing career before I was killed, I picked up climbing. A new gym called Enclosure had just opened in Jackson Hole and I started spending more time in the gym than I did on the ski slopes. Honestly, it was an easy transition into a sport I was unfamiliar with. I was light and strong and very determined, a recipe that would result in climbing at a very high level many years down the road. Only for climbing, it wasn’t just about being strong and fit. Like most sports I have competed in,  it took a lot of years to hone my skills. Now, nearly 5 years after dedicating my entire life to the sport of climbing, I can say that I have “somewhat” succeeded. Climbing is a sport unlike any other I have ever done. It can be so frustrating and so gratifying all in the same breath. With the grading designation given to climbing(called the Yosemite Decimal System), which is a peculiar way of grading each route, it is easy to measure progress. Years and years have gone by and my progression has been nothing short of pure excitement. I remember every step along the way like it was just yesterday.

The start of my climbing
The start of my climbing

I remember top-roping a glassy 5.9 at Ralph Stover State Park in Pennsylvania in my Reebok Pump’s, which is one of my first climbing experiences in life.  I can remember people yelling over from the party next to us that they needed to  “Get that kid in climbing shoes!”, referring to me and yelling over to my father. I can remember leading my very first route outside, a 5.10c at the Sport Park, a place notorious for being super soft on the grades. My friend Josh who took me climbing for my first outdoor/lead experience, was blown away by the fact that I casually sent my first lead outside, a 5.10 at that. Josh is now a fully certified Canadian rock climbing and skiing guide in British Columbia. I remember my first 5.11a, first 5.11c, first 5.12a. etc. The progression has been memorable, and perhaps that what’s make climbing and grades so significant. It’s not about what other people climb, its what YOU climb. Consistently climbing harder and harder grades is nothing short of lighting a fire under your own ass, to try harder and train more. And light a fire it did…

Rock Climbing with my dad at Ralph Stover State Park in PA. My father was far and away the most influential person in my life as an athlete!
Rock Climbing with my dad at Ralph Stover State Park in PA, the very place I had my first outdoor experience. My father was far and away the most influential person in my life as an athlete!

And than there is the training. And lots of it. LOTS! I have calculated that in the past 7 years, I have spent 36,400 hours either climbing or training for climbing, to the non-math wizard including myself, that’s an average of 5 hours a day 5 days a week for 7 straight years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was higher. 36,400 hours of training over the last 7 years has allowed me to progress at a level I couldn’t even comprehend just a few years back; and let me tell you, the ride has been absolutely unforgettable. I have shed blood, sweat and tears for the last 7 years. I have climbed all over North American in Mexico, Canada and the United States. I have spent thousands of days cragging from sunrise to sunset. I have climbed in the coldest of conditions that were virtually unbearable to some of the hottest days in the United States. Climbing at the New River Gorge in 105 degree heat in the thick of summer will always stand out. I have trained until my fingers bled, and then trained more. I have climbed straight through the shoe rubber on my expensive climbing shoes, to the point of needing resoles or new shoes every 30 days. I can remember having an epic on Time Wave Zero down in Mexico, which is the longest sport climb in the world at 2,300 feet. We started too late, didn’t pack enough food or water and decided to do it on a day that was way too hot. We made it about 1,800 feet before giving up. We were no where near the summit and it was completely dark. 5 hours and the “Rappel from Hell” ensued. I still laugh about that one. I have climbed limestone, sandstone, granite, gneiss and all combinations there of. I have spent thousands of hours sleeping in the dirt, taping tweaked tendons, and tying the beloved climbers “figure eight” knot. I have gone from projecting routes for months and months and months to sending that same route 10 times in a row with relative ease.

Rock Climbing many years ago in a remote part of Mexico called Culo De Gato...
Rock Climbing many years ago in a remote part of Mexico called Culo De Gato…
Training Power in the Tecolote Cave, Mexico
Training Power in the Tecolote Cave, Mexico
Trying to onsight a route at the Motherlode at the RRG
Trying to onsight a route at the Motherlode at the RRG

5.14, the ever elusive grade of the elite. Funny thing is, if your not a climber, understanding this grade is like trying to read Japanese. Most will never understand. But to a climber, 5.14 probably means a little more to them.  All I can say is I now know what it takes to get to this level. Years and years of dedication. The route, called Thunder Muscle 5.14a, after the U.K. energy drink, seemed to fit its name quite well. From the second you leave the ground to the second you clip chains, power defines this route. The moves are very difficult and for about 60 feet of the route, it’s just totally in your face. Your body position has to be impeccable. Your footwork has to be flawless. Your finger strength has to be iron clad. The clips are extremely difficult. The moves are even harder. You have to be able to boulder really hard(cruxes are probably in the v8 range) and the bulk of the boulder problems are back to back, meaning you can’t rest. Other than a slopey jug at half height, most holds on the route just plain suck. In a nutshell, climbing the meat of Thunder Muscle is like doing a 60 foot V7 boulder problem with some 5.12- section to start and a 5.12c sequence gaurding the chains. Thunder Muscle is nothing short of BURLY. I have watched some of Colorado’s strongest climbers get a total beat down on it.

Better get your skills dialed...
Better get your skills dialed…
Thunder Muscle has some of the hardest moves I have ever pulled on a rope...
Thunder Muscle has some of the hardest moves I have ever pulled on a rope…

Climbing Thunder Muscle(5.14a) on the South Face of Seal Rock is about as hard as the climbing will get for the smallest percentage of overall worldwide climbers. For me, it’s not just a number, or a name of a route for that matter. Its about a journey that has taken me many years to achieve, a level of difficulty I NEVER thought I would reach. And, for the record, it has been a memorable one. I have fought so hard, trained so hard, bled so hard, and shed so many tears to get to where I am at today. I have worked my ass off since day one to get to this level.

Thunder Muscle 5.14a, took me 19 months and nearly 100 tires to complete
Thunder Muscle 5.14a, took me 19 months and nearly 100 tries to complete

Wow, climbing has been an unforgettable experience, climb after climb and memory after memory. It has been an unforgettable ride and one that if it were over tomorrow, I would be completely satisfied with what I have accomplished. I am so proud to have sent my first 5.14 and to enter into what many would call the “elite”. I can only wonder whats next…