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?



RJ Member Interview: Travis Lester

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.


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 Youth Team Interview

Varsity Team Climber: Max Donovan


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.


 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.


                              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