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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!