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…

 

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