5 New Year’s Resolutions for Intermediate Climbers

#1 Find Strength in Numbers

Community is one of the things (for me, the thing) that makes climbing so amazing. Make it your goal to reach out to somebody new in 2013. Include the person who’s looking for a partner in your group–even if it makes odd numbers. Help out the beginners in your gym or at the crag! Make sure the guy in his street shoes and a harness in the bouldering area gets a good spot–sometimes beginners aren’t as in control of where they land when they fall. Be warm, welcoming and supportive.

#2 Use Outdoor Time Wisely

You should have three modes:

  1. Onsighting 
  2. Working
  3. Redpointing

Most intermediate climbers spend too much time trying to onsight and redpoint, and little or no time at all working or projecting routes. If you’re trying to send the minute your feet leave the ground, every time, I’m talking to you! If a route is too hard for you to onsight, you should be working it! Test out beta, try tough sections multiple times, rest on the rope, and plan tactics for your redpoint go.

#3 Work on Your Footwork 

Let’s be honest guys–we’re never going to be done working on footwork. There is no final state of footwork nirvana in which no improvement is possible. Now that we’ve accepted that, resolve to work on footwork in some way in every training session. One way to do this is to play the silent feet game–find a friend to make sure you stay accountable!

Fancy footin' on the cigar in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY

Fancy footin’ on the cigar in Ten Sleep Canyon, WY

#4 Be a Beginner Again 

Once you’ve been climbing for a while, it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what you’re good at. Trying things you’re bad at makes you look silly, it’s hard, and it often feels like you’re not getting anywhere. Do it anyway! Are slopers your nemesis? Replace a hold on a moderate (for you) route or problem with a sloper and see how it changes your beta? Technical masters, try something with a roof ! Jug haulers, try something balancy. Don’t spend any time telling everyone around you that you’re bad at whatever it is to lower expectations before you try it–just do it! You don’t judge other people when they fail, odds are, no one is judging you!

#5 Give Yourself a Break

When you have big dreams, it’s easy to fall short of your expectations. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up about it. Keep dreaming, and keep working! Someday you’ll get there, and in the meantime, there’s lots of fun to be had along the way.

What are your resolutions? What are you working on in the New Year? Want me to bother you about sticking to them in June? Post up in the comments!

Rest to Send

It’s almost Thanksgiving! As the race to finish up projects before the season ends begins, check out these tips for resting on routes and then go out and crush!

Rest When You Don’t Feel Tired

Some routes have a relatively easy section of climbing, followed by a bomber rest, followed by the ‘real’ business. These routes can be hard to rest on–you’re not tired yet, you’re anxious about the rest of the route, and it feels silly to be sitting around. I have two strategies for these sort of rests. Sometimes I’ll visualize climbing the rest of the route, reviewing beta, creating a positive vision for how the rest of the climb is going to go. Sometimes this will just make me nervous and shaky, so I’ll just focus on breathing and slowing my heart down. Do what works for you, but always take full advantage of any rest you get.

Shake the Kneebar!

Often when you’re resting, you’re recovering in your forearms at the expense of pumping out some random part of your body, like your calves. While I was working 49 in Maple, a friend of mine sent the route. When he got to the kneebar rest before the tough (for me) clip, he set the kneebar, rested, came back onto his arms, shook his calf, and stuck the kneebar right back in to rest some more. It had never occurred to me to shake anything but my arms at a rest until that day! With the shake-the-kneebar beta, I was able to get something back before the tough clip.

I met Wendy in Maple Canyon, land of the kneebars. I learned a lot about resting from this quiet crusher. Here she is cruising 49.

Be Patient

I habitually wear a watch, and I’ve started using it to time my rests. Sometimes it will feel like I’ve rested forever and I’ll look down to see that only 15 seconds have passed. At a no-hands rest, I will hang out as long as 2 or 3 minutes to make sure that I’ve completely recovered. At less-awesome rests, I still try to stay at least a minute. Note: this tip probably won’t work for crack climbers, unless you can find somewhere else to put the watch! ;)

Communicate

Let your belayer know you’ll be resting. Also make sure to communicate clearly and confidently that you are climbing when you exit the rest. You won’t take your belayer by surprise, and you can climb on with confidence, knowing that your belayer is with you.

Listen to Your Heart

Sometimes, a rest is not as good as you want it to be. It feels like you’re not getting anything back, you’re stressing out about the moves above you, and all of the sudden it feels like it would be better to just GO already. Don’t give into temptation! If a rest is only slightly decreasing or even just maintaining your pump, it’s still worth it to rest, because you can drop your heart rate back down and establish a good breathing rhythm. This will help you move better after the rest, even if it doesn’t feel like it while you’re resting.

Practice It!

Incorporate resting into your practice or training in the gym. If you do endurance training like ARCing, you are probably taking a few seconds to shake on jugs every once in a while. Challenge yourself to make good use of less-good rests. If you’re on a good jug, try smearing one or both feet. Use a higher foot than is really comfortable, or use a sideways facing jug instead of an upwards facing one. Teach yourself to relax and get something back even in slightly uncomfortable positions.
What are you trying to send this fall? Let us know in the comments and tell us how it goes!!

Technique Lessons in Smith Rock

My time at Smith so far has been absolutely amazing. I’ve had the good fortune to climb with two amazing groups of people for a few days at a time. First I had Maria and Angela, who took the photo below. It’s nice to climb with partners for more than one day at a time–to develop comraderie and trust. Lately I’ve  been climbing with two other climbers who are on the road like me, and the three of us have our own little rhythms settling in.

Climbing on Light on the Path, 5.10a, at the Zebra/Zion area of the Morning Glory Wall. The giant huecos on the wall are a bit atypical of Smith Rock stone.

I’ve been having mixed success here at Smith. I feel solid on 5.10a, but I lack confidence on anything harder. I’ve been climbing with folks who climb a bit harder than me, so it’s been easy to chicken out and top-rope instead of leading.

Three things I’ve learned about climbing in Smith Rock State Park:

  1. It’s all about your feet. The feet at Smith tend to be delicate edges or smears. I recently mailed off my beloved Muiras for re-soling, and I’ve been struggling a bit with my other shoes, which are not as aggressive or pointy. My climbing significantly improved when I focused on pre-planning where my feet were going to go next before I moved.
  2. Good technique rules the house. It’s amazing to see someone climbing a Smith route they have totally wired. They appear to float smoothly up the wall, every movement flowing seamlessly into the next. It’s definitely something to aspire to for Smith newbies like me!
  3. I have one move. At least at Smith. It involves finding a good but too-high foot, and hauling myself up on whatever hand-holds (good or bad) I happen to be grabbing at the time. This move tends to come out when I’m pumped, tired, and wishing that the next bolt would hurry up and make an appearance. In addition to working on my footwork, I’m trying to look for ways to climb more efficiently.

I’ve been trying to lead harder routes, including a few 10d’s in addition to the 10b’s I’ve been getting on. I’ve been highly self-critical the past couple days. However, when I re-read my training log while writing this post, I realized I haven’t been on that many routes 10b or harder, and that I’m remembering failures more than successes.

Hopefully the rain has cleared out and we’ll get out climbing this afternoon–I’m psyched to keep getting better and climbing harder!

RRG Redux Part 2 – Reflections

There is one photo from Kentucky which perfectly illustrates my two biggest outdoor climbing weaknesses at the moment–footwork and clipping stances.

To Defy, Bad Feet, Bad Clipping Stance

Check out my feet. I look like I’m posing for a photo in a minidress, not making a clip. My feet are awkwardly placed, and my left arm is supporting most of my weight in a locked-off position.

I’ve been working on improving my footwork recently, but all of my training has been indoors. I was surprised by how little that indoor awareness transferred to outdoor climbing. Feet are harder to see outdoors, and there are more options than indoors. To correct this weakness, I can bring the same training tactics I used indoors to the outdoors. Downclimbing, drills, and focusing on including feet in visualizing the route ahead of time should all help some.

A second major weakness is clipping. My biggest climbing fear is falling in the process of attempting to make a clip, with a ton of slack in the system. I saw another climber deck trying to make the 3rd clip on a route in California this March. He was okay, but it was really scary for his belayer and everyone who witnessed the fall. Higher up on a route, a hard catch on a long fall could re-injure a previously sprained ankle if I were unlucky.

I think the most important ‘fix’ for these weaknesses is going to be getting more outdoor practice. I don’t get to climb outside very often, but my trip to Kentucky did allow me to get a lot more time on the rock. I led 17 routes in 4 full days of climbing, with 11 of those routes being redpoints or onsights. I also top-roped an 11a, which is the hardest route I’ve ever gotten on outdoors. It wasn’t quite the volume I was hoping for–but there will be another trip!

Now that I’ve spent an entire post complaining about the things I suck at, the good news  is that I did manage a flash of To Defy the Laws of Tradition, 5.10a! One of my goals for the trip was to redpoint 5.10a, so I was super psyched by the send. The route is an uber-classic for good reason–perfect rock, aesthetic climb, and fun moves.

Inaugural Silent Feet Challenge

The silent feet exercise is something I picked up on during one of my first reads through The Self Coached Climber. It stood out to me because it seemed relevant, easy to try, and immediately challenged my climbing technique paradigm. The aim of the exercise is to teach precision in foot placements. If your foot makes noise, you’re not placing it precisely.

The Goal: Place your foot exactly where you want it, every time you move.

The Challenge: Two climbing partners, attempting silent feet on every climb for an evening’s training session, and more importantly, keeping score

The Prize: Eternal glory and a six pack of beer

Some observations…

  • Climbing precisely can often mean climbing slowly, especially on an unfamiliar route
  • Climbing slowly is easier in the first half hour than the last
  • It’s easier to be silent on overhang than on slab
  • I have not mastered the art of the silent smear
  • The silent feet challenge did force some pre-planning in foot placement, but not more than I do ordinarily. I was only forced to think 1-2 moves ahead most of the time.

The winner … not me. :(

My friend and I climbed a different number of routes over the course of the night, so we took an average of total noises/total climbs. The final scores in noises/climb were 4.27 for my victorious friend and 4.30 for myself. Close!

I bought the six pack on the way home from the gym, quite graciously. You can be sure I’ll be thinking silent in anticipation of next time!