There’s No Way That’s 5.11

NattyGray here. I’m going into my 8th year as a routesetter at RJ, and this is the first time I’ve really sat down to discuss an issue regarding climbing grades.

While I’m not the strongest climber on the RJ setting crew (read: I’m the weakest), and I don’t devote much of my free time to climbing these days, I do feel that over my climbing career I’ve attained a solid grasp on grades.

I frequently put up grades that are way beyond my climbing ability (5.13 and V10). I am able to do this because of the knowledge I’ve acquired through routesetting, and because of the time I spend observing folks who are much stronger than I am.  This brings me to my point; when it comes to grades, start by acknowledging your ability.

When I first started climbing I was a newbie. We all were, and some of us currently are. There’s no shame in it at all, and we should never forget where we came from. In my early climbing years I forsook all other activities and did nothing but climb, all the time. I eventually graduated  newbie status and grew wiser and stronger – much stronger than I currently am. Today I climb a solid grade lower on ropes, and I boulder a few digits lower on the V-scale. The reality is that I currently spend more of my time in a pair of running shoes than I do in my Evolvs. This affects my climbing fitness. In my current state it’s important that when offering my suggestions/opinions while forerunning new routes, I’m honest about my current situation.

My current situation: I’m clearly a better runner these days than I am a climber.

Being a better runner came at the cost of losing my climbing strength. I’ll admit that sometimes I get confused and think I’m as strong as I used to be; but I’m not. This means that when I suggest a grade based on my success or failure to climb a route or a boulder problem, I need to offer my suggestion based on my current ability - not the ability I had five years ago. Sometimes it’s a harsh reality for me to face, but I’m not the climber I used to be.

Example: This year I revisited a climb that I love and which I will also argue is the best climb for the grade on the Front Range; Ghost Dance.

I conquered this boulder problem in 2006.

This year I took a trip to the Millenium boulder in hopes of repeating this amazing line. I thought that like my friend Asher in the video, I would “float” to the top and do a little dance while looking down from my twenty-foot perch. I conjured up memories of my experience eight years ago. I remembered the beta, and how super cool the move out of the pocket felt. I remembered the “better” edge hidden above the first right handhold (you’re welcome), and I remembered how satisfying it felt to stand on top.

When I arrived at the boulder with my friend, I couldn’t even pull onto the start holds. Like, at all. I re-chalked and re-tried and seriously, I couldn’t get both feet off the ground. It hurt, both physically and mentally. Then I told myself, “Self, you are not even close to as strong as you used to be. You need to stop drinking beer, lose ten pounds, climb more, and revisit this boulder another day.”

The deterioration of my climbing fitness is due to the time I spend running (and probably many other things, including beer). I don’t have the time nor do I want to bore anybody with all of my reasons. The truth is that others may be  facing  the same reality, only due to different factors. Age, diet, health issues… you name it – I’m sure there are a million reasons. To stay at a high level of climbing requires a lot of work though, and if for whatever reason you stop doing, or something interferes with that hard work, the fitness goes away quickly; very quickly.

So the next time you come off a route or boulder problem (or can’t even start one) – whatever the proposed grade -take an honest assessment not only of the regular “is this my style?” grading assessments, but also of your current ability. And be honest with yourself. It’s okay if you’re not as strong as you used to be – I’m not – and I love climbing more now than ever. I came to terms with this issue recently, and if we’re honest, that route is probably still 5.11.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

 

How Not to Look Like A Newbie, Volume One

Perception is everything. No matter what you were told by your first grade teacher, books are always judged by their cover. Sure, that initial judgement is subject to change when more information is gathered, but a first impression is still a very powerful thing.

With that in mind, here is the first installment of an ongoing series designed to help you not look like a total dweeb at the gym or crag.

Exhibit A: the chalk bag

There is a reason all chalk bags have a belt loop, and that reason is not so you can clip it off to the side on a random gear loop. The chalk bag should be worn around the waist, secured by some sort of belt device (accessory cord, shoe string, nylon belt, etc.) and positioned at the small of your back, providing an equal opportunity for each hand to reach it. And for crying out loud, make sure the dang thing is open!

 

Exhibit B: the bare feet

This should be a no-brainer, for several reasons. Number one, no one else wants to see your nasty climber feet. Gross. The floors are dirty enough as is, pal, so put those things away. Number two, you don’t want your own feet co-existing  with the unidentifiable communal funk that inhabits the surface of every floor. Number three, you need to stand on your toes to climb well, so why increase the risk of bashing your feet on a rock or dropping a quickdraw on your freshly pedicured phalanges? Think of shoes as stylish foot helmets that have the added benefit of protecting future significant others from the sight of your gnarly tootsies.

 

Exhibit C: the bling

Rings, watches, droopy necklaces and hoopy earrings…take ‘em off! The only thing a watch can do while you are climbing is break and any other fashionable accoutrements can only get stuck/pinned/caught/pinched/crushed and cause grievous bodily harm and/or disfigurement.

Exhibit D: the harness

First of all, a harness should never be worn while bouldering. Never ever. This is cardinal sin. Second of all, the harness is not where you keep all your climbing crap; that is what a pack is for. A harness should only carry the tools necessary for the task at hand. So if you are in a gym, there should be NOTHING on your harness. Not a nut tool, not a roll of tape, definitely not a chalkbag clipped to a gear loop (see Exhibit A), not a daisy chain girth hitched to your belay loop, not three prussiks and half a rack of quickdraws…NOTHING.

We interrupted ROCK’n & JAM’n member Travis Lester the other day while he was climbing. We wanted to get his thoughts on the subject, and also take a few unwanted photos. Travis has been a member at RJ since 2011, and it’s possible you’ll bump into him if you’re ever in the gym on a weekday afternoon. He’s a super nice guy, and he’ll most likely be happy to climb with you. Just don’t ask to take his photo.

RJ- How, and when were you introduced to climbing?

Travis- I got introduced to climbing 3 years ago by a friend who moved back to Colorado (from NY) specifically to climb.

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RJ- Do you primarily climb on ropes, or spend most of your time bouldering?

Travis- I try to spend my time equally between climbing on ropes and bouldering. However, if I had to choose one over the other, I would choose bouldering because I love the simplicity of it.

 

Travis 2

RJ- On average, how many days a week do you climb?

Travis- I usually climb 3 days/week.

RJ- Do you mostly climb indoor, or outdoor?

Travis- The first couple times I climbed (bouldered) it was outside. I was TERRIBLE and it wasn’t fun. The next time we came into the gym because of bad weather, and I was hooked! I haven’t gone outside since, although I plan on going outside again, eventually.

RJ- What do you like about climbing?

Travis- I like so many things about climbing, but some of my favorites include the simplicity of it, the fact that it’s both physical and mental, and the way it makes me look and feel.

Travis 3

RJ- What aspect of climbing do you find the most difficult or challenging (e.g., slab climbing, overhung terrain, powerful movement, technical stuff, endurance, etc.)?

Travis- I try to climb on everything so that I don’t have any major weaknesses. Even though I’m not great at anything, I don’t find any particular movement or style to be the most difficult/challenging. The only thing I don’t like is awkward movements (like running starts).

Let us take a brief moment to point out that Travis is referring to NattyGray’s new advanced boulder problem at RJ1 which contains a jump start to a large, yellow Project feature, which may be seen here. While Travis enjoys NattyGray’s setting, he does not favor his jump starts. 

RJ- How long have you been climbing at ROCK’n & JAM’n?

Travis- 3 years

RJ- What do you like about ROCK’n & JAM’n?

Travis- Again, I like so many things about RJ, but some of my favorite’s include the well rounded areas for training, the overall comfortable feel of the gym, and all the people that own (present and past), work, and climb there!

RJ- Have you met any other climbers at RJ? If so, do you climb with any of them regularly?

Travis- I’ve met so many climbers, and more importantly great friends, through RJ! I climb with a few of them on a regular basis.

Travis 4

RJ- What is your favorite sport or hobby outside of climbing?

Travis- Running/Reading

RJ- Have you ever tried running, while you were reading? 

RJ- Most climbers get incredibly hungry after a climbing session. What is your favorite post-climbing food?

Travis- It depends. If it’s been a good session I usually head over to Chipotle, to get some quality nutrition. However, if it’s been a “rough” day, nothing makes me feel better than a Dairy Queen!

RJ- If you could be a famous/professional climber, who would you be?

Travis- Fred Nicole!

RJ- Thanks for sharing your thoughts about climbing with us Travis. Keep climbing hard, and we’ll see you in the gym this week!

RJ Member Interview: Travis Lester

Whips and Grips Results

First Name Last Name Team Total Place Falls
Adult Female          
Jodie Dawson *None/Not listed 6075.00 1 0
Jeana  Maynard *None/Not listed 5525.00 2 0
Katharine McKnight *None/Not listed 4975.00 3 3
Candice Hull *None/Not listed 4650.00 4 0
Junior Female        
Kristiana Fox Team BRC 5900.00 1 0
Megan McCutcheon Team Pure 5225.00 2 0
Female Youth A        
Maggie Boyer Team BRC 6100.00 1 0
Leah Bell-Johnson Team BRC 6100.00 2 2
Rachel Cohen Rock’n & Jam’n 5975.00 3 0
Sasha Rubenfeld Team BRC 5950.00 4 0
Casey Alee-Jumbo Pure Bouldering 5900.00 5 0
Lisa Kilmer Team BRC 5875.00 6 0
Maren Stubenvoll EarthTreks Golden 5825.00 7 0
Kate Stern Team Sik Bird 5700.00 8 0
Anna Pasnau Team BRC 5550.00 9 0
Camille Garcia Rock’n & Jam’n 5475.00 10 1
Katherine Austin Rock Lounge 5350.00 11 0
Female Youth B        
Madeline D’Amato Team BRC 6100.00 1 0
Joni Stuart Team Mojo 6100.00 2 2
Gina Kelble Denver Bouldering Club 5975.00 3 0
Kate Soulliere Lakewood 5925.00 4 4
Dara Procell Team Mojo 5850.00 5 0
Abby Wilson Team BRC 5825.00 6 0
Janna Walls Team BRC 5775.00 7 0
Kamawela Leka Team BRC 5725.00 8 0
Alena Holbert Rock’n & Jam’n 5575.00 9 0
Mia Greene Rock’n & Jam’n 5475.00 10 0
Sara Denhoffer Rock’n & Jam’n 5450.00 11 0
Mackenzie Whitehead-Bust Rock’n & Jam’n 5350.00 12 4
Madeline Sturm Team Durango 5250.00 13 0
Lexie Rice Lakewood 5225.00 14 2
Sara Seagren Sport Climbing Center 5175.00 15 0
Tatum Schmidt Durango 5000.00 16 1
Zoe Hopkins Rock’n & Jam’n 4675.00 17 0
Allison Riley Rock’n & Jam’n 4675.00 18 0
Samantha Krell Rock’n & Jam’n 4650.00 19 0
alexis hull Sport Climbing Center 4575.00 20 0
Moriah Craddock *None/Not listed 4050.00 21 0
Sierra DesPlanques Rock Lounge 3950.00 22 0
Female Youth C        
Brooke Raboutou Team ABC 6325.00 1 1
Stella Noble Team ABC 6175.00 2 5
Mia Manson Team ABC 5975.00 3 0
Corinne Otterness Team ABC 5900.00 4 0
Bella Weksler Team ABC 5800.00 5 0
Izabela Nowak Rock’n & Jam’n 5650.00 6 0
Tali Maximon Team BRC 5550.00 7 1
Ligaia Meyer Santa Fe Climbing Center 5500.00 8 0
Amanda MacDonald Rock’n & Jam’n 5500.00 9 0
Jasmine Mosberger Team ABC 5475.00 10 0
Sienna Kopf Team ABC 5375.00 11 1
Grace Ryan EarthTreks Golden 5250.00 12 0
Caroline Bechtel Team BRC 5225.00 13 0
Zoe Bray Team BRC 5225.00 13 0
Ali Poe Santa Fe Climbing Center 5225.00 13 0
Georgia Witchel Rock Lounge 5225.00 13 0
Soma Smith Team Durango 5200.00 17 1
Madi Cyr Rock’n & Jam’n 5150.00 18 1
Chloe Kim Rock’n & Jam’n 5050.00 19 0
Ella Perington Team BRC 4950.00 20 0
Taylor Berry Lifetime Fitness – Centennial, CO 4800.00 21 0
anna vertun Team BRC 4650.00 22 0
Margarite Ford Team BRC 4625.00 23 0
Jayden MacDonald Rock’n & Jam’n 4625.00 24 0
Cassidy Nicks Rock’n & Jam’n 4525.00 25 0
Nina  Kemp Rock’n & Jam’n 4050.00 26 0
Phoebe Dolan Team ABC 3400.00 27 0
Rachel Junge Rock’n & Jam’n 2250.00 28 0
Olivia Day Team BRC 1725.00 29 0
Mya Ormsbee Team BRC 1450.00 30 0
Ariana O’Brien Team ABC 700.00 31 0
Female Youth D        
Campbell Sarinopoulos Team ABC 5950.00 1 0
Kaelyn Harris Team ABC 5700.00 2 1
Ella Von Dungen Team ABC 5625.00 3 1
Katie Kelble Denver Bouldering Club 5600.00 4 0
Anna Von Dungen Team ABC 5575.00 5 0
Cadance Hurt Lifetime Fitness – Centennial, CO 5525.00 6 0
Layla Esrey Team BRC 5375.00 7 1
Sarah Smith Team ABC 5275.00 8 1
ceci davies Earth Treks 5175.00 9 0
Margaux D’Amato Team ABC 5175.00 9 1
Olivia Kosanovich Team ABC 5150.00 11 0
Guilia Luebben Rock’n & Jam’n 5075.00 12 0
Kiera Johnson Lifetime Fitness – Centennial, CO 4975.00 13 0
Ona Melvin Lifetime Fitness – Centennial, CO 4975.00 13 1
Mackenzie Bay EarthTreks Golden 4950.00 15 0
Kalia O’Brien Team Sik Bird 4900.00 16 0
Eliza Riordan Team Summit  4750.00 17 0
Eva Pacheco DBC 4550.00 18 0
Eleanor Malcolm Team ABC 4525.00 19 0
Eve Weksler Team ABC 4525.00 19 0
Emma Saunders Team ABC 4475.00 21 0
Caroline Blum Team ABC 4325.00 22 1
Roya Behbakht Rock’n & Jam’n 4250.00 23 1
anna auer Santa Fe Climbing Center 4100.00 24 0
Emma Barwich Team ABC 4000.00 25 0
Ceri Evans Earth Treks 4000.00 25 0
Lydia Dolan Team ABC 3425.00 27 1
Male Adult          
Michael Hauck *None/Not listed 6575.00 1 0
Jeffrey Stroud *None/Not listed 6400.00 2 0
Alexander Raab *None/Not listed 6250.00 3 4
Dustin Scow *None/Not listed 6225.00 4 0
Dave Dangle *None/Not listed 5950.00 5 0
Brian Moore *None/Not listed 5925.00 6 0
Brent Fitzwalter *None/Not listed 5900.00 7 4
Manuel Valdez *None/Not listed 5800.00 8 0
Justin Miller *None/Not listed 5800.00 8 0
Chris Downs *None/Not listed 5450.00 10 0
Kian Behbakht *None/Not listed 5175.00 11 0
John Dine *None/Not listed 4775.00 12 0
Male Junior          
Stefan Lavender Team ABC 6550.00 1 0
Jonah Weil *None/Not listed 6350.00 2 2
Remi Arata Team ABC 6250.00 3 0
Greg Ledingham Team BRC 5875.00 4 0
Silas Carter Team Pure 5750.00 5 0
Kai Meyer Durango 5525.00 6 0
Male Youth A        
Ben Hanna Santa Fe Climbing Center 6675.00 1 0
Ben Lindfors Team BRC 6650.00 2 0
Shawn Raboutou Team ABC 6500.00 3 0
Jess Walker Rock’n & Jam’n 6275.00 4 0
Quinton Center Rock’n & Jam’n 6000.00 5 0
Brendan Boyd Rock’n & Jam’n 5925.00 6 0
Taren Hunter Pure Bouldering 5900.00 7 0
Ben Strine Pure Bouldering 5900.00 7 0
Tristen Mohn Santa Fe Climbing Center 5850.00 9 0
Charlie Malone Team Durango 5775.00 10 0
Malcolm Oliver Team ABC 5650.00 11 0
Parker Meer Team Sik Bird 5550.00 12 0
Rollin Poe Rock’n & Jam’n 5525.00 13 1
Quincy Conway Santa Fe Climbing Center 5500.00 14 0
Jacob Kibbee Rock’n & Jam’n 5475.00 15 0
Wesley While Rock’n & Jam’n 5475.00 15 0
Jake Granado Lifetime Fitness  5300.00 17 0
Brett Maytubby Team BRC 5025.00 18 0
Jasper Pont Team BRC 5025.00 18 0
Male Youth B          
Skylar Smith Team Durango 6475.00 1 1
Will Sharp Team Texas 6175.00 2 0
Skyler Bol *None/Not listed 6050.00 3 0
Kaden weston Rock’n & Jam’n 6000.00 4 0
Ian Center Rock’n & Jam’n 5975.00 5 0
Jack Mason Team BRC 5900.00 6 0
Cole Myers Team BRC 5875.00 7 0
Cyrus Sprow Team BRC 5875.00 8 1
Mike Lowe Rock’n & Jam’n 5825.00 9 0
Zach Bain Earth Treks 5725.00 10 0
Aspen Sivey Rock’n & Jam’n 5700.00 11 0
Ray McVicker Team ABC 5475.00 12 0
Vinnie Smith Rock’n & Jam’n 5250.00 13 0
Bryce Roper Rock’n & Jam’n 4850.00 14 0
Evan Williams Rock’n & Jam’n 4175.00 15 0
Brenden Jennings Rock’n & Jam’n 3575.00 16 0
Timmy Dolan Team ABC 2550.00 17 0
Male Youth C          
Joe Goodacre Team ABC 6325.00 1 0
Callum Caulson Team BRC 5575.00 2 1
Tommy Pasnau Team BRC 5450.00 3 0
Jordan Fishman Rock’n & Jam’n 5325.00 4 0
jack Esrey Team BRC 5275.00 5 0
Noah Morton Team BRC 5275.00 5 0
Jackson Wetherill Santa Fe Climbing Center 5225.00 7 2
Zach Arenberg Lifetime Fitness – Centennial, CO 5100.00 8 0
Ian Greene Team BRC 5000.00 9 0
Jonathan Malavasi Rock’n & Jam’n 4950.00 10 0
Mason Smith Rock’n & Jam’n 4350.00 11 1
bilal hannon Rock’n & Jam’n 4250.00 12 0
Marcus Smith Rock’n & Jam’n 2100.00 13 0
Devin Wong Team Sik Bird 1000.00 14 0
Male Youth D          
Colin Duffy Team ABC 6175.00 1 1
Cody Stevenson Team ABC 6000.00 2 3
Tanner Bauer Team BRC 5725.00 3 0
Chris Dento Team BRC 5700.00 4 0
Benji Dantas Vail Athletic Club 5675.00 5 0
Brody Nielsen Vail Athletic Club 5675.00 6 2
Lukas Bergsten Vail Athletic Club 5475.00 7 0
Kaitek Johnston Team BRC 5400.00 8 0
Calvin Boasberg Team ABC 5350.00 9 1
rand noah Team BRC 5300.00 10 0
Tyg Guggenheim Team ABC 5200.00 11 0
lowe lukey Rock’n & Jam’n 5175.00 12 1
Shafer Helms Rock’n & Jam’n 5100.00 13 0
Samuel Kuepper Team ABC 5100.00 13 0
Solomon Fitzgerald Sport Climbing Center 5075.00 15 0
St. John Tsuno-Wayne Team BRC 5050.00 16 0
Alex Williams Team ABC 4975.00 17 0
Boone Schafer Santa Fe Climbing Center 4950.00 18 0
Sergio Delgato Rock’n & Jam’n 4775.00 19 1
Jackson Turner *None/Not listed 4550.00 20 0
Evan Kuepper Team ABC 4250.00 21 0

RJ Youth Team Interview

Varsity Team Climber: Max Donovan

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Age: 14

Years Climbing: 4

Joined ROCK’n & JAM’n Varsity Team: 2011

We sat down with Max Donovan to get an idea of what climbing on RJ’s Varsity Team is like, and also to ask him a few questions about climbing in general.

RJ: You have an interesting story about how your climbing career started. Will you share a little about how you discovered climbing?

MD: I first learned about climbing from a 4th grade teacher of mine who climbed avidly, after expressing my interest, she decided that, while on a field trip to Colorado Monument National Park, she would take me to do some easy climbing. I fell in love with the sport and started as soon as I moved to Denver.

RJ: What do you like about climbing, in general?

MD: To me, climbing encompasses everything I love in a sport, an outdoor experience, a physical and mental workout, an amazing community, and most of all, the feeling of freedom.

RJ: What do you hate about climbing? What aspects of climbing are the most difficult for you?

MD: To me, the most grueling aspect of climbing is the feeling the day after a strong climb, being ridiculously sore can really put a damper on your day.

RJ: Do you primarily boulder, or climb on ropes? Which do you like more?

MD: I like to think my climbing is pretty balanced between the two, but when it comes down to it, bouldering is my passion. The short bursts of power and strategy mixed with a variety of moves makes bouldering my favorite.

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 RJ: Tell us a little about the Youth Team. Why did you join? What have you learned, and how has your climbing changed or improved since you joined?

MD: The youth team at RJ is an amazing thing to be a part of, it is a great opportunity to climb with friends, while at the same time learning so much about climbing. Since I joined the youth team, I have felt my level of strength on the wall absolutely soar, my technique and confidence in my climbing have also been hugely improved by my experience in the youth team.

RJ: Do you participate in any other school or extracurricular activities besides climbing? If so, how does climbing compare to these?

MD: Every year, I compete in cross-country with the team at my school. I mostly do it as cross training to improve cardio and leg strength, but it is also a great way to get outside once and a while. While they both provide a great workout, running doesn’t provide the fun and excitement that comes with climbing.

RJ: Do kids at your school ever ask you about climbing? If so, what do you tell them?

MD: Kids at my school are always very intrigued when I tell them I climb. They mostly ask about grading scales and how competitions work, a few want to know about the kind of exercise it provides, but a couple always want to come try it for themselves. I tell them about climbing in the best way I can, but always give the advice to try it for themselves to get the full effect.

RJ: Do you have any climbing goals? What are they?

MD: In climbing, I’m always striving to climb harder, and for me that means breaking down mental limits and building up technique and strength. In climbing, being mentally strong is a huge part of the battle, and that’s the one I’m trying to win.

RJ: You participated in several competitions this year with the Youth Team. What is it like, climbing in a comp?

MD: Climbing at a competition is always a completely different experience depending on where it is and what format the comp has. The consistent changes from recreational to competition climbing are a more challenging atmosphere, a more aggressive approach, and a cheering crowd.

Max Teva Mnt Games.jpg

Max (pictured right) after his 2nd place finish at the 2013 Teva Mountain Games

RJ: Do you have any climbing heroes? Who are they?

MD: I don’t have any specific climbing heroes, but there are definitely people who I have climbed with who I respect for their skill and the advice that they give me. One of these people is definitely my coach, Tim Rice.

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                              Max and coach “Timmy-Time” Rice

RJ: Most climbers get amazingly hungry after a climbing session. We’ve heard of everything from chocolate milk to chips and salsa. What is your favorite post-climbing food?

MD: I always find a cold Snickers cools me down, re-energizes me, and is delicious. Other than that, I like to drink yellow Gatorade while I climb.

RJ: Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts about climbing with us Max; and good luck climbing with the Varsity Team this semester!

To find out more about R&J youth programs, visit http://climbthebest.com/instruction.php#KidsPrograms

 

managing your expectations on a climbing trip (or how to cope with the fact that you’re not going to send the one climb that you were really psyched to try to send)

success and failure while on a climbing trip…the high point and the low point. if you have ever taken an extended trip to just climb (at least a week), you have stared this demon straight in the face. how much time do you devote to one climb, when you only have a limited window to actually climb? should you sample more climbs at a lower grade and get more volume in? these are, no doubt, the burning questions in your mind right now.

obviously, there is no easy answer. there rarely is. but the easiest answer, in my mind, depends on one factor: how familiar are you with the area, i.e. its rock type and/or the style of climbing? if you’re visiting a new area, it is probably wise to step down the grade difficulty and climb for volume. this allows you to get used to the subtleties of the area and gives you a good base of “knowledge” for moving on that specific rock. but if you go back to an area that you have previously spent some time, the answer isn’t quite as easy to arrive at.

projecting something at your local crag is one thing. you can put time in on the climb intermittently, and there isn’t really much pressure (all things considered) since you can typically get to it at your leisure. for all intents and purposes you have “all the time in the world.” but several things can work against you when you decide to project something while on a trip: there is a finite amount of time; the time invested versus the payout or reward of sending may not be worth it; climbing a bunch of routes below your limit might be boring; there may be other people working the same route and you have to play nice with others, etc. thus the conundrum.

one thing working in your favor is that while on a trip, you are usually just climbing. you aren’t bogged down with the minutiae of the daily grind. you can tune out all that other stuff and focus a bit more on remembering beta, sequences, and details of one particular climb. you can get the necessary fitness and strength with few distractions.

ultimately it comes down to your level of confidence in your ability to send the route. this is not something you will know right off the bat. i would recommend getting on your chosen project route early on in your trip, ideally within the first few days. this way, you know what you’re up against in terms of style and difficulty. after you have been on it a few times, that confidence level will kick in (or not…), and in your own head you start to know if your goal is actually reasonable and attainable.

i have personally had both ends of this spectrum, oddly enough at the same place, the red river gorge. bear with me for a little longer, it’s story time!

flashback to early october 2010. i had a 10 day trip planned for the red. i had just finished a sunday shift at the north gym (9a to 6p), and right after locking the door, i hopped in my car and started driving east. i made it as far as columbia, mo, before the proverbial wheels fell off the bus and i had to stop. driving solo for that many hours after a full day is rough! after sleeping for a bit, i continued east and arrived in slade, ky, by 6p. i met up with some friends, drank whiskey, beer and ale8, then went to bed.

that next morning, feeling really rusty and stiff from the drive, we headed down to the ‘motherlode’.

madness cavethe madness cave at the motherlode

my intended project was ‘bohica‘ (13b), in the madness cave, a brilliantly steep route out a 45 deg angle wall with perfect 1- to 1.5-pad deep edges the whole way. it’s absolutely amazing.

so after warming up on a few classic routes (chainsaw massacre and ale-8-one) it was time to test the waters on bohica. the first burn was a junk show! the moves felt really hard, and i didn’t have the endurance to do more than 2 bolts at a time. i had my work cut out for me.

the next day, we went back to the ‘lode. it was time for me to get my endurance up in preparation of starting to link sections on bohica. so i decided that i was going to go for a no fall/no take day, and no pitch could be easier than 5.12a. so myself and my friend ‘little’ dan proceeded to knock out pitch after pitch of 12a and 12b for an entire day. i ended up doing 10 pitches, dan got in 12, and we thankfully had a no fall/no take day. completely worn out, but psyched with a good endurance day.

the next several days were spent working bohica, with a rest day tossed in there somewhere. each day i got on the route twice, and each day i was linking more sections, and getting high points. my confidence was building.

my final climbing day of the trip, i went out with my buddy nik. he also had a project at the ‘lode, so off we went. after warming up and giving nik a catch on his route, we walked over to bohica for the ‘hail mary’ attempt. first section of the route felt easy and robotic and with seemingly no effort, i found myself at the first rest, staring at the remaining 60 feet of that perfect 45 deg angle wall above me. after lowering my heart rate, i launched into the rest of the route. each move was executed with confidence and precision. there were no wasted movements, no second guessing. before i knew it, i was at the final rest looking at the last 15 feet and the anchors. i composed myself and fired. i made it to the anchor, clipped, yelled triumphantly, then lowered back down to the ground. i drove back to the house, packed up my stuff and started the drive home. success!

contrast that with my recent trip earlier this month. the first few days were spent getting used to the rock again, as it had been 3 years since my last trip. plus, my endurance these days feels fairly poor, compared to previous times and trips. everything felt hard. things that i had sent previously felt so much more difficult! i was up against a big challenge with extremely low confidence.

so third day, i got to check out my intended project: ‘swingline‘ (13d) at a crag called ‘the dark side‘. i did the moves first try on the route, and got incredibly psyched. it broke down as a 5.13a/b to a very poor rest to a legit v8 boulder problem. while i rested at the base of the route, i started thinking about what was actually necessary to send this thing. getting to the poor rest on link would have been a healthy goal, and probably doable. but to tack on a v8 boulder problem after that seemed daunting. after much internal debate, i decided that i lacked the necessary fitness to put it away in the amount of time left and ultimately had to walk away from it. i was bummed. this line is beautiful and inspiring, and a very sought after route. but it wasn’t to be. i found another fun line there, ‘tuskan raider‘ (12d) that i was able to send 3rd try. that ended up being my only real send for the trip.

Red_River_Gorge_Swingline_75075649_thumbnailswingline

while the trip as a whole was incredibly fun due to the good company of old and new friends, i consider the climbing side of it to be a bit of a failure. this was due to poor training before hand, leading to generally bad fitness, etc. i have to make sure that i am better prepared for the next go ’round.

so there you have it…both ends of the spectrum. success and failure. elation and frustration. in the end, you just have to look at the whole situation. sometimes you decide to throw your chips in, sometimes you throw the cards away instead and wait for the next round. someone famous once said ” you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know…”. eh, never mind, you get the idea.

The Spot on the Wall

It is a little known fact and something I do not broadcast publicly, but I have minor precognitive abilities that let me read your mind; if I tune in on the correct brain wave oscillatory frequency your thoughts become clear as a crisp autumn day. So, to answer your not-yet-posed question: yes, spotting in the gym is really important and you should never be afraid to ask for a spot or provide a spot to a fellow climber when asked.

How do I spot and why is it so important, you will ask in the very-near future. Allow me to elaborate:

Spotting is to bouldering what belaying is to route climbing and as such it is critical that, as a spotter, you are attentive and prepared to execute your duties and keep your buddy from breaking their neck. What is proper technique? How do I know when to spot? Fortunately for you the RJ1 varsity youth team has the skills to pay the bills when it comes to spotting and is here to show you the ropes (mixed metaphor, I know…) as it were.

Exhibit A

photo 5


On drastically overhanging terrain the focus is on the climber’s hips. On the steeps your body is more inclined to swing out when you fall, and a good spot at the hips makes it easier to redirect the falling climber than the typical shoulder spot. Notice Mike has his hands up with enough distance to allow Brenden to swing and his eyes focused on Brenden’s center of mass, not the cute girl at the drinking fountain or another climber elsewhere in the gym. Also notice that with the confidence of Mike’s good spot, Brenden is gunning for the send in proper style.

Exhibit B

photo 4On less steep terrain the focus shifts up to the climber’s armpits. Again you will notice Max’s attention is on Kaden and not anyone or anything else. He is giving Kaden enough room to sag out from the wall without dabbing but is ready to support his torso and give him enough time to disengage his heel hook. Max is not trying to catch Kaden; he is merely trying to give Kaden enough time to get his feet under him in case of an unexpected fall.

Exhibit C

photo (1)Here Izabela and Amanda employ the power spotting technique. The power spot is used either to help the climber learn a move or allow a climber to skip past some moves in order to try others. Izabela is actually pushing Amanda into the wall, providing support at her waist so that Amanda can get a feel for the body positions of the crux sequence. Experienced boulderers apply the power spot often on hard projects, and it is not uncommon for  climber and spotter to have a detailed system down. For instance, Amanda can say “give me five pounds,” meaning Izabela will push Amanda into the wall with roughly five pounds of force. When working a specific move with a power spot it is good to reduce the amount of weight taken on each attempt.

 

As with any form of climbing, how safe you are is largely up to you. It is your duty as a climber to request a spot if you feel sketched on a particular move or problem. Conversely, it is your prerogative to provide a spot when one is asked of you. As with belaying, communication between spotter(s) and climber is critical. Let your spotters know if you want a spot for a specific move or for the entire climb. Do not be intimidated to ask for a power spot; no one will judge you*. As a spotter, make sure the landing zone is clear and that others in the area are aware that your homie might be coming in hot. Like Captain Planet said: the power is yours!

 

 

 

* Okay, maybe some crusty old Traddie will judge you. Tell them to go climb a tower and carry on with your session.